How to keep working out on vacation

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It's vacation season, and we all agree we should take a break from work. But that doesn't mean we should take a break from working out. Working out is a great habit that, once broken, can be hard to pick up again. But you can still fit it into your overseas tour or beach visit.

"The priority is still the vacation. The question becomes how and what can we incorporate to stay active? If we're at the beach, maybe we do some paddleboarding, beach jogging, bike rides," says Victor Maldonado, a personal trainer in Washington.

Washington running coach Kathy Pugh doesn't just advise her clients to go on running tours when they visit new places, she does it herself. This summer, she and her 14-year-old daughter jogged the streets of Cleveland. "We probably logged at least a 10K one of the days," Pugh says. But better yet, their running tours were lined with street art and views of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, and punctuated by a visit to West Side Market and a glorious lunch of pizza and cannolis in Cleveland's Little Italy. "It was a culture, art, foodie run tour, and never once did we have to find and pay for parking," Pugh says.

It's true that running tours and paddleboarding don't exactly equate to a one-hour spin class, or several sets of dead lifts and pull-ups. But unless you're training for a marathon or are on a very long vacation (more on those later) it's not so important to perfectly replicate what you're doing fitness-wise at home, says Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for the American Council on Exercise.

"I recommend moving away from the 'all or nothing' mind-set that is so common when it comes to fitness and nutrition," Matthews says. "The key to developing and maintaining lasting healthful habits is to remain flexible in your approach."

This can mean not only different physical activities but splitting up your desired minutes of exercise per day into smaller portions. "An example could be performing 10 minutes of body-weight exercises in your hotel room first thing in the morning, a 10-minute swim in the pool in the afternoon after lunch, and a 10-minute walk around town in the evening to soak up the sights," Matthews says.

If you need motivation, consider what doing nothing on vacation can cost you. Here the principle of reversibility — which Matthews sums up as "if you don't use it, you lose it" — comes into play. According to Mathews, the body starts experiencing changes after as little as one week of inactivity. Declines in cardiorespiratory fitness begin after seven to 10 days (strength, however, doesn't begin declining until three weeks or more of inactivity).

That means that if you're training for a marathon, you might not be able to take it quite as easy on vacation, Pugh says. Instead, you might seek out local running clubs or ask a concierge to help you map out a safe running route.

If you are vacationing for weeks on end, you might want to check out the local gym and see if they offer week passes, says Maldonado, who often gives his clients workout programs for the road, including a non-gym body-weight workout.

"You can do a lot with body-weight exercises like lunges and squats, sit-ups and push-ups," Maldonado says. "You also start looking for 'hidden' equipment. Maybe a couch can be used for [triceps] dips."

Another important aspect of not coming back from vacation feeling discouraged and out of shape is to keep an eye on vacation eating — in a mindful, not punishing way, Matthews says. If you're going to indulge in boardwalk french fries or ice cream sundaes, then do so without guilt or shame and focus on eating vegetables and fruits and other foods in their whole state. She also recommends broiled, baked and grilled over sauteed and fried food, as well as keeping healthful snacks such as raw almonds on hand.

Maldonado, who agrees about guilt-free indulgences, warns his clients not to try to make up for indulging in boardwalk fries by taking a walk around the block. "That's a false equivalency and it can also make exercise seem like punishment," he says. (A true exercise equivalency for that 500-plus calorie portion of boardwalk fries — just FYI — would be for a 150-pound person to jog for one hour.)

The bottom line is that vacationers should return re-energized and ready to continue making healthy choices every day. Maldonado puts it this way: "Fitness is so much more than a number on a scale and the size of your waist. It's about healthy habits and having energy and community."

To give you an idea of what's possible on the road, here are a couple of exercises from Maldonado that can be done with a hotel or beach towel.

Isometric towel curl

20 reps per arm, 3 sets

— Grip one end of a towel and put your foot on the other end. This is your starting position.

— Keeping your elbow tightly at your side, position your forearm so it is parallel to the ground.

— Contract your biceps as you pull up on the towel. Because you are standing on the other end of the towel, the fabric will not move, but you will feel the contraction in the biceps. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds.

— Relax your arm and repeat. Once you have complete the recommended number of repetitions, switch the towel to your other hand and repeat.

Standing towel row

20 reps, 3 sets

— Wrap a long beach towel around a pole and hold each end. Place your feet at the base of the pole and lean back so your arms are straight. This is the starting position.

— Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels as you pull yourself forward with your arms, keeping your elbows tucked close into your ribs.

— Retract your shoulder blades toward the middle of your back. Pause once your hands have come to your chest and your shoulders are fully contracted, then slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.

Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer. She can be found at gabriellaboston.com.


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