We all love to train. (Otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this).
Yet, there is another universally cherished activity that dethrones the gym even for the most ardent of gym rats…VACATION!
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows at this extreme end of the spectrum. We’ve all felt that looming pressure that comes with approaching travel (whether vacation or otherwise), and as much as it seems like it should always be a time for excitement—it can actually have the opposite effect. If you’re someone who thrives off of structure, routine, or are just a type-A person, the thought of deviating from your schedule could potentially cause even more stress and anxiety.
But it doesn’t have to be like this! Let’s talk about some strategies we can use in order to eliminate that pre-vacation stress and actually enjoy our time away…
Understand Your Current Phase
When I say phase, I’m referring to what season or time-of-the-year you’re in and how that relates to your overarching goals. Some may be diligently preparing for a competition or a wedding, while others may be taking a step back to focus on a more balanced lifestyle.
Once you can establish what phase you’re in, the decision of how to approach training on vacation becomes much more straight-forward. If you are close to a competition date, say within 6 weeks, it’s probably not the smartest idea to load your impending schedule with travel. And if you have to due to obligations from work or family or social pressures, your training should continue to be front-and-center despite the changing environments and instability.
On the other hand if you’re deep in an offseason, have no looming fitness-related events, or have little intrinsic volatility within your training, feel free to be more laissez-faire in your approach. Relax, recover, and enjoy life. Hit the gym if you really want to but don’t make it a huge deal.
What Do You Value?
Whether you stick to the script and train hard while travelling or choose to just relax is ultimately a decision you will need to make. And luckily, there’s no right or wrong answer here, as positives can be found in either approach!
While you may be all about sight-seeing, trying new restaurants, and reading spicy-romantic novellas on foreign beaches, others might prefer the simplicity and familiarity of structure.
I personally enjoy training at different gyms, networking with like-minded people, meeting-up with clients, seeing unique layouts, and experimenting with novel equipment.
Setting Realisic Expectations
When traveling, it’s absolutely crucial to set realistic expectations for yourself and your fitness goals. Realistic expectations are an understanding that life happens and things won’t always be perfect.
Maybe your flight gets delayed and you have to eat airport pizza. Maybe you get a little too drunk after a night out and sleep through your morning gym alarm. Maybe you’re actually able to find an awesome gym but can only make it 1-2 times for 30 minute sessions.
All of these examples are totally OK. Shit happens. The world won’t crash and burn if you deviate from your plan. And when you get back home, you’ll pick up right where you left off. Your body comp isn’t going to regress ten years in one week despite that voice in your head trying to convince you otherwise.
The point of a vacation is to relax and get away. It’s to disconnect from your job and other daily stressors. It’s to enjoy some time with friends and loved ones. It’s to reconnect with yourself. And this holds true for other types of travel that aren’t exclusively for leisure as well.
You should understand where your priorities lie. And you will need to be honest with yourself.
Do you truly enjoy going to the gym, or do you feel obligated to? If you need rest, then rest. I promise you no one lost progress because they took a few days away from the gym.
Remember, training is a miniscule fraction of our day—the overwhelming majority of our time is spent sleeping, working, eating, and bullshitting around. And how we spend this time determines whether progress will be propagated forward or stifled. As cliche as it is, “Train Hard, but Recover Harder” is probably the best advice I can give.
You’re not going to regress if you take time off from training while on vacation. In fact, I think most people would return stronger after allowing themselves to fully recover for a change.
For those of us who would like to train while traveling, chances are we won’t have access to the same equipment that we usually do. It might be drastic (to the downside) like in the case of a poorly-equipped hotel gym. Or it might be the other end of the spectrum if you happen to find a gym with endless rows of specialized machines. In pretty much every case, an audible will have to be called. Rather than getting discouraged, overwhelmed, and confused, we adapt and modify.
You can continue with your normal training but simplify it to just rep ranges and intensity markers as your guides. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to progress off of previous weeks’ load and effort—Machines will feel different. Cables will have non-standard loading. And even DBs and barbells can vary significantly from gym-to-gym. Revert to training more based on subjective feel rather than objective volume loads.
What if you don’t have enough load? Perform unilateral work. Still too light? Slow down your tempo. Maybe strategically add some bands. Or implement supersets. Or constant tension. Or isoholds. Or mechanical drop sets!
Just remember that training off program while travelling isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Doing too much (especially too much of something your body isn’t used to) will create MORE soreness, muscle damage, and fatigue even with light loads.
Use Planned Travel As Deload
Anticipating and building your training around travel is a great way to implement designated deloads and recover from preceding hard training.
The best way to do this is to use known vacations as a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel to cap off an overloading training block. Because the time away will necessitate pulling back anyway, we can structure the weeks leading up to it in a way that pushes our recovery systems a bit too far. This overreaching can have a slingshot effect if done correctly leading to higher potential for muscle growth and strength!
And rather than just take the time off from the gym, we can use the deload productively to try new exercises at a lower intensity and with MUCH less stress/anxiety. In effect, we can find new enjoyable variations while also allowing our bodies to recover.
Regardless of individual approaches, going into periods of vacation and travel demands forward-thinking especially for the serious gym-goer.
Understand the current phase of your training cycle. Assess what you value the most. Set realistic expectations. Create a hierarchy of priorities. Be adaptive. And if all else fails, plan to use periods of travel as deloads.
Vacations are meant to be an escape from the stressors of the daily grind. Don’t let a failure to strategize impact your ability to enjoy life.