How To Exercise While Commuting

Two colleagues walking to the office

I have a long commute. It is 45 miles from my front door to the office, of which I spend an hour and fifteen minutes on a train and the other 30 minutes walking at either end. After a full day at work, there’s little time for anything else, especially exercise.

The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but it’s important to remember the positive effects exercise can have on your mood, sleeping, and in alleviating stress and anxiety. If, like me, you spend much of your day commuting and working, with little time for anything else, here are some ideas for exercising while commuting.

What Do You Hope To Gain?

Before you start doing stomach crunches in your car seat or star jumps while waiting for the bus, first consider what you hope to gain by exercising during your commute.

In my opinion, exercising in your car or while on the bus or train, is not a substitute for a proper workout. While it might get your blood pumping, it’s not going to get you hot and sweaty in the same way that aerobic exercise does.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It just means it can’t replace going for a good run. If you can, find ways to incorporate physical activity into your commute or your working day.

When I first started my long commute, I would drive to the train station, saving myself a 20-minute walk every morning and evening. Disembarking from the train after a long day, it was lovely knowing I could just jump in the car and be home is 5 minutes, rather than contending with another 20-minute walk.

But the satisfaction I gain from walking far outweighs the guilty pleasure of hopping in the car. My walk home is an opportunity to clear my head, get my heart pumping and my muscles moving. It’s a similar feeling in the morning. Starting the day off with a brisk walk does wonders of my mental state. I choose the walk over driving every time, even though it adds 30 minutes on to my journey time.

During the summer months, I go one better. On my train journey home, I’ll get off a few stops early and jog the rest of the way. I get changed into my running gear before leaving the office, and I’m ready to run. Even if you drive to work, rather than using mass transit, try parking 15 minutes farther away from the office each day and walk the rest of the journey. Every little helps.

If everything I've mentioned above is just not possible, then there are alternative exercises that you can do either in your car or on public transport. While they might not be enough to help you lose weight, I consider these exercises to have similar benefits to yoga or meditation. They’re good for your mind, body, and soul.

Isometrics.

Isometric exercises require clenching, contracting and squeezing muscles with little or no movement of the joint or limb, so they’re perfect for the car, bus or train. The Plank is a good example of an isometric exercise. The exertion of holding your body off the ground while resting on your forearms strengthens the core muscles in the back, stomach, and upper body, without requiring any physical movement. Isometrics won’t improve your aerobic performance, but they are good for strengthening and stability. Isometric exercises usually require holding a pose (like the plank) for a period of time and repeating.

10 Exercises To Get You Started.

Just to be clear, although these exercises aren't particularly strenuous, I’m not a personal trainer or a doctor so you might wish to seek professional advice before trying these. As with any exercise, it is important to maintain correct posture and continue breathing throughout. For all the exercises listed below, you should be sitting with your back straight, shoulders pushed back and relaxed, without using the seat back for support.

Also, it’s unlikely you will have warmed-up before doing these exercises, so make your movements slow and avoid wrenching.

And, it goes without saying, you should not carry out any of these exercises while you are driving. If the congestion in your town is anything like mine, you’ll have plenty of time to have a go while the car is stationary.

  • 1
    Bum clenches are an easy way to start. Simply pull your tummy in and squeeze the muscles in your bum together. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat for 10 repetitions.
  • 2
    Knee lifts. While lightly holding on to something for balance, raise your legs slightly up from the seat. Keep your knee together. You only have to lift a centimeter or two before you start feeling the contraction in your lower stomach muscles and hips. Try to hold the pose and repeat 10 times. This is a tougher exercise, so remember to breathe and don’t over exert yourself. Do one leg at a time if you find both legs too difficult. Your neck and shoulders should remain relatively relaxed.
  • 3
    Crunches. By moving slightly forward in your chair, slowly lean back without resting on the seat back, and pull yourself forward. Keep your back straight. The further you lean back the more you should feel your abdominal muscles. Slowly is the key here. The longer each repetition takes, the better it will be for you.
  • 4
    Palm pushes and pulls. With your shoulders back and elbows at ninety degrees, clasp the palms of your hands together at chest height and push them into one other. You should start to feel the exercise in your back. Hold and repeat for ten repetitions. When finished, stay in the same pose but instead of pushing your palms together, lock your fingers together and try pulling them apart. You should feel this in your triceps and back.
  • 5
    Ankle lifts. Like bum clenches, these are very straightforward and mimic the action of your feet when driving. Either with the heels of your shoes on the ground or slightly raised in the air, move the ball of your foot up and down as far as possible. You should notice the stretch in your calves. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
  • 6
    Waist rotations. With a straight back and your shoulders pushed back, rotate your upper chest 45 degrees to your side. You should feel your abdominal and back muscles as you twist. Don’t be tempted to pull your arm around as your twist, your shoulders should remain in line with your chest. Hold the position when you can’t twist any further and alternative the rotation in the opposite direction.
  • 7
    Chin pulldowns. This exercise is good for stretching the back muscles and spine. From a position of looking directly forwards pull your chin down towards your chest to a point where you can feel the pull in your back. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Don’t be tempted to tilt your neck to the sides or twist. My college rowing instructor once warned against twisting my head and neck, while doing this exercise.
  • 8
    Shoulder raises are another good exercise for the back and Latissimus dorsi muscles (lats). With your arms by your side, pull your shoulders up towards your ears and hold the pose. As with all the exercises try 10/10 – hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
  • 9
    Breathing. Exercise can take many forms and often simple breathing exercises, or meditation can be as effective for your mental wellbeing as going for a run or a gym session. It comes back to recognizing what you want to achieve. Try focusing on your breathing for 5 minutes. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold your breath for another five and then breathe out for five seconds. Finish your exercise session with this breathing strategy, and you’ll arrive at your destination feeling relaxed and revitalized.
  • 10
    Brain training. One muscle that always seems to get neglected is the brain. As with breathing, exercising the brain can have long-term benefits for your mental health. Commuting is an ideal time to exercise your brain because you can shut out all other distractions. Doing math in your head or learning a language are two ways of giving your brain a good workout. Alternatively, spend some time with your thoughts. Consciously be aware of the thoughts that float into your mind over the course of your journey.

Staying Motivated.

Health and fitness is a long game. Recognizing the benefits can be difficult if all you are doing is a few exercises during your commute to work each day. It needs to be a strategy that you incorporate into your whole way of life, in everything that you do. Decide to eat well and cut out the things that you know are bad for you. Whenever you have the option to take the stairs, take the stairs. And, if you can walk somewhere rather than get a cab or a bus, take the opportunity to walk.

Staying motivated can be difficult, so use technology to realize your achievements. Invest in a health tracker that you can wear on your wrist that will measure how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and how far you’ve walked. Most trackers will also include software that will motivate you to improve day on day and chart your progress. You’ll be amazed how much you can achieve, even if you have very little spare time.

James

James Gleeson is a Super Commuter, commuting over 3 hours a day from his home in the Blue Mountains, Australia to the office in Sydney.

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