Vacation, not stagnation Taking it easy during a retreat to your summer paradise shouldn't mean abandoning physical activity entirely to become a deck potato

Keeping up with workouts is hard at the best of times, but it’s even harder in the summer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/06/2019 (1366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Keeping up with workouts is hard at the best of times, but it’s even harder in the summer.

Because, you know… outdoor patios, golf courses, beaches.

Vacations, long weekends and trips to the cottage can mean getting away from things such as  regular gym visits, fitness classes and running schedules. While it’s difficult to find a downside to spending the weekend lounging on the deck, the truth is summer weekends away can be tricky for those who want to stick to their workout routines.

But you don’t have to let cottage weekends stop you from working up a sweat. Whether you’re enjoying Manitoba cottage country in Victoria Beach, the Whiteshell, Winnipeg Beach, Falcon Lake or Gimli, there are several ways to incorporate physical activity.

Julie McPetrie is a fitness consultant at Winnipeg’s Reh-Fit Centre. She’s also a certified personal trainer and holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science.

There’s often a lot of food and snacks at the cottage and people tend to eat and drink more, she says, so it’s important to keep up physical activity while you’re away.

“Generally the weather is nice and people like to relax and have campfires. What do you do around the fire? You eat and drink,” she says. “It’s just cottage lifestyle.”

People often tell her it’s tough to get back to their gym routine after escaping the city.

“I tell them that if you keep up exercise while you’re away, it wouldn’t be so hard,” she explains. “Your heart is the engine of your body and it’s important to do some type of cardio, where your heart rate is elevated and your cardio system gets the benefit of exercise.”

But what can you do short of setting up your own gym at the lake? McPetrie recommends taking advantage of your deck furniture.

“Do tricep dips off a sturdy patio chair and push out as many as you can in 30 seconds,” she says. “Or try decline pushups with your feet elevated on a step or table.”

Got a tree? Then you’ve got a workout. Complete 30 seconds of the following exercises and rest for 15 seconds between each. This keeps your workout quick and high-energy.

Tree squat — Begin with your back against a tree and walk your feet out as you slide down into a squat position. Aim to get your thighs parallel to the ground. Contract your core so you feel your back against the tree and keep your shoulders back. Hold for 30 seconds and rest for 15.

Tree bridge — Begin by lying on your back with your buttocks close to the tree. Walk your feet up and press your heels as you squeeze your bum and lift off the ground. Ensure you keep your back on the ground and try not to arch your back while you focus on your glutes and legs. Lower and repeat for 30 seconds in a controlled fashion and rest for 15.

High knees on a tree — Start with your hands on a tree, approximately shoulder-height. Lean forward slightly and contract your core as you run your knees up toward your chest as quickly as possible. Press your hands into the tree and keep your eyes lifted. To make it more challenging, don’t use the tree and do high knees in one spot. Continue for 30 seconds and rest for 15.

And if you’re willing to invest a bit of money, McPetrie recommends a TRX suspension trainer. It’s a great way to incorporate strength training when you don’t have access to free weights. To set up your TRX, use an overhead anchor point that’s two to three metres off the ground and strong enough to support your body weight. Like, say, a tree.

“You can hook a TRX up to a tree and do tons of different exercises,” she says. “Find a good, sturdy tree, anchor your TRX and work your biceps, triceps, chest and back.”

There are also some pint-sized pieces of equipment that will pack a punch while also fitting nicely into your weekend bag.

Skipping rope — It’s not only for kids. Just 10-15 minutes will do the trick. Skipping improves functional movements such as footwork and balance and it’s a no-nonsense, full-body cardio workout.

Gliders — These CD-sized discs will push your stability to the limit. By adding a balance component, the disks force you to engage and stabilize your body. Try using them to enhance lower body and core exercises; a simple variation can take your workout to the next level.

A yoga mat — Easy to transport and instant padding for your workout on the deck or in the yard. Yoga can help you relax or work out the new knots in your muscles from sleeping on a lumpy bed or cot. And what’s better than doing downward dog in the sun or by the water?

Resistance bands — no weights? No problem. As resistance bands stretch, they increase tension in your muscles. They may not look like much, but don’t underestimate their power. These virtually weightless pieces of equipment give your workout an instant upgrade. Simply hug a resistance band around both ankles or just above your knees and let the burn begin — squats, leg raises, footwork drills; a small, lightweight, portable band delivers big results.

When it comes to a cardio workout, the cottage provides some great options: hiking, running and swimming are all sure-fire ways to break a sweat.

At home, you may hit your local pool to swim a couple of laps or attend an aquafit class, but there’s nothing quite like being in the water at the cottage. Play a friendly game of water polo, race your friends and family to the other side of the lake or tread water in the sun.

“Try to combine a few laps of front crawl and back crawl to get your heart rate up,” McPetrie says. “And then finish off with three minutes of treading water.”

And body-weight movements such as planks, squats, pushups and lunges can be incorporated into an outdoor walk or run for an interval-style routine. For example, run for two minutes and then perform 30 seconds of air squats. Run for another two minutes and switch to 30 seconds of lunges, and so on. You can do this style of training virtually anywhere — your deck, backyard or a nearby park.

If you’re unsure where to begin, there are several apps that can help:


  • Nike+ Training Club — A free app that features exercises designed by professional athletes and celebrities. Most of the workouts focus on endurance and strength and offer three levels of difficulty. Choose from drills and audio guides from a professional Nike trainer, tennis champion Serena Williams or pop star Ellie Goulding. The app also syncs with Nike+ Run Club to keep track of your runs.
  • ASICS Studio — This app features guided audio workouts led by professional trainers. The videos and photos provide exercises tutorials, and the timers make it easy to follow along. You can also download workouts for offline use and ASICS Studio integrates with your Health app so you can store your fitness data in one place. The app comes with a 14-day free trial, after which you’ll need to subscribe.
  • Freeletics Bodyweight — A free app with hundreds of workouts that cover a variety of muscle groups and fitness levels, all designed to use only your bodyweight as your exercise equipment. It has audio and video guides, and premium subscribers get access to further training plans and performance analysis.
  • Keelo — The focus is on high-intensity interval training for workouts that don’t take up a lot of time. The exercises range between bodyweight-only drills to basic weights and equipment. Workouts range from seven to 20 minutes and give you access to a virtual coach who responds to questions and gives you feedback.
  • Johnson and Johnson 7-minute Workout — Don’t have the time and energy to devote to a full-fledged fitness session? This free app offers mini-cardio workouts that you can finish before your family gets up in the morning. The app offers a range in difficulty from beginners to fitness junkies, and includes short video tutorials.


Keeping active is simply part of McPetrie’s lifestyle. She has a cottage in Victoria Beach and spends the summer leading boot camps at the Village Green near the park. Two years ago, she started with a small group of 10, and that grew to more than 120 people last year. She’s anticipating even more this year.

“I include a variety of exercises and try to work every muscle. There’s a bit of everything — cardio, weights and core,” she says. “Victoria Beach is a very active community.”

She also leads family friendly boot camps there that include modified exercises for kids using skipping ropes and lightweight dumbbells. When it comes to physical activity, McPetrie says it’s important to include the entire family.

“I noticed a lot of moms and young kids were up early in the morning and those kids have a lot of energy. Plus, kids love to jump rope,” she says. “The parents are setting a great example for their kids and it’s something they can do together.”

Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.

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