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We tend to anticipate summer as if it’s a magical stress-free season in which we finally get to do all the things. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, nine out of ten students who responded said they plan or hope to be routinely physically active through the warmer months. But reality happens (even in this fantasy season), and unless you look out for your fitness, it may accidentally fall off your to-do list.

Behavioral research shows that when we make a plan, we’re more likely to meet our goals. What else helps? Doing what we enjoy. Involving friends or accountability partners. Anticipating obstacles and how we’ll get around them. Setting realistic goals. Here’s how to get into a summer fitness mindset that sticks:

Print the potent, powerful, practical plan for an actively awesome summer

  • Click the buttons below. Fill out your plan, thinking about the possibilities. As you do this, you’ll have ideas and gain clarity about what can work for you this summer.
  • Go back through your plan, highlight your best options, and figure out what needs to happen first (e.g., reservations, research, or getting gear).
  • If your summer divides into phases—e.g., six weeks interning, one week of vacation, four weeks working—fill out a plan for each phase.

Think about your summer surroundings and how you can use them to be physically active:

  • Will you be near the beach?
  • Is there a park with biking or walking trails nearby? Frisbee golf? Basketball hoop?
  • Climbing wall or adventure playground for grown-ups?
  • Will you have access to a pool? A public one? Or your nice neighbor’s pool (the neighbor who works all day so it won’t be weird)?
  • How about a river or lake? A horse ranch? Maybe a trampoline studio?
  • Or is there only farmland and vast nothingness?
  • Working in a cubicle with room (just) for bodyweight moves, like tricep pushups against a cabinet? Can you walk or bike to your job or internship?
  • Do you have any equipment—e.g., weights, an exercise ball, yoga blocks, a treadmill?
  • Do you have a summer gym or club membership? Can you go with a friend or family member as their guest?
  • What about weekends? Will your options expand? Will you be going on vacation this summer? What does that offer (e.g., fitness classes at a resort, or access to trails)?

Will you have lots of time, some time, or basically no time at all? Even if you have just a few minutes each day, you’ll still benefit from making a plan. Always put your fitness plans onto your calendar to protect that time.

My summer is…

  • Sporadic: I can likely manage 20 minutes in the morning and/or half an hour later in the day.
  • Inconsistent: My schedule will vary, so I need to look at my availability in those different circumstances.
  • Completely scheduled: GRE prep at 9 a.m., internship at 11 a.m., and then work from 3–8. (I live and die by my iCal.) I need ways to incorporate physical activity into my work day and the transitions between activities.
  • Hectic: I could heroically multitask while watching TV or making my English-muffin pizza, and I can make sure my time with friends and family involves physical activity.
  • Chill: I’m going to have time on my hands, and need to figure out how not to squander it.
  • Time out: I’ll have more time on the weekends or when I go on vacation, allowing for more ambitious plans.
  • Hazy: I don’t have firm plans yet, so I’ll keep my fitness options open and collect ideas.
  • Unconventional: I’m working night shifts; I’ll need to incorporate physical activity into that.

What do you actually like doing? Which physical activity has given you a smidgen of pleasure in the past?

  • Fitness class? Which one?
  • Swimming? Lake, ocean, or pool?
  • Weights? Jump rope? Tug of war? (fun fact: it used to be an Olympic sport)
  • High-intensity stuff, like Insanity® workouts?
  • Biking? Roads or trails?
  • Rollerblading?
  • Hitting your daily step goal?
  • Running? Roads, trails, or treadmill? With or without your neighbor’s dog?
  • Creative workouts at home (e.g., marching and lunging while watching TV)
  • Hiking? Backpacking? Climbing? Getting rugged?
  • Group sports (e.g., Ultimate Frisbee, basketball, softball, soccer)
  • Nothing. Help me.

Is there an activity that you’ve wanted to try? Can you give it a go this summer? (Yes, you probably can.)

For example:

  • A ropes course with zip lines and whatnot
  • Bouldering or rock climbing
  • A zombie run, Color Run, or obstacle race (maybe one that routes you through a sprinkler)
  • Outdoor yoga, hot yoga, or a yoga retreat
  • Boot camp or Frisbee golf in the park
  • Beach volleyball? Ultimate Frisbee? Flag football? Kickball?
  • A sprint triathlon, 10k, half marathon, or other event
  • A lifting or dance contest
  • Stand-up paddleboarding, water skiing, kayaking, surfing, whitewater rafting, sailing, or other cool watery thing
  • A hut-to-hut or tent-to-tent hike over several days
  • Aerial or circus arts classes
  • Something that gets you out into the hills, like horseback riding, trail running, or geocaching
  • Throwing on 1980s ankle weights and rocking out to YouTube workout videos by Richard Simmons

Think about how much money you’ll realistically be able to spend on fitness this summer.

  • Can you afford a summer membership to a gym or club? (Don’t forget about student discounts.)
  • Could you purchase a wearable tracker? If not, you can probably manage a fitness app that tracks your activity and encourages you along the way.
  • What’s the cost of that yoga weekend or race entry fee?
  • Will you need gear? Would it make sense to acquire some free weights for those TV workouts, or can your cat serve as a 12 lb dumbbell?
  • Does your YMCA have classes at reduced prices for students?
  • What’s the rental fee for a paddleboard or kayak?

What has helped you be active in the past? What or who could help you this summer?

  • Can you recruit a friend or acquaintance to do this with you?
  • Will posting workouts on social media or blogging about your fitness adventures help keep you off the couch?
  • Are you into color-coded spreadsheets with daily or weekly goals?
  • Would it help if you had a reward system? What kind of rewards?
  • Do fitness trackers or apps work for you? Do you respond to a daily step goal, goofy award badges, and a leaderboard?
  • Have you embraced calendar reminders and alerts on your phone?
  • Do you follow physically active people on Instagram or Twitter?
  • Would committing to a race or other event help get you out there?
  • Do you need a group (e.g., a team or fitness class) with a set schedule?
  • What are the local options for making this social? Check out Meetup and the November Project. Ask your social media networks about informal teams and groups. Look at outdoor organizations for guided hikes and explorations.
  • Have you checked out online fitness videos ranging from Insanity® to yoga?

November Project

Appalachian Mountain Club

Meetup

What do you want to achieve this summer?

And what can you realistically achieve this summer?

Which moderate goals will help you get into a groove you can maintain in the fall?

For example:

  • Train for a specific race in late summer or fall (don’t wait to sign up for your spot)
  • Learn 5–10 new yoga poses
  • Be active every day (active can be a 10-minute walk)
  • Swim the width of the lake and back
  • Complete a set of 10 pushups without stopping
  • Get to 10,000 steps, five days a week
  • Take a dip in a high-altitude lake
  • Go for a bike ride every weekend
  • Try a new HIIT routine every week
  • Run four track laps without stopping
  • Make it up and down Mt. Washington in a day

What demands or inconveniences could get in the way of your summer fitness plan? How can you keep moving anyway?

  • Do you often stay up late? Could you go to bed earlier and wake up for a quick morning workout?
  • Has your bike been neglected in the garage for a year? Does it need a tune-up, lights, or a lock?
  • How can you safeguard your time for staying active?
  • Did you want to try backpacking but don’t have cooking equipment? Could you borrow or rent what you need? Or sell your old gear to fund new stuff?
  • Working all summer? How can you use the workspace (desk, floor, stairs)? Can you walk, bike, or run to work (even part way)?
  • You’ll be tired by the end of the day and may look for excuses. Can you arrange a squash game or hoops session with friends in the evening?
  • Are you caring for someone else this summer? Can you swing a half-hour to do yoga in the yard or run a few laps around the block?
  • Will your summer involve transitions? What fitness goals and activities can help you keep moving through those phases?
  • Do you live in a zombie-infested neighborhood? Could you whip up a stronghold around your house to keep them out?

Which activities? We know what you’ll do this summer

Activity + % of students who expect to do this frequently or regularly in summer

Hiking or walking 70%
Bodyweight moves (e.g., crunches, squats) 64%
Strength training 56%
Cardio machines  56%
Running 51%
Swimming 44%
Yoga/martial arts/gymnastics 44%
Team sport (e.g., soccer) 42%
Dance 37%
Biking or cycling 33%
Boating or water activity 33%
Solo/pair sport (e.g., tennis) 33%

Source: Student Health 101 survey, February 2016. 1,500 students answered this question. Not representative of students nationally.

Students’ stories: Students tell us what they’re up for

“Summers are great for hiking (to a camping spot, a fishing hole, or just for the view at the top), swimming (in a lake, in a pool, to get to an island to hang out on for the day), water sports (water skiing, wake-boarding, tubing), beach volleyball, surfing, body boarding, scuba diving.” —Olivia W., fourth-year undergraduate, Montana Tech of the University of Montana“I picked up archery a couple of summers back and have returned every summer since. This year, I already have plans to pick up paintball/airsoft, and the way I’ve been introduced to that was very physical. I’m excited!”
—Max S., fourth-year undergraduate, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minnesota

“I had a summer internship near campus. I started rock climbing at the indoor gym, and I loved it! It was physically demanding but really fun, and that kept me going back. For the first time, I started to see my muscles grow, and I felt good about myself and about my physical wellbeing. I got to know a lot of people. That summer was so important to me because I finally found a physical activity that I loved and that helped me learn to love and take care of myself.”
—Nicole H., first-year graduate student, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

“I want to learn to surf, but I’ll also be stacking hay bales for work as well as going for a family run, playing some pickup sports with friends, working out with my old football team, or finding a trampoline park or gym to mess around in.”
—Bryson S., first-year undergraduate, Old Dominion University, Virginia

“I have tried hiking more, and I incorporated fishing. Instead of getting in a boat, I decided to hike to a stream or river into the woods, stopping to fish now and then. The breaks give me downtime that is positive. I really lose track of time and distance that I have gone.”
—Emily L., third-year undergraduate, University of New England, Maine

“Freeletics [individualized high-intensity training via an app] has been an awesome thing. It helps me work out in my lab. It just needs 2×2 meters of space and you’re good to go! It is quite literally a community and we help each other out.”
—Rishabh T., second-year graduate student, Creighton University, Nebraska

“Obstacle course races! I do quite a few of them over the summer now, after [getting] hooked two summers ago!”
—Rachel S., fourth-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology

“I’d like to get back into the routine of doing outdoor boot camp workouts. Being around other people really keeps you motivated. Running events are fun, whether a 5k or half marathon with friends and family.”
—Ben G., fourth-year undergraduate, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Pennsylvania

“I have joined a Bikram yoga studio. I began commuting [by bike] to work last summer (6-mile round trip). I even joined a CrossFit studio. I’m training for a half marathon, and this summer I would like to focus on building muscle.”
—Vikas B., third-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

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Article sources

Student Health 101 survey, June 2016.

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Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Student Health 101. She has also edited collegiate textbooks for Cengage Learning and creating language learning materials for the US Department of Defense, libraries, and other educational institutions. Her BA in Spanish is from the University of New Hampshire.