Don’t wait for January to get in shape. Start building muscle, burning fat, and checking off resolutions right now with this month-long guide for beating the holiday bulge and sculpting (or keeping) the body you’ve always wanted.
31 Tips to Help You Get (or Stay) Fit This Holiday Season
1.Have a Bite Before You Go Out
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is to ‘save up’ for a large holiday meal,” says Rebecca Rick, M.S., RDN, a sports dietitian at eNRG Performance in Littleton, Colorado, adding that the strategy inevitably backfires. Why? You end up over-compensating for the calories you didn’t consume earlier in the day.
A better strategy: “Eat normally, then have a small meal before you meet up with everyone,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., author of Look Great Naked. Spanish researchers agree: In their study, people who ate a “merienda,” a small meal between lunch and dinner, were 36 percent less likely to be obese than those who didn’t consume an afternoon meal.
2. Keep Each Celebration Limited to One Day
Go ahead and indulge your cravings. Take a break from working out. But return to your normal diet and exercise program the next morning.
A review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the longer it takes you to re-focus on fitness, the more your enthusiasm for it will dim, and the harder it will be for you to get back on track. In short, a day off won’t hurt you, but a week or two off can derail your progress toward your goals. It can also inflate your waist size, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The researchers found that just two weeks of inactivity can increase belly fat by seven percent.
Not sure how to take your workout on the road? Beachbody On Demand will let you stream your workouts from anywhere you have an Internet connection!
3. Do Some Burpees
The burpee is the quintessential total-body conditioning move,” says Andy Speer, C.S.C.S., owner of Soho Strength Lab in Manhattan. “You get an upper and lower body burn, eccentric and concentric muscle stimuli, mobility work, a core stability challenge, and a cardiovascular pump — it’s like packing an entire workout into a single exercise.”
Science agrees: 30 seconds of burpees is just as effective as an all out sprint when it comes to boosting all aspects of fitness, according to a recent study at the University of Georgia.
But don’t stop there. “See how many you can do in 5 minutes,” says Speer. In each minute, work for 40 seconds, and rest for 20 seconds (exercise instructions below). “Really attack 40 second work periods, and each time you do the challenge — I recommend every week — try to do more reps,” says Speer. “Not only is this an excellent test of total body fitness, but it’s an excellent mini workout in itself.” In short, it’s the perfect do-anywhere, anytime sweat session for when friends, families, feasts, and other holiday festivities conspire to keep you from working out.
How to Do a Burpee: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Lower your body and place your hands on the floor. Kick your legs back into a push-up position, perform a push-up, and then quickly reverse the move, bringing your feet back to your hands. Jump up. Begin your next rep as soon as you land.
4.Grab a Friend
What do Americans look forward to most during the holidays? Spending time with friends and family, according to a recent Pew Research poll, which found that 69 percent of people put socializing at the top of their holiday wish list.
Leverage those social opportunities to stay in shape: Not only does exercising with a buddy boost motivation and exercise adherence, but it can also help you exercise 24 percent longer — especially if your partner is slightly fitter than you are, according to a recent study at Michigan State University. Can’t find a partner? Sign up for a free Team Beachbody account and get support from a Coach and thousands of Team Beachbody members!
5. Keep Calories in Perspective
“A few high-calorie meals during the holidays are not going to sabotage your fitness goals,” says Schoenfeld, adding that people get too caught up in the minutia of weight loss (e.g., how many calories they burn in a single workout, or how many they consume in a single meal).
A better strategy: Focus on how many calories you burn during the course of a week, not each day. “As long as your diet is dialed in 80 percent of the time, you can cut yourself some slack during the other 20 percent,” he says.
6. Don’t Skip Your Workouts
Skipping just one workout can initiate a downward spiral, increasing your odds of skipping another one by 61 percent, according to British researchers.
The solution: Think smaller. Instead of trying to carve out time for one long workout, do two or three short ones. “In so doing, you’ll boost motivation, eliminate ‘too busy’ as an excuse, and accelerate both muscle building and fat loss,” says Chad Waterbury M.S., a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist. A few of the many short workouts Beachbody offers: FOCUS T25 (25 minutes per workout), 21 Day Fix, 22 Minute Hard Corps (each workout is 22 minutes long), and P90X3 (all are 30 minutes or less). All are available to stream on Beachbody On Demand.
7. Have to Eat Out? Order Your Lunch Online
If you’re a desk jockey, your best lunch option will always be the one you prepare yourself (it gives you more control over what and how much you eat). But if you have to order it, do so from your office, then walk to pick it up. You’ll eat healthier, and consume an average of 114 fewer calories, according to a recent study in the journal Appetite. The reason: Ordering remotely removes sensory cues, especially smells, like the irresistible aroma of pizza and pastries.
8. Eat an Apple Before Going to the Grocery Store
You already know the dangers of grocery shopping on an empty stomach. (And if you don’t, take a look at your receipt the next time you shop hungry.) But Cornell University scientists have added a new twist to the classic advice: Eat a piece of fruit before you hit the supermarket. In their study, people who ate an apple before they shopped bought 28 percent more produce than those who had a cookie. They also bought fewer unhealthy items overall. The reason: After eating a healthy snack, your subconscious continues to steer you in the same direction, say the researchers.
9. Do the Toddler Roll to Help Improve Your Mobility
Even if you don’t have kids, you’re bound to run into them at some point during the holidays. Watch how they move, and copy them. Why? All of that crawling, rolling, rocking, and deep squatting can dramatically boost your mobility, which is the key to unlocking greater strength, according to strength and conditioning coach Steve Maxwell. No toddler around? Do the following “toddler roll” exercise to instantly open up your chest and shoulders, and release tension throughout your body.
How to Do the Toddler Roll: Lie on your stomach with your legs straight and your arms extended above your head. Look over your right shoulder, reach back across the midline of your body with your right arm, and roll onto your back (don’t push off with your legs). Continue looking in the same direction as you reach across your body with your left arm and use your core to roll onto your stomach. Roll back to where you started, and repeat in the other direction. Continue rolling from side to side for 3 minutes. Click here for a video demonstration of the exercise (and to see how quickly the mobility benefits kick in).
10. Keep a Food Log… Yes, Even During the Holidays
It’s a pain in the butt, but it’s shockingly effective at helping people eat healthier, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The researchers found that people who recorded everything they ate for a week lost six more pounds than people who didn’t. Don’t bother buying a notebook—smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal, Lifesum, and Eatly make recording what you eat easy. All three also sync with third party fitness trackers, helping you gain a more holistic view of your health and daily activity.
11. Blow Up a Balloon to Help Reset Your Alignment
Nearly every aspect of modern life—from society’s right-handed ergonomics to the amount of time we all spend sitting—conspires to throw-off your body’s alignment, robbing you of strength and power, and increasing your risk of injuries. But you can hit the reset button in as little as five minutes a day by grabbing a balloon and doing the following exercise (called the 90/90 Hip Lift) from Ron Hruska at the Postural Restoration Institute.
How to Do the 90/90 Hip Lift: Lie face up with your feet flat against a wall and your knees and hips bent 90 degrees. Place a 4- to 6-inch ball between your knees and extend your right arm above your head; hold a deflated balloon in your left hand by your side. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, tilting your pelvis up so that your tail- bone rises off the floor (your lower back should remain on the ground).
Hold that pelvic position as you raise your right arm toward the ceiling. Put the balloon to your mouth with your left hand. Inhale through your nose, and then exhale into the balloon as you reach toward the ceiling with your right arm. Hold for three seconds (don’t let the air out of the balloon). Repeat the process two more times, then return to the starting position. That’s 1 round. Do 5 rounds up to three times a day.
12. Stay Away from the Buffet
It’s only natural to congregate around food. But when you plant yourself next to the buffet table or hors-d’oeuvre station, your risk of overeating skyrockets. “It’s like watching TV with a bag of chips in your lap — you keep grabbing for food regardless of whether you’re actually hungry or not,” says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of The Powerfood Nutrition Plan. The fact that most holiday offerings are chock full of empty calories only makes the situation worse.
A better strategy: “Work the room instead of sampling and re-sampling every dish in the buffet,” says Kleiner. “That’s the point of going to a party anyway — to socialize.”
13. Drink Water Before a Big Meal
Much like the gas tank in your car, your stomach has sensors that alert you when it’s full. But unlike your car, you can trip those sensors with anything, including water. Use that to your advantage to promote weight loss, suggest British researchers reporting in the journal Obesity. In their study, participants who knocked back 12 ounces of H₂O prior to eating lost significantly more weight after three months than those who didn’t. If that isn’t reason enough to stay hydrated, consider this: You burn two percent fewer calories per day when you aren’t, according to another study at the University of Utah.
Here are 25 ways to help you drink more water!
14. Do These Three Ab Moves for Increased Stability
A head turning six-pack isn’t the only reason to target the armada of muscles between your hips and chest. “A strong core will both allow you to transfer power more efficiently throughout your body and enhance your stability, boosting overall strength,” says Speer. Challenge and strengthen your core at the same time with this three-move circuit: Hollow rock, plank side pulse, superman.
“Do 10 reps of each exercise, moving from one to the next without rest,” says Speer. Once you finish all three exercises, begin the circuit again (no rest). “Try to do five circuits total, which will give you 50 reps for each move,” says Speer. Too easy? Double down, doing 20 reps per move per circuit. “50 total reps per move is attainable for many people,” says Speer, “but 100 is really tough, and demonstrates a high level of fitness.”
Hollow Rock: Lie face-up on the floor with your legs straight and your arms above your head. Contract your abs, lift your legs, head, and shoulder blades a few inches, and begin rocking forward and backward. Each “rock” is one rep.
Pulse side plank: Lie on your left side and prop your upper body on your left forearm. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Now lower and raise your hips. Each “pulse” equals one rep. Do 10 reps, switch sides, and repeat.
Superman: Lie facedown on the floor with your legs straight and your arms extended over your head. Squeeze your glutes, and raise your arms and legs off the floor. Pause, and then lower them. That’s one rep.
Not quite ready for those? Start with a plank! Here’s how to do a perfect one.
15. Weigh in Regularly
While it’s not healthy to obsess over your weight, it is healthy to track it. People who weigh themselves daily lose an average of five pounds more per year than those who don’t, according to a recent study in the Journal of Obesity. Why? Because you’re more likely to be mindful of what you eat and drink, and how much you exercise. After you step on the scale, record the result where you can’t ignore it, like your refrigerator.
16. Get Out of the House
Holiday meals are a convenient way to bring friends and family together, but don’t make eating the sole focus of family gatherings. “Plan active outings,” suggests Kleiner. “Cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and hiking are all good options.” They’re also more fun than making small talk over eggnog. Plus, you’ll burn a few extra calories as you bond. How many? If you stick to a pace that everyone can keep, you’ll burn this many calories on average:
Cross Country Skiing: 486 calories
Ice Skating: 393 calories
Snowshoeing: 379 calories
Hiking: 450 calories
17. Take Advantage of Mindless Munching
Watching action movies or television shows can cause you to eat 65 percent more calories than watching an episode of Charlie Rose, according to a study by Cornell University researchers. But it doesn’t have to — instead of kicking back with a bowl of Funyuns, fill it with carrots, broccoli florets, or other high-fiber, nutrient-dense snacks.
Your goal: To use the distracting, adrenaline-packed on-screen action to eat good-for-you foods you might otherwise avoid.
18. Bet On Yourself for Extra Motivation to Stick to Your Goals
Having trouble sticking to your training program? Put your money where your motivation is. In a recent Mayo Clinic study, people who received $20 every time they achieved their monthly weight-loss goal — or lost $20 if they didn’t — dropped nearly seven more pounds than those with no money at stake. Both dietbet.com and Gympact (for iPhone and Android) can help you pad your pocket by wagering with others on your goals.
19. Take a Deep Breath
Long lines, gift shopping, traffic congestion, air travel, annoying relatives — the holidays offer plenty to stress about, and 90 percent of people do over at least one aspect of them, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. All of that stress doesn’t just sabotage your peace of mind; it can add inches to your waist.
What’s more, it can impair recovery and muscle function for up to 96 hours after a tough workout, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The good news: You can reverse the damage in just 10 minutes a day by sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. Practiced consistently, such mindful meditation can reduce psychological stress by up to 44 percent, according to a study by West Virginia University researchers.
Need a little more relaxation in your life? Try these five calming yoga techniques from 3 Week Yoga Retreat‘s Faith Hunter.
20. Build More Muscle With Your Mind
Your imagination can be a powerful thing, especially when it comes to boosting strength and packing on lean mass. Use these mental tricks maximize your gains from three classic moves.
Squat: Imagine you’re standing on a paper towel, and try to pull it apart with your feet (drive them into the floor while pressing outward) as you squat. In so doing, you’ll increase muscle fiber activation in your glutes, boosting power, strength, and stability. That, in turn, will reduce your risk of injury and help you lift heavier loads. Take your squat to the next level with this dumbbell squat.
Push-up: Imagine someone is going to punch you in the gut, and brace your core accordingly. Why? Keeping your abs in a fixed, contracted position increases their time under tension, resulting in a greater muscle-building stimulus. It also boosts stability, easing the pressure on your spine and helping you generate more strength and power. Perfect your push-up with this technique.
Pull-up: Imagine that you’re pulling the bar to your chest, rather than your chest to the bar. This seemingly minor shift in perspective will dramatically increase muscle fiber activation in your lats and core, helping you become stronger, faster. Have trouble doing more than five in a row…or even doing one? Try these five exercises to get better at pull-ups.
20. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Breakfast sets the nutritional tone for the rest of the day, and you don’t want send your body into survival mode by prolonging your overnight fast. Bonus points if you swap your bagel for eggs and your venti latte for a short black. Doing the former can help shrink your waist by 34 percent and your body fat by 16 percent, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity.
The reason: You’ll consume fewer calories in subsequent meals. Doing the latter can save you 188 calories a day. And let’s be honest, it’s the caffeine you love anyway. Feel like you never have time to make breakfast? Try one of these 20 make-ahead breakfasts that let you just grab and go.
22. Sign Up for a Race Happening in January
Not only does it give you a clear deadline and your workouts a greater purpose, but it can also boost your motivation on a more fundamental level. People who focus on their performance (e.g., achieving a new personal record in a 10K) are more satisfied with their training and more likely to achieve their goals than those who get caught up in the outcome of an activity (e.g., weight loss), according to a study in The Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. Satisfaction is the cornerstone of motivation.
23. Drink a Glass of Water Between Drinks
By alternating cocktails with water, “you’ll literally cut your calories in half,” says Kleiner. “Better still, you’ll pay less of a price the next morning.” Be especially wary of liquid calories in traditional drinks like eggnog, hot toddy, and punches. “You’re not going to feel full from them, so you can pack on a lot of extra calories and not even realize it,” says Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor of food and nutrition at the University of Georgia.
His advice: During the rounds where you do have an adult beverage, stick to low-calorie drinks such as light beer and vodka soda.
24. Get a Massage or a Foam Roller
When you finish a workout, hit the showers, then hop on a massage table. As little as 10 minutes of myofascial release (AKA massage) at the hands of a trained masseuse can ease muscle soreness and speed recovery, report Canadian researchers. Don’t have the time or desire to hire a professional?
Grab a foam roller and hit the floor. Just two minutes of rolling your quads can increase the range range-of-motion in your knees by 13 percent, another Canadian study found. And those benefits likely translate to other joints as well. Why should you care? Because the stronger you are through a complete range of motion, the more that strength translates beyond the gym to the real world. Start with your calves and work your way up your body, giving each muscle group at least three or four rolls.
25. Try the No-Hands Get Up
Sit cross-legged on the floor. Without worrying about the speed of your movement, stand up with as little assistance from your hands as possible. It may sound mundane (perhaps even easy), but give it ago anyway. Why? Because it’s a powerful indicator of not only strength, mobility, flexibility, and coordination, but also longevity and mortality, according to Brazilian researchers. In their study, participants who needed the most assistance to rise to the occasion had a significantly increased risk of death within six years. Didn’t pass? Don’t sweat it. Just add the Toddler Roll (#9 above) to your weekly routine to boost mobility throughout your body.
26. Run for 15 Minutes
Not only will you burn approximately 125 calories, but according to Canadian scientists, you’ll also slash stress, and as a result, curb sugar cravings. In their study, the researchers found that people who engaged in stress-busting exercise — like running on a treadmill — for 15 minutes reduced their craving for sweet, high calorie snacks by 23 percent. Those who stayed still saw no change. The reason: Stress busting exercise may reduce your need for a short-lived sugar boost.
27. Stop Downsizing Your Plates
When it comes to controlling portions, many fitness and nutrition experts recommend using smaller plates. “But what often ends up happening is that people go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths instead of just loading up once,” says Schoenfeld. His advice: Stop downsizing your dinnerware, and start paying more attention to how you load it. “Put leafy vegetables on your plate first, then protein,” says Schoenfeld. “That way, you’ll be sure to have room for them.” Marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and gravy-smothered stuffing comes last.
28. Have Only a Couple of Drinks
Have a couple of drinks, then cut yourself off. Not only will doing so help you avoid regrets the next morning, but it will also help you avoid bad decisions on every level, including food. In addition to impairing judgment, alcohol makes food smell better, leading to increased consumption, according to a recent study at Indiana University. The potential damage: 433 extra calories per meal, according to another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
29. Foam Roll During Your Downtime
Foam rolling before and after a workout is a smart way to reduce muscle soreness, boost blood flow, ease tightness, and accelerate recovery. But to see significant improvements in mobility, you also have to foam roll on the days you don’t train, report scientists at the University of Oregon. In short, use downtime to your advantage. Instead of just planting yourself on the couch in front of the TV, roll each of your major muscle groups (calves, hamstrings, thighs, quads, butt, lower and upper back, shoulders, and chest) for a few minutes.
30. Tighten Your Core With the Plank
Isometric exercises (like the plank) are the most effective way to train your core, according to a recent study by scientists at the University of Waterloo. Why? Because not only does holding a rigid position extend your muscle’s time under tension (a key growth trigger) but it also reinforces your core’s primary job: Stabilizing your spine.
How to Do a Plank: Assume a push-up position, but with your elbows bent and your weight on your forearms. Hold for as long as you can with your abs braced, your glutes clenched, and your body straight and rigid from head to heels. Hold for 30 to 90 seconds. Rest for one minute, then repeat. Check out the how to do a plank video here!
31. Really Think About Those Resolutions
The scope of your New Year’s resolutions is just as important as the resolutions themselves. Sure, you want to lose weight and build strength, but do your resolutions line up with where you want to be in 10 years? Research published in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine suggests that we’re more likely to meet our short-term goals if they align with our broader life goals.
One explanation has to do with what researchers call “self-determination theory”—we’re more likely to change our behavior to reach goals that are intrinsically motivated. Put another way, “you’re more likely to stick to a weight loss goal if you’re motivated by feeling healthier than fitting in a smaller clothing size,” says study author Brie Turner-McGrievy, Ph.D., M.S., R.D., an assistant professor of health promotion, education, and behavior at the University of South Carolina.