How to fit in fitness this holiday season

The holiday season has officially begun. Office parties, family gatherings, school holiday shows, and more might be keeping keep spirits high, but more often than not, they leave us feeling frazzled, stressed, and hard-pressed to find the time to get to the gym.

Personal trainers say they notice a drop-off in attendance around this time of year due to holiday obligations.

“Any time there's a change to your usual schedule, then exercise is one of the things that can get pushed to the side,” said Michael Brandson, educator and personal trainer at the Northwest Community Healthcare Wellness Center in Arlington Heights.

Still, The Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association recommend adults engage in moderately intense workouts for 150 minutes each week.

Brandson and other trainers say that sticking to some kind of exercise plan, even if it's a modification of your regular routine, is better than skipping the gym altogether. Even if you spend less time at the gym than normal, Brandson says you can still preserve the fitness level you've worked so hard to attain this year if you squeeze in high-intensity interval training several times per week.

“I preach to members to make it a lifestyle, to continue to commit at least a minimum of two days a week toward their fitness,” said Tony Wuebker, vice president and head trainer at Cross Kicks Fitness, which has four suburban locations. “I always tell people, with at least two days a week (exercising) you can at least maintain, because a step backward is obviously something that we want to at all costs avoid.”

Heading into the hectic holiday season, trainers suggest people first clearly define what their exercise goals are for this time period.

Those looking to start a new fitness routine or lose weight will have different workout needs and routines than those planning to maintain their weight and fitness levels throughout the holiday season.

Maintaining fitness

Do circuit training and high-intensity interval training if you're looking to maintain fitness, experts advise.

Wuebker says when people are pressed for time, efficiency and effectiveness are keys to a successful workout. High-intensity interval training and circuit training are at the heart of those short, yet effective, workout routines.

“Create the high-intensity interval-style training incorporating the weights, short rest times, and quick high intense bursts, because what that's going to do is not only allow you to help burn calories during that workout, but also put your body into having a metabolic effect, or after burn, from those workouts where you're actually going to continue to burn calories throughout the day and even into the next day,” said Wuebker.

When it comes to high-intensity interval training, Wuebker says the intervals should always be done at a 1:2 ratio of rest to work. For example, someone might sprint for 20 seconds on a treadmill and then run at a slower pace for 40 seconds.

The intensity of the intervals will vary depending on a person's fitness level. The interval training doesn't need to last long. After warming up for several minutes, doing intervals for just less than 10 minutes, followed by cooling down should suffice.

“Some people that have a high cardio threshold are going to recover much quicker than someone that's at a very low fitness level,” Wuebkers said.

If you're looking for a simple circuit workout to do over the holidays at the gym or at home, Brandson recommends doing 10 repetitions of the following six exercises — squats, dead lifts, lunges, shoulder press, and pullup or assisted pullup, and push-ups — with weights (enough weight to challenge you) and rotating two times through the circuit of six exercises to maintain muscle mass.

Each exercise engages major muscle groups as movers and stabilizers and requires use of the core. Of the six exercises, the squats, lunges, and dead lifts build more lower body strength, while the shoulder presses, pullups, and push-ups increase upper body strength.

Beginning routine

Focus on mobility if you're just geginning an exercise routine, trainers say.

Brandson says people can maintain muscle mass by doing a 20-minute circuit like the one described above, but a person's mobility — their flexibility and strength combined — is what really affects how beneficial those short workouts can be.

Without mobility, Brandson said the high-intensity workouts won't work and could set someone up for injury.

“Looking for weakness and strengthening the weakness, that's step one,” said Brandson.

If you haven't been working out as much as you'd like this year, starting with exercises that improve your mobility, like variations on planks and bridges that will strengthen your core and glutes, is better than attempting short and intense workouts right away.

Brandson also recommends doing the above circuit at a slower tempo with 15-20 reps for each exercise using lighter weights to learn and perfect technique. Instead of taking 20 minutes, the circuit might take 45.

Although exercises for mobility are more time-consuming and don't burn as many calories as intense circuit training or interval training, stabilizing and strengthening the body is what allows for someone to successfully perform short high-intensity workout routines during the holidays and beyond.

“Instead of doing our 10 reps of squat, dead lift, lunge, push-up, pullup we're going to be holding planks, doing different styles of planks, we're going to be doing diagonal arm lift planks, we're going to be doing side planks,” said Brandson said.


During this potentially busy and high-stress season, it's just as important to carve out time for relaxation and recovery as it is for high-intensity workouts.

Jim Simonik, co-owner of Pulsation Yoga in Arlington Heights and Lake Zurich, says he encourages students to keep up their regular yoga practice during the holidays or arrange their schedule to accommodate their yoga routine.

“You just feel so good about yourself not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, so usually what we suggest if they can't make it to their regular practice at the studio and receive the support from the teacher and from the community of the other students who attend class, is to do a practice at home,” said Simonik.

Simonik says there are several therapeutic and restorative poses that people can do in the comfort of their own homes to feel rejuvenated and rested. All you need is a yoga block, yoga strap, and 20 to 30 minutes.

“Around the holidays there's so much going on, there's so many demands that really the last thing you want to do is to continue to deplete the body, and the mind, and the emotions. That's why these poses are very therapeutic, very restorative, not energized at all,” Simonik said.

Simonik first suggests lying on your back with your legs up against a wall with your eyes closed or a towel over your eyes to block out the light. The goal of this pose is to connect with your breath and concentrate on the present moment, not the past or future. Simonik then suggests placing a strap in the arch of your right foot and — while holding onto the strap with your right hand — letting the right leg fall open to the right side. The same would be done on with the left leg.

A variation of bridge pose with a yoga block placed under your sacrum can be restorative, as can pigeon and child's poses. While it depends on each yoga student's experience level, Simonik said more experienced students can hold poses for as long as seven minutes.

“You don't want to stay in a pose to the point where your starting to ache and the mind triggers and you start getting antsy, because that's starting to deplete the body and deplete the mind,” Simonik said.

With a little bit of preplanning and a solid understanding of your current fitness level and goals, you can fit in fitness and relaxation during the holiday season. To reap the most benefits, understand what types of exercises your body needs and create a mobility-training program or high intensity and circuit-inspired routine that yield your desired results. If you can do that, holiday plans might mess with your scheduled gym times, but they don't have to derail your fitness.

Lying on your back with support underneath your knees is a relaxing yoga pose. Another option is to lie on your back by a wall, with your legs up against the wall. Photo courtesy of Pulsation Yoga
Lunges are a great exercise you can do just about anywhere. File photo
To do a squat, keep abs tight and back straight, bend knees and hips and sit back. Lower until thighs are nearly parallel to floor. Rise to standing andrepeat. File photo

A quick circuit workout

<span class="fact box text bold">Do 10 repetitions of the following six exercises:</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• Squats</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• dead lifts</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• lunges</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• shoulder press</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• pullup or assisted pullup</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">• push-ups</span>

<span class="fact box text bold">Rotate two times through the circuit of six exercises.</span>

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