Until last week, if a friend had told me they were going to a retreat for a “vacation,” I’d have stared at them as though they were a three-headed alien! I really didn’t get it. 🙄 But now, I’ve seen the light.
People go on fitness retreats for many reasons. Maybe it’s to detox, relax, lose some weight, or make some new friends. It’s also great if you’re holidaying alone, as you get to bond with a group of like-minded people, and avoid those awkward “table for one” evenings at restaurants.
Mrs Fitness and I decided to look for a retreat where we could:
- Have all of our Primal / Paleo meals cooked for us (as that’s the type of food we eat at home)
- Try out some different forms of exercise
- Be close to the countryside (rather than a city)
Mostly, we just wanted to step away from our everyday life to relax…so luckily our two children went to stay with Nanny and Grandad for the next two sleeps. 😀 Thanks Nan.
Day 1 — Friday
We booked a three day retreat at primalretreat.co.uk, situated near Woodbridge, in the coastal district of Suffolk, UK.
The retreat was run by Stuart Daniels and Lorraine Biddle in their lovely home. We arrived just before 4pm after a long drive, to be welcomed by Stuart as we got out of the car.
He showed us around, then we unpacked, and got changed into some clothes for exercise later. We then went to the dining room, to make ourselves a drink — there was a large selection of teas, herbal teas and coffee.
We then sat on one of the leather sofas in the lounge, which had a library of fitness and health books to peruse. We also met Mark, one of the other guests in our group. He’d been to this retreat before, so we grilled him a little on what we could expect.
At 5.30pm, we met the third and final member of our group AJ, and Lorraine began the first of many exercise sessions — Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This was my first Yoga session, ever…so I wasn’t sure what to expect, or my capabilities.
I was surprised to find that I had good functional carry-over from my Calisthenics workouts, which require mastering your body, strength and some flexibility.
Whilst many of the Yoga moves were unfamiliar to me, and initially awkward to get into, I found that in the majority of cases I could do the more difficult progression of the alternative poses offered. For example, I was able hold do a Side Crane (Crow) pose, despite having never tried it before. It requires a lot of arm, shoulder and core strength, plus balance. Lorraine makes it look easy.
After an hour and a half of yoga, there was some time to take a shower and relax, before joining the group for a Primal dinner at 8pm. It was great having someone else prepare the food for a change.
After dinner, we chatted for a little while with our team mates, and then went to bed around 9.30pm, to rest up for the challenging agenda planned for the next day.
Day 2 — Saturday
Mrs Fitness and I woke up at 6.30am (believe it or not, that is a lie in for us). We were first up, so we quietly made ourselves a coffee, got dressed, and read a book in the lounge.
At 7.45am we took a short car ride with the group, for a two hour walk. We started from Melton, and walked alongside the pretty Deben estuary past Woodbridge. It was great to smell the morning fresh air, and take in the beautiful scenery, whilst we chatted with the group. It was a little foggy on the way to Woodbridge, but it cleared part way through our walk, to reveal sailing boats, grazing cows, and bird life. The Deben estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its wading bird, wildfowl and saltmarsh communities.
We returned to the house, where there was time to freshen up before a hearty Primal breakfast of spinach and bacon frittata, with roasted tomatoes and peppers. Delicious!
After a break, at 12pm we started our next class, which was HIIT in the form of Muay Thai pad work. I partnered up with Mark, and the girls got together. Stuart periodically partnered with us for some extra stimulation.
This was my first time trying Muay Thai, and as it was at such a fast pace, my focus was more on hitting and getting through the gruelling session, rather than perfecting technique. Mark had done it before…so we didn’t hold back, and we hit the pads as hard as we could!
After an hour and a half, there was a break to take a shower and relax, before a Paleo lunch at 2.30pm.
Vinyassa Flow Yoga
At 4.30pm we did an hour of Yoga, building on the positions we learned the day before. Everyone seemed to have a little hamstring soreness from the previous session, but we powered through.
After four and a half hours of exercise, we gladly welcomed a hearty meal at 7pm with our team mates. Afterwards, we read for a little in the lounge, and then went to bed early — exhausted, but with a sense of achievement.
Day 3 — Sunday
Mrs Fitness and I got up early as usual, to have a coffee whilst we read a good book in the lounge.
At 7.45am, we took a little trip to the nearby Rendlesham Forest, where Stuart took us through two hours of MovNat — a natural movement training system, founded by Erwan Le Corre. We focused mainly on locomotive skills, such as crawling, balancing, walking, running, jumping, and climbing.
I’ve watched parkour demonstrations before, and there seemed to be some similarity with the MovNat method.
Having never done either of the above before, again I wasn’t sure about my capabilities.
The first challenge was climbing a tree. I was very apprehensive about this as I have a little fear of heights, which Mrs Fitness can attest to. We often recall that time we went on a tree-top climbing experience, where I was begging to get down after only five minutes! Fortunately Mrs Fitness was there to remind me to “man up,” so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids that were watching.
The whole group seemed to be very similarly matched on balancing across ropes and beams. Where I excelled was anything involving bar work (as I do a lot of pull ups, muscle ups, and so on in my Calisthenics workouts), and jumping.
I’ve never practiced jumping before, so was surprised to find I could easily jump over a 3 foot high log, and could also jump long distances horizontally (I almost overshot a platform the first time I tried). I guess all those pistol squats paid off. 😎 Mrs Fitness wasn’t quite so lucky, as she banged her ankle on the log (which later came up in a huge purple bruise).
At 10.30am, we had a well deserved breakfast, and then relaxed with the others in the lounge.
Vinyassa Flow Yoga
At 12pm, we did an hour and a half of yoga in the garden, energised by the glorious sunshine.
We looked forward to our last Paleo lunch at 2.30pm, following our three and a half hours of exercise.
After lunch we did some packing, drank a few cups of English Breakfast tea, and then said our fairwells, before our two hour drive back home. We’d made some great new friends — something I’d not done before on holiday.
We’d spent 48 hours over those three days at the retreat, and done nine and a half hours of exercise. That amount of exercise isn’t sustainable in the long-term and would lead to over-training. When we got back home, we took a few days off from training afterwards, in order to recover. But you know what — I wouldn’t have wanted our stay any different. It was great to pack in as much exercise as possible.
I’d never been to a yoga class previously, so after doing 3 sessions in such a short space of time, I felt a lot more confident…particularly in going from downward dog to cobra (as it felt like we’d done hundreds over the weekend). Although I was a yoga virgin, I have to admit that some of the yoga moves are the same as gymnastics / Calisthenics, but with a different name — cobra / up dog is a seal stretch in gymnastics; crow pose is a gymnastics frog stand; a headstand and bridge have the same name in both.
It was also great to try out different types of exercise, such as the MovNat and Muay Thai, which was a lot of fun, and I’d be interested in doing the occasional session in the future.
In trying out different types of exercise, it also reinforced for me why I should continue training myself and my clients in Calisthenics, as it provides general strength, body control and flexibility that carries over well into other forms of training and life in general.
Would I go to a retreat again in the future? Definitely. Mrs Fitness was very enthusiastic about planning another one for next year.
Many thanks to Stuart and Lorraine at primalretreat.co.uk for a great weekend.
George D. Choy
Personal Trainer & Calisthenics Instructor
Gymnacity in Oxted, Surrey, United Kingdom