Episode 28: December 12, 2011
by Ben Greenfield
Though Santa Claus and a turkey are common symbols of the holiday season, the body shapes of these holiday “celebrities” may not be quite the look you’re going for. But between gravy, cookies, airplanes, long car rides, and back-to-back football games on TV, there are lots of excuses to wind up looking like a butterball on January 1st. So in this article, you’re going to learn how to stay fit during the holidays with the best exercises and workouts--and timing tips so you’ll be able to squeeze in your calorie-burning and body-toning sessions.
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Why You Get Fat During Holidays
As a personal trainer, I’ve had the pleasure, or more appropriately, the discomfort, of witnessing the extreme unraveling of the fittest bodies during the holidays. There are two primary reasons why people get fat at this time of year:
Abundance of calorie-dense food. If a hidden camera were placed in your refrigerator, pantry, or cupboard during the holiday season, you’d notice a significant growth in the amounts of foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories, such as meats with heavy sauces, candies and chocolates, or gift baskets with processed, packaged foods that are coated in oils. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these foods, but out-of-sight is out-of-mind and in-sight is, well, you get the idea!
Busy schedules. Social events, shopping and other obligations tend to abound during the holidays, and time spent driving, flying, standing in line, socializing and partying is time that you can’t exercise. To make matters worse, as stress from a busy schedule builds, your propensity to fall victim to cravings for calorie-dense foods increases.
How to Stay Fit During the Holidays
Here’s the good news: among a multitude of other healthy effects, exercise helps to control food cravings, de-stress the body, and increase calorie-burning. The question becomes: which holiday exercises are best? Here are three quick and dirty tips:
Here’s a little secret: your body can be relatively bulletproof to forming fat from food if you exercise before you eat.
Tip# 1: Choose exercises that move as many body parts as possible. My wife and I were recently traveling and we had 45 minutes to hit the gym before getting on the plane. While I launched into a combination of jumping jacks and squats with overhead press, my dear wife began moving an elastic band with one arm. I gently reminded her that we had a short period of time to boost our metabolism, and she quickly joined me. During the rest of our time, we did lunges, treadmill running, rowing, push-up variations, and exercises that used multiple joints. If you need creativity, check out this page for some of my favorite multi-joint exercises.
Tip# 2: Choose exercises that move body parts quickly. I recently tweeted from the Get-Fit Guy twitter page that super-slow training, a mode of exercise in which you move in a slow and controlled fashion, gets great results…in twice the time. During the busy holiday season, when you need to get in a quick workout that burns as many calories as possible, the act of moving explosively will ensure you burn more calories during the workout and for the hours following the workout. Include moves such as medicine ball slams and throws, lunge jumps, treadmill sprints and fast bicycling.
Tip #3: Choose exercises that you don’t usually do. Though you need to use caution so you don’t injure yourself trying something too advanced for you, if you choose exercises your body is unfamiliar with, you’ll burn more calories in less time, because your body won’t be as efficient at those exercises. So if you usually benchpress, try standing cable chest presses, or if you usually squat, try around the world. Don’t be afraid to branch out--it will make your body better, and sharpen your mental skills too!
The Most Effective Holiday Workouts
Don’t worry, I’m not just going to leave you with a list of random exercises. You’ll need to know how to put together an effective holiday workout that burns many calories in a short period of time that can be done anywhere. Whether you’re at Aunt Ida’s for Christmas or need to sneak into your garage on Thanksgiving morning, the following workout can be done anywhere, and uses some of the most effective exercises mentioned earlier.
Warm-up with 100 jumping jacks. You can split them into 10 sets of 10, 5 sets of 20, 4 sets of 25, or just do all 100 at once.
Do 10 push-ups, then stand up, and using a dumbbell, elastic band, milk jug filled with milk or water, or any other heavy object, do 10 chainsaws for each arm.
Finally, do 10 Hindu Squats with a jump. Yes, I know that’s a funny name, and I don’t know where it came from. If the jumping version hurts your knees, do 10 regular Hindu Squats instead.
Go back to the beginning and repeat, starting with the jumping jacks. Try to do this circuit with minimum rest, for 3-5 rounds, then wipe your hands, go inside and help carve the turkey.
Two additional Get-Fit Guy resources that will help you stay fit during the busy and calorie-filled holiday season are “Which Workout Burns the Most Fat?” and “Stay Fit While Traveling”.
How to Time Holiday Workouts
Here’s a little secret: your body can be relatively bulletproof to forming fat from food if you exercise before you eat; and food does far less damage to your waistline if you can squeeze in physical activity as soon as you push yourself away from the table.
So what would something like this look like? Let’s use Thanksgiving dinner as an example. On Thanksgiving morning, do a hard workout that has you sweating for quite some time after you finish, such as the workout described earlier in this article. Stay on your feet helping in the kitchen, playing with kids, throwing around the football, and don’t let your metabolism settle down until you sit down for dinner. After dinner, go for a walk with the relatives, play some more ball, or engage in a physical game of Pictionary, Wii tennis, or Dance-Dance Revolution. For a more comprehensive overview of timing holiday workouts, check out my blog’s official Thanksgiving Fitness Survival Guide.
Be sure to tune in next week, when I’ll be tackling the touchy subject of muscle building supplements, like protein, creatine, nitric oxide and more, and whether they actually work, or just give you expensive pee.