In 2016, almost 20 percent of flights were delayed, according to the United States Department of Transportation. Eleven percent of those delayed flights left passengers waiting for two hours or more. That's a lot of unexpected time (added to an already long day of travel) spent scrolling Instagram and people watching at the airport bar. But what else can you do when you're stuck in an airport?
Ken Seifert has a few ideas. To say that the U.S. Foreign Service Officer and military spouse travels a lot would be an understatement. But he's used the inevitable down time that comes with layovers and delays to get in shape. Over the last 15 years he has worked out in more than 50 domestic and international airports, and he's sharing everything he's learned — from the best carry-on friendly equipment to how to clean up in the airport bathroom before your flight — in his new book, The Complete Guide to Airport Exercise.
Here are a few of his favorite ways to torch calories (and kill time) in the airport. They may come in handy the next time you find yourself twiddling your thumbs in the terminal this summer.
I’m here to provide some realistic tips for how to successfully complete a workout in the airport. Many blogs and opinion pieces out there will talk about sequestering yourself in small corner of the airport and stretching. Stretching can be a great thing indeed. So can walking around the terminals or using your bag to do some light weight-lifting. Think of the bag as a big weight you can use to work those arms, shoulders, and back.
If you are in the market for more of strenuous workout, help is here.
One of the best pieces of exercise equipment I ever purchased is standard resistance cords (bands). This is truly the most under-appreciated exercise equipment on the planet. These cords, a relatively small item, usually fit neatly in a tiny bag smaller than most purses. They can give you a vast array of workout options which you can do almost anywhere. These cords can be used to exercise all your core muscle groups and can even substitute for a gym during periods in your life where you simply don’t have access to one. Perhaps most impressive is the fact you can take these cords in your suitcase to use almost anywhere including hotels, airports, and even airplanes themselves.
As far as airplanes, this really ends up depending on the flight attendants. On long international flights, in particular, few flight attendants have bothered me about discreetly using my cords near a bathroom or near my seat. The same goes for doing 90-degree leg squats. As long as I am not blocking the aisle or standing up when the “fasten seatbelt” light is on, airline crew rarely hassle me when I use my cords.
You can do basic squats anywhere.
- From a standing position, bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, making sure to stick your backside out as you “squat” down and come back up.
- Be careful that your knees don’t go beyond the edge of your toes.
- You can either put your hands behind your head as you squat down or you can grab one of your carry-on bags and hold that over your head or out in front of you as you do the squats. This will work your legs harder and burn even more calories! You’d be surprised how little space this takes — including on an airplane.
Using the Airport Chairs
These little suckers can do more than rest your aching butt. You can incorporate the chair as part of your workout, from triceps dips to stomach crunches. The internet can provide you with many different ideas and options. AnytimeFitness has a blog that talks about calf, hip, and glute stretches. Perhaps the most popular exercise using airport chairs is the seated triceps dips.
Seated Triceps Dips
- Start by placing your arms straight with your palms flat against the edge of your seat.
- Meanwhile, you extend your legs straight in front of you to allow your body to get a good range of motion as you dip downwards and upwards, working your triceps.
The triceps are the biggest muscles in your arms and look significantly more toned when regularly exercised.
Running in and around airports is perhaps my favorite form of exercise during those long layovers. Those spacious, vast terminals offer more than just empty halls for bored tourists. The Miami International Airport for example gives you ample space to complete that quick 5K. Just two laps from one end of the terminal to the other provides vast real estate to burn those calories (experts estimate you burn between 70-100 calories every 7 minutes of moderate running).
From Dubai to Panama City, big airports or small, your run may not be the most exciting you will ever do, though running past Buddhists monks, Arab women in hijabs, a couple fighting with each other, and an international soccer team in the same 10-minute span, as happened to me in the Cairo airport once, can make airport-runs a truly memorable and cultural experience.
When people ask me about my running in airports, one of their first questions is, are you sure running is allowed?
Since running in airports is actually quite typical, why should you be any different? From Germany to the United States to El Salvador to Australia to Ethiopia to Uzbekistan, I have run in airports. As long as I am not over the top about it (that is, bumping into travelers who probably deserve it or knocking down flight attendants, who don’t deserve it), no one really cares if you run.
In fact, as I run past airport security and TSA officials, with my sweaty shirt and headphones, I will often get a thumbs-up and smiles.
Other Airport Workouts
There are many exercises that you can do in the airport that involve resistance cords, the seat, and gravity. You can also consider going back to some of the basics, like jumping jacks. While this may bring you a little more attention than you might prefer, doing even ten minutes of jumping jacks or boxing (punching) exercises can burn those calories and get your heart racing. Just remember to stretch before you start exercising.
If you are able to find some relatively quiet (and maybe clean) part of the airport, you can even get more sophisticated and do some burpees. These are excellent exercise options that increase your core strength, flexibility, burn calories, and build muscles particularly in your quadriceps, back, and arms. I would recommend keeping a small towel (which you can bring with you in your bag) or some paper towels to wipe up your sweat and keep your workout area clean and hygienic for other passengers.
Depending on where you travel, you might also find many diverse options for working out. Whether it’s ice skating at the Seoul Incheon Airport or golfing near the Abu Dhabi airport or “art-walks” at the Seattle-Takoma International airport, you might find all kinds of activities that get the heart beating, and if you’re lucky, give you a good, sustained workout.
With a little creativity, research, and planning, you can turn those wasted minutes at the airport into valuable exercise time that helps you relax and fly better once you actually get on the plane. And you might even deserve that reward later when you wake up bright and early in Rome.
Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Airport Exercise by Ken Seifert.