'Tis the Season. . . to Stay in Shape

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day can be one long feast—but you've worked too hard to blow it now! Follow this easy advice for staying fit amid the chaos and cookie assault

December 21, 2011
Woman working out over the holidays
Peter Yang

Realistically speaking, your goals this time of year should be to fend off the dreaded holiday bulge (the average weight gain is about a pound), hold on to your hard-won endurance (women can lose up to 20 percent of their cardiovascular fitness if they quit exercising cold-turkey between Thanksgiving and New Year's), and put a dent in the inevitable stress of the season (so the stuff that's supposed to be fun actually will be).

Search: How much weight do people gain over the holidays?


Fortunately, you can accomplish all those things (and even lose a few pounds!)—and you don't need to carve out a huge amount of time to do it. Adding short bursts of intense effort can fire up your metabolism and fast-track results. In an Australian study, women who cranked out high-intensity interval training three days a week for 20 minutes (for 15 weeks) shed more fat than those who exercised for 40 minutes at a lower intensity over the same period.

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And quickies aren't just good for your waistline: Studies have suggested that small doses of regular exercise—we’re talking 10 to 20 minutes at a time—can result in temporary mood improvement or anxiety reduction. So just imagine how much mall stress you'll be spared! Exercise raises levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone, while reducing your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels. "You may think a workout is the last thing you have time for during the holidays, but you'll actually feel calmer and more confident if you can fit it in," says Jasper Smits, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University.

Video: Burn 100 Calories Right Now

With our uberefficient plan, you can do just that. The routine uses supersets—back-to-back exercises that work opposing muscle groups—which torch calories and tone all over in less than half an hour. And don't think you're cutting corners by slashing your gym time: A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that participants burned just as many calories in a 30-minute superset circuit (like ours) as they did in a longer weight-training workout, and even more calories after they finished exercising. Ready to get yourself some of that? Let's go!

15-Minute Workouts that Will Get You Fitter, Faster

Incinerate extra calories with one of these 20-minute cardio interval sessions as often as your crazy schedule permits.

On The Road or at Home. . .
No equipment or gym required! Do as many reps of each exercise as you can in one minute, moving from one to the next without stopping. Rest 90 seconds, then repeat the circuit a total of three or four times.

1. Jumping Jacks
2. Squat Jumps
3. Side-to-Side Hops: Keeping your knees slightly bent and feet together, imagine you're jumping back and forth over a line on the floor.
4. Burpees: Squat to place your hands on the ground, jump back into a plank position, and do a pushup. Reverse the move to return to standing, jumping off the ground to finish each rep.

Print and Go: 20-Minute Fat-Burning Workout

At The Gym. . .
Try this interval workout on any cardio machine. To up the effort, increase the incline, resistance, or speed.

0-5 minutes:
Warmup (easy effort—you can sing at this pace)

5-7 minutes:
Moderate effort (you can carry on a conversation)

7-10 minutes:
Hard effort (you can speak a few words at a time)

10-12 minutes:
Moderate effort

12-14 minutes:
Recovery (easy effort)

14-16 minutes:
Very hard effort (you're huffing and puffing too much to talk)

16-20 minutes:
Cooldown (easy effort)

A Workout for Every Time Crunch

Follow this routine three times a week: Starting with superset 1, complete all reps of the first move, then immediately do the same with the second. Repeat two more times without stopping. Rest two minutes and move to superset 2; continue until you've completed all three groups.

Superset 1
Bulgarian Squat. Stand with your back about 18 inches from a bench; place the top of your right foot on the bench. Lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Press through your heel to stand. That's one rep. Do 10, then switch sides and repeat.

Incline T-Pushup. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on a bench or step and extend your legs behind you; your body should form a straight line from shoulders to heels. Perform a pushup, and as you push back to start, rotate your torso to the right until you're in a side plank, raising your right hand toward the ceiling. Return to start. That's one rep. Repeat on the left side, and continue alternating for 14 total reps.

Superset 2
Two-Way Lunge. Stand with hands on hips. Step to the right and bend your right knee to lower into a side lunge. Press through your right heel to rise, then step forward and lower into another lunge. Press through your right heel to return to standing. That's one rep. Continue in one fluid motion for 10 reps, then switch legs and repeat.

Triceps Dip. Sit on a chair and place your hands by your hips; your feet should be flat on the floor with knees bent 90 degrees. Lift yourself off the chair, shifting your butt forward so it's in front of the seat. Bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Return to start. That's one rep. Do 15.

Superset 3
Standing Row. Loop a resistance band around a sturdy object and grab the ends with both hands. Back away with your arms extended at shoulder height until there's tension in the band. Keeping your core tight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows back to either side of your chest. Pause, then slowly extend your arms. That's one rep. Do 15.

Hip Crossover. Lie faceup on the floor with your arms extended at shoulder height, palms facing up. Lift your legs and bend your knees 90 degrees. Tighten your abs and lower your legs to the right as far as you comfortably can without lifting your shoulders off the ground. Slowly reverse the movement all the way to the left. That's one rep. Continue for 10 reps.

Easy Ways to Crank Up Your Metabolism