Home Blog Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation: Part 1

Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation: Part 1

Written on April 11, 2011 at 5:16 pm, by Eric Cressey

A few years ago, as my wife and I were discussing where we wanted to go for our honeymoon, we both agreed that we wanted to go somewhere that we could be active.  The “sit by the pool and crush margaritas” vacation just isn’t us – and that’s why we wound up in Costa Rica for nine days in March.  From everything we read, Costa Rica was a place where you could hike, surf, ride horses, snorkel, zipline – and get your heart rate up just by driving on narrow, cliffside roads with drivers so aggressive that they make Boston cabbies look like they’re just getting their learners’ permits.

Anyway, our “active” vacation got me to thinking about just how many people completely blow it with their workout routines and diets when they are on vacation.  I know what you’re thinking: “vacations are supposed to be time off from everything, so quit being such a nitpicker!”

I’ll agree: a vacation should be completely relaxing (and ours was), but I’d argue that doing absolutely nothing on vacation is a problem for most people for four reasons.

First, vacations are almost always a time when folks are confronted with obscene amounts of food and alcohol.  You’re not just eating a larger quantity of food; you’re eating “out” more with others preparing that food.  You’re also tempted by foods that are “new” to you – which can quickly shift the macronutrient breakdown that feels best in your normal diet.  I, for instance, ate a ton of fresh fruit in Costa Rica at pretty much every meal in spite of the fact that I’m a guy who normally doesn’t eat a ton of carbs.

When so much is out of your control on the dietary front – and you’re tempted by foods you wouldn’t otherwise eat (like that third slice of cake at 1AM on the all-inclusive cruise), exercise could be your best friend.  Well, that and cracking your own coconuts when you don’t have a sharp knife on hand.

(for the record, I made an awesome pina colada protein shake out of Metabolic Cooking with fresh pineapple and coconut)

Second, a lot of people see dramatic changes to their normal sleep schedule while on vacation.  My wife and I actually wound up going to bed earlier and waking up earlier while there because we were usually wiped out by the end of the day and the sun was so bright in the morning.  Plus, on a few occasions, we had monkeys throwing mangos at our roof (not kidding).

However, most people go in the opposite direction: in bed at 2AM and up at 12PM.  We know that sleep quality, duration, and timing has a huge impact on how our body functions, so canning exercise at a time when sleep is at its poorest might not be the best idea.

Third, most vacations are longer than your typical deload week, especially when you factor in travel days.  Taking 5-7 days off is one thing, but nixing your training effect for up to two weeks is a recipe for getting soft – or, even worse, falling off the exercise bandwagon altogether.

Fourth, I’ll probably take some heat for this, as I wrote in The Art of the Deload, I think that the idea of a complete deload week is a silly idea for the overwhelming majority of the population.

The last statistic I saw had 64% of Americans as overweight or obese.  Of the other 36%, there are probably quite a few people who are naturally slender and don’t even exercise – which means that maybe a quarter of all Americans actually exercise and are in a shape other than “round.”  Go to any gym, and think about how many of those 25% of the population actually work hard enough in their strength training programs to justify taking a full week off.

Fifth, traveling sometimes means that you spend entire days sitting on planes and in airports.  A long plane ride can make an 8-hour day at your cubicle feel like a walk in the park.  I know my body is always the most stubborn when it comes to warming up the day after a long plane ride.  Some moving around on vacation can really do the body good when it comes to maintaining mobility.

Now that I’ve made my case for vacation exercise, check back soon for Part 2, where I’ll talk about what we did for training in Costa Rica.

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16 Responses to “Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation: Part 1”

  1. Kyle Says:

    Been to Costa Rica twice. Once for 10 days, once for 5 weeks. Awesome place. the 530am sunrise and 530 pm sunset gets me on a great sleep schedule. (In combination with the roosters and howler monkeys who won’t let you sleep past 6am).

  2. Ben Harris Says:

    That is one thing that really took me by surprise, was how early the sun sets in the tropics! Summertime in British Columbia, the sun doesn’t set until 21:00! Looks like your trip to Costa Rica was awesome!

  3. Todd Hamer Says:

    Preach on brother! One thing I do while on vaca is train while my wife is getting ready. In other words I am showered and ready to role in 15 minutes if she takes 45 or even an hour. When we get up I will head to the hotel gym or even the beach, set my stop watch at 20 or 30 minutes and say this is how long I have. Do something get in and get out. I do not want to spend my vaca in a gym so do something and have fun.

  4. Steve B Says:

    Outstanding post. Objects in motion should stay in motion for the most part. Sharks never stop swimming or they’ll sink.

  5. Carolyn Swaney Says:

    Sounds like an amazing Honeymoon. Mine was in Costa Rica, too! Also, good to know vacation workouts get the Cressey stamp of approval. I just got back from three days in Vegas where my strip runs–have you seen how many stairs there are to run?!–were SERIOUSLY frowned upon. They made me feel amazing though!

  6. R Smith Says:


    Talk about a post that is needed. I “stole” one of your ideas for cramming a weeks worth of workouts in ahead of the trip, when possible, and that works fine for me.
    And because I hate eating out, I always ensure where I stay has a full kitchen so I can eat pretty much the exact same things (at least as far as macronutrient ratios are concerned) I normally eat.
    Still, I try to move around a lot and, most important, try to make time to do my mobility drills. In the end, I usually get leaner when I travel.

  7. Domenic Says:

    Great Article EC,
    I’ve always had this idea of sitting and relaxing on a beach and doing nothing during vacation, but it doesn’t really work in practice. You have to exert yourself to some extent almost every day or it is impossible to relax. Plus you end up feeling a fat POS in no time otherwise!

    Also saw this article on Boston.com, researchers are pinpointing what you have been saying for years now. Good thing we don’t wait for studies!


  8. Mike Says:

    great article. I tend to do bodyweight exercises while on vacations to keep the softness away.

    btw looking mighty strong on the pic! I could easily believe you cracked that coconut on your forehead with that kind of shape.

  9. Sarah Says:

    We build a lot of our “long-weekends” around some kind of competitive event, like a Mud Run. Usually it’s nothing we’re taking too seriously.

  10. Luke Says:

    I went on holiday with my girlfriend to Jamaica for two weeks. It rained for most of it, so thank god we took the TRX with us!

  11. Peter Says:

    At least in my experience, NEPA goes way up on vacation, even while actual gym time goes down. You tend to do a lot more walking and moving around outdoors. Vacation sex also burns calories and can act as a bit of an appetite suppressant.

  12. kate Says:

    We just spent a week in Nosara, Costa Rica and had an active family holiday with teenagers, surfing everyday. I took along the TRX and we hooked it to a tree on the beach for circuit type workouts as well as nice long runs on the beach. My boys also downloaded some circuits from Men’s Health and did them in the evenings. Hard to imagine a holiday without exercise, hardly relaxing!

  13. Csaba Bhody Says:

    When I travel, I bring along my protein bars and protein powder, and I try to eat lost of fresh fruits every day! I try to start the day with morning running, while exploring the neighborhood…

  14. Dave Cudlipp Says:

    Thanks, Eric! I leave Friday for 15 days in Asia (including a week on the beach in Vietnam). Now I’m going to feel guilty about not working out the entire time. Hopefully the resort won’t have a gym so I won’t have to feel too bad.

  15. Trudy Says:

    Love the article. Just back from a 3 week holiday to Sth America, which was a hockey (field) tour,. Nothing better than traveling the world AND being able to combine it with exercise. The body enjoyed the break from normal workouts but still got a workout playing hockey most days. Managed to fit in a couple of runs, home now and straight back into training. Love it.

  16. Steve Says:

    Good for you!
    Mike Boyle and the rest of the Performbetter crew should take your lead! Maybe 1 one week: ” Learn By Doing”

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