02.18.10

8 Ways to Exercise While You Commute

Why spend hours at the gym when you can exercise on the road? From traffic jam arm toners to subway calf-strengtheners, here are eight ways to work out in transit.

Each day, the average American spends nearly an hour getting to and from work—and less than 20 minutes at the gym. (Actually, the average American spends no time at the gym, and the fitness freaks drag up the curve for the rest of us.) All that commuting adds up to more than a week on the road every year. If you spent that time exercising instead, you’d have Matthew McConaughey’s PECS, David Beckham’s abs, and Michelle Obama’s arms.

The solution? Exercise on your way to work. The Daily Beast consulted fitness experts and personal trainers to get tips on how to work out en route to the grind. Here are eight simple exercises you can do on the go.

Lacey Stone, a trainer at Equinox Fitness Club in New York, suggests what she calls the Classic Commuter Crunch, which can be done from the seat of a bus, train, or plane (or a car if someone else is doing the driving.) Start by sitting in a neutral position, with your feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor. "Keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed, contract the lower abdominal muscles," says Stone. "Hold the lower abdominal contraction and engage your upper abs. Gently round the lower back and move your ribcage down toward your hips. Hold the contraction for 8 to 10 seconds, breathing normally, and return to a neutral sitting position. Repeat 8 to 12 times or until muscle fatigue."

Stone also suggests an exercise called chest boosters to work your pecs, which should also be done sitting down. "Put your arms on your lap and interlace your fingers," she says. "Try to touch your elbows to one another, while keeping your shoulders back and your chest lifted. Squeeze and contract the chest. Hold the contraction for 8-10 seconds, breathing normally. Release and repeat 8 to 12 times or until muscle fatigue."

Because commuting by public transit involves a lot of waiting around, Ariane Hundt, a personal trainer and founder of the Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp, suggests taking advantage of your time at the bus stop or subway platform by doing calf raises. "Get on your toes, hold, and come back down," she says. "Aim for 100 and you'll definitely feel your calves the next day. Over the course of two weeks you will notice an increase in your calf definition and strength."

Another good exercise to do while you're waiting, says Hundt, is one that emphasizes balance and leg strength. "While waiting for your ride, stand on one leg, while lifting the other one as high as possible to your hips or chest," says Hundt. "Hold and balance to increase the strength in your legs and to engage your stomach.”

Personal trainer Jeff Daubs says even drivers can get exercise on the road— working the core is a good area to focus on while you’re stuck in traffic or sitting at a light. "Place your hands against the roof or your car, push up with your arms and squeeze your abs at the same time," he says. "Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat as many times as possible. The dual action of pressing up with the arms and shoulders and squeezing the core creates a static hold that serves to strengthen the arms, shoulders, back, and core all at the same time." He suggests lifting one or both legs off the floor to engage your core even more.

Another good exercise for drivers is an arm strengthener, says Daubs. "Open your driver-side window and, assuming there is no passenger in the seat next to you, straighten both arms to the side," he says. "With your left palm up and your right palm down, start to switch your palms from up to down. Your arms are straight out to the side, left palm up right palm down and switch, left palm down right palm up. Do this for sets of 50—it feels easy at first but after 40 or so reps you will start to feel it. Rest for 10 seconds and repeat. Just the action of holding your arms out becomes a challenge and the toning benefits of holding that position and switching the hands is undeniable. This is a favorite move of Tyra Banks as it a proven overall toner and shaper for both the arms and shoulders."

Stefanie DiLibero, a yoga and surfing instructor and acupuncturist at Gotham Wellness, offered several suggestions for making good use of your time in the sky. An easy exercise to do in your seat is a seated twist. "Sit in your seat, with your feet planted firmly on the floor, arms resting beside you," she says. "Peel your back off the back of the chair, and take a moment to connect the crown of your head with your pelvic bowl. As you inhale, allow the crown of the head to reach toward the ceiling without lifting the chin. As you exhale, draw the belly in, and twist to your right, placing your left hand on the arm rest to your right. Repeat on the other side."

DiLibero also recommends a quick workout while waiting for the bathroom: a standing forward bend. "As you exhale, allow yourself to fold forward, keeping your knees bent enough so that your chest and your thighs make contact," she says. "Shift the weight on your feet in such a way that it allows your head and back to release further. If you're more flexible, slowly begin to allow the legs to come more toward straight, as long as it doesn't compromise the release in the spine. Allow your arms to hang wherever is most comfortable. Stay here for 10 breaths, or until the restroom has opened up. Come out slowly either by rolling up one vertebrae at a time, or by inhaling up with a neutral spine."

Doree Shafrir has contributed to The New York Observer, The New Yorker, Slate, and The Awl, and is the co-author of Love, Mom. She is a former editor at Gawker. Her Web site is www.doreeshafrir.com.