How to Stay Fit on Holiday

How many people do you know who gained 10 lbs or more over a relatively short trip to an all-inclusive resort, or a week of Christmas celebration?  The holiday bulge phenomenon is really, really common. And maybe you’ve even experienced it yourself…

Well I’ve just come back from 7 days in the sunny Caribbean and had to put this to the test. I thought I’d share some ideas about staying ready for returning to training, even while you’re away from your regular training routine.

Here are my candidates for the four top factors creating the fitness implosions (and decrease in grappling skills) that often happen to both regular people and athletic types while they’re away on holidays:

  1. Lack of general exercise
  2. Over-eating
  3. Over-drinking
  4. Lack of sports-specific training

Let’s consider each of these in turn…

1. LACK OF GENERAL EXERCISE

On a holiday it’s often a struggle to get your exercise gear on and get sweaty. There are a lot of factors conspiring to keep you on the couch or on the poolside deck chair.

That’s why you have to make getting some sort of exercise a priority. It doesn’t need to be long or super intense – it just needs to be something.

Personally my goal when I’m on holidays is to get some sort of cardiovascular, muscular endurance or strength-based exercise every second day. Sometimes this gets stretched out a bit, and three days go by without an exercise session, but any more than that and I start to go off the deep end.

Exercising while you’re traveling or visiting new locations ISN’T about improving your fitness level. You just don’t want your body to forget what you’re expecting it to do when you get back to your regular life and training routine.

It’s great if you can find a gym, but that’s not always possible. That’s why I always bring my running shoes. You can almost always go for a quick run, and then find a place to do some pushups and pullups.

On this last seven day beach vacation I only got in three exercise sessions:

  1. a six kilometer jog. Foolishly I did this at the hottest part of a of a scorchingly hot day on the open asphalt road, so this was no time to push myself. After the run I spent a few minutes doing bodyweight calisthenics (pushups, pullups, etc.)
  2. a seven kilometer run. This was after I had acclimatized to the heat a bit, and I also didn’t go during the hottest part of the day, so I could push myself a little bit harder.
  3. a short-and-easy bodyweight-only workout.

I know, it’s not very impressive. Like I said earlier though – the goal at during this sessions wasn’t to improve my fitness level. I just want to guard against being totally out of the fitness loop when I get back to my regular world.

2. OVER-EATING

Most people’s day-to-day lives are busy, and that means that they don’t have hours and hours to stuff their faces. Transplant these same people onto a cruise ship with an all-you-can-eat buffet and you’ll often see some truly gluttonous behavior!

This is one of many reasons that I don’t like staying at all-inclusive resorts, but it’s also a problem if you’re visiting people who think that hospitality means never having an empty bowl of chip dip.

So if you want to be ready to get back to the mats and not feel truly gross after the holiday is over, then you somehow have to keep the recreational eating and general gluttony under control.

Find something to amuse you on your holiday other than eating…

3. OVER-DRINKING

Let’s be honest – for a lot of people being on holiday means drinking. And drinking. And drinking…

Obviously bingeing on alcohol can have pretty serious health consequences. But even if you don’t come down with cirrhosis of the liver then keep in mind that most alcoholic drinks have a LOT of calories.

For example, a 12 oz beer has around 150 quick-to-absorb calories. Given that most of our caloric requirements are somewhere in the 2000 to 3000 calorie per day range, it’s easy to see how a few beers a day can significantly bump your total caloric intake.

The amount of calories in mixed drinks and cocktails are even worse.

When it comes to advice in this area, you’ve really got to find your own way. I don’t drink (at all), so I’m not the best person to offer advice in this area other than preaching moderation or abstinence.

Just remember that increased calories from alcohol, combined with overeating and lack of exercise means crappy performance on the mats.

4. LACK OF SPORTS-SPECIFIC TRAINING

The first three points are applicable to just about everyone who wants to avoid the holiday bulge.

However anyone doing BJJ or submission grappling knows that grappling skills also have a shelf life. If you stop training for a week or two then your timing, sensitivity and coordination also start heading south.

Part of the solution is to keep working your skills, even though you’re away from your regular training environment. For some ideas you can check out what to do when schools and training partners are hard to find.

On my last trip my plan was to watch a few BJJ instructional DVDs that I own but haven’t had the time to watch yet.

I know that watching competition or instructional footage keeps my brain thinking about grappling. This in turn helps keep me sharp even when I can’t physically train, and has even led to some technical breakthroughs for me.

(As a side note I should mention that your body has neurons that fire both when your DO something and when you WATCH something. These are called mirror neurons and some people think that they’re very, very important for the learning process. In any case, this suggests that watching BJJ might be a heck of lot better than not doing any BJJ at all.)

Unfortunately my plan to use mirror neuron stimulation to achieve world grappling domination failed when my portable DVD player broke, but it was still a good idea…

There’s an old joke that goes “take my advice – I’m not using it…”

Well in this case I actually followed most of my own advice (other than the DVD watching)! Hopefully sharing my advice helps someone avoid the post-holiday grappling blues!

And finally, here’s a video I shot while backpacking around the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Watch me suffer during the Prisoner Workout and Superlegs!

Click here to watch the same video on YouTube about how to stay fit while on holidays.

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