My idea of the perfect Mexican vacation is pretty simple—it involves an unfathomable amount of al pastor tacos accompanied by salted margaritas while lounging on the beach with a stack of spicy romance novels by my side. Add to that a few bottles of sunscreen and a few leisurely walks in the waves and I’m a happy lady. That’s why no one was more surprised than me to find myself sweating and lifting weights during a high-intensity 9 a.m. workout with celebrity trainer Akin Ackman last month in Playa del Carmen, surrounded by two dozen tanned, fit attendees wondering what , for God’s sake, I had entered myself.
After a summer spent traveling abroad, followed by many leisurely afternoons in Brooklyn Park and late nights on the patio, I felt rested enough to border on sloth. Not interested in cramming my schedule to the max, I was content with a slow, lazy girl summer. But shaking off that carefree mindset proved more difficult than I expected, especially as early fall—and the subsequent return to reality—set in. Even the idea of booking a yoga class felt like more energy than I could muster. I needed something to get my body moving to get back into the busy flow of New York. So when an invitation to join a wellness retreat at Hotel Xcaret Arte, Riviera Maya landed in my inbox, it seemed like particularly fortuitous timing. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been to an exercise class in months—I could throw on a sports bra and work my way through, right?
This wasn’t your average tropical all-inclusive experience – and with packages starting at $3,859 per person, it’s not exactly cheap. However, my increased accommodation and experience certainly justified the price. The 900-room hotel felt more like a small town than a hospitality center, and I’ll admit that I often had to ask for help to find my way to our morning workouts on time. But the lovely luxurious surroundings and extremely hospitable staff helped me get through the four days at the AArmy boot camp – the massage I received on arrival at the hotel’s Muluk Spa didn’t hurt either. And yes, this was all happening outdoors in 90+ degree heat and 100% humidity. Sweating was a lot, a lot real.
Mornings began with serving healthy snacks and juices to prepare before the first of two back-to-back group sessions—a high-intensity mat workout using resistance bands, followed by a cycling class for which Akman is particularly known. I admit that on the second day I was extremely jealous that my boyfriend could lounge in the hammock on our room’s balcony while I rushed to class, already sweating when I sat down on my mat to stretch. Although the setting couldn’t have been more beautiful (the ocean was always just a few meters away), the workouts felt like a shock to my system, which had become too comfortable with low-intensity activity. In fact, I needed a professional to force me back into some form of vigorous physical activity and encourage me while the lactic acid made every muscle in my body burn in protest.
Each day, Ackman led us through a series of lower-body exercises like fire hydrants, lunges, squats and high kicks before moving on to upper-body resistance work, ending with a very basic focus – bicycle kicks, sit-ups and boards to name a few. The heat and humidity amplified every movement emphasized by the coach who supported us from his platform at the front of the class. After we rolled into spin class, my hair looked like I’d dipped into the ocean just over the edge of our stationary bikes. As we closed in the morning, my legs shook and shook as I made my way back to my room for a much needed shower, chugging water like an out of shape camel. This was training camp, after all, and Ackman nailed it.
After four two-a-day workouts, plus a visit to one of Hotel Xacaret’s eco-parks (the entire property is rooted in sustainability), where we hiked and zip-lined through the Mexican landscape, I finally felt like I’d hit reset on more than just my body , but my mood. It was as if I was emerging from the peaceful cocoon of summer, revived by the combination of sun, seat and sweat. Granted, I don’t have the bandwidth or desire to keep up this level of exercise long-term—honestly, I’m not sure my glutes will survive—but I feel like my mindset for fall is right where it needs to be for peak performance. I might add a few more margaritas this time around, but I’m happy to report that I’m already planning a few personal training sessions each week to help recapture that beachside boot camp feeling.