The holidays are a busy time: so much to think about and even more to do. Planning, shopping, cooking all take time and energy. When you only have 24 hours in a day, it’s easy to get out of your normal routine and find excuses to skip an exercise session. Although missing a few sweat sessions won’t undo the progress you’ve made, a pattern of missed session won’t do your body or health any favors. Don’t forget that waistlines tend to expand during the holiday season with all those holiday goodies within easy reach. What can you do to stay on track with your fitness goals when time is limited, you’re overloaded with work at the office and the holidays are days away?
Be More Flexible and Work Out When You Can
If you work out at home, you’re at an advantage. You’re not limited to “gym hours” and you don’t have to go anywhere to work out. The “gym” is as close as your DVD player. Take advantage of that. Flexibility is important around the holidays when you have more to do. Just because you can’t exercise at the usual time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out at all. Break up your workout into a few 10-minute sessions scattered throughout the day. Short bursts of exercise have another benefit – they help relieve holiday stress. Keep a fitness DVD in the DVD player and launch it when you have a free moment. You can always stop it when you need to and do more later.
Another “secret” for getting a workout done when time is tight is to do it as soon as you wake up. If you have to, set the alarm a little earlier. Keep your workout clothes and shoes by the bed so you put them on as soon as your feet hit the floor. Have a DVD loaded into your player and ready to go. If you work out in the morning, it’s one less thing to try to fit into an already busy day. When you wake up, remind yourself of the reasons you started exercising in the first place. Then get moving!
Reduce Exercise Volume and Increase Intensity
If you don’t have the luxury of doing an hour or even a 45-minute workout, dial up the intensity and do a tough, heart-pumping 20-minute session instead. HiiT training is an ideal alternative for time crunched days. The intensity of the active intervals works your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and leaves you with an “after-burn” that scorches more calories during the rest of your busy day.
Circuit training is another way to work your whole body in a condensed fashion. Alternate upper body with lower body movements during each active circuit. Throw in some ab circuits too so no muscle is neglected. Moving from exercise to exercise without rest will increase your heart rate and offer cardiovascular benefits too.
For Weight Training, Emphasize Compound Movements
Suppose you’re short on time and still need to fit in a strength workout, focus on compound movements. Compound exercises work more than one muscle group at a time. As a result, compound exercises burn more calories, work more muscles so you get more ‘bang for your buck” time wise. Focus on squats, bent-over rows, military press, dips and other exercises that target more than one muscle group when you’re short on time.
Another way to get a challenging resistance workout in minimal time is by doing supersets. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed 30 minutes of resistance training using reciprocal supersets burned more calories and elicited a greater after-burn than traditional resistance training. Superset training also yielded superior strength gains.
Reciprocal supersets consist of two exercises that target an agonist muscle and its antagonist. For example, do a set of biceps curls that target the biceps muscles followed immediately by triceps extensions to target the triceps, the antagonist muscles. Do them back to back with as little rest as possible between the two exercises. There’s an added benefit to doing supersets. Research shows a muscle is capable of generating slightly more force after you’ve worked the antagonist muscle.
Keep an Eye on the Scale
No need to become obsessed with the scale but don’t totally ignore it either. Eating habits change around the holidays. After all, you simply must try a slice of Aunt Louise’s pecan pie. The best way to stay on track is to get feedback from the scale. Weigh yourself twice-a-week, first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything, and modify your eating habits if you notice your weight is going up. It’s easier to deal with small amounts of weight gain than to wait until you’re up five pounds. Twice-a-week weighing will help you catch small changes in weight and compensate.
Take Time to Unwind and De-Stress
The holidays are hectic. Spend a portion of your exercise time doing exercises that help relieve stress. For a change of pace, do a yoga workout to stretch out those tight, tense muscles and soothe your mind. Research shows yoga helps to reduce the body’s stress response as well as elevate mood. That’s important all year round but especially around the holidays.
The Bottom Line
The last thing you want to do is get completely off track with your workouts. Enjoy the holidays but stay active. Use these tips to stay in shape and avoid holiday weight gain.
Women’s Health. “Tis the Season to Stay in Shape” November, 2011.
J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1043-51. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d3e993.
Human Kinetics. “Increase Workout Intensity with Supersets” Joe Wuebben and Jim Stoppani, PhD.
Yoga Journal. “Change Your Stress Response”
February 14, 2011.
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