The Chicken Bus Workout: 5 New Exercises for Backpackers

Chicken Bus Driver/Personal Train

Too many empanadas? Too much white bread? How about Pringles, Oreos and other imported junk food that tastes best when you’re far from home?

It’s easy to pack on the pounds when traveling in Latin America (or anywhere for that matter). And if you’re not careful, those fancy hiking pants that double as shorts could suddenly get tight in the gut.

Not to worry, though. I have devised a solution that’s effortless yet highly effective, which is available to you during those long rides on a chicken bus, colectivo or other DCT (developing country transportation) such as trains or boats. It’s a complete workout: strength training with some cardio thrown in for good measure.

A Unique Exercise Program

Known as the Chicken Bus Workout, this one-of-a-kind exercise plan is my brainchild, which I’ve put together after many years of traveling. I discovered that after a ride of 6 to 8 hours, my body was more toned than previously. I’d also shed a few pounds despite pigging out on junk food.

And now, I’d like to share my secrets with you, my valued readers. Because you’re reading this now/today, the training session is absolutely free. (Of course, you can sign up for my RSS feed or my newsletter to express your gratitude.)

I apologize, however, since I won’t be able to offer any ginsu knives. (They come only with the Asian train workout plan and only for those who go 2nd class.)

Are You Ready to Build Muscle/Burn Fat?

I know you’re eager to get started, but I recommend that you read the disclaimer below first. This will help prevent injury and discomfort.

Disclaimer: Please remember to do a proper warm-up, cool down and to stretch; also check with your physician before starting this (or any) exercise program. Feel free to add your exercises (or stretches) in the Comments section.


This is easy. Just schlep your backpack around a large, confusing bus terminal for about 15 minutes, wondering where the heck the bus is. This will surely get our heart rate up.


As you place  your backpack into the compartment under the bus or in the overhead rack, you’ll naturally be stretching your upper body (try not to pull a muscle, though). Then, as you board the bus and get stuck on the steps (due to a slow-moving line or ticket stamping), take the opportunity to stretch your calf muscles and thighs.


1) Half-Seat Squat (aka, Butt Cheek Squeeze)

You do this when you’re forced to sit in a half seat, with one butt cheek on and the other, off. In order to stabilize yourself, you have to tighten the free butt cheek so that you don´t fall off the seat. While doing so, you also tighten up the quad muscle because you’re in a pseudo squat position. Works especially well if the person next to you has body odor.

Note: this is excellent training for using border bathrooms and other bathrooms in general. You’ll be working the same muscles for the most part.

Musculation des jambes

It's just like being at the gym. Really, it is. Just imagine that only one of this man's butt cheeks is on a seat while the other is off.

2) Butt Bridge

This happens when 6 people sit across a row designed for only 4 people. The two people in the middle, both of whom are doing the half-seat squat, end up forming a bridge of sorts with their butt cheeks. Together, the butts are squeezed and tightened isometrically. Note…the quad is not as involved as in the butt cheek squeeze.

I know--they're not humans and there are no seats. Just imagine their 7 butts taking up a row of 5 seats. Two of those butts would be forced to form a 'bridge' of sorts for stabilization purposes.

3) Bicep/Elbow Grip

This you can do when forced to stand/lean or sit in awkward, uncomfortable positions. Example: in a collectivo designed for 8 people, there may be 12-15 people. Usually, there isn´t anywhere to hold on. So, what you do is with one hand, grab part of a seat. Then, stabilize yourself with your opposing elbow. This is especially good for people with wrist issues.

bus to san juan, nicaragua

Ouch and yeah, a bit awkward. But they're both getting a workout! I think they're now a couple as a result of their intimate bus encounter.

4) Sitting Ab Crunch

This often happens spontaneously when you choose the window seat, thinking you’ll have the entire seat to yourself. Suddenly, someone with a body-bag backpack sits next to you. Or a man with a chicken in a sack. Or a woman with 2  babies. Or, worse yet, someone who hasn’t showered for a long time.

Suddenly, you need to protect and maintain your own personal space. What do you do? You contort your body, carefully tightening your ab muscles, so that you take up as little space as possible and sit as close to the window as possible. This truly works the core muscles–and those of the face.

jonathan is sitting on me and the back seat was very cramped.

That's it--squeeze those muscles!

5) Passive Fat Burner/Cellulite Reducer

This is really easy; even those who are exercise-resistant can do it. Just pick a hot, sticky day and….ride on a chicken bus. If it’s humid enough, conditions will become sauna-like. During this time, you will sweat and your fat will naturally be reduced. It’s a simple as that.

Got cellulite? No worries. If your seat is torn or the person sitting next to you has a burlap sack, let your thigh (or arm) rub up against the surface. This will help reduce the cottage-cheese like appearance of your cellulite better than any fancy cream ever could!

On a crowded bus in Dehli

Obviously, this workout is not occurring in Latin America or on a bus. But remember--you can do chicken bus exercises in any country and on any mode of transport, even a train.

Cool Down

This is quite simple. Either surrender  to the madness of the chicken bus experience or pop a Xanax; either will help your heart rate slow down. Depending on how bumpy or treacherous the ride is, you may fall asleep.

How about you? What are your chicken bus workout tips?

What chicken bus exercises have you done that you recommend? Please describe them below and specify if they’re strength training or cardio. Also, please let us know how many reps are necessary. Thank you.

Related Links

Chicky Bus: It’s not just the name of this site–it’s also the name of a two-part story about a very long bus ride I took from Nicaragua to El Salvador. I definitely got a workout, too–not just my body, but my mind. Come meet the cheese smugglers, a soon-to-be illegal immigrant to the US and other crazy bus characters. There’s also a video of the experience set to some very cool Cumbia. 

Guaguas in the DR and How to Avoid Being Overcharged: Here, the folks over at take you on  a ‘guagua,’ a Dominican mini-van. Like many foreigners, they were, unfortunately, ripped off. I do hope, though, that they at least got a good workout being in that confined space. I would imagine they did at least 2 of the exercises in the Chicken Bus Workout and that’s a good thing.

Chicken Bus Q & A: Everything you wanted to know about chicken buses, but were afraid to ask.

63 Responses to The Chicken Bus Workout: 5 New Exercises for Backpackers
  1. journeyingjames
    January 12, 2011 | 3:31 am

    waaahahahaha! the last photo- we have lots of that situation here in the Phils.

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 10:10 am

      Do you really? If so, then I must come for a visit! I think that chicken buses, etc. are fun no matter where they are! :)

  2. Marsha
    January 12, 2011 | 7:47 am

    Bwhahahaha! I guffawed and even snorted a little reading this. I honestly didn’t realize this was going to be tongue in cheek until the second item on the list. ROFL!
    Marsha recently posted..What Six Days- 3-000 Miles- and a Stick-Shift Saturn Taught Me About LifeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 10:11 am

      Seriously, Marsha? That’s great. So glad you were falling for it! LOL

  3. Michelle B
    January 12, 2011 | 9:43 am

    LOVE it!!!!!

  4. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
    January 12, 2011 | 10:40 am

    Haha! This is great! Scott and I definitely did some of these exercises during our guagua experience. Scott was on a crack and had to use his ab muscles to sit up, since he couldn’t lean back. Thanks for linking our story! I will be adding this hilarious post to our guagua story.
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Guaguas in the DR and How to Avoid Being Overcharged 14My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 11:03 am

      Thank you! Poor Scott. Those ‘crack seats’ can be really unpleasant, especially if you can’t lean back. But according to my special team of chicken bus fitness consultants, he got a lot of bang for his Dominican buck. See, he was working not just his core, but his back muscles, too. And they say that’s important in terms of balance. Although they overcharged you, you did get the free workout (and some extra muscles included). Perhaps it was worth it after all? LOL

      Thanks for reading and for that link. Appreciate it. Enjoyed your story, too! :)

  5. Emily @Travelated
    January 12, 2011 | 10:53 am

    Oh Lisa! This is great! So funny and fun to read :)
    Emily @Travelated recently posted..Why You Shouldn’t Pass Up LaosMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 11:04 am

      Thanks, Emily. Glad you were entertained!!

  6. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World
    January 12, 2011 | 10:56 am

    Lol, hilarious… #5 sounds a little painful :) How about a trice/bicep workout by hanging from the handbar in the bus while it’s going on a winding, uphill road at 40 miles/hr?
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Let’s Be Nosy- Simon and Erin from Never Ending VoyageMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 11:08 am

      Hi, Jill. Great addition to the list. Name? “Tricep/Bicep Extreme Grip” or “Hanging on for Dear Life.” And I think I’ve done that one. It’s amazing how much you can work those muscles when you’re on those treacherous mountain roads, huh?

      Trainers often talk about resistance training….maybe there’s something new here, which they’re missing. I’ll speak to my guys about it and see if they can tell non-chicken bus trainers about our discovery! :)

  7. Iain Mallory
    January 12, 2011 | 12:13 pm

    Haha great piece Lisa and amazingly accurate as well as funny! Not sure that guy gritting his teeth is actually doing any form of ab-crunch though, hope you checked the seat before you sat down!

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 12:21 pm

      Glad you liked it and had a good laugh, Iain! True re: the guy gritting his teeth…busted! I had a hard time finding photos for this (I had to use other people’s mostly). Yes, one must always check the seat before sitting down. Sometimes they’re broken, you know…!

  8. Lorna - the roamantics
    January 12, 2011 | 3:16 pm

    LOL it’s funny because it’s true!!! bus rides will never be the same again- ha ha. oooh, what would you call the one where you’re sort of using your abs & thighs to lift your legs while seated so as not to crush that pig in the flimsy box beneath your feet?!
    Lorna – the roamantics recently posted..Squatting in Sihanoukville- CambodiaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 4:09 pm

      He, he, he… I would say that would be the Seated Ab/Thigh Lift or the Anti Pig Crusher.

      Was there really a box with a pig in it under your feet on a chicken bus? Maybe it’s time for renaming. Bye bye, chicken bus. Hello, animal bus?

  9. Dyanne @TravelnLass
    January 12, 2011 | 4:29 pm

    In a word (o.k. not even, an acronym): ROTFLMAO

    Surely one of your best, my dear! Truly love the way your brain works. Seriously, this stuff could actually WORK! 😉
    Dyanne @TravelnLass recently posted..NEW – Submit a Traveln Haiku Contest!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 5:12 pm

      Thanks so much, Dyanne!! So glad you liked it and that you get/appreciate my unique brain–v cool! :) You know, you’re probably right. It could work. I think that next time I’m on a chicken bus, I’m going to bring a printout of this post and try them out…lol! :)

  10. Erica
    January 12, 2011 | 7:05 pm

    I couldn’t stop giggling during the entire thing and Shaun ended up having me read it aloud so he knew what was going on. Snarky and amazing!
    Erica recently posted..Confronting Fears AbroadMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 7:56 pm

      I love the fact that you read this post out loud for your husband. So cool that you got to share the laughs! :) Thank you for participating in the workout. Feel good now, don’t you…. :)

  11. Nick Laborde
    January 12, 2011 | 8:06 pm

    To think, all those times I was actually exercising… I do #4 a lot.
    Nick Laborde recently posted..Crazy travel dreams- A Mother’s Point of ViewMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 12, 2011 | 8:32 pm

      Hi, Nick. Isn’t great to learn that you weren’t just sitting there being sedentary? #4 is a good one. Really works the core. The problem is that when the ride is over, you need yoga (or a chiro) due to being so scrunched up. Anyway, thanks for joining the fun here!

  12. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
    January 13, 2011 | 8:56 am

    HAHAHA slowly started to realize, this wasn’t a real workout plan. Never claimed to be the brightest one in the bunch!
    Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ recently posted..Interview With the Boys from TrouristMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 13, 2011 | 9:35 am

      So you thought it was real? LOL That’s OK. You’re not the only one. Maybe I should include another disclaimer? Note: What you’re reading is not real. Please don’t try this at home or on a chicken bus. Thanks, Lindsay, for adding to the fun!

      • Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_
        January 13, 2011 | 9:38 am

        haha when I saw the url for it on twitter, yes!

        • CB Driver
          January 13, 2011 | 10:26 am

          Cool. That means I tweeted that well! :)

  13. Julia
    January 13, 2011 | 9:01 am

    Damn those Oreos and Pringles……….I wouldn’t mind, I never eat them at home!! :)
    Julia recently posted..No Hue Yes Hue!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 13, 2011 | 9:36 am

      LOL…yeah, they’re bad news, aren’t they? I rarely eat them at home, but sometimes when I’m traveling, they start looking good. Thanks for your visit/comment!

  14. Steve Collins
    January 13, 2011 | 3:24 pm

    Wow, Lisa, I can see a paradox developing here. This new exercise plan (New York Times Bestseller Chickybus Exercise Planw)will make you wealthier than you ever imagined; then you’ll start traveling 1st class and losing the benefits of this exercise program…
    Steve Collins recently posted..Tidbits- a Splurge- Santa Fe Winter Fiesta- ARTfeast and moreMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 13, 2011 | 6:30 pm

      Hi, Steve. Funny…and you’re right! With all that money coming in, I’d no longer be a budget traveler. I wouldn’t have to carry a backpack and wouldn’t need to brace myself on the bus like I normally do. I could also sell overpriced e-books teaching others how to make money using the “Chicky Bus technique.”

      Of course, if I really missed the chicken bus experience/workout, I could buy my own bus and hire the driver in the photo to help me out! :)

  15. jamie - @thecloud_people
    January 13, 2011 | 6:30 pm

    classic post! exercise video release soon?
    you are probably working on lung capacity as well thanks to oxygen depravation with the thick diesel fumes funneling in.
    jamie – @thecloud_people recently posted..6 Months of Blog Action &amp the 2011 Road AheadMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 13, 2011 | 8:26 pm

      Hi! Yes, the video is being worked on as we speak. I’ve decided to use chickens for it, though, since humans were just too expensive! As for the diesel, I think you’re right. We may need to install something on these workout buses to filter the air. Thanks for troubleshooting that, Jamie! I have a feeling you may have tried some of these chicken bus workouts before. :)

  16. Zablon Mukuba
    January 14, 2011 | 1:15 am

    lol, is this what you do to lose weight?

    • CB Driver
      January 15, 2011 | 12:01 am

      Hi, Zablon. Yes, it’s much more effective than regular workouts that one would do in a gym. The reason is…it’s all ‘core!’

  17. Jeremy B
    January 14, 2011 | 3:45 am

    Interesting and humorous take on how to keep fit when in a sticky situation. On a serious note, I actually get more exercise traveling than I do at home. However, this post makes an excellent point that goes beyond the humor for me – wherever you may be, it’s easy to find little ways to get in shape and burn some calories so you can enjoy a few more years of traveling! :)
    Jeremy B recently posted..Photos of the valleyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 15, 2011 | 12:10 am

      Hi, Jeremy. Great that you get even more exercise when traveling! I can see how that’s possible. All kidding (and Pringles) aside, I think that I do become stronger over time when on a trip, especially in terms of cardio (from walking a lot more in general and carrying a backpack.)

      Anyway, I like the idea of getting in shape and enjoy a longer traveling career. Cheers to that being the case for you, me and fellow travelers ! :)

  18. Sabina
    January 14, 2011 | 5:54 pm

    I think this is really clever. I’m big on exercising while traveling but not actually…while traveling. It’s good to know if I ever take a chicken bus I can do lose and get toned while doing so :)

    • CB Driver
      January 15, 2011 | 12:15 am

      Hi, Sabina. I get what you’re saying re: while and…while. And yes, it’s true that both are possible. At least, that’s what the recent studies from the AACBEP (American Association of Chicken Bus Exercise Physiology are claiming! :)

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  20. Aaron
    January 14, 2011 | 11:04 pm

    These are hilarious tips Lisa!
    Aaron recently posted..“We’re Getting Married Tomorrow…At a Buddhist Temple” in ThailandMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 15, 2011 | 12:17 am

      Thanks, Aaron. Glad you found them amusing. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to try the workout on your next trip? Remember–you can do these exercises in other countries (including those in Asia) and not just on buses! :)

  21. Elle
    January 15, 2011 | 9:19 am

    This is too funny!
    Elle recently posted..76 Sleep on the deck of a shipMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 16, 2011 | 12:30 am

      So glad you had fun with it!

  22. Sprite
    January 15, 2011 | 11:50 am

    omg, hysterical!

  23. Gray
    January 16, 2011 | 6:56 pm

    LOL, this is hilarious, Lisa! I think I’ll stick to my floor exercises and lots of walking. :-)
    Gray recently posted..Eating Around ParisMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 17, 2011 | 8:30 am

      Hi, Gray. Glad you got a kick out of it! Your routine sounds very good. No risk of chicken bus bruises! :)

  24. Steve
    January 17, 2011 | 12:39 pm

    What a fun post. I’ve done many of these exercises on my trips. Is that why I’m so toned? One thing that worked out my legs was getting a bus seat over the wheel of the bus. My legs were cramped up against my body for several hours. At the end, my legs felt like I’d spent some serious time in the gym.
    Steve recently posted..The Travel Itinerary for Your LifeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      January 17, 2011 | 12:58 pm

      Thanks, Steve! I think that is why you’re so toned. See, without even realizing it, you’ve been doing the Bus Wheel Leg Toner By sitting there, you had to tighten your leg while keeping your knee up (due to the presence of the wheel). This works all parts of the upper leg, especially the quad muscles. Really effective since you don’t have to work the various muscles separately.

      I’m so glad that you, too, have benefitted from the C Bus workout. Looks like 1000s of travelers have! :)

  25. Emma
    January 17, 2011 | 5:46 pm

    Haha! =D

  26. Mark Mayo
    April 7, 2011 | 12:51 am

    Haha – brilliant. I’ll admit at first I too thought it might be an actual workout 😉 Love the photos, the intimate couple and the butt bridge are fantastic finds!
    Mark Mayo recently posted..Iquique – Warm in the North of ChileMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      April 7, 2011 | 8:56 am

      Hi, Mark. You know–you’re not the first to think that. And so, I wonder if I should write an e-book and charge $4.99 for it! Glad you enjoyed it…thank you! :)

  27. Peter Finn
    April 18, 2011 | 11:08 am

    Instead of an e-book, make it an app and charge 99 cents for it. The money just keeps pouring in… 😉

  28. […] The Chicken Bus Workout: 5 Exercises for Backpackers […]

  29. Maria
    October 11, 2011 | 5:06 pm

    Oh my! Had to make a mad dash while reading this – *almost* PIMP.

    Half-Seat Squat (aka, Butt Cheek Squeeze)is my favorite and can be easily done on a 1st world city bus during rush hours. *grin*
    Maria recently posted..Farming the WindMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      October 11, 2011 | 7:49 pm

      Maria–So glad you didn’t PIYP–LOL. But I do understand that urge. The most important thing is to never have that happen while doing the exercises on a chicken bus. Things could get ugly, you know? :) And yes, true re: doing the Half-Seat Squat–it could be done here during rush hour!

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  31. Grrrl Traveler |Christine
    November 19, 2011 | 8:20 am

    That Musculation de Jambes siggn is a hoot. Is that an exercise sign?

    Inner thigh workout: Riding (standing), surrounded by grannies and little kids, in a packed local bus that goes high speed and comes to screeching halts. Everyone goes flying.

    Thank you India, my legs never gained weight in your country!
    Grrrl Traveler |Christine recently posted..Packing Tips: Should you pack a travel towel?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      November 20, 2011 | 7:48 am

      Hi, Christine. Funny sign, right? LOL Your exercise for inner thighs is great. Sounds like it really, um, isolates that muscle group. Will try it next time I’m on a chicken bus (regardless of the country). Thank you! :)

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  33. alex
    September 22, 2012 | 12:28 am

    LMFAO! i couldn’t have put it more perfectly myself!

    i especially loved the imaginary seat in the middle of the aisle in guatemala…WOW
    alex recently posted..Travel Fashion Girl Recommends: My Favorite Travel ResourcesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 26, 2012 | 11:10 am

      H, Alex. Thanks for taking a ‘ride’ on the ‘bus’ with me! LOL Yeah, the butt sqeeze is rough, but highly entertaining! :)

  34. Chaos Queen
    December 17, 2014 | 2:57 pm

    That bus on top is like super cool and if my sister saw it, she would go crazy cause she loves peace signs

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