With the hectic pace of the holiday season, including work obligations, school events, family commitments, parties and travel, workouts often are skipped or reduced in frequency. Obviously, it’s best if you continue to exercise throughout December, rather than forgo your routine entirely. If you are pressed for time, simply shorten your regimen, but crank up the intensity so that you get the most benefit. Even 20 or 30 minutes is helpful and makes a difference, particularly when you may be splurging on holiday treats.
Try to schedule workout sessions this season so that you are less likely to miss them. Block out the time in your calendar. If something unexpected interferes, then shift the workout to another time of the day or to the next day. Your goal should be to keep moving and be consistent, to the best of your ability.
Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn a lot of calories in a short time. Research shows that these workouts improve stamina, burn the most calories during the session and raise your metabolism so that you expend even more calories post-workout. You can vary the regimen, modality and intervals, but the main objective is to elevate your heart rate with rigorous activity that challenges you for 20 seconds to two minutes, recover for 10 seconds to two minutes, and then repeat the work-recovery cycle. You should alternate between short anaerobic bouts and aerobic periods, and you should be working hard.
What’s great is that HIIT can be done at home, in the gym, in a class or outdoors. Here are some examples of and guidelines for training that can burn a lot of calories in a short time:
- Cardio machines – On the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, cross trainer or rower, incorporate 15-60 second sprints to a more moderate, steady pace every 1-3 minutes; return to your pace for recovery and repeat.
- Cardio and strength combo – Alternate lower intensity intervals on a cardio machine with intense exercises off the equipment using heavy weights, such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts, along with body weight movements including push-ups, planks and crunches. Try two minutes of cardio and one minute of strength; then repeat throughout.
- Weight training – Typically, HIIT includes cardio, but you can use this format for pure strength training by combining heavy weight lifting using maximum effort with short recovery moments. Aim to hit all your major muscle groups, such as glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, core, chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps. And always use proper form.
- Calisthenics – This is easy to do at home or when traveling. Alternate high-intensity moves like jumping jacks, burpees, high knees, mountain climbers and jump rope with slower-paced exercises like push-ups, crunches, bridges and Pilates or yoga moves.
- Outside exercise – If the weather permits, get outside and enjoy the scenery, which can provide additional motivation. Perform interval training while walking, jogging, riding a bike, hiking, swimming, inline skating or cross-country skiing. Set your watch for specific intervals and take on productive intervals to burn a lot of calories quickly.
One caution: It is not recommended to do HIIT everyday due to its intense nature. Typically, you shouldn’t do it more than 2-3 times per week, and ideally, you should incorporate other workouts as well, including steady-state cardio, strength training and core and flexibility work. If you have to sneak in a bunch of HIIT workouts over the holidays due to time constraints, be careful and listen to your body. Then return to your regular workout routine as soon as you can for a more balanced regimen.