Each time I prepare for a vacation, I pack my workout clothes and gear. I include resistance bands and wonder – Will I really exercise on vacation? Isn’t the point to take a break from real life?

Escaping reality is good for the soul. Escaping the usual workout is good for the body. However, a vacation can be the perfect time to exercise. By breaking your routine, you open your mind to new ways to move, have fun, and stay fit on vacation.


If you want to keep your cardio endurance and have fun, many vacations will give you a great workout. And, they won’t feel like exercising. Some of the best workouts include:

  • Walking on the beach. Walking in soft sand is a killer workout and burns more calories than walking on flat ground. Some experts suggest that you can burn twice as many calories walking on soft sand. Keep it safe by wearing shoes. You may get shin splints if you go barefoot too long. Go for a few minutes at a time to get used to it. You’ll be surprised how hard it is.
  • Beach volleyball. You can burn over 150 calories an hour. The amount depends on how hard you work. Beach volleyball is a fun way to meet people.
  • Surfing, swimming and snorkeling. Surfing is a total body workout that will challenge every muscle in your body. Even if you just paddle out to the waves and fall off (like I do), you’ll get a great workout. Snorkeling is a bit more leisurely, but you can add intensity by swimming a little harder. If you’re at a calm beach, put on your snorkel gear and swim out and back a few times to get your blood moving.
  • Leisurely bike rides. Long bike rides are a great way to see the area while getting in some low-intensity exercise. If you take your time and go all day, you’ll burn calories without even thinking about it.
  • Hiking. Anytime you add elevation to your walks, you’ll burn more calories. If you carry a backpack, you’ll challenge yourself more. You’ll do so while enjoying a little nature. Ask your hotel concierge about nearby hikes. Or, visit AllTrails to find trails near big cities.
  • Golf. Golf can be a dud of a workout if you ride around in a cart and drink beer at every hole. If you want to burn more calories, though, carry your clubs and walk the course. You’ll burn around 200-300 calories per hour. You’ll burn even more if you hit every ball into a bunker and add 19 strokes to each hole, like I do.
  • Tennis. Like golf, a game of tennis can be as easy or hard as you want it to be. Chasing the ball and hitting it like Serena Williams or Roger Federer will give you a great workout. It burns up to 400 calories for a 150-lb person.
  • Shopping. Okay, maybe shopping isn’t intense. But, it can be very aerobic in the right circumstances. If shopping is your activity, make it count. Walk fast, take the stairs, and avoid fatty foods at the food court.

Lifting Weights

Finding fun cardio activities is easy when you’re on vacation. Lifting weights, however, presents more of a challenge. You usually don’t have much equipment. The idea of going to the hotel gym isn’t that appealing when you’re trying to have fun.

You don’t have to do much, however, to maintain your strength and muscle while you’re out of town. A quick workout with body weight exercises or resistance bands will keep you strong and fit. You can also use full water bottles. It will do so until you get back home to your usual routine.

These resources will help you work your body with short, efficient workouts:

If I Don’t Exercise, How Fast Will I Lose Muscle and Endurance?

If you decide to use your vacation to rest from exercise entirely, you may wonder what happens to your body. How long can you go before you lose fitness? How fast you lose endurance and muscle depends mostly on your genetics. But, below are some general guidelines:

  • Aerobic power can decline 5-10% in three weeks.
  • All your gains could be gone after about 2 months of inactivity
  • The fitter you are, the faster you lose your fitness, which doesn’t seem fair, does it?
  • You tend to lose aerobic capacity faster than muscular strength. Muscles are resilient and retain a memory of all those exercises you did.

Taking a week off probably won’t matter much. But, longer than that, it may be harder to get back to your previous levels. Finding ways to stay active will keep you fit. It will also help you avoid weight gain and make the return to real life a little easier.

Quick Vacation Workout

This ultra-quick workout targets the body’s major muscles. It’s a quick, efficient workout. This won’t replace a complete body program. But, it’s great for staying fit without spending much time.  For this workout you’ll need a light-medium weight resistance band and a chair.

  • Warm up with a few minutes of walking in place
  • Do each exercise for about 1 minute (add more sets if you have time)
  • Go slowly to really work your muscles
  • If you don’t have a resistance band, use full water bottles as dumbbells or nothing at all


Pushups work your arms, chest, abs, and back and you don’t need any equipment. Do them on your knees (easier) or toes and keep your back straight (no sagging) and your head in neutral alignment. Keep abs tight as you lower and exhale as you push back up. Do as many as you can for one minute and move on.

Plie Squats w/ Biceps Curls

Stand with feet wide, wider than shoulders. Turn your toes out. You stretch the resistance band beneath your feet. Keep the band taut, lower into a plane, keep knees in line (and behind) toes, and curl arms up. Lower the arms and push into the heels to stand up. Repeat for 1 minute.

One-legged Squat with Shoulder Press

Stand with your right foot on the band and your left foot lifted a few inches off the ground. Hold the other band in the right hand over the shoulder and hold onto a chair. Bend the knee and lower into a one-legged squat (butt back, knee behind toe). As you press back up, push the right arm up in an overhead press. Do about 16 and switch to the other side.

Deadlift with Band Row

Stand on the band and pull it tight, hands in front of thighs. Keeping back flat, tip from the hips, and bring hands down the legs to mid-shin. At the bottom of the movement, bend elbows and pull them up to your ribcage, contracting the back. Lower the arms and stand back up, repeating for 1 minute.

Triceps Dips

Find a chair or solid object and sit on it with hands next to hips. Move hips in front of the chair and, keeping butt close to the chair, bend the elbows and lower a few inches. Don’t sink into the shoulder or lower past 90 degrees. Repeat for one minute.

Side Plank Ab Twist

Lie on your side and push up with your right hand (or bent forearm) to support your body, with your feet stacked. Straighten your left arm and sweep it down. This will twist your body and turn your shoulders towards the floor. Keep your hips still. Do it on the other side and then hit the beach.


American College of Sports Medicine. This is from ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. The title is “Maintenance of the Training Effect.” 7th ed. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

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