Get fit in Bali: a healthy, happy and holistic holiday
Imagine coming back from your Bali holiday not only feeling relaxed, but looking fit and feeling freaking amazing. Sound good? Then how about planning a holistic holiday? What’s a holistic holiday, you say? Well, it takes place in an amazing destination, features great food and has the added bonus of keeping active with adventure and exercise.
Yep, fun and fit don’t need to be exclusive concepts, just ask all those good-looking, smiling and relaxed people. And what better way to shake things up than by taking yourself to an exotic destination?
Bali is known for its inspirational qualities, so it makes sense that it’s an ideal location to get out of your usual routine. Taking a destination fitness holiday means that you can combine some sightseeing and culture with getting fit and healthy. It’s the opposite of what usually happens when you go on a holiday and spend the whole time indulging and “putting on a few”. Imagine jungle treks, outdoor gyms, yoga on the beach and natural springs to rest muscles and soothe the soul.
Beach and Bintangs vs. holiday fitness
Relaxing at the beach and doing a lot of nothing on your holiday is always going to be an appealing option – particularly considering we are functioning in a culture that operates more on a 7-7 hour work day rather than the long-lost 9-5 . Each travel style does have its place, however, and it is possible to combine the best of a fit holiday with one that touches up your wellbeing and your tan.
People are working harder than ever before, and often neglecting their own wellbeing in the process
According to Sputnik, founder of the Swashbucklers Club that organises running tours in Bali, more people are starting to see the potential of going past the usual Bali haunts such a beaching it up Kuta-style. Holiday makers are starting to want more out of their time off and are becoming more inclined to incorporate a transformative experience into their holiday. “Coming back with a sun tan and a hangover isn’t for everyone,” he says. “Coming back having learned a new skill or grown in some other way, seems to give people a better experience and better value for time and money. People are working harder than ever before, and often neglecting their own wellbeing in the process, so come holiday time they often want to squeeze in as much ‘wellness’ or concentrated ‘me time’ doing something they love. Passive holidays still have their place, of course. Even I don’t mind a few days relaxing here and there, but I personally find the more I do, the longer it feels like I’ve been away – and the better break I feel I’ve had.”
Why get fit in Bali?
Bali really lends itself to getting outdoors and moving around. Work those muscles by simply going on a soft-sand walk on the beach each day or getting involved in a game of beach volleyball or Frisbee. Walk as much as possible and have an active swim once a day.
“It’s easy to get outdoors and move more. Swim, play on the beach, hike, surf, do yoga, cycle. Working up a sweat ensures you drink loads of water. Your body will love you for eating in true Bali style – give up the wheat and dairy; eat nothing but fresh food – nothing processed, and drink gallons of fresh coconut water,” says Karen Willis, founder of Sharing Bali.
Bali is also an amazingly diverse destination and therefore suits all sorts of activities from water spots, to yoga, to trekking. “Being a relatively compact island, it also means getting from one environment such as the beach, to a completely different space like the mountains, takes a relatively short period of time,” says Sputnik.
Bali also has more places to workout than ever before, particularly for those who want to keep up with a fitness routine or keep it tight for the beach. “Bali has so many things to do and many holidaymakers want to keep their exercise habits in play, because often when you stop, it’s so hard to regain the momentum when you get back home,” says Alison Taylor, owner and operator of Bali Fitness Seminyak. “Ten years ago, there were very few gyms on the island and they were mostly small bodybuilding gyms. Group fitness is relatively new to Bali and hugely popular, so I guess things have changed a lot over the years.”
Compared to a lot of other health retreats or tours, Bali also offers great value for money. Tours and activities that would usually be outside your budget become a bit more affordable in Bali.
Best of both worlds
Having an active or fit holiday in Bali doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself of cocktails and naughty food, but the focus is more on balance and nourishment rather than excess and getting cray cray.
As Karen mentions, you don’t need another holiday to recover from too much time lazing around, eating and drinking with abandon. Returning home feeling better than when you left is the way to go.
“We do suggest to all of our guests that they have the best of both worlds,” says Karen. “You can get out of your zone, challenge yourself to a retreat, and then kick back with a day or so at a villa with nothing more than cocktails, pool time, shopping and sleeping to fill the day. It will feel all the more well-deserved!”
Convinced yet? If not, let’s hear from some innovative entrepreneurs that are combining the beauty of Bali with an opportunity to get the arse moving among the tropical goodness of the Island of the Gods.
Alison Taylor, Owner and operator of Bali Fitness Seminyak
What range of activities does Bali Fitness offer for holidaymakers?
Bali Fitness Seminyak is a fully equipped fitness centre offering holiday makers the opportunity to continue their fitness journey while on vacation. Bali Fitness offers the Les Mills group fitness program known throughout the world – Bodypump, Bodycombat, CXWORKS and RPM as well as TRX and Zumba. You can also hire a personal trainer to work out a fitness routine that you can continue after your holiday for $20 – $30 per hour for one on one.
What inspired you to start up your business?
We just wanted to stay in Bali and felt we needed to do something, and we did! Hamish (Alison’s husband and Bali Fitness co-owner) was happy to surf all day, every day. The gym itself was established, so we took it over and added our own touches including nutrition, physiotherapy and podiatry.
Why is Bali a great place for a healthy holiday?
Sun, surf and sand always make us feel good. Away from the stress and day-to-day routine we have the opportunity to recharge our batteries and try new things. Getting into healthy habits on holidays can kick start us into new, healthy habits on our return home.
Any tips for those wanting a healthy holiday on their own terms?
Start your day with exercise, you will get your metabolism off to a good start.
Take advantage of all Bali has to offer. Climb the mountains, hire a bike and cycle around the island, learn to surf, do some yoga. Experience more of Bali than the beach.
And use sunscreen!
Quick Q& A
Sputnik, Chief Swashbuckler at the Swashbucklers Club
What made you start Swashbucklers?
As a runner myself, and someone who’d been to Bali many times, I’d always felt fairly restricted by where I could run easily and safely. Traffic on the roads and the poor conditions of the sidewalks makes road running dangerous or even deadly, and running off-road required local knowledge I simply didn’t have, so I always ended up running ‘out and back’ on the beach. This was nice enough, but didn’t have the variety I was looking for.
It took me quite a while working with various guides, maps, GPS information and a lot of personal trial (and trail!) and error, but eventually I came up with a series of routes that worked perfectly. There are plenty of fitness and yoga camps in Bali now, but to my knowledge, this remains the only running tour on the island.
What do you offer?
What we offer is an all inclusive service with nice hotels, good food and amazing adventures that you likely wouldn’t be comfortable doing unsupported – and that’s if you could even find them in the first place. We certainly do a lot of ‘curation’ by picking and choosing what we think are the best running and adventure experiences on offer so that you don’t have to find out the hard way that something is not really worth doing.
Originally we created a specialised, fully hosted tour primarily for runners, called the ‘RunVenture’ Tour. As the name suggests, it’s a combination of running and adventure activities, with each day containing a run based on a specific theme or destination, followed by an activity. The runs are usually around the 10km distance and many of them are ‘trail runs’ so there’s a lot of off-road running on smaller and usually more picturesque trails.
The runs themselves have fairly self descriptive titles like The Rive Run, The Jungle Run, The Lake Run etc. and given the heat, the terrain, the mixed abilities of runners and the picture taking opportunities along the way, we usually take a very leisurely pace … sometimes up to 2.5 hours.
On most days we also offer a shorter walking alternative (for non runners, especially partners who usually end up being ‘run widows’ at running events), or even a cycling alternative when the terrain allows for it.
The activities themselves include things like river rafting, swimming in (and jumping into and sliding down) waterfalls, a high ropes course, a sunrise dolphin boat ride, canoe rides on the lake, climbing an active volcano and an elephant ride plus a few other bits and pieces.
In response to people only wanting to partake in some of the activities, we’re in the process of creating an ‘Adventure Trail’ where people can access information on all the activities and either do the trails or activities under their own steam where feasible, or use our own Swashbucklers Club guides to do their choice of activities, whether that be a single thing or a combination.
First of all, try something different. Why travel to a foreign land and do what you do at home?
To be clear, our particular tours are definitely ‘active’, but not necessarily ‘healthy’ as such. We don’t make people drink wheatgrass shots and eat rabbit food. We get people out there being active, sometimes well outside their comfort zones, and we show them that being active can be awesome fun, but if they want to have a beer at the end of the day or a piece of cake with dinner, they’re more than welcome to do it! They certainly earn it!
Quick Q& A
Karen Willis, Experience maker and founder of Sharing Bali
What makes Sharing Bali different to other retreats?
Most health retreats are pitched at the high end. Lovely, but too much detox and deprivation for my liking. I set out to create a new retreat model based on nourishment, not deprivation, taking in traditional village life rather than being removed from it; embarking on adventures that are more fun than frightening.
We offer good food, plenty of fitness, a taste of local life with some adventure thrown in, a little indulgence and plenty of laughs along the way. Sharing Bali retreats are a celebration of healthy living immersed in local Bali village life.
What can Bali offer travellers in terms of a different experience?
I think the biggest realisation that most of our guests have is how sedentary average lives are today. Our quest for speed and convenience makes us very comfortable, but we pay the price in our declining level of agility and mobility. Our village is based on farming. On our treks through the ravines we pass elderly people carrying heavy baskets of grass or rice on their heads, walking slowly but surely. Core strength – you bet. Balance – big tick.
We don’t need to strive to be the fittest or fastest, we just need to move more. It’s a simple idea that is so doable.
Quick Q& A
Duane Ferguson, Personal Trainer and Director of Sport and Recreation at Canggu Club
Why come to Bali to get your fit on?
There’s readily available fresh and healthy foods, an exotic and lush landscape, and the wonderful spirit of Balinese people – all these things combined reinvigorate your body and soul. Retreating to the outlying areas of the island also enables you to calm your thought, slow your mind and enjoy many activities that will challenge and nurture your body.
Any suggestions for health conscious travellers?
First of all, try something different. Why travel to a foreign land and do what you do at home? Go for a surf, do some yoga, learn a new sport, embrace the unfamiliar… there is plenty of opportunity to be ‘normal’ when you go back home. To expand your circle of friends, look for groups that are already established on the island… the Hash House Harriers, the Bali Geckos AFL, the Lost Boys Football, it’s great fun to train and exercise with groups that attract locals and visitors from all around the world and it’s great for your Facebook network!
Try to incorporate some aspect of fitness into every day of your holiday, especially if you enjoy good food and drink at night. Maybe walk from your hotel or villa to a new breakfast venue, or swim some laps before your afternoon nap to really relax. If you’re a bit more adventurous and athletic plan a ‘customised’ retreat.
I personally love the Treetop Adventure Park – it’s physical demands and spectacular location make it a must do. For the really fit, take a ride around Bali. I mean actually around Bali; it’s a 400 kilometre trek that can be done in a day, but be sure to arrange a massage the next day! Lastly, I love ‘discrete fitness’, where I have fun and workout at the same time. Climbing the 78 stairs up the Splash Water Slide Tower 13 times means I will get a 1,000 step climb done. I can then relax in our Crazy Creek ride; that is my favourite type of interval training!
Quick Q& A
Guillaume Le Port, co owner of Canggu Fitness and qualified instructor.
What range of activities do you offer at Canggu Fitness?
Canggu Fitness is a sport center focused on cross training. We provide classes as ‘”WOD’’ (work out of the day) including Olympic lifting, gymnastic/agility and also TRX and cycle. Optimising your training is a more appropriate way to describe the experience offered at Canggu Fitness. By combining instinctive, natural and functional movement, we offer the best of what your body deserves.
General physical preparedness is our goal. Training your body to prepare it for living your life to the fullest, pushing your limits away, creating new possibilities and unleashing your inner power, and nothing less. And all that while having fun, being safe, shedding those pounds you want to get rid of and firing up muscles you want to get back.ù
Why is Bali ideally suited to a healthy holiday experience?
Bali, the Island of the Gods, inspires tranquillity and calm. If you are away from tourist corners, you will find an overflowing of energy. Here you reconnect with the simple and essential things. With a particular attention to your lifestyle, what you eat, how you move and how you act, you can become aware of what you are.
Are there any other ‘must try’ destinations in Bali that are worth a shout out for health conscious travellers?
My favourite is Mount Agung, particularly by Pura Pasar Agung. For those that want to trek the mountain, hiking shoes are highly recommended. You will have stunning views of Bali and Lombok. The second part of ascend, with its lunar landscape, will give you unforgettable memories. Otherwise, you can find magnificent hiking near Ubud such as as Payangan or Tampaksiring. But the ‘must try’ is the Jungle Run organised by the Hash House Harriers. They will take you to unlikely places such as the middle of the forest and the rice fields of Bali.
Sharing Bali specialise in six day, five night health and fitness retreats such as outdoor fitness, bootcamps, pilates, cross fit, yoga and the fitness adventure. But it’s not just about fitness sessions according to Karen. “We integrate activities such as jungle treks, sunrise volcano climbs, caldera treks, cycling, amazing races and cooking classes into the programs. We balance it out with delicious fresh village-style food, body treatments, soaking in hot springs and time just to chill out in a hammock or a swinging chair overlooking the rice paddies.”
The low down
Don’t expect any reformer equipment or air-conditioned gyms at Sharing Bali. It’s all about an authentic balinese experience. “Rice sacks and coconuts are our weights; the rice paddies replace the treadmills; bamboo structures work for climbing; kettle bells are built from bamboo and filled with volcanic sand; and Amazing Races cover six kilometres of jungle, river and rice paddies with fitness challenges along the way,” she says. “We work with the best trainers who get very creative with their sessions. Everyone works at their own level. You don’t need to be super fit to join, just be prepared to work up a sweat and have some fun,” says Karen.
As not everyone can get away for six days, Sharing Bali also offers custom programs for short stays, giving time poor travellers a taste of the Sharing Bali experience.
Bali Elements schedules are designed to give you space to pause, reflect, talk and play among rice field vistas and “beachfront magic”. A bit more of a fancy pants option for those who are after a side of luxury with their holistic holiday experience.
The low down
Five nights accommodation at the Legong Keraton beachfront hotel with six individually tailored days of activities such as meditation, pilates, yoga, runs, walks, cycling, aqua training, rice field trekking, tennis and squash. There are also small groups if large classes aren’t your style, as well as relaxing spa facilities.
For da ladies only
Surf Goddess Retreat and Mind Body Soul Surf Bali are both organisations that offer surf retreats for women only. Both of them are located in vibrant Seminyak and are definitely worth looking into – particularly if you like to keep your waves and your gentlemen quota separate.