• Photo for The Beach Vacation Workout: Use Sea and Sand to Pump Up Your Travels
    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith

The Beach Vacation Workout: Use Sea and Sand to Pump Up Your Travels

By Russ Klettke

When a gay man goes on vacation he sees an opportunity that his straight counterparts often ignore. If you’re on a cruise or at the beach, it’s prime time to be in top form (RJ/Diakadi Atlanti Events, anyone?). When our dear hetero brethren go on holiday, it usually means lifting forks at the buffet, pumping brewskis at the bar, and a complete break from exercise. We, on the other hand, order sushi, dance off our margaritas, and pay 25 dollar visitor fees at a local gym.

Perhaps we should rethink that last part. How smart is it to travel 2000 miles just to use the same Cybex machine that we have at home? Travel should be about experiencing new and different things. Why not extend that to the exercise part of your life as well?

This is not just about doing pushups at the beach, the same as you might in your living room. Guys who do that look pretty lame, anyway. Instead, it’s about using the unusual environment of sand and water to surprise the muscles and cardiovascular system. If your workouts have reached a plateau, this is the ideal time and place to make a change—and save that 25 bucks to use on a beach chair rental instead.

Mr. Sandman
In simplest terms, the beach makes an interesting exercise environment because sand yields and water resists. Think of the possibilities: when you run and jump, roll and fall on sand and it is kinder than if it were on a hard floor. Of course, different beaches have different sand, with variations between water’s edge and away from the water. But that’s the main idea: variation jars us out of our ruts. Here are some ways you can make that happen on the sand:

  1. Running in sand: If you’re a regular distance runner, jogging will be slower and you’ll lose your rhythm. But runner or not, you’ll get a much more intense hamstring and quadriceps workout because the sand slipping beneath your feet forces your body to work harder and to recruit muscles in different ways than simple hard-surface running. Try alternating between softer and hard-packed sand (usually found where sand meets surf) for a variation on fartlek-style interval training. You can zig-zag up and down the beach between water and loose sand, or run primarily in the loose sand with periodic sprints down by the water where the hard-packed sand will let you develop more speed. If the beach has dunes, and you’re not upsetting an ecosystem by traversing them, by all means run up and down them for amazing intensity.
  2. Sand plyometrics: Squat-jumps are always great exercise in any environment. The fact you’re out of breath after 20 or less shows how they engage large muscles in the legs and core with intensity. But in sand they are even more challenging and productive. The same is true of squat thrusts, aka Burpies—assuming you don't mind doing some push-ups on the beach.
  3. Sand gymnastics: Never feel very confident about handstands or cartwheels? Try them at the beach—the falls you will endure while perfecting your form will be a lot softer. And the fact that you don't usually perform these movements means that they will provide a substantial functional-strength challenge (not to mention raising your heart-rate).
  4. Short hill stand-ups: This is the best glute-abdominal exercise under the sun—literally. With damp sand, build a small mound, anywhere from six to 12 inches high. Sit on it, then rise to a standing position with no assistance from your hands. Then sit down again, trying not to land with a huge thump. If that’s too easy, do it all on one leg. After several reps you might have to build up that mound again (its own little exercise).
Surf's Up
Of course, only half the beach is sand. The other half is sea. Water resistance and buoyancy offer other advantages for a fitness-eager guy. Swimming is essentially about the body pushing water aside and back, which, since water has its own tension, is a form of resistance training. Olympians have the ideal, efficient technique for doing this, but in fact the amateur swimmer will consume more calories and build new muscle if he occasionally swims similar distances, particularly in the ocean, where the absence of walls to push off of and the presence of a current will make the task far harder than swimming in a pool. But the ocean is not just good for swimming. Because buoyancy essentially makes you lighter in weight, you can try things in the ocean that you can’t do on dry land.
  1. Inefficient breaststroke: Any break in your ability to be efficient is a bonus in a new environment. So, don't just swim—instead, swim the regular form of breaststroke, minus the legs (allow them to drag behind you). This creates a terrific chest and shoulder pump, and because you are swimming inefficiently you don’t need to swim far from your blanket area (works well in pools, too). If you're not out of breath after a few minutes, we'll be seriously shocked.
  2. Clock-hand tread: Tread water at about four feet or more of depth, but instead of a standard tread, use your feet to draw (or kick) wide circles around your head, as if your body were the second hand on a clock. Your arms will work furiously to keep your head above water and stationary in the center, while your core muscles move your torso and legs in their arc. After five rotations, shift to counter-clockwise.
  3. Water plyometrics: In two to three feet of water, squat down then burst up out of the water. So what if you look like the whale in the Pacific Life commercial? This is all about fun—and exercise, after you’ve done it 20 times.
  4. Lower backstretches: Buoyancy is your best friend in case you experience lower-back stiffness or pain. In water that is about chest level, take a deep breath then grasp your knees to your chest, cannonball style. Just float in the water for as long as you can hold your breath (you might roll face down in the water) and concentrate on relaxing the back, gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles.
Of course, every day at the beach and every run at water’s edge must come to an end. So how do you put your shoes or sandals back on without sand rubbing your skin raw on your walk back to the hotel? If you have taken yoga or had any stability training, you should have no problem with this. Here’s how:

1. Walk into the water barefoot and rinse off your feet
2. Hop out on your left foot, the right foot in the air
3. Put sandal or shoes on the right foot while balancing on the left
4. Walk back to the water’s edge and step the left foot in to wash off the sand (but keep the right dry)
5. Hop back to your footwear on the right foot, holding the left foot in the air as you clad it.

Do that right —and hold your abs tight throughout—and you deserve a prize. Think of alternative uses for that unspent gym fee money.

About Russ Klettke: Russ Klettke is an ACE-certified fitness trainer, nutrition author, four-time Gay Games competitor (triathlon) and business writer. He is based in Chicago, which has 29 beaches along the 26 miles of its world-famous lakefront, including the gay-friendly Kathy Osterman Beach at Hollywood Avenue.