staying in shape on vacation

How to stay in shape while on vacation without gym access

This post will outline a very rough guidance to how you can;

 1) ramp up your pre-vacation training massively to promote a larger frame of supercompensation and recovery (during your vacation) 


2) use a short workout which you can do pretty much anywhere – to further negate any negative impacts from excessive eating and chilling at the pool (can the latter be done excessively?).

Going on vacation = bad nutrition

When many of us book a flight and travel to a nice place to spend some of our holidays, we gear ourselves mentally to “take time off”. To take our training and diet schedule from one step of the ladder and placing it at the bottom; and that’s really perfectly fine.

Life doesn’t have to revolve around pushing iron and calculating how much food you can fit in for the day. Not all the time anyway 😉  And for most people, no, you won’t do serious damage in a week. Not what a few weeks of post-vacation hard work won’t be able to fix, anyway. 

However, some people end up blowing their diets completely and set themselves back for several weeks by disconnecting totally and scooping up everything the hotel buffet and local restaurants has to offer.

This is something I did just a couple of weeks ago, no doubt leaving a very good impression with my father-in-law, who soon realized that one major bout of grocery shopping for supplies lasting for all 5 days spent at his summer home would not suffice in keeping this bald endless pit at bay. 

But I seemingly managed to take a few steps both prior and during the hedonistic ravaging to hinder most, if not all, bad results on my body and performance. 

Going on vacation = no working out

And of course what so often seems to happen for people, is that when the nutrition goes out the window, so does their training regimen. This creates the perfect storm for physique deterioration (although as I stated above, you’re not likely to ruin too much in a week or two) but more importantly, mental deterioration.

The bad nutrition and physical laziness start taking a psychological toll, and they start blaming themselves for messing up, while they should instead be able to enjoy my vacation fully.

Up your workout dosage before your vacation


One way to create a “buffer” for some of the extra calories you intend to consume and the extra rest your body will be getting, is to slowly but surely ramp up your training parameters leading up to your vacation.

That would include an overall increase in workload, volume and frequency, dependent on workout split of course. Say you follow a relatively standard PPL 3-split routine (Push/Pull/Legs), and you’ve been doing it for some time.

Two to three weeks (or even earlier, but not everyone knows that long in advance) before the planned vacation you could increase the weekly frequency by 50 % by doing Push/Pull/Legs/Upper/Lower/Upper/ Lower.

Just from adding the extra training day (if you did PPL twice a week with one off day) you create some extra energy expenditure as long as you don’t make any changes to your caloric intake. And by increasing the frequency (and overall volume) you make for a possible increased fatigue build-up by moving more into a dual-factor hypertrophy setup (where you deliberately try to overreach by not allowing total recovery from workout to workout) from a standard single-factor setup (where you allow recovery and super-compensation from workout to workout).

To further this increase in overall stress to the body, one week before the planned vacation you could ramp it up even further by switching to a Fullbody/Upper/Lower/Fullbody/Upper/Lower/Fullbody routine (very much just an example, but yes, it can work awesomely when tweaked right).

This makes for the following progressive scheme in frequency and volume;

P/P/L – every muscle is hit 2 x / week

P/P/L/U/L/U/L – every muscle is hit 3 x / week 

FB/U/L/FB/U/L/FB – every muscle is hit 5 x / week

Now, most blocks with the intention of reaching states of overreaching will last longer, have a softer progression curve, and very specific guidelines to how one should manipulate intensity and volume accordingly.

But as long as you are an intermediate lifter or just a lifter with a good feel for autoregulating your intensity levels, the take-home message is that by inducing ever-increasing levels of fatigue you can push back your recovery and treat the vacation as either a deload or complete deconditioning week.

In my case, while I used a different variation (since i already did high-frequency) i ended up doing fullbody for most of the week prior to my vacation, including a grueling 2-hour glycogen depletion workout the night before. 

Spending 20-30 minutes each day at your place of vacation to balance it out

Now, whether you used the above tip or not, you might consider actively doing something during the actual vacation. So without further ado, this is a small sample workout that I put together in 5 minutes of planning while sitting in the car on my way to my father-in-laws summer home a few weeks back. I knew it had to adhere to a few limitations;

  1. I didn’t wanna do a ton of work! while I do love working out, I had been dieting for upwards of 7 months at the time and felt hard-pressed psychologically for taking some time off and pushing everything bodybuilding related into the background area for a bit.
  2. It had to be a non-equipment  routine! The house is situated in a beautiful small farming community near the beach, but no lifting equipment was available. In hindsight for my next vacation, I will be getting these badboys! As all those push-ups took a toll on my wrists.  
  3. Because of the aforementioned limitations, it had to be high intensity! Lots of work compressed into a small timeframe for maximized heart rate alterations, calories burned, glycogen depleted, and EPOC (even though studies show the magnitude is a lot smaller than broscience has told us) initiated. 

(If you want a better explanation of why I think these push-up stands are perfect, read my post on building muscle with push-ups!)

This is the workout I came up with, ideally done every morning before breakfast;

  • 7-10 minutes of HIIT sprints depending on your fitness level. In my case, i didn’t stick to a strict time schedule. I just did a full-out sprint to the end of the road, which took me around 10-15 seconds, and then either rested or walked for around 30-45 seconds. I just used this as a way of maintaining my fitness level, burning off the most amount of calories I could in the timeframe, and inducing EPOC.

  • 10-20 minutes of prison-style walking lunges superset with pushups. Having completed the sprints, and having warmed up most of my body, I did this as my actual workout. Lunges hit the quads, hamstrings and glutes, and the pushups hit the front deltoids, triceps and pecs but also demand a tight core. Lots of rep, lots of sweat.

I managed around 12-13 sets of each with very little rest in between. Enough to deplete a decent amount of glycogen and create a sort of small buffer for any potential carbohydrate overfeeding later in the day. Besides sparking muscle protein synthesis, in itself an energy demanding process for the body – and of course, therefore, improving my nutrient partitioning as opposed to not working out before eating.


Sprinting is just awesome. It is a show of force. It is anabolic. And it’s pretty much as good as it gets for burning fat in relation to time spent.

It’s worth it!

Taking out 20-30 minutes of each day is no hassle when you know that you can enjoy yourself and relax for the remainder of the day. And in all honesty, it felt amazing to really push myself, getting in a nice short shower immediately afterward, and then hitting up some breakfast with good consciousness. 

This is also why I advice on this inclusion of small workouts while on vacation, as opposed to telling you that you “just have to accept it and enjoy yourself” if you feel bad about overeating and not working out while on vacation. 

You can’t just “accept it”, and fool your mental attitude like that. Many can’t at least. 

I overate during those five days at the summer house. A rough estimation would be that I hovered at around 1500-2500 calories above maintenance every day. One day I had 1800-1900 calories alone from cakes my girlfriend had made, all of them consumed during evening hours -after- I had already gone havoc on meats, starches, and sauces.

My weight was up 9.8 lbs when I got home, but during the course of the next few days, I dropped the majority of it as it was mainly extreme bloat/water retention. I was hitting new lows on the scale about 4-5 days after I got home. 

Hope some of it was useful! 

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[…] also support one of my main tips in my post on how to stay in shape while on vacation without gym access, which prescribes increasing your workout frequency and volume in one or more weeks leading up to […]

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