Monday, 15 September 2008

Holiday Workout

I knew a body builder who it seemed, would only go on holiday if there was a gym at his intended destination. Routine, particularly his training routine, was as much a comfort blanket as a path to muscle mass. The first thing he told me about his honeymoon was how well equipped the gym was! Hmmmmmm!

It is a missed opportunity to view a holiday/vacation as some kind of encumbrance. This change in routine should at worst be viewed as active rest and at best as a period to try out new and novel ways of training. I took this latter approach on a recent sojourn to Portugal. On reflection it is clear that a vacation can be the perfect instrument to 'get some paleo' in to your life.

In-Built Change
The positive changes come thick and fast on holiday:-

1) First things first; a holiday gives you the opportunity to relax - this is your time/free time and the chance to do nothing is as important as a chance to do something different. You should not be thinking about work problems or even home problems (and certainly not your 'usual' training routine). They can wait until you return. On holiday you can literally 'get away from it all', leaving problems (quite rightly) behind. This is your chance to fully live in the moment and draw upon change of pace of your life. Paleo man would have encountered occasional stress rather than the chronic strains of modern life. The opportunity to relax is one thing, but it is another to take that opportunity.

2) If you live somewhere that is frequently wet and cold (but not snowy), like the UK, a trip to a sunnier (or snowier) part of the world really is a treat - be it a beach holiday or a winter holiday. For a start you get a large dose of the vitamin D. Wiki informs us that "Low vitamin D levels are associated with cancer, diabetes, and hypertension, and in increased mortality among patients undergoing dialysis." In addition, you will invariably adopt more of an 'outdoor life' - involving fresh air and increase in low level activity (walking, swimming etc..). This is a step closer to a paleo life.

3) Activity levels are generally increased on holiday as we engage with pursuits such as swimming and walking (depending on your destination) moving up your agenda. Such movement is fundamental to the paleo lifestyle.

One thing I particularly enjoyed on vacation was barefoot walking - and the occasional Sand-Sprint along the beach (sans trainers of course). There is something really nice about moving barefoot - almost like a massage. Running on the beach - in pursuit of a ball, frisbee or as part of some other beach game, is a perfect form of power law movement - as recommended by paleo guru Art DeVaney.

Swimming can similarly incorporate a movement of varied intensity with a playful nature. Those with kids will be aware of the fatiguing nature of playing with them - particularly around a pool. I managed 'episodes' of swimming with Captain Kidd (20kg) hanging on my neck.

In addition to the above, my other main pool activity involved Flash (15kg), who was fond of being thrown vertically up in the air. Now for a 15 month-old, Flash is a tough training partner. If she wasn't thrown up high enough, or explosively enough, she would be rather unimpressed. However, each quality 'throw', would illicit giggles - meaning the 'rep' was of sufficiently quality. It was a killer on the shoulders! "Throwing" is totally paleo!

The journey from the hotel to the beach was about 25 minutes. In the evening I would often have to carry Captain Kidd back. Lugging 20kg over several kilometers is a stern test of endurance - the activity profile of which is something I am unaccustomed to. I embrace such novelty in my training. Hunter-Gatherers would have carried camp equipment from place to place as part of their nomadic life, or indeed carried a 'kill' back to camp. Journeying with a weight provides an excellent means of conditioning.

4) Portugal is known for its fish. The fish and meat dishes were invariable served with salad (and fries). Again, this presents a perfect opportunity to move one's diet towards REAL food. As a general rule, if it is not meat and it is not brown, avoid it. With a paleo diet comes paleo health. I personally reckon diet provides about 80% of the advantage of 'going paleo'. The other 20% comes from exercise. Without the habitual purchasing patterns of a weekly supermarket shop, it is simpler to engage with a change in your food buying habits.

5) Temperature variation is something most of us miss without realising it. We live in a house with central heating, drive around in cars with climate control and work in offices with air-con. Our bodies were designed to work with, and respond to, variation in temperature.

A couple of years ago I started taking cold showers. At the end of a shower I would turn off the hot water and stay under the cold for a few minutes. This was to prepare myself for a Christmas Day dip in the Irish Sea. That event came and went, but I have persisted with the cold showers such that I find NOT finishing a hot shower with a cold spell rather uncomfortable and stifling. In Portugal I found that the pool and the sea were pleasantly cool - whereas other found the sea in particular, 'freezing'. My body is accustomed and prepared for such temperature variation and the experience invigorating.

No ChangeI guess I should come clean and tell you what didn't change - there were the usual sprint sessions (a fundamental paleo activity), and there was little chance of me NOT doing a bit of planche work - excepting body-levers, I find it hard to think of another body weight exercise that so comprehensively works almost the whole body. The great thing about planches is that you need only floor space. There was also a lot of handstanding/walking. Doing this on the beach was a novel change. The latter is more of a playful event and the former a personal challenge. However, if I feel I need a break from either, I will take it.

Negative Change
As you can imagine, there was the odd tincture (a pint of lager or up to half a bottle of red wine a night), occasional desert (ice cream), side orders of fries/chips and copious amounts of coffee (six or so cups a day). The latter is a habit I am keen to break, but whenever I am near a kettle my resolve falters. These I consider to be particularly 'un-paleo' adaptions to my vacational lifestyle - although coffee consumption is a habit that travelled with me.

So there you go. A quick round-up of my holiday activities which provide something of a stepping stone to a paleo lifestyle. The real challenge for anyone adopting these changes on holiday is to integrate them into daily life on the return home!


Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later said...

Speaking of Devany and 'brown' food, I recall a post he once wrote called 'Mound of Brown' in which he recalled seeing a family in a restaurant whose entire meal was a single pile of brown stuff - made me smile :-)

Chris - Zen to Fitness said...

Very cool write up. Really enjoyed reading it, interesting to see you went to Portugal I was in the Algarve visiting a friend for a weekend a few weeks ago. Had a great time and I found it surprisingly easy to stick to Paleo foods. Loads of Grilled fish, Piri Piri Chicken and Vegetables, I too did falter with the beers and sweet treats but its a holiday!! Great article!

Asclepius said...

Cheers Chris! Glad you enjoyed it.

The great thing about a holiday is that you are thrust in to change (or rather change is thrust upon you), and the change is without form - ie you still have to eat, you still have to get from A to B and you have time to fill.

Removed from your everyday life and the habitual behaviours therein, 'holiday change' can be what you want it to be'. You have a blank canvas and an open diary on which you can sketch a new (paleo) life.

For those of us in wetter and colder climates (like the UK), paleo concepts are implicit in a holiday by the sea, which makes the transition to a full paleo lifestyle that much easier.

Even paleo man went face down in the sugars during late summer - with abundant fruit on the trees, so I am sure the odd holiday binge on beer and ice cream is manageable at a metabolic level!