Chris Wellhausen

Best Bodyweight Exercises to Do on Vacation

When we travel, we’re all about exploring sights unseen, savoring new foods, and engaging in adventure and relaxation. But we’re not total hedonists. We also like to squeeze in a few workouts. There’s just something about working out away from our typical environs—perhaps without a gym—that both energizes and grounds us way out yonder. The key is to work in the best bodyweight exercises when you’re on vacation.

“It’s more than possible to work out on vacation,” says Brooklyn-based Shaun Zetlin, CPT. “All you need is your own body weight and a little bit of space.” Even just taking 10 minutes to move your body provides a multitude of benefits and will have you feeling refreshed, energized, and excited to enjoy your time away, Zetlin adds.

The brief hiatus from heavy lifting, endurance work, and/or lots of high-intensity interval training can do your body some good, too. If you’re traveling for long stints of time, as in working remotely for an extended stay, then it’s a good idea to keep your daily activity levels up.

“Taking a prolonged break from exercise can actually put you at higher risk for injury when you return to the gym, depending on how long you’re away,” says Janelle Fleites, CSCS, owner of Impact Physical Therapy and Sports Performance, in Miami, FL. The key to getting a good lift in without a gym, she notes, is adding tempo and isometric holds while increasing the reps and sets of the exercise for increased demand on muscles.

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Mike Nicholson, CSCS, fitness director at Chelsea Piers Fitness, headquartered in Manhattan, echoes these views on the virtues of working out while on vacation. “Exercise increases your endorphins and makes you feel good, so working out on vacation will naturally help you enjoy your new surroundings even more,” he says, adding the post-workout rush of endorphins may also help your confidence, too. Nicholson recommends firing up your “powerhouse” (core, glutes, shoulders, and diaphragm) to maximize neuromuscular activation around your spine and hips. “Keep the workout low-impact to minimize the fatigue you put on your central nervous system and focus on deep breathing during movement to increase oxygen flow, which will elevate feelings of well-being and enhance your mood,” he says. The goal is to get the blood flowing and move your body—and not to be so exhausted post-workout that you have to cancel your walking tour plans.

Below, Zetlin, Fleites, and Nicholson share the best bodyweight exercises to do on vacation. Turn them into one-move workouts or mix and match to create your own workout.

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Best Bodyweight Exercises to Do on Vacation

Single-leg deadlift balance and reach
Justin Steele

1.  Single-Leg Balancing Deadlift

Stand on your right leg and lift your left knee up toward your chest. “You can hold your arms out for balance or use a wall or chair for additional support,” says Nicholson. “Balancing will increase your mind-body connection and fire up your nervous system.” Hinge at your waist and lower your upper body until your spine is parallel to the ground. Now, reach your left hand forward and your toes back to make your body as long as possible. “This will decompress your spine and activate your core stability,” adds Nicholson. Push your heel into the ground and extend through your hips to rise to the start position. Take a deep breath as you rotate your chest toward the floor, and let the air out of your lungs as you straighten your body back up. Do 3 x 10 reps each side with 30-second rest between rounds.


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2. Pushup With Isometric Hold

Sorry, folks—another pushup variation for you. “Begin in plank position with hands directly under shoulders,” says Fleites. “Slowly lower your body down to the floor while maintaining elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body.” Now lower your body until your chest is about a fist from the floor and hold the bottom position for five seconds. “As you return to starting position, stop midway and hold for three seconds. Then, press through the floor and return to starting position,” adds Fleites. Do 3 or 4 sets x 15 to 20 reps with 30-second rest in between.

One-leg plank
James Michelfelder

3. Plank With Alternating Legs

This spin on a standard plank gives your glutes a targeted workout. Start in the prone plank position with your elbows bent and forearms stabilized on the floor. “Next, raise one straight leg about two inches above the floor and hold for 10 seconds,” says Zetlin. Repeat, alternating your legs each time. Up the intensity by doing alternating bear hold bird dogs: Start on all fours, then hover knees off ground. Engage core, then raise opposite arm and leg. Do 6 x 10-second holds with 30-second rest in between.


Bulgarian Split Squat Iso Hold
Bulgarian Split Squat Iso Hold

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

A spare chair is all you need to do this stellar lower-body move. “Find one with a seat about one foot in height and place it a few feet behind you,” says Zetlin. “Now, prop your foot onto the chair while stabilizing your standing leg on the floor.” Next, lunge downward, bending your back knee a few inches from the floor. Switch legs on each set. Do 4 x 12 reps with 30-second rest in between.

Weighted wall sit
Weighted wall sit Justin Steele

5. Wall Sits

Assuming you’re not camping or living out your glamping yurt vacation dreams, you have no excuse not to squeeze this one into your vacation. Position yourself with your back securely against a wall. Next, perform and maintain a squat, knees bent at 90 degrees. “Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with both heels down throughout,” says Zetlin. Do 3 x 20- to 60-second holds with 30-second rest in between.

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6. Dynamic Tension Arm Hold

This active stretch is something you can do sitting on a chaise lounge by the pool. “To start, raise one arm up at shoulder level and cover the wrist with your other hand,” says Zetlin. This is all about contrasting tension. Push your extended arm down as you maintain opposing tension (up) with your other hand for a 5-second hold. Then, push your extended arm up as your other hand provides resistance down for another 5-second hold. Switch arms each set. Do 4 x 8 reps with 30-second rest in between.

Single-leg Glute Bridge
Zach Hetrick

7. Glute Bridge March

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on floor. “Reach fingertips toward your feet to pull your shoulders away from your ears while pushing your elbows and hands into the ground,” says Nicholson. “Pull your core in to keep your tailbone tucked, and push your feet into the ground to elevate your hips as high as you can without arching your back.” Keep your hips elevated and parallel to the ground as you lift one foot off the ground and point the toe of the lifted leg to the sky. “Alternate the movement between legs and be sure not to rotate your hips while lifting your legs.” Nicholson adds. Take a big inhale as you bring your foot back to the floor and a big exhalation as you lift your foot to the sky. Do 2 x as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP) in 1 minute with 30-second rest in between.

8. Sliding Forward and Lateral Lunge

Grab a towel from your hotel room or the linen closet at your vacation rental and place it under one foot. (You can also use a paper plate if you’re on carpet,) Put a slight bend in the other leg. Reach arms forward as you slide your working leg straight in front, then return to start position, and immediately slide your leg into a lateral lunge. This compound exercise “not only works your quads, but also foot intrinsics, dynamic knee control, and single-leg balance,” Fleites says. Do 3 to 4 sets of 15 reps with 30-second rest in between.

Justin Steele

9. V-ups

Lie flat on your back. Reach your hands straight up and use your inner thighs to squeeze your heels together. Bend at your waist and lift your legs and upper body off the ground simultaneously. “Try to fold your body in half into a V-shape,” says Nicholson. Using your abs, slowly lower yourself back to the start position. Take a big inhale as you lower your body to the ground and a big exhale as you lift your upper and lower body off the ground. Do 2 x 15 reps with 30-second rest in between.

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10. Plank With Shoulder Taps

Place your hands on the ground directly beneath your chest and hold your body in pushup position while keeping your feet slightly wider than hips. Make sure your shoulders and hips are level and actively push the ground away to light up your core. “Pull your abs in to protect your lower back and be sure not to arch your back,” says Nicholson. “Tap your right hand to your left shoulder, then place your right hand back down. Then tap your left hand to your left shoulder, and continue to alternate this movement between arms.” During this exercise, Nicholson stresses the importance of not rotating your hips as you do the shoulder taps. “Pretend you’re balancing a glass of water on your lower back,” he recommends, noting that you should take a big inhale as you bring your hand to the floor, then a big exhale as you lift your hand toward opposite shoulder. Do 2 x as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP) for 1 minute with 30-second rest in between.

Alligator Crawl
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11. Staggered Pushups

Pushups are nobody’s favorite, but once you crank out a set, you instantly feel invigorated. Zetlin suggests this simple tweak on the traditional pushup: Set up with hands shoulder-with apart. Now, stagger their positioning by placing one hand forward. Imagine there’s a line running from the tops of your fingertips of rear hand and bottom of palm of front hand). Keep your knees and feet together for more core stabilization. Switch arms between sets. Do 4 sets x 8 to 10 reps with 30-second rest in between.

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