NEW YORK – Vacations usually include plenty of R and R, but now the rest and relaxation are being replaced with running and reduced calories.
Fitness-conscious Americans looking to get a great bod are foregoing lazy days lolling in a hammock for working out and wellness. Instead of busting their butts to get in shape before vacation, some people are hitting bikini boot camps, yoga cruises and other sweaty escapes.
While some of these booty-kicking getaways can help people shed excess pounds, an ideal fitness vacation allows for both private time and workouts, said Anne Russell, executive editor of Shape magazine.
"One of the most important things you can do on a vacation is relax," said Russell. "For people whose fitness is their lifestyle, a fitness vacation is a logical choice. If not, it can be a rude shock. Don't suddenly try to become a whole new person on vacation."
For people who want to feel the burn, but prefer a remote beach setting for sweating instead of a gym, the Amansala eco-resort in Tulum, Mexico, offers a Bikini Boot Camp for men and women. The daily itinerary includes a beach powerwalk, body sculpting, power abs sessions, pilates and yoga.
But the trip is not all work and no play. The week includes jungle excursions for swimming and snorkeling in freshwater swimming holes, visits to Mayan ruins and spa treatments.
These types of combination days are the key to staying motivated, Russell said.
"Working out for working out's sake, that's not the most appealing concept," she said. "[It's] better if you're doing something enjoyable, and working out is a side benefit."
Melissa Perlman, co-founder of the Amansala resort, agreed that balance is important.
"We offer the perfect environment for people to get back into the spirit of being healthy in mind, body and spirit," she said in an e-mail. "Everyone goes home feeling completely rejuvenated and having lost a few pounds."
And although guests are there to shave off some weight, Perlman said the resort focuses on encouraging a healthy lifestyle rather than creating an intimidating boot camp-like atmosphere.
"We are not about deprivation even though most guests loose at least a few pounds," she said. "We have an amazing chef and serve fresh caught grilled fish, lobster, fresh mangos and an assortment of other natural goodies."
But even with the fresh food and tropical settings, these fitness getaways aren't for sissies. Russell recommends using the vacation as an incentive to start working out before vacation in order to avoid being sore during the trip. "You need to give yourself time in the gym to get ready."
These theme getaways can help tone troubled areas, but shouldn't be thought of as "quick fix" Russell added. "These trips are popular because they appeal to people's multi-tasking inclinations ... In theory it's a nice idea, but the goal is to get in better shape, not start from zero."
OutFiT (Outdoor Fitness Training) in San Francisco, Calif., offers programs like the Costa Rica Extreme Week Challenge. Each day on the trip starts with a cardiovascular and strength workout. The landscape becomes guests' Nautilus for hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming and other alfresco adventures.
Shape magazine also recommends sport vacations such as snowboard camps, inline skating tours and mountain biking journeys. And Club Med, known for offering unique activities like trapeze and wind-surfing, recently found success with its Get Fit Bash at their Turks & Caicos resort in April.
Participants sculpted their bodies with personal-training sessions and weight-training workshops designed by Men's Health and CRUNCH Fitness, classes including Cardio Striptease, GI Boot Camp, Latino Groove and Caribbean Step as well as nutrition workshops. The next Get Fit Bash will be Feb. 23 to March 1, 2003.
While a week of working out in an exotic setting can be fun, it won't permanently change your body, cautioned Russell, who compares intense fitness vacations to crash diets.
"Boot camps are extreme. You are better off spending an hour walking each day than getting up at 5 a.m. and doing 100 push-ups," she said. "In order to really lead a healthy lifestyle, you have to teach habits you can continue on a day-to-day basis."