People use the holiday season as an excuse to be bad—slacking off on workouts, loitering around the holiday candy, imbibing enough liquid courage to make fools of themselves at the office Christmas party. But here’s a little secret: If you want 2018 to be your fittest year ever, now is the time to get back in shape.
As the happiest time of year nears, we ask you to make a choice: Will you exercise your alter ego or get your fit on?
If you chose the latter, welcome aboard. Next stop: A happier, healthier, fitter 2018. Use the following training and nutrition strategies to sail through the holidays without loosening your belt—and get a massive head-start on your peers come January.
Part 1: Your Get Back in Shape Fitness Plan
It’s easy to overbook yourself during the holidays. Use these tips from Kevin Donoghue, Spartan SGX trainer and obstacle specialist in Monroe, New York, to keep fitness at the top of your to-do list, no matter how busy your wonderful life gets.
1. Ignore the calendar. January 1 is no better or different from any other day, so why not start training right now?
“Procrastination digs a deep hole,” says Donoghue. “By the time New Year’s rolls around, the hill you need to climb has become very, very tall—so intimidating, in fact, that it could discourage you to continue past the second week of January.”
Solution: Get up and get moving—now. Any activity that can make you sweat for 30 minutes is perfect. “This one positive step can set the tone for a healthy day,” says Donoghue.
2. Don’t look beyond the horizon. One of the biggest mistakes resolutioners make is trying to take on too much too soon. Instead, look at fitness as a trek rather than a sprint and break it into smaller chunks of manageable goals and expectations.
“I have competed in events that span more than 50 miles,” says Donoghue. “But instead of looking at it as having to do 50 miles in a single effort, I tell myself to complete just one mile—and repeat that mantra 50 times. Give yourself a break and focus on making a solid effort every day, one day at a time.”
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3. Condense your workouts. We get it—you’re busy this time of year, but getting in a solid workout is simpler and faster than you think.
“Use compound movements sprinkled with plyometrics in short, high-intensity circuits,” says Donoghue. “They hit your whole body and crank up your metabolism for hours, without the need for a gym membership and using minimal equipment.” For some ideas, see The Better Body Workout, below, which was designed by Donoghue.
4. Keep up the cardio. Doing longer, less intense workouts like running or hiking on your non-strength training days can not only curb holiday weight gain, it can also make your body a more efficient machine. “Doing 20 to 40 minutes of cardio at a slow, easy pace can help you recover while building aerobic capacity,” says Donoghue. “Ultimately, this will encourage your body to burn stored fat as an energy source.”
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The Better Body Workout
Got 10 minutes? Then you can fit in a workout. Do a combination of any two of the three workouts below up to three times per week. Alternate these with recovery days, where you can either run, hike, swim, or bike for 20 to 40 minutes—or take a complete day of rest. (Just make sure you learn how to train in cold weather.)
If you overindulge at a party, don’t fret. “The day after is an opportunity to step up your efforts,” says Donoghue. Use those extra calories to your advantage and jump a little higher, push a little harder, and run a little farther.
Your Week of Workouts
Day 1: AMRAP 1 + Circuit
Day 2: Recovery activity of choice, 20 to 40 minutes + 10 minutes mobility work
Day 3: AMRAP 2 + Circuit
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: AMRAP 1 + AMRAP 2 + 10 minutes mobility work
Day 6: Recovery activity of choice, 20 to 40 minutes
Day 7: Rest, or 30 to 45 minutes of yoga
Complete as many rounds as possible of the below sequence for 5 minutes, moving briskly without resting or sacrificing form. Rest briefly, then repeat this AMRAP up to five times through for a 25-minute workout.
Lateral shuffles: 10 reps each direction
Burpees: 2 to 5 reps
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms extended to your sides, parallel with the floor. Bend your knees and hips and brace your core to get into an athletic stance, then keep your upper body as still as possible as you shuffle laterally first to the left then to the right.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Crouch and place your hands on the floor in front of you, then jump your feet back into plank. Do a pushup, jump your feet back underneath you, then explode up into the air, clapping your hands overhead. Land softly and repeat right away.
If burpees are too challenging, do squat thrusts. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Hold a set of dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing inward. Kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat to parallel or below, then quickly stand back up, using that momentum to press the weights up overhead. Lower slowly to your shoulders and go right into the next rep.
Alternate between these two moves for 3 to 5 sets, resting minimally between moves and sets. Rest briefly between sets.
Inchworms: 6 to 10 reps
V-Sit: 30 to 60 seconds
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Fold forward from your hips and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Walk your hands out until you’re in plank, then walk your feet up to meet your hands, keeping your legs as straight as possible, then stand up. To make this more difficult, do a pushup before moving your feet.
Sit with your knees bent and your back straight. Find your balance on your tailbone. Lift your feet off the floor and lean back slightly as you reach your arms forward either parallel to the ground or overhead. Keep your knees bent, shins parallel to the floor. Or, for a bigger challenge, straighten your legs to make a V in the air.
Go through this sequence as many times as you can in 20 minutes, resting as needed.
Flamingo Curl and Press: 5 reps each leg
Dumbbell Row: 15 reps
Vertical Jumps: 10 reps
Flamingo Curl and Press
Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing forward, and then stand and balance on your right leg. Curl both weights up toward your shoulders, then press them straight up overhead to full extension. Return to the start and repeat five times total, then switch legs.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a set of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing inward. Hinge forward from the hip until your torso is about 45 degrees to the floor. Hold here as you drive your elbows up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause then lower to the start.
Stand with your feet hip-width or slightly wider, then quickly bend your hips and knees to load your posterior chain as you swing your arms back. Explode up off the floor, reaching your arms overhead as you jump as high as you can. Land softly and repeat right away. If that’s too easy, hold dumbbells at your sides or shoulders.
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Part 2: Your Get Back in Shape Nutrition Guide
It’s tempting to walk into a holiday party with your mouth wide open, shoveling all treats into your maw without regard for calories, macros, gluten, or anything other than carnal satisfaction. Rein in your salivating demon with these tips from nutritionist and Spartan racer Anne L’Heureaux, L.D., R.D., and SGX coach from Biddeford, Maine.
Survival Tip #1: Partier, Know Thyself
Some people are planners, and others (buffalo) wing it. But because the final three months are often the busiest of the year, winging leads to disaster. You miss workouts, or end up ordering dinner through a clown’s mouth at the drive-thru.
“Now more than ever, schedule your workouts, keep the kitchen stocked with healthy foods, and keep your goals in mind,” says L’Heureaux. “See maintaining your health as a top priority.”
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Survival Tip #2: Activate Your Fullness Trigger
Water plays a key role in all of the functions in your body—digestion, metabolism, and brain function among them. “By staying hydrated, you increase the brain’s ability to make quick, sound decisions about our health,” says L’Heureaux.
Drinking water before a meal or snack can aid in feeling fuller faster, she adds. As the stomach fills, she says, it stretches and, at a certain point, signals fullness to the brain. If you’re especially vulnerable to the party spread, have a big glass of water, wait ten minutes, and reconsider.
Survival Tip #3: Scan and Plan Before You Attack
Parties are replete with dietary gut-bombs, so peruse before picking up a plate. “Ask yourself how many are foods you could have every day, like chips or pasta?” says L’Heureaux. “Skip those. Save your calories for fancy desserts or your favorite adult beverage.”
Next, fill half the plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and the other quarter with either more vegetables, fruit, or whole grains, says L’Heureaux. “And don’t forget the healthy fats like nuts and guacamole,” she says, “to provide satiety and keep you fuller longer.”
L’Heureaux also recommends taking several small servings of a variety of foods—including your indulgences, so you feel like you’re participating in the fun.
Survival Tip #4: Keep Drinks Simple
Yes, you’re allowed to have a little fun at parties, but the key word there is little. Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, increasing the likelihood that you’ll dive into the candy bowl. In addition, your body regards it as a toxin and shuts down all other metabolic mechanisms to get rid of it. Result: “Additional calories from food you eat with that alcohol will be converted to stored fat,” says L’Heureaux.
What’s more, many holiday drinks are calorie-dense, sometimes the equivalent of a large slice of cake with ice cream. “Mixed drinks are often made with sugary syrups and juices that add 500 calories,” says L’Heureaux. “If you must drink, opt for red wine or light beer and drink at least 8 ounces of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink.” An ounce of vodka or tequila with club soda is a good option as well.
Survival Tip #5: BYOD
Bringing your own healthy dish might sound like an etiquette fail, but not if you couch it properly. You’re helping with party planning, not insulting the chef. “Chances are, the hosts will be happy there’s more than one plate of raw vegetables on the table,” says L’Herueaux.
Likewise, research or invent your own healthy cocktail and arrive, shaker in hand, ready to pour.
Survival Tip #6: Recite Your Why
Mental fortitude is essential when it comes to eating clean, but sometimes your self-talk can backfire.
“The minute you tell yourself you can’t have something, you’ll want it,” says L’Heureaux. “Instead, say something like, ‘I choose not to have this cocktail because …’ and fill in that blank.”
Once you declare that you’re making a conscious choice, it’s no longer taboo. “Ideally, finish that sentence like this: ‘I choose not to have this because my body is feeling stronger than ever,’” L’Heureaux says. “Not only have you removed the restriction, but you made the reason why a positive and motivating one.”
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