12 ways to stay fit when you’re at the cottage

A dozen fun ways to keep in shape if you’re heading out of town this summer

Woman playing beach volleyball

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With summer often comes the challenge of keeping up our routines. Vacations and long weekend trips mean getting away from things like regular gym visits, fitness classes and running schedules, or maybe (like me) you couldn’t manage to get the bikes attached to the back of the minivan. I’ve put together a list of fun activities you can do while away that will ensure you don’t come home a dress size bigger. They’re designed to feel as little like ‘exercise’ as possible and will hopefully put a smile on your face as much as they’ll put some fitness into your days.

With any luck you’re going somewhere with a body of water. I mean, that’s what we Canadians do in the summer, isn’t it? We go somewhere with a lake or ocean? If not, or if you just don’t like the water, never fear! Let’s start with the land-based stuff:

The out-of-water experience
Here are some tips that you can do to stay fit and have fun that have summer cottage written all over them.

Berry picking
You’ve got to walk. You’ve also got to do lots of bending over and reaching up high which will work your derriere, thighs and calves. Plus you get fresh, revitalizing fruit when you’re done.

A quick stop at Canadian Tire and you’ve got a foursome badminton set for $40. That’s a deal, and a great way to get in some cardio, not to mention the workout your shoulders and arms will get. 

Beach yoga
If you’re a yoga aficionado, then you’ll understand how doing it out in nature, next to a body of water, jives with the spiritual nature of the exercise. The sand makes it harder to balance ensuring your core and legs get an extra-tough workout.

Beach volleyball
You’ll burn calories with this one, but don’t forget sunscreen or you could burn something else. Your whole body gets a workout with this activity. Your core works for balance, legs work for jumping and arms are in a constant state of motion. Did you see those women in the Olympics? Enough said.

Trail walking
Remember: leaves of three let them be and bring lots of water. Be sure you’ve got the proper footwear to protect the health of your feet and ankles. Hiking in flip-flops will only lead to unwanted pain.

Chopping wood
Build muscle strength and power with this activity (or is it a chore?). Breaking things apart with a heavy and sharp object can also be very mentally satisfying. Do be careful, we encourage you wear eye protection and ensure everyone’s a healthy distance back from the action. 

Note: The reason I didn’t include running on the beach in this list is because the sand can be tough on the Achilles tendon.

Let’s get wet
OK, I’m going to keep this atypical. This isn’t going to be like something you’d see in a water aerobics class. Vacations are supposed to be fun – not necessarily workout focused – so let’s get a little creative:

Water skiing
Now this is my version of water skiing and it requires no boat and no skis, just a child who is not too big to pull around a little in the water. My wife can do this, and she’s not some big weightlifter.

Get into water that’s about waist-deep (or the shallow end of the pool). Bend your knees a little and have a child looking for a good time to stand on your thighs, facing towards you. Grab their hands and then rapidly shuffle backwards through the water. For the child it feels and looks like they’re water skiing and you’re the boat.

Now, before you scratch your head trust me, this is hard. You can only go for short bursts and it gives you an intense workout similar to interval training. You’ll work the legs hard and develop your core muscles by leaning back. A child that will want to do it again and again also works as built-in motivation.

Cliff jumping
Show everyone how gutsy you are by climbing up to a high spot and then jumping off it into the water. Of course, you need to make sure the water is deep enough and free of obstructions. There are usually designated areas where this is allowed at provincial parks. Again, be sure you’ve got proper footwear to avoid slipping and/or injuries. Climbing is a good total body workout and there’s plenty of swimming too. When you want to take a break from jumping, it’s good to tread water and watch other jumpers (from a safe distance back). I’m not sure if fear burns extra calories, but it might.

Golden retriever
That “golden” part is a lame pun about being tanned in the summer sun. The goal here is to fetch items from the bottom of the lake (near the dock) or in the pool. You can throw coins or store-bought sticks (that will sink, but are easy to find) to fetch and see how many you can grab with one breath. This is a fun one to do with the kids as well. Here’s some information about equalizing ear pressure.

Let’s go surfing
Just like you were the ski boat, you’re now the surfboard and a kid is the surfer. Go out to water that is about mid thigh, take a few deep breaths, and get down on all fours so your back is just below the surface. A moderate-sized kid then quickly climbs on and stands on your back and you start racing along the bottom as fast as your hands and knees can take you (parallel to the shore to keep at same depth). If the kid is less daring they can go on hands and knees as well. This one is a riot, takes considerable effort, and is awesome to watch from shoreline. You’ll be the cool mom if you do this one, and the sand is great for exfoliating the hands, feet and legs…just saying.

Queen of the dock
Sure, someone usually gets hurt, but kids are going to do this anyway and at least with you there you can set some ground rules to make sure everyone stays safe. Basically, it’s tussling and pushing, both of which are great for the arms. You’ll burn calories protecting yourself, treading water, climbing back onto the floating dock and laughing (which you’ll surely do a lot of). Watch this video and tell me you won’t be sore the next day.

Note that child flinging doesn’t require a floating dock. You can throw them around just in the water too. I can promise you your arms will be more than a little sore from doing this a few times.

Frisbee, beach ball, football dives
Sure, anyone can play catch, but water can make it extreme. The goal of this game is to purposely have crappy aim. Make it so that each person throws the ball/Frisbee so the receiver has to dive for it. The goal is to make the catch while in mid air, then land sideways in the water to make for a spectacular splash. Every time.

One warning: Be careful doing this if there is surf. I played this game with my son in Maui and mid-dive the surf went out and I landed on the sand. Ouch.

The purpose of me mixing this up is that if fitness is fun it no longer seems like a chore. Just remind yourself to get out and play hard while you’re away. Push yourself so you feel muscles and lungs burn while goofing around and having a great time. It is possible to literally laugh your ass off.

What’s your favourite cottage activity?

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.