Working out on vacation
Sunscreen, travel guide, Kindle. Check. Newspaper and mail. Held. Plane ticket, passport, identification. Got it. Elastic waistband pants, baggy T-shirts, antacid tablets?Must be going on vacation! A lot of people I know who have lost significant amounts of weight find going on vacation a really mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand there's all the stuff you usually look forward to while going on the vacation. On the other hand there's the stress that always seems to accompany getting ready for the voyage, which can lead to overeating. There are all the temptations on the trip. There's the issue of the hidden calories, fat and sodium from eating out at restaurants. And then there's the lost workouts. I've always wondered if you don't keep up your workout routine, do you lose all the momentum, endurance and strength you had built up to that point? What is your philosophy (or strategy) for activity and workouts for vacations lasting a week or more? Your answer may depend on your personality and what stage you are in regarding your weight, health and fitness. Back when I was young enough to take my metabolism for granted and dumb enough to think I wouldn't get skin cancer, I was perfectly content to sit on a beach all day and call it a vacation. Now I have to move. All day. Being trapped in a car in construction traffic, or in line at a toll booth, heading to Mackinac Island is not vacation, it is my personal hell. Sitting at a computer for eight hours a day seems like the most unnatural thing in the world, too, so I also don't want to see a keyboard, a desk or a cubicle. I want to run, bike and walk. And when the day is over, I don't want to count my calories, just enjoy them (well earned) and then crash at night reading something with a little more depth than 140 characters. I know there are Type B personalities out there who are saying that vacation is the last place to be worrying about a workout. You're right. I wish I could think that way. The thing is, those of us who fought like crazy to lose more than 10 to 15 pounds are all too familiar with the beginnings of the backward slide. We've also been told that something like 80 percent of people who lost significant amounts of weight gained it back, and then some. I do not, I cannot, come home from vacation out of shape and see a certain number on the scale, because I know how fast the rest of the old weight will reappear if I'm not careful. And that it will take five times more work to get it off again. That's not an association I want anymore with my vacation. When I went to Weight Watchers meetings, they used to talk about this thing called anchoring. It made so much sense. People used a charm bracelet, or a photo, or a slim new outfit as reminder, or anchor, they could look at to bring them back in to focus for their weight-loss goals. That was a great tool to remain on track. It is good to try on vacation. My goals are bigger than weight loss now, they also include eating better and training harder. My anchor is my gym. I have figured out that in order to really enjoy my vacations, I have to somehow re-create my anchor wherever I am. It might be the treadmill in the hotel. Or the bike path in Yellowstone. Or the walkway along the oceanfront in San Diego. Now, please don't take this as a lecture of what you should do on your vacation. Almost everyone I know is a slave to their cellphone and their emails from work. We're all too overscheduled and spend too much time racing around from one crisis to another. You should do whatever you want to relax and get away from it all on your vacation. I'm just saying that I enjoy my vacations the most when I am moving the most. And one trainer, thankfully, gave me permission not to worry too much about the backward slide. Mike Ribar, a certified athletic trainer at Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center, said no one really needs to worry about taking steps backward in their fitness routines when they're taking a week off of everything for vacation. That break could actually be good. "Physically there aren't a whole lot of changes that are going to occur within a week" for the average person who works out consistently, said Ribar. "But it kind of depends. "If you're going to an all-inclusive cruise where you are going to have all of the food available to you and you're going to eat like a pig for a week, certainly there is going to be a physical change. You're probably going to gain five pounds. However on a normal vacation, I think people should be assured that you're not going to lose any strength gains that you've made. It takes about two weeks for that to happen. And it takes about three weeks to see the aerobic changes occurring. So if you're just a recreational runner, you're not going to see any real gigantic changes within the first three weeks. "On top of that, sometimes, it can be beneficial because your recreational athlete and workout person does not necessarily know what 'periodization' means. Periodization means as you're exercising, you're trying to stay fit and maybe trying to make some modest gains, it is not always appropriate to constantly be going on a ramp going straight up. Constantly improving. "What we do in the world of athletics is we periodize things every three weeks. If you do three weeks of difficult workouts, you take another week of just kind of lowering your intensity. And then you take another three weeks up, so it turns into a step. As supposed to a ramp straight up. So, sometimes you can see some significant gains after a week off. What you'll end up finding after you get back from your vacation, you won't have any strength deficit, and you're going to be able to let the muscle rest and come back and see some significant gains after that." What if you don't do a plank for a whole week? Won't it be harder to come back to class and attempt that? Or is that more of a mental block? "I think it is definitely more of a psychological issue," Ribar said. "Certainly there's lots of things we can do to stay active while on vacation. However, I don't think that a person should stress out tremendously about it because it just creates an environment where, 'boy, if I don't get this workout in, then I'm failing' - as opposed to a somewhat relaxing experience. I think it's best to be proactive and schedule a couple activities already into your vacation as opposed to getting there and scrambling around to see, OK, now what do I do." Still, walking around a museum isn't the same as a 60-minute exercise class. "Then I would try and schedule your workout ahead of time and research where you're going to be," Ribar said. "Most gyms have a temporary membership. Even if your hotel does not have a gym, you can find one pretty easily and they charge $10, 15 for the day. That way you have access to someone pushing you. Those are always available; it's just a matter of scheduling it in. "It is a matter of distinguishing what kind of workout person you are. If it is something where you are continually trying to improve, and make significant gains, then you're going to want to make sure that workout is scheduled in your vacation. But for someone who is maybe not as intense, research does show you're not going to lose anything in that week."