You’re outnumbered. At the time of battle you are one man up against a battalion of holiday comestibles so enticing and made with such love that it’s near impossible to imagine not eating them all: cheeses and charcuterie, spiced pistachios, herbed popovers, potato mash, various crostini of unknown constituents, assorted root vegetables — roasted — cassoulet, a standing rib roast. It’s not like you haven’t been wading through poultry and roasted meats since Thanksgiving. Plus, the harsh reality is that between extra-fortified eggnog and Champagne you’re two sheets, approaching three, to the wind.
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You’ve reconnoitered grandmother’s baked goods and determined that they’re going to be a problem. Gout is on your mind. Even if you make it through Christmas leftovers, there’s still New Year’s Eve around the corner.
Things look bleak. But like the English at Agincourt or the Romans at Alesia, you’re determined to prevail against a larger enemy. You — we — are going to stay fit during this last shank of the holiday season. The trick? This high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.
Staying fit on the road is always a challenge. We’re out of our routines, away from our gym or home workout systems and eating a diet that’s at least different from usual and maybe even downright unhealthy. During the holidays fitness becomes even more abstract because we’re around family all day and/or intoxicated on substance — whether that’s alcohol or beef or tree-shaped cookies — pausing only for sleep.
The good news is everyone has 15 minutes, and that’s about all it takes to do an HIIT workout. The theory behind HIIT is that short, very intense anaerobic workouts offer different, complementary benefits to lower intensity aerobic workouts like jogging or going for a leisurely bike ride. HIIT is said to improve overall athletic performance, boost metabolism and burn fat. During our Road to Ironman series we came across a similar concept in our conversation with Lifesport coach Chris Thomas, who explained that high-intensity speed workouts are an essential component in improving overall performance for endurance racing.
Here’s a workout we’re doing during the holidays. It requires no equipment whatsoever. Keep in mind that a baseline level of fitness is required to do this, so consult with a doc first if the very thought of HIIT makes you hurl yams.
Holiday HIIT Workout
Do 20 reps of each exercise, breaking for 10 seconds of deep breaths between each. Repeat entire cycle 3-5 times. The whole thing should take about 15-20 minutes, depending on how many times you break for figgy pudding.
Good form: Your hands are on the ground, just wider than shoulder-width apart, with middle fingers pointing straight ahead. Your body is in a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Feet are 12 inches or less apart. Begin with arms fully extended, lower your body until they bend at 90° or less, push back so arms are fully extended. While doing push-ups, keep eyes fixed straight ahead, rather than on the ground. Exhale as you push away from the ground.
2. Superman Back Extensions
Good form: Lay on your stomach, preferably on a carpet or yoga mat. Stretch arms straight out front with palms facing the ground. Stretch legs straight back. For each rep, fix your eyes straight ahead and raise arms and legs simultaneously. Breathing into your stomach while you lift will help keep correct form.
3. Leg Raises
Good form: Lay down flat, back to the ground, palms facing down. Position palms underneath your butt for support. For each rep, lift extended legs up until they form an angle of slightly less than 90° with the ground, then lower them to the ground. Your core should be engaged during the exercise. Breathe out while lifting the legs.
4. Supine Hip Extensions
Good form: Laying flat on your back with arms extended at your sides, place your heels on a chair. For each rep, lift your hips so that a straight line forms between your knees and your shoulders. Exhale as your raise the hips.
Good form: This is a bodyweight squat with no weights. Start with your feet slightly wider than should-width apart and toes pointed a few degrees out to the sides. Squat down by bending at the knees and pushing your butt back and your arms straight ahead, parallel to the ground with palms facing down. Your knees should remain aligned over your feet, no farther forward than your toes. The low back should be slightly arched, not hunched. Push through your heels to return to standing, with arms by your sides. For this exercise, breathe out while squatting down, breathe in while returning to standing position.
Good form: Begin in standing position. Do a squat, but at the bottom of the exercise, place your hands on the ground and jump your feet back into the upper push-up position. Complete the push-up, jump the feet forward, returning to the bottom of the squat position. From there, jump straight up in the air, arms pointed to the sky. Observe breathing patterns from the squat and the push-up. You’re basically just combining those two exercises.
Fitness geeks can substitute more intense variations of each exercise. For example, substitute clapping push-ups for regular push-ups. You know, for fun.