Lifting On The Road

Article written by Josh Mac Certainty and stability are two luxuries I don’t enjoy nearly enough in my line of work.  I’m a locomotive engineer.  No, I don’t fix them or yell “all aboard!” or punch kid’s names into tickets like Tom Hanks.  I drive them.  It’s a sedentary job, not a lot of leg work but my arms are going non-stop, kind of like bench only guys. 

I have one scheduled day off a week, but with the nature of the job I’ll never even know if I’m working that day or not.  Being on call 24/6 is challenging enough with a wife and a child, but try to add training into the mix and now we’re really juggling.

When I can, I train at a powerlifting gym not far from home.  It’s a great atmosphere with great lifters who are motivated by the same goals that I am. But as frustrating as it is for all of us, I can’t always make it in to train with these guys.

Railroad life has me traveling a lot, laying over in hotels away from home, working odd hours and because of my horrendous seniority, not knowing when I’ll be called in to work until as little as a couple of hours before the job signs up.  Planning out birthday parties is hard enough let alone getting ready for a heavy squat day.  Hell, I’ve even gotten the dreaded work call during training and had to leave between sets.  Imagine heading in to work sweating, hopped up on pre, wearing rehband knee sleeves with the smell of ammonia still on your mustache.  Did it.

Aside from not being there on holidays and special occasions, I make sure I call home when I’m on layover all of those miles away to tell my loved ones how much they’re missed.  It’s not great, but it’s something.

It’s kind of like my training on the road.  It’s not great either, but I can make it something.  Having been grinding this way for the past seven years, I’ve learned some things that make training away from my PL gym a little easier.

Where to train?

This was an easy one right off the bat for me, because I will train anywhere and with just about anyone.  Traveling for work means staying overnight in a hotel away from home on a layover.  That eats up a good chunk of two days for one trip, so getting training in before or after work is a challenge. 

Fortunately, most of the hotel lodging offer membership deals with local gyms.  So if you’re traveling on the road, just show your hotel key to the front desk kid at the gym, sign some bullshit sign in sheet and it’s FREE!  This is a good opportunity to write whatever fake name I want, usually like Phil McCrackin or Diana-Bol.  They don’t check the list, but I sincerely hope that one day they will.

Getting there is pretty simple most of the time.  Usually they’re within walking distance from the hotel, but let’s be honest… that’s cardio.  Most hotels offer a shuttle van service that’ll take you within a 5-20 mile radius, take advantage of it!

These gyms are always big name box “fitness centers” in my experience, so I take a real bath in humanity while I’m there.  I’m not going to lie, it’s tempting to sit back and “people watch,” but I’m there to train and usually don’t have much time to spare on layover. 

The worst day to be called into work is on a bench day.  This is really the only day that I NEED a spotter.  Luckily, over the years of going to these places, I’ve met some bodybuilders.  The great thing about bodybuilders is that although I never know when I’ll be there, I always know that they’ll definitely be there! 

These guys are entering hour 6 of back and bi’s, so they’re about half way done.  Plenty of time to have them help spot me and hit accessories with them.  A decent bodybuilder is a great training partner.  They’re not scared to spot your weight, many of them like lifting heavy, and they can motivate you to grind through when anybody else would just stand there with their hands in their pockets being a shitty spotter.

Unfortunately, these benches suck.  The thin vinyl pad of this lifestyle fitness bench is slicker than snake shit.  Leg drive is a joke; there is just no friction on this air hockey table. 

Enter the yoga mat.  Every gym has a pile of filthy, sweaty, butt scented yoga mats.  I usually grab one from the bottom of the pile since it probably hasn’t been used since the Y2K scare and the contagions have long since fossilized. Laying the dirtier side down, this otherwise useless piece of foam acts as a bonding agent between my scapula and the Chinese made vinyl.  This looks dumb as hell I’ll admit, but so does sliding around during my set of triples.  Plus there is probably LESS chance of ringworm, and I like those odds.


Of course, my schedule sucking as it does I’ve also trained as late as 1am after a shift.  When there is no one around and no spotter at all, even a terrible one sounds nice to have.  When the only other person in the gym is the lazy parolee sleeping behind the counter, it’s time to floor press.


I like to grab the thicker foam gymnastic mat for that one, and lay it down inside of the power rack.  This keeps the back of my head, elbows and calves off of the floor, where countless dirtbags had stood curling earlier in the day. That floor is dirtier than a port-o-john at a Jason Aldean concert, so a few inches of foam matting goes a long way.


Ok, I’m a raw guy so this should be a short list.  Belt.

Kidding, but I’ve become a minimalist over the years.  Lugging a ton of crap around with me to and from hotels and gyms got old, FAST.  If I know that I’m going to have to train on the road, there are a few things I take and a few things I’d improvise with that I wouldn’t normally bring to my main gym.

Sleeves:  I love mine and have to bring them every time.  The elbow sleeves are great on the curling machines and floor presses or anything else you want to keep your elbows infection free from.  The knee sleeves also keep your knee caps from contracting diseases on the hamstring curl and some lat pull down pads.  High score!

To save space in my travel bag, I put one sleeve inside of the other, then both elbow sleeves inside of the knee sleeves.  They stink to high heaven like that because they don’t fully air out and dry but that’s just the musk of effort, embrace it.  It also keeps annoying teens away and guys that have 37 questions for you while you’re in between sets. If you’ve never smelled rank knee sleeves and are curious, fart into a bag of frito’s and multiply that by 7.


Lever belt:  I can roll my 10mm lever belt into a pretty tight little coil and jam it into my bag, but if you have a 13mm, good luck.  To break that sucker into submission, roll it into a tight coil and jam it under a car seat.  The extreme temperatures of a sealed vehicle will quickly break leathers stubborn pride and make that belt nice and malleable.  For bench, DL and even speed squat days, I would bring a spud triple ply deadlift belt instead.  It’s still very supportive, but it’s much easier to roll and keep rolled due to the Velcro strap. This leaves plenty of room for other crap, like sleeves of Oreos and double stuff Oreos. Don’t judge me.

Bands:  These take up almost no space at all.  Great for warming up or adding resistance to all sorts of stuff, but even more valuable if you’re stuck somewhere where all you have access to is a small hotel workout room.  Adding bands to the hotels heaviest dumbbells will make those 50’s start to feel heavier a lot faster.  Band curls, STAT.


Foam Roller: Not so much.  I used to carry the short sawed off version but even that took up too much space.  There’s always the tried and true lacrosse ball too. But if you want a real myofascial release, buy a 32oz sports drink on the way to the gym and roll the hell out of yourself when you get there!  Just about the right size with ridges in the plastic, these are perfect on the IT bands.  If you’re a real sadist, pop it in the freezer a few hours before gym time and let it freeze solid, sicko.  The best part other than the odd looks from confused gym goers, you can drink it when you’re done.

Supplements:  There’s usually plenty of room for a shaker cup and a bunch of sandwich bags of protein and pre-workout powders, but sometimes I just forget to pack something.  Luckily, there are pre filled bags already packed away in my road bag, and LABELED.  Once it’s been a week, you start to forget which bag of powder is which if you don’t write what they are in marker on the bag.  Although vascular nightmares are tempting, I’m not trying to guzzle 400mg of caffeine and a proprietary blend of nitric oxide precursors right before bed.  Also, if it’s the shaker cup that didn’t make it with you, most hotels give out free beverages upon check in. Sports drinks or vitamin water bottles are perfect for this.  The wide mouth top lets you get the majority of the powder in without spilling all over the table like you’re in some 70’s coke den.


Garage Gym’s:  Now we’re talking!  With the rise of powerlifting’s popularity as of late, people are kicking they’re cars out into the driveway and filling their car ports with plates and rack.  Finding a like-minded individual with a few grand invested in a home gym is easy with the internet.  My buddy Kevin Smith is one such fella.  When I’m on layover, I’m just about a mile from his garage gym where the chalk vibrates in the air from the music.  There are no shortage of garage gyms popping up, and even advertising themselves on social media, look them up!

Food:  Here’s my excuse to eat bad.  Most of the places that I lay over are within spitting distance of a buffet.  In one location, the sushi buffets are competing with each other and offering crazy coupons and lunch specials.  When I can, I get in there for late lunch and ask for the check just before the dinner change over.  This way I can pay the lunch fare and still get the crab legs when they drop at 5 o’clock.  Buffets are the way to go when on layover, there’s no time limit other than the stamina of your sphincter.  Signs that the management is ready for you to leave start with fewer drink refills, no longer bringing napkins, waitress brings the check, manager asks if you’re ready to pay, cops are pepper spraying you, EMT’s are asking you your name and what you ate, telling you to “hang in there buddy” etc.

Of course there are healthier alternatives, but who can pass up an ambulance ride!?

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