Your long layover could use 30 minutes of cardio.

By Amy Marturana Winderl
December 06, 2019

Sitting still in a small, cramped space for a long flight can make anyone go stir crazy. If you're someone who exercises regularly, you probably dread travel days even more. Depending on where you're heading, it may be a half day or more from the time you leave for the airport to when you arrive at your final destination—and that's not even accounting for delays and cancellations—which means you're not likely to have your daily workout.

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But what if you could get through security and squeeze in a quick sweat session at an airport gym just before boarding? It may sound too good to be true, but as wellness travel continues to enjoy off-the-charts popularity, and travel and hospitality brands invest more in travelers' well-being, you are more likely to see gyms popping up in airports around the country.

Related: Seven Ways to Take a Healthier Flight

Where to Find Them Right Now

In the U.S., airport gyms are still rare. In fact, the only full-service airport gym located smack dab in the middle of an airport terminal is ROAM Fitness, and it's tucked away next to gate D1 in the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). With Technogym cardio equipment (treadmills, an elliptical, recumbent bike, indoor cycling bike, and rower), strength training equipment (dumbbells, weight benches, TRX straps, and medicine balls), a stretching space, and private showers, it's a fitness-travel oasis. You can even schedule a 30-minute session with a personal trainer, just like you would at your local gym. Cynthia Sandall, co-founder and CMO of ROAM Fitness, says that the gym was designed specifically for the airport environment. "What that means is that we thought about the whole experience of the travel day and what the biggest stressors are when traveling. And those are most often time management related," Sandall explains. Some of the things ROAM has implemented to help: live departure boards placed prominently in the cardio room and the vanity area, lockers that fit carry-on size luggage and include charging ports, a shower-reservation system so you can time it all right, and an apparel and shoe rental service (included free with a $25 day pass or $30 monthly pass) so travelers don't need to worry about unpacking and repacking their bags.

ROAM Fitness has been open for about two and a half years, and Sandall says that recognition has grown a ton, simply because people walk by the gym and want to know more. "People are excited and asking, 'When are you coming to my airport?'" she says. The team is, indeed, actively pursuing other locations, Sandall says, and has officially signed a lease in Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). "It's going to be smaller than the Baltimore location. It's an opportunity to test the West Coast market in a larger airport with more layover passengers and delays due to weather." The gym will include a few pieces of cardio equipment, some free weights, bikes, a few showers, and workout gear rentals, Sandall notes.

While ROAM Fitness is the only U.S. airport gym of its kind right now, you can find a handful of fitness amenities at other airports. For example, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has yoga rooms in Terminals B and E. There's also a yoga room in Terminal 2 of SFO, Terminal 3 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD), Concourse C of Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), and Terminal H at Miami International Airport (MIA). While not as convenient, many airport hotels offer day passes to use their fitness facilities, and provide shuttles to and from the airport.

Related: Pack Our Jetsetter-Approved Essentials for Long-Haul Flights

How to Fit in Exercise Pre-Flight

Airport gyms are ideal for the type of traveler who arrives with plenty of time to spare before the flight boards. But, as always, it's better to get in some physical activity in whatever way you can. A workout doesn't always have to be 30 minutes or more—or be done in a formal gym—to be effective. "Any movement is good movement," says trainer Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Le Sweat. That's especially true if you're about to spend hours and hours sitting. And exercising before a flight (versus promising yourself you'll do it once you arrive) is the best way to make sure you actually do it.

Plus, there are big pros of exercising pre-flight. Exercising in general leads to "increased blood flow, lets you burn some calories, boosts metabolism, and contributes to overall total-body wellness," says Atkins. For many people, exercising also helps stave off aches and pains that can pop up after a long flight. "Boarding a cramped plane with cramped muscles is only going to make matters worse," says certified personal trainer Melody Scharff, an instructor at the Fhitting Room in New York City. "Loosening up and sweating it out is always a good idea. Plus, your workout can make your body a little more exhausted and a little more likely to find sleep in-air." Beyond the physical, exercising on a busy travel day can help keep your stress levels in check, Scharff adds. "Almost everyone I know says they feel 'stressed' by a long day of traveling. You have to eat airport food, wait in long lines, and then sit for hours at a time. Working out before your flight will produce some endorphins and make you more ready to handle the day ahead," she says.

So, how can you actually squeeze in a workout? Atkins says your best bet would be a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout, which alternates bursts of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity rest intervals. HIIT will "allow you to get the biggest bang for your buck when looking to fit something in a short amount of time," Atkins says. She recommends a form of HIIT called Tabata, which breaks up every four minutes of exercise into this: 20 seconds of all-out intensity, then 10 seconds of recovery, repeated eight times. And make sure to warm up beforehand and do some light stretching after to really make sure you're loose.

If a workout is just not going to happen before you board the plane, Atkins suggests challenging yourself to not sit down before the flight, so you can at least get some steps in and keep moving. Similarly, Scharff says to avoid the escalators and moving sidewalks, and try to make your trek through the airport as physical as possible. "Walk with good posture and a tight core," she adds. The more you sweat and stretch out before settling into your seat—whether in a gym or just around the terminal—the better you'll feel when you reach your final destination.

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