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Do I need to workout on vacation?

A workout before travelling provides an immune system boost. But what about a workout during your vacations? Should you keep doing some kind of exercise or maybe it's best to switch off? And what kind of workout can you do with minimal to no equipment? Here's a 10-exercise routine I did during my working holiday in Greece.

Vacation, a time of year we all look forward to. Time to switch off from everyday stressors and get some much-needed rest, relaxation and for some maybe even a little adventure. Assuming you are not headed off on some physically demanding break like hiking the Andes, surfing the Hawaiian swells or building your time away around running a marathon the question may arise “should I keep doing some kind of workout?”

Bodyweight and isometrics are very convenient to do when working out on holidays.


If you are just going for a week away, you may simply want to relax and physically, as well as mentally unwind. Your decision can depend on the amount of stress you have been facing in your everyday life. If you have been pushing things, the commitments have been building up and you are somewhat sleep deprived then a week on the beach with nothing more than floating in the sea and gentle strolls may be exactly what you need. Additionally, with just a week away, all the travel and settling in to a new environment means there is already little time to destress as it is.

What if you are going away for longer, or your lifestyle has been fairly well balanced recently and you are not in sleep debt? There is little need to workout on your 1-2 week vacation if you don’t want to, you are not going to lose any of your gains. A little time away from formal exercise has even been shown to somewhat boost results when you return to working out, even after 2-3 weeks off… so you don’t need to feel obliged to exercise if you instinctively desire to rest or simply want a change of pace.


Who can benefit from working out during vacations?

If you have only recently established a positive exercise routine in the past few months, keeping the habit going during your time away may be just what you need. Until the exercise habit is fully engrained in your lifestyle the interruption of a week or two away from exercising may break your fledgling habit. A break in the pattern can actually reduce your motivation for starting up again when you get home. If you think you this may apply to you then I recommend that you at least do some exercise whilst away even if it is not your full at-home schedule.

I prefer to keep my workout habit going even whilst away on vacation, a personal choice, it is such a valuable part of my lifestyle on many levels. Unless I really do feel the need for complete rest, I keep my regular schedule going and this includes 1-2 HIT style resistance training workouts per week.


How to train whilst away

You may have a hotel gym, or a resort gym that caters to walk-ins, but what if you don’t or don’t want to have to go anywhere? Or you don’t want to have to figure out how to use alien equipment and correct loads? Bodyweight and isometrics are your convenient friends in this situation.

We filmed a recent workout I performed on vacation to give you a little flavor and inspiration! A bit of background to the workout: at home I currently run three, full body rotating routines, an A, B and a C. I love ‘em and although the exercises are mainly performed on a machine I wanted to do direct translations of those workouts whilst away with no equipment (well ok minimal “equipment”).

First thing I do when deciding to do a vacation workout is survey my surroundings, what do I have to hand and what physical characteristics of the environment can I use to my advantage? This is part of the creative fun, I am not looking for perfect, I am looking for what can be adapted to give my muscles a great stimulus.


Here’s the routine I perform in the video and what I needed/did to make it happen.


1. Neck extension

This was going to be performed as an isometric, specifically a Timed Static Contraction (TSC). TSC is a super adaptable protocol from Super Slow founder Ken Hutchins. All you need to do this particular exercise, is a wall or the floor- something solid to push back against, sure a folded towel between you and the solid/stable surface is going to be much more comfortable (and I highly recommend it), but I went hardcore…no towel for me that day.

To do the exercise you are going to push back as if attempting to push the back of your head through the solid surface. Please no run up… concussion is not a desirable vacation add-on in anyone’s book. Instead make contact very gently first, then use the neck musculature (extensors) increasing force and gradually ramping up to a perceived 50% (moderate) effort, maintain this for 20-30 seconds then gradually increase force up to a perceived 75% effort for the next 20-30 seconds, then finally, and as ever, gradually ramp it up once more to 100% effort.

Yes an app that audibly pings every 20-30 seconds could be used, I like old school counting though, dividing second counts with a mental instruction: “1, moderate, 2 moderate”…etc, “1, nearly, 2, nearly…” etc (the “nearly” is my shorthand for “nearly as hard as you dare”) and for the last part of the set “1, harder, 2, harder…”etc. The mental instructions not only remind me how hard I need to be pushing at each moment during the set, they also make sure I don’t rush the count. Just like as a kid how you used to count “1, Mississippi, 2, Mississippi…” to make sure you let the other kids have time to hide before you did the seeking. If you haven’t done TSC’s before they can be surprisingly fatiguing to the local musculature.

By the way, I use a few TSC exercises in this routine, and watching TSC exercises is at best just a little more exciting than watching paint dry (tip: to elevate fascination levels somewhat look out for the trainee’s breathing rate increasing as the set progresses and the exercise gets more challenging). For this reason, in the accompanying video we have sped up the video x4 during TSC exercises… I’m not breathing that fast!


2. Push ups

Push up handles are nice, but unless your wrists are screwed, all you really need is the floor, especially if you are only doing them during occasional away day workouts. Don’t know how to do proper push ups? Watch the video, check out our DIY course or get a copy of Bill DeSimone’s Congruent Exercise.


3. Rear Deltoid Row

First major bit of creative thinking for me for this workout. I wanted to do this exercise dynamically (with movement). Without a chin up station to hand pulling movements are often the most challenging exercises to accommodate during off-the-cuff vacation workouts. There is always a surface to push against, there is not always something (safe) to pull against.

Without a TRX kit or monkii bars to hand, I found a climber’s daisy chain and looped it around some solid ground floor window guards which were conveniently at an appropriate height. I do realize that I got lucky finding a daisy chain and window guards… I found ‘em, so I used ‘em. A large beach towel knotted at one end and secured over a shut door can work in a similar fashion, hat tip to Chris Highcock’s Hillfit: Strength ebook for that idea. Make sure anything you rig up is secure and more than capable of holding your weight and the forces you will put through it, you don’t want to end up like this young lady.


4. Biceps Curl

Same set up as above, different joint positions, emphasis on the biceps. Again, the towel set up mentioned can work for this one too.


5. Hip Adduction

Another TSC exercise as per number one. You’ll want a chair or surface to sit on. I really needed a rolled-up towel to place between my knees… I forgot it, the workout started, we were filming and I didn’t want to interrupt the flow. When you watch the video, you can see a moment of brief brain overdrive as my mind realizes “No towel …crap …um …use your hands!”. The compression on my hands was not unbearable, was however uncomfortable, certainly not recommended, grab the towel, fold plenty of times and squeeze into that, targeting the hip adductors. Your hands will thank me for it.


6. Wall Sit

An isometric (static) exercise but not a TSC exercise. With the wall sit, you are simply sitting against the wall, with the joint positions shown in the video. This places the greatest emphasis on the quadriceps and presents a very decent muscular and mental challenge. If you can, the goal is to hold it until you can no longer sustain the position. James Steele is a wall sit master you can check his out his 3+ minute epic for motivation here. This exercise is a quad burner folks.


7. Hamstring curl

You need a chair and ideally a mat to soften the surface you lay on, I only had the chair. Starting with feet elevated on the chair and knees and hips both around 90 degrees, you push down through your heels into the chair and the contraction force produced by the hamstrings elevates your hips off the floor.


8. Hip Abduction

The third and final TSC exercise in this routine, back up on the chair, seated this time. Use a strong belt wrapped around your thighs, just above the knee joint. You are squeezing outward into the sides of the belt, abducting with the hips and mainly working the gluteus medius and minimus.


9. Squats

I used the daisy chain I had set up for the rows and biceps to assist with balance. You don’t need to, you can simply extend your arms out in front of you to act as a counterbalance to the rearward movement of the hips. Alternatively, you can hold the back of a sturdy and stable chair or use the handles on each side of an open door. You are not looking to pull on the supports- a very light, gentle touch is all that is required for stability.


10. Side Plank

All you need is the floor, but a folded towel under the feet and one under the supporting forearm/elbow will certainly increase the comfort factor significantly (particularly the one under the feet).


There you have it, one of my vacation workouts. I am a bit of a completist, as you can see from the workout. You can simplify things easily by just doing the push ups, a row variation and squats for one, two or three rounds, your choice. Heck you can even just do the push ups and squats, without a requirement to think about “equipment” at all. It’s your vacation, do what you like, you deserve it.

Bonus Tip: A workout before travelling provides an immune system boost. It is a mistaken (yet commonly held) belief that air quality on a plane is poor and a risk factor for bacteria and virus spread. Despite this when travelling you will be spending plenty of time in communal areas, mingling with a large number of individuals. In these circumstances there may well be a general risk of exposure to a greater number of bacteria and viruses than in a typical day. It can’t hurt to give your immune system a bit of a pre-emptive boost. A HIT work out provides such a boost and for this reason I will usually get a workout in somewhere between 24 and 2 hours before I leave home. Another benefit of doing this is it tends to leave me feeling somewhat calmer during the travel process too which is a definite benefit.

8 responses on "Do I need to workout on vacation?"

  1. Great workout Simon. Does not fit the Aio in the hand luggage :)

    • Thanks! The AIO may be the swiss army knife of exercise machines, unfortunately it doesn’t fold up that small.

      • I really like the AIO. Unfortunately, so far I have only been able to test the Futureline devices and I am thrilled with them. Unfortunately, there are only 2 AIO here in Germany. Maybe I can test the AIO there. I read your AIO article and it sounds like it’s a great device for a personal trainer. If it is only half as good as the individual machines it would be great.

  2. Great workout, Simon! My legs would be nothing but lime-flavoured jelly by the end of that one…

  3. I do something similar permanently:
    Wallsit, TSC Pullover, TSC Biceps Curl, Push Up, Heel Raise, TSC Row, Pike Push Up, Hip Raise, Crunch, Neck Extension, Neck Flexion.
    Done under 20 minutes, TSC are 30/20/10. No equipment, except maybe a stopwatch for TSC.

  4. I train my vacationing clients online with bodyweight only exercises. I assume they will have barely any room to move about in a hotel room, and NO equipment. It’s logistically challenging, but it works.

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