Should you work out on holiday?
Is it OK to exercise on holiday – or is using the hotel gym the antithesis of relaxation? A fan of the former, Ally Sinyard asks the experts for some top tips on getting the balance right
“What are you doing?” my friend asked from her sun-lounger, as I held on to mine to stretch out my calves. “Going for a run along the beach,” I replied, trying to sound casual but knowing I was breaking a holiday taboo. “Of course you are,” she smiled, turning to another friend beside her. “Ally, you’re making us feel bad!”
Holidays are generally meant to be about relaxing – I know that. But my idea of relaxing, as much as I might try and fight it, means being active. Even a year into the pandemic, I still have a stack of unread books from 2020 on my shelf and lists of films saved on my phone.
So off I went, running along the three miles of soft, sandy beach that lay before the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in Florida. A friend from university had got married there the day before, and we three bridesmaids were now dutifully soaking up some sun. After about an hour of lounging, staring out to sea and rereading the same page of my book three times, I knew I wasn’t really relaxing. I was doing what I thought people were meant to do on holidays. (I should also point out that I don’t drink, so wasn’t nursing a post-wedding hangover, either.)
As I ran along the beach, I took in the sights of Marco Island: the palm trees, hotels and condos that lined the coast; the chickee huts dotting the sand; families playing in the sea and a man selling watermelon slices and coconuts from a wheelbarrow. I got lost in thought as my feet hit a rhythmic beat along the sand. It was bliss – and, once I’d had my fill, I ran straight into the sea.
For me, working out on holiday is my rest and relaxation, but that’s not to say I do it on every single trip. When I take my annual city break with a good friend, it’s all about seeing the sights of Porto, Valletta or Bucharest — I only pack my running shoes for walking in. But if I’m going away to relax, to enjoy a home away from home, I’ll take as many sports bras as I take bikini tops.
If those trainers stay firmly in your suitcase, you’re not alone. According to a 2017 study by Cornell University, 46 per cent of hotel guests intend to use the hotel gym, but only 22 per cent actually do. So if you prefer to just put your feet up on your next holiday, then that’s what’s right for you.
“Going on holiday means different things to different people,” says Sara Picken-Brown, holistic wellbeing coach and former pro athlete. “What’s most important is returning with your mind, body and spirits feeling refreshed and ready to engage.
“Some may see holiday exercise as a ‘taboo’, that it defeats the purpose of recuperation time, but I would argue the majority of us spend up to 12 hours a day sitting in front of computers, which is very counterproductive to overall physical and mental health. That doesn’t mean we have to go flat out on holiday – a little fresh air, sunshine and gentle activity is enough.”
If fitness is a big part of your daily life, as it is mine, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re packing gym gear for the right reasons. “Exercising on holiday is OK as long as it’s something you enjoy,” says Ryan Hodgson, coach and owner of HH at the Waterfront in Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel, Jersey. “It’s about getting that balance right while ensuring your body is getting enough rest.”
“If you train a lot at home,” Hodgson adds, “it’s time to rest on holiday. And, if you don’t want to rest, get out and be active without ‘exercising’, so to speak.” If you usually hit the gym, why not enjoy the pool instead? If you’re a runner, why not rent a bike and explore the city? This could be an opportunity to try something new, which comes with added mental benefits, too. “Exercising in a new environment makes your body work in new ways,” says Picken-Brown. “This challenges the neural pathways, encourages the brain to fire and wire cohesively and gives the body a chance to heal.”
At the same time, if you never train at home, your holiday isn’t the time to start. Nor is it the time to push yourself near or past your limits. I certainly wouldn’t use it as an opportunity to try CrossFit for the first time. “The last thing anyone would want is an injury to dampen their vacation,” says Serena Virtue, fitness manager at 10XTO, Hotel X Toronto. “We should work out to make our body feel more energised, not to punish it. The main thing is to listen to your body and go easy on yourself.”
The bottom line is asking yourself what exercise brings to your holiday. For me, it’s more of a luxury than a necessity. I will always prioritise having new experiences and connecting with my travel buddies over a workout I could get at home, and I would never hit the gym because I feel I ‘should’ or to ‘justify’ enjoying the food.
But if I have the time, or I’m feeling restless, or there’s an amazing gym or pool that’s begging to be explored, I will absolutely dive in!
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