The past year has seen an incredible number of new fitness based holidays crop up and as the popularity of strong, fit, clean and healthy living continues to grow it seems this particular holiday trend has earned it’s own name.
Say hello to the ‘Fitcation’.
Whether it’s regimental style bootcamps, spiritual wellness escapes, detox days or meditation mini breaks there is literally something for every fitness taste, level, ability and budget.
I’m sure many of you have a preconceived image of what a fitness retreat is like:
- Up at the crack of dawn.
- Hard work.
- No fun.
- Days spent lugging tractor tyres round a field.
- Being shouted at to ‘stop being a girl’, ‘man up’ or to ‘get down and give me 20’.
- Surviving on nothing but juice and herbal teas.
Whilst some of these may still be true, fitness retreats have come a long way and they’re no longer just about losing weight to fit into a dress for a special occasion or to tone up before a beach holiday. In fact, crazy as it may sound, people are now dropping the pre-holiday diets and doing it on the actual holiday itself!
In this article I want to explore some of the different types of retreat available and help you discover the perfect one for you.
Juicing had it’s moment in the diet spotlight a year or two back, when it seemed like every celebrity going was spotted drinking a different coloured juice (usually colour co-ordinated with their outfit) and raving about how only drinking juice for a week had not only flushed out their toxins, but had left them with bodies to die for. Then our shops, and consequently our kitchens, became inundated with the latest blenders, extractors and other juicing gadgetry as we all wanted to be part of this juicing revolution. Today, juicing has evolved into a more sustainable and realistic part of our diets, featuring ingredients that help fill us up, nourish and cleanse, rather than simply making us want to wee all the time!
The most well known juicing expert is Jason ‘Juice Master‘ Vale, who discovered the health benefits of juicing when he used it as a tool to help lose weight, clear his skin and free himself of allergies. Jason, who OK Magazine have called ‘the Jamie Oliver of Juicing’, has written 12 books about juicing, health and addiction and runs juicing retreats in Portugal and Turkey.
So, other than getting juice on tap, what else can you expect from a juice retreat?
Juice retreats tend to go hand in hand with other wellbeing exercise and therapies, so a typical day might see you practising yoga, meditation, mindfulness activities as well as outdoor nature walks, mountain hiking and use of the spa. Most retreats will also offer demonstrations and talks about the nutritional benefits of including regular spells of juicing within your diet.
Juice retreats usually run over the course of a week and the theory is that you’ll come away feeling recharged, refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s safe to say that juice retreats are pretty hardcore, there will be times when you’ll crave something solid to eat and you’ll be so hungry that you’ll be tempted to chew your own arm off, but on the plus side there are experts on hand to help guide and support you through the tough times.
In our opinion, juice retreats are a bit faddy and although they may get quick results, it’s certainly not going to keep weight off and instead could lead to negative food associations. We love juice, but think it should be included as part of a healthy lifestyle, not as a diet in it’s own right.
Detox retreats tend to focus less on fitness and physical exercise and instead concentrate more on cleansing and flushing out both the body and mind. People sign up to detox holidays for a variety of different reasons, which may include:
- Recurring health problems
- Digestion problems
- Weight loss
- Problem skin
- Relationship problems
Hectic lifestyles and easy access to convenient, cheap, processed food has resulted in huge changes to the modern diet. Additives, preservatives and other nasty chemicals that are added to our foods have a damaging effect on our bodies. Unless you eat clean, natural foods all the time it is advisable to detox every now and again and restore the bodies natural balance. Detox retreats offer a chance to remove the build up of impurities in a safe, relaxing environment with experts on hand to advise you on what to eat, how to help flush out the toxins and what gentle exercises you can do to help the process. The focus is often on natural, raw foods that replenish the body’s stock of key nutrients whilst also helping to re-educate the palate, with the hope that you take this new knowledge away with you and continue to eat in a more conscientious and mindful way when you return home. Exercise is usually in the form of gentle yoga or Pilates that help realign the body and strengthen the core, creating a renewed physical and spiritual confidence.
Some of the more extreme detox retreats may include a couple of days of fasting to help completely clear the body out before refilling it with goodness. This is certainly not for the lighthearted as during the fast you may experience headaches, extreme tiredness and irritability, but they are completely normal symptoms and if you can get through it there are certainly some great health benefits to be had.
What we think….
Detox retreats are fab for wiping the slate clean and starting off a new fitness, diet or health journey from scratch. BUT don’t go expecting a holiday; it’s going to be hard work and you can almost certainly expect to shed a few tears at some point!
Bootcamps are what many of us have come to associate with getting results fast, but this isn’t necessarily the best reason to join one. There are numerous bootcamp sessions running up and down the country, from on-going courses, to weekends, right through to weeklong camps. The very name bootcamp is synonymous with army training and indeed many of the exercise drills and the routine like structure of the day is certainly reminiscent of this. Activities may include rolling tractor tyres, assault courses and trail running and it certainly distinguishes the men from the boys. It’s intense, but it’s meant to be, because you don’t get results unless you put the work in. There are two types of people who go on bootcamps; those who are already fit, but like to rise to a challenge and thrive on the strictness of it, then there are those who need someone yelling at them to make them work hard. In both cases, you need to commit and give it your all and perhaps most importantly of all you need to continue with some form of exercise and healthy eating plan once you return home, otherwise you will undo all of the good you worked so hard for. For this very reason, it’s essential to not solely rely on the results you achieve at a bootcamp.
Meal plans on a bootcamp style holiday will be strict and calorie controlled, but you can expect to lose around about half a stone over the course of a week as well as helping to kick start your metabolism. We think bootcamps are great if you need motivating and get a kick out of being yelled at, but you must be prepared to put the work in.
Yoga and Pilates retreats are incredibly popular, particularly amongst women, who view them a bit like they would a spa weekend. They are usually set in tranquil, picturesque locations that help add to the impression of being on holiday. Whether you are new to yoga, or have been practising for years, there are courses suited to all skill levels and abilities, just make sure you book yourself onto the right one for you.
Expect to feel physically strengthened, have improved posture, strengthened core, relaxed and possibly even lose weight. You will learn new poses and discover how to carry them out correctly and safely.
Other activities you may experience on a wellness retreat range from aromatherapy, reiki, massage, meditation, tai chi and many, many more. The emphasis is on spiritual calm and self care combined with clean nutritiously balanced food to calm your body from the inside out.
We think a wellness holiday is just the thing we all need!
Imagine if you could combine all of the above into one amazing fitness holiday package? Well, guess what…you can! Companies have cottoned on to the fact that the best fitness holiday is one that provides exercise, nutrition, wellness and fun. We need all of these things to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle so it makes complete and utter sense to create a package that teaches us all of these things. Feeling a lot more like an actual holiday, a typical day on a fitness retreat may go something like this:
- Power breakfast
- Bootcamp style exercises
- HIIT session
- Healthy, restorative, but light lunch
- Me time
Target Human Performance is one such company, who understand exactly what today’s modern health fanatic needs and as such have designed a range of retreats to reflect this demand. A fitness holiday offers the absolute best value for money, as you are getting a much more diverse and varied set of training. And because the day offers such a mixture of activities not only does it mean you’re less likely to get bored, but you are much more likely to actually enjoy it!
We think a fitness holiday is an absolute no brainer, of course you want to go on one… who wouldn’t?! It’s like going on a normal holiday, but with loads of stuff to do and you come back fitter and buffer than ever.
Something a bit different…
And finally onto the extreme fitness holidays where just about anything you can think of is possible. These are for the true daredevils, the ones who get a kick out of pushing themselves to the limits and who need to constantly challenge themselves, or who are just after something a little bit different.
Just take a look at some of the things you can sign up for:
- Muay Thai Martial Arts in Thailand
- Laughter Yoga
- Kilimanjaro Trek
- Silent Meditation
- Learning the Trapeze in Bali
- Long Distance Ice Skating in Sweden
Benefits of a retreat
As you can see there is literally something for everyone, but are fitness and well being breaks really as good as they make out? We take a look at some of the benefits of going on a ‘fitcation’:
Let’s start with one of the main reasons people go on fitness holidays; weight loss. Obviously there are no guarantees that you will lose weight, however if you are someone who doesn’t usually exercise, who is carrying a bit of extra weight or doesn’t eat as healthily as they should then your chances of losing weight are greatly increased. The hard bit is maintaining that weight loss, or continuing to lose it, when you leave. Rapid weight loss is not a solution to a bigger problem, but if it makes you take away some good habits, motivates you and gives you the confidence to continue then that has got to be a good thing, right? It’s really important not to become obsessed with the numbers you see on the scales and to not set yourself unrealistic goals. Treat your fitness holiday as an opportunity to educate, build confidence and kick start your weight loss. Remember that there is no such thing as a good diet…it’s all about a healthy lifestyle choice.
Going on a retreat gives you a fantastic opportunity to meet like minded people, who are interested in similar things and most importantly of all will be experiencing the same journey. People bond best during shared times of vulnerability and hard work, so when you feel like crying because your muscles ache like mad and your instructor is insisting you do another set of burpees, or you’re feeling irritable because all you’ve had to eat all day is juice and what you really want is a massive bar of chocolate and a barrel of wine, you can be sure there will be other people in the group who are feeling exactly the same! In the same way that people feel as though they can open up more to strangers (consider how at ease you are when you talk with your hairdresser for example), the evening downtime is a perfect chance to review the days events with the other group members and moan to your hearts content. Most of us love a good moan and we say it’s better out than in!
New friends and free therapy, double bonus!
If you’ve got someone shouting at you to ‘work harder’, ‘do two more sets of 20’ or ‘ come on, you can do it’ there’s no question that even if you’re absolutely knackered you’ll dig deeper, work harder and ‘get through it’. I know from personal experience that if I’m doing exercise by myself, I’ll give up far sooner than if I’m working out with other people. Who knows whether it’s a feeling of not wanting to fail, not wanting to disappoint or a sense of competitiveness, but working out with others definitely get better results. Personal trainers are there to get the best out of you, they’re not your enemy, they just want to show you what you can do.
Before you sign up to any fitness holiday it’s really important that you read the description and itinerary through carefully, making sure it suits your fitness ability and your expectations. Whilst it’s great following a plan and having someone else make the decisions, it must also suit you and taking a ‘one size fit’s all’ approach is unlikely to be the best choice. There are, however, some fitness companies who tailor their sessions on individual ability and requirements. Target Human Performance for example, offer a selection of fitness holidays, with the main aim of achieving the chosen goals of their clients. The beauty of this is that you can rest assured your own health and safety is being monitored and that although you will be pushed, you won’t be pushed too far.
Fitness holidays should not be viewed as indulgent or a luxury. Yes they can certainly have luxurious elements to them; have you seen the locations of some of them?, but the predominant reason for going on one is self care. We are all guilty of not spending enough time on, or with, ourselves and what good are we to anyone if we aren’t healthy and can’t operate to our best ability? Many retreats offer the chance to reconnect with yourself, whether it’s through guided meditation, mindfulness or even having a massage. It’s not often we get this chance, so if you do get the opportunity, I can well recommend it.
Fitness holidays are of course very sociable and the day’s activities will, more often than not, be group based. However, there will also be down time, usually in the evenings, which is important and it’s a time you can use to reflect. Use it as a time to do something you love, but can’t usually find the time to do; maybe it’s reading a book you’ve had on your shelf for ages, or going for a walk, or maybe even just sitting outside and daydreaming. Learn to love the little things and you’ll be amazed at how much inner peace it grants you.
Doing any kind of exercise is greatly beneficial to health and the added advantage of going on a fitness holiday is that you are looked after by the professionals and in turn pick up some great fitness tips. Experienced trainers will teach you how to exercise your ‘problem areas’, how to get the best results, how to improve your stamina and most importantly of all teach you how to exercise safely, without the risk of causing injury. You’ll be pushed hard, but you will also learn to recognise when you can carry on and when you really need to stop. One important thing to remember though is that you should be under absolutely no illusion that one week at a retreat is going to solve your problems. They are by no means intended as a miracle worker, but they are life changing and can certainly help you on your way.
With up to seven hours of exercise a day, your muscles won’t know what’s hit them. The good news is that not only will you discover muscles you didn’t even know you had, but they’ll also tone up pretty fast, leaving you looking amazing. Muscles work best when they are worked and in fact the stronger the muscle the better your exercise output. One of the reasons for not weighing yourself too regularly is that muscle weighs more than fat, so as you start to build up more muscle mass, it is likely the figure on the scales will increase slightly too and this can be off putting for some people and may even result in them giving up. Instead, record your measurements, as this is a much better indicator of how you are doing. You will probably find that although your weight has gone up, your jeans are now looser, a sure sign that your muscles are toning up.
Even if you exercise regularly, you may still find that you ache after even just a day on a fitness holiday. It could be that your usual workout doesn’t use every muscle group, or they are not used to being worked for a longer length of time. Don’t despair, as there is a lot of truth in the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’. Recognise your aches as a sign that you have worked hard and as a reward for your hard work why not treat yourself to a massage or a session in the hot tub, hey you are on holiday after all!
An Education in Eating
No matter what type of fitness holiday you sign up to, there will always be some element of healthy eating involved. On-site chefs are trained to provide nutritionally balanced meals to fit in with the nature of the retreat, for example, a retreat focusing on long periods of intense activity require meals that are higher in calories than say a meditation retreat. Don’t fret, as it’s not all lettuce leaves and kale juice, in fact the meals served at many fitness retreats are on a par with some of those served at the top restaurants around the countries. Food is fresh, nutritious, tasty, looks great and you certainly won’t feel as though you are missing out. Some holidays may give you the option of attending cooking demonstrations or healthy food workshops, which are great for giving you the tools and education you need to be able to recreate healthy meals in your own kitchen.
Every different kind of fitness holiday offers some form of stress relief, something we could all do with a bit of. Punching a boxing pad at bootcamp helps rid you of anger and negativity, meditation keeps you calm and grounded, and yoga helps relieve the mind and body of tension and anxiety. The aim is to get rid of the negative energy and replace it with positive. We all know how good we feel after exercise, when the feel good endorphins are pumping round the body, so imagine what that must feel like after a day, 2 days, 5 days worth of exercise!
The Great Outdoors
Exercising outside has so many fantastic health benefits and it doesn’t even matter what the weather’s doing. Look at in a positive light and if it’s windy think of it as helping you cool down, if it’s sunny think of the extra Vitamin D you’re getting. Fresh air and being surrounded by nature is a great mood enhancer and wonderful for blowing away the cobwebs. Plus, if nothing else, it will certainly ensure you get a good night’s sleep!
Yes it’s going to be hard work, but boy are you going to have a lot of fun too. Fitness ‘games’ such as tug of war, rounders, skipping all help make fitness fun, which means it never really feels like you’re working out. Laughter is a form of therapy, so learn to laugh at yourself and others will laugh with you.
If you fancy trying out a ‘fitcation’, look out for our upcoming article featuring the Art of Healthy Living’s top 10 Fitness Holidays of 2016.