You can do yoga, or run, on the beach. (Bigstock)

You can do yoga, or run, on the beach. (Bigstock/Bigstock)

A beach vacation can be a runner-mom’s paradise: fresh air, free time and, if you’re lucky, free babysitting. During annual trips to the Jersey Shore with my extended family, I’m happily up before my kids’ 6 a.m. cry for chocolate-chip pancakes, running longer and faster on the flat, stress-free ribbon of seaside road than I do on the hilly, anxiety- and traffic-clogged streets of my Silver Spring neighborhood.

I realize that not everyone sees vacation as a time to escalate a fitness routine. If you’re not a runner or a swimmer, or haven’t bothered to lug a bike on the back of your car or don’t have family around to watch your kids, it’s not so easy to maintain your regimen. And with all that beautiful scenery and fun family activities to enjoy, it can be hard to find the motivation or time to exercise — or the justification for spending money on a gym guest pass, yoga studio or bike rental.

But exercise at the beach doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or burdensome. You can maintain your fitness through some basic exercises or even through beach activities you may be planning anyway — and if you decide to take the time off completely, the setback to your fitness level is easily restored, experts say.

If you decide on the minimalist option, you could bring a mat or towel to the beach and fashion your own yoga practice. You could also pack some lightweight exercise tools such as resistance bands or jump ropes, says Jo Zimmerman, an instructor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Maryland and a longtime trainer. Sue Immerman, a certified personal trainer at MAD Fitness in Takoma Park, suggests buying two gallons of water and using them for a simple weightlifting routine.

An even more minimalist option: Just use your family. “You have a 5-year-old nephew, you have a barbell,” Zimmerman says. “Piggyback rides are great for the legs. Give a piggyback ride while doing squats and you have done some weighted squats.”

Most of us, understandably, would prefer to have our back reclining into a beach chair. Many of her clients leave for vacation with the best of intentions, Immerman said in an e-mail, but return “saying that they threw in the towel on eating well and exercise.”

Yet all is not lost. First, says Rosemary Lindle, an exercise physiologist and an adjunct professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, studies show that you can maintain your fitness level even when taking some time off. Second, time off is itself an important part of any training program. “Think of your vacation as an active recovery or cross-training period,” she said in an e-mail. “A well-balanced, periodized fitness program includes recovery breaks.” On the beach, recovery could include lighter-level activities such as hiking, cycling, swimming, snorkeling, even beach volleyball.

But how well do these activities compare to a more typical exercise routine?

As you might expect, it depends on both the activity and level of effort. An hour of stand-up paddleboarding, for example, can burn as many as 545 calories, according to Jessica Matthews, a certified personal trainer and health coach and assistant professor of health and exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego who crunched some beach activity numbers. An hour of digging in the sand is almost as good: as many as 454 calories per hour (all numbers quoted here are approximate and for a typical 150-pound woman or 200-pound man). Even lugging all those chairs and buckets to the beach can do you some calorie-burning good (as many as 73 calories burned for every 10 minutes carrying 15 pounds of gear).

And yet that iconic walk on the beach isn’t necessarily the best option, says Immerman, especially if brisk walking isn’t part of your regular routine. A 30-minute beach walk (at a 3.5 mph pace on flat-packed sand) burns about 147 calories for a woman and about 195 for a man, according to Matthews. That’s a decent workout — “better than spending the entire week in a beach chair,” Immerman conceded — but a long walk on soft and slanted sand can pose challenges to knees, hips and even shoulders and backs.

And of course be mindful when doing exercises that seem to go hand-in-hand with eating. Biking to get a soft-serve cone, for example, isn’t necessarily a net win: A 30-minute bike ride on a flat beach road burns up to 264 calories, according to Matthews’s calculations. But that swirl cone could tip the balance with as many 335 calories, according to the USDA’s Food Tracker. A glass of lemonade, at about 100 calories, might be a better way to cool off. Or better yet, stick to water.

Once you’re back home, remember to ease back into your routine. “One week is not much time to be off at all,” Immerman says. But be sure to warm up and pace yourself. “Foam roll or stretch after the workout and know that in a session or two you can be back to where you were when you left off.”

The gallon-jug workout:

Sue Immerman of MAD Fitness in Takoma Park suggests these exercises for a quick and easy vacation workout that requires only two pieces of equipment: gallon jugs.

Buy two one-gallon containers of water, which weigh about eight pounds each. You can adjust the weight as needed. Repeat each movement 10 times. Do three sets unless you have never done functional training, in which case do fewer. This should feel challenging but not painful. Use a foam roller to release tight muscles before you work out. If you don’t have one, a rolling pin can fill in if you are already experienced with foam rolling.

● Skaters: Place jugs on the floor about three feet apart. Stand in front of one, step to the other and tap the top of that jug while you curtsy, then step back to the first jug. Intensify skaters by channeling your inner Olympic speedskater — widen the space between the jugs and hop between them.

● Push-ups with taps: Place jugs just in front of you, at a 45 degree angle from your shoulders. Push up and hold a plank while you reach across to tap the jug on your opposite side.

● Lunge around the clock: Hold a jug close to you, at chest height. Lunge, leading with the right foot, toward the hours on a clock: 12 o’clock, 2, 3, 5, 6. Continue to 12 with your left foot.

● Diagonals:Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a jug with both hands. Reach high to your left. Keeping the container close to your body, carry it in a diagonal line across your torso to your right foot. As you descend, squat and reach the jug to the outside of your right foot. Let your feet move with you. Don’t lock your heels to the ground. Complete eight to 12 reps and then repeat, reaching high to your right.

More from The Washington Post:

At Rockville’s Even Hotel, guests have no excuse not to exercise

Technogym equipment at the Marriott Marquis lets you post status updates while you sweat

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