For those of us who are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and looking after our body through both regular exercise and keeping a close eye on what we eat, the thought of a holiday can at times strike fear deep into our hearts.
While this may sound a little ridiculous to some, it still holds a huge amount of truth. We see holidays as a time to relax, to eat and drink what we want and when we want, without the life stressors that come with work and our general day to day activities.
But we also see a perfect environment for weight gain, reduced strength, and a rapid reversal of all the hard work and dedication we have put into our bodies.
While this view may seem both excessive, and somewhat catastrophic, it still flicks through the back of our minds. And it does so for good reason. If we are eating and drinking excessively, and do very little exercise to boot, then we may very well gain fat mass, and cause a negative shift in our body composition.
But this is not reason enough to never take a holiday.
As mentioned above, holidays give us a much needed opportunity to unwind, relax, and escape the stress of life. This can offer an opportunity for much needed mental and physical recovery, while also allowing us to spend time with our loved ones, improving our relationships and increasing our overall happiness and general well-being.
And arguable the most important thing to consider: We can take a holiday without the risk of weight gain or reductions in strength.
We just need to holiday smartly, and implement a few important tricks to guarantee we maintain our health while also enjoying ourselves!
In the following article we will outline the keys to maintaining your healthy while on holiday, while also providing an example of a great hotel room workout that can be completed absolutely anywhere in the world in minimal time, no matter the space available!
Increase your NEAT
When it comes to promoting fat loss, or limiting unwanted weight gain, maintaining a high energy expenditure is king. At home, most of us manage to do this through targeted exercise interventions, which is unquestionably a key to maintaining a lean and strong physique.
But when we are on holiday, we don’t always get the opportunity to train. There may not be a gym available, or we may even feel guilty for leaving our family and friends to exercise.
But there is an answer.
NEAT actually stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and describes the energy expenditure caused bodily movements that are not a result of specific exercise interventions. An example of this may be hand washing the dishes at home, or vacuuming the house.
Although these activities are not particularly strenuous, they do undoubtedly result in an increased energy expenditure. As such, the cumulative effects of these activities can cause substantial increases in our daily energy ouput, contributing to weight loss and the maintenance of a lean and muscular physique.
And although when on holiday we have absolutely no reason at all to do either the dishes or the vacuuming, there a number of other enjoyable ways we can increase our NEAT.
Firstly, explore your surroundings! This may sound a little odd, but I think it makes compete sense, while also providing a simple way to increase our NEAT each and every day. When on holiday, we have the opportunity to see new places and experience a new culture. Arguably the best way to experience this is to walk around and see new things, and simply soak in our surroundings.
Secondly, we should try and participate in new and unique activities. This may mean a tour of the city, or going kayak or snorkelling! Whatever the activity, it provides both a great way to increase our daily energy expenditure AND spend additional time with your loved ones in an extremely enjoyable manner.
Don’t eat ‘average foods’
Now, you might be wondering why I chose the word average here, rather than the word bad, but don’t worry, this was not a typo. I used the term average foods very deliberately in this scenario, because I am not actually referring to the energy content of the food, or the macronutrient profile of the food for that matter.
I am actually referring the taste and quality of the food itself.
When on holiday we have a nasty habit of eating absolutely anything that is put in front of us, irrespective of whether we actually like it or not. Further considering that most of this food is made for us (using somewhat unhealthy ingredients), and subsequently contains a high amount of fat or sugar (or both), it can cause a huge increase in our daily energy intake.
So instead of eating everything we can get our hands on, we should only eat food that we enjoy, and either discard or ignore food that we wouldn’t normally eat because it is average.
This will lead to a serious reduction in energy intake over the course of our holiday, and as such make gaining those unwanted pounds much less likely. Moreover, it means that we get to genuinely enjoy the food we do eat, because it is of a very high quality – without the guilt associated with eating unhealthy foods that we don’t even like the taste of.
As a bonus, by implementing this tip, we are much more likely to try different high end restaurants, and really receive a unique culinary experience, rather than eating only what is easily accessible. This can provide an additional joy to your holiday.
Treat our holiday as a deload period
A deload essentially describes a period of reduced training volume, programmed in to allow the body an extended period of time to recover and adapt to a prolonged training stimulus (such as that seen during a lengthy period of heavy training). This provides the body opportunity to adapt and recover, causing increases in strength, stimulating muscle growth, and reducing the likelihood of developing an injury substantially.
While it is commonly accepted that a deload should be programmed into our training schedule every 4-8 weeks, this is rarely the case. We often have a tendency to train through fatigue, and continually beat up our bodies. Although we might think we are improving ourselves, over time this actually do more harm than good, limiting muscle growth and strength increases, while also increasing our risk of over training substantially.
But when we are on holiday, particularly are short one (think 7-10 days), we have an opportunity to undertake a somewhat forced deload period, during which we participate in only a little physical activity. This period will allow us to recover from the weeks (months? Years?) of heavy training we have performed up until this point, improving our joint health and function.
This, in turn, will allow us to enter training with a high level of intensity when we return feeling fresh and full of energy – and without any of those annoying pains and niggles we may have accumulated over the years.
This will really allow us to take the pressure off of ourselves during our holiday, meaning that we can really enjoy our time away without feeling guilt for not training, with the knowledge that having a light week will really benefit us in the long run.
This will mean only training a couple of times throughout the holiday’s duration to get the body moving again and promote blood flow to the active tissue, further promoting recovery.
Prioritize protein at every meal
Now while I have touched on diet already, it is important that we also take some time to consider what we eat while we are on holiday. While the quality of food is important, and by opting to only eat high quality we can reduce our daily energy intake, there is a huge amount of benefit to come from eating protein with each of our meals.
Now while I admit that telling you to eat more of something may seem like a very poor way to manage our weight and maintain our current body composition, just hear me out for a second.
In my personal opinion, protein is hands down the most important macronutrient we eat. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are molecules commonly described as the building blocks of the human body. This is because they make up our muscle and connective tissue, and as such, are essential to the physical recovery and development of that tissue and its recovery processes.
Moreover, of the three main macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), protein actually has the highest satiety rating. This means that per calorie, protein makes us ‘feel’ fuller in comparison to any other type of food we eat.
This can lead to vastly increased satisfaction after consuming a meal, and will subsequently result in reduced hunger cravings throughout the day’s duration. In turn, we can limit our snacking throughout the day, which results in a reduced daily energy intake, and the unwanted ‘holiday weight gain’ associated.
As an added bonus, protein has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF) of all macronutrients. TEF describes the energy required to breakdown and digest food once it enters our gut.
As protein is a fairly complex macronutrient, it can require quite a bit of work to digest. As a result a massive 20% of the energy contained within the protein we eat is used to digest itself. This can cause a subsequent increase in our daily energy expenditure, irrespective of additional exercise.
By choosing protein at each of our meals, these two factors allow us to maintain our body composition AND maximise recovery from exercise (if we choose to do some), limiting holiday related weight gain and reductions in strength.
Holiday Training Program
Now that we have covered a few key tips that will allow you to maintain an optimal environment to limit weight gain and maintain optimal body composition without effecting your holiday negatively, it is time to look towards exercise.
While exercise is not always easy to perform on a holiday (and as such, is often forgotten about completely), it can certainly be achieved when implemented correctly.
It just takes a bit of thought.
In this section of the article, we will outline the key factors that can contribute to an effective holiday workout program, allowing you to maintain strength and muscle mass while on holiday, in the shortest amount of time.
Use Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight exercises are too often looked down on by advanced trainees, as novice, or beginner exercises. This is unfortunate, as bodyweight exercises offer a fantastic alternative to equipment based exercise, which still allow us to build muscle and increase strength considerably.
As a bonus, bodyweight exercises rarely take up much room, and as they don’t need any equipment, can be completed on the road or in your hotel room.
There are various body weight exercises that allow us to train the prime muscle groups of both the lower and upper body, providing well rounded development, and they can be tailored to the individual, making them appropriate for both advanced and novice trainees.
We should opt for multi joint movement, such as push ups, inverted rows, squats, plank variations, and split squats, as these work all the major muscle groups. By prioritizing these movements we can stimulate a HUGE amount of muscle tissue, which can lead to increased muscle growth and strength development.
Implement emphasised eccentrics and isometric holds
Implementing these two techniques into your bodyweight exercise regime can make a massive difference when it comes to developing muscle tissue and maintaining muscle strength.
Emphasized eccentrics effectively refer to a movement performed where the eccentric portion of the lift is slowed right down, taking anywhere from 3-5 seconds to complete. By increasing the eccentric portion of the lift, we stimulate a greater amount of muscle damage, which can lead to increased muscle growth.
Moreover, this greatly increases the amount of work performed each set, which can lead to an increased energy expenditure and the positive body composition changes associated (AKA fat loss).
Similarly, isometric holds refer a movement performed with a prolonged pause at the most difficult portion of the lift (eg. The bottom of a push up). By adding isometric holds we incur to serious and unique training effects.
Firstly, we greatly increase the amount of time the muscle tissue is under tension. Time under tension (TUT for short) is often considered a key driver for muscle growth, and by increasing it substantially via the inclusion of isometric holds into an exercise, we can greatly increase the muscle growth elicited from that exercise.
Secondly, by introducing an isometric hold where we are at our weakest, we spend more time in our weakest position (obviously…). This allows us to increase strength substantially in that single position, making this portion of the exercise noticeably easier. As such, we can greatly increase our strength during these movements by improving upon our weakest link.
By implementing these two advanced training techniques into our body weight based exercises, we can stimulate new muscle growth and strength gains, which can go a long way to maintaining (or even improving upon) our current strength levels while on holiday.
Use Circuit based training
This final tip may seem like an obvious one, but that does not lessen its importance in the slightest. By implementing circuit type training into our holiday training regime we can reduce the time commitment associated, leaving much more time available for more enjoyable ‘holiday’ activities.
Furthermore, by using circuit style training we ensure we are working at a high intensity throughout the entire duration of the training session. This will result in increased energy expenditure during that session, which can reduce the accumulation of fat mass over our holiday period substantially.
In a similar line of thought, this also increase the metabolic stress placed on the muscle tissue throughout the session. This can promote further muscle growth and strength maintenance, greatly contributing to our capacity to maintain strength and a lean, muscular physique.
So by using the above points, we can create a seriously demanding training circuit, using only body weight exercises, that can be performed absolutely anywhere. This same session will induce metabolic stress on the muscle tissue, while also maximising time under tension.
As a result, we have the potential to build new muscle tissue, burn fat, and even increase strength – without the need for any real gym equipment.
1A: Push up (3 second isometric hold with the chest 1 inch from floor) 3×12
1B: Bulgarian Split Squat (3 second eccentric) 3×10 / side
1C: Inverted row on bench (3 second isometric hold in top position) 3×12
1D: Diamond Push Up (5 second eccentric) 3×10
1E: Alternating reverse lunges 3×10 / side
1F: Squat (3 second eccentric with 3 second isometric hold at bottom) 3×12
Repeat 3-5 times and feel the burn.
In this example we would alternate between upper body and lower body movements throughout the entire circuit as a way to promote some recovery of each muscle group through each alteration (eg. so when we are doing the split squats, our upper body is receiving rest).
As a bonus, this will also increase the metabolic demand of the circuit as we are working both the muscles of lower body and upper body throughout the circuit’s duration, which can lead to additional energy expenditure.
Bonus: Adding Load
Now, while I feel as if the above example provides a great demonstration of how we can implement bodyweight training into our holiday routine in an efficient and time effective manner, it could potentially be improved upon if we so desired.
In this, I am taking about utilising the potential to add additional external resistance to each exercise in the circuit, increasing metabolic demand and mechanical stress, further stimulating the muscular system.
Additional load can be implemented by wearing a heavy backpack (or backpacks: one on the front AND on the back) throughout the entire circuit as a way to increase the intensity of the exercise regime. I would recommend this for the more advanced trainee as a way to create increased muscle development and strength development.
An extended lay off from the gym doesn’t mean all your gains go out the window – by implementing the tips outlined within this article, you can seriously limit the potential weight gain associated with holidaying, allowing you to maintain the lean and muscular physique you have developed.
Moreover, by implementing a smart and effective body weight training regime you can burn a heap of calories, promote muscle growth, and stimulate strength development, allowing you to come back bigger, stronger, and leaner than when you left!
It is important to note that holidays are meant to be just that – holidays – and if you do find yourself with an extended period of time away from the gym, don’t panic and enjoy it!
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