The holidays are synonymous with calorie-dense comfort foods. To add an additional layer of difficulty, many people who travel to visit family will not have access to their regular gym facilities for a period of time. Even in the face of these challenges, you do not have to let the holidays hold you back from reaching your goals (or enjoying your favorite holiday foods!). Try these bodyweight exercises that require no equipment other than things you can find in any household, and require very little space (about as much space as it takes to make a snow angel). Additionally, by combining these exercises into a circuit you can get an added cardio benefit. You will be able to fit in a great workout wherever you may be, so that you can enjoy the holidays guilt-free!
It’s no wonder that squats are the king of exercises. By targeting all of the big muscles in the legs, you can burn more calories than with other, more isolated exercises.
Complete this exercise by starting with feet shoulder width apart, and sit back as if reaching for a chair to sit in. This will help make sure your knees stay over your feet without protruding forward, which can contribute to knee pain. Aim to squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then squeeze your glutes as you rise up to a standing position. Repeat for desired amount of time or repetitions.
Want to make it even harder? Try a squat jump. Lower yourself until thighs are parallel, then explode into the air landing softly on the balls of your feet.
If squats are the king of exercises, push-ups come in a close second as an ultimate upper-body blaster.
To set this exercise up you will want to pay attention to your hand position. Many people have their hands too far forward, and as a result end up working their shoulders more than their chest. To fix this, make sure your hands are directly under your chest and lie just outside of shoulder-width (if you drew a line from your shoulder to the ground directly below, your hands should fall just outside of this line).
Push-ups can be performed either on the toes (standard) or on the knees (modified). If using the modified version, make sure the majority of your weight is still forward on your hands (and not your knees). Once set up in the push-up position, lower yourself until your elbows hit roughly 90 degrees, then push into the ground, raising your body until your arms are fully extended.
Want to make it more challenging? Try a burpee, a full-body move that combines a push-up with a squat jump. After
completing the push-up, quickly draw in your knees with your feet directly under your body and immediately explode into a squat jump. Upon landing drop immediately back into push-up position and repeat.
Another super-effective lower body move, this exercise also targets the big muscles of the legs (glutes, quads, and hamstrings). From an upright position, initiate the move by taking a big step forward with one leg. Once your feet are split, drop your back knee straight down toward the ground as low as you can without banging it on the
ground (your front thigh should be roughly parallel to the ground at the bottom of the movement). Return to the starting upright position by pushing through the front foot and pulling the back leg forward. Focusing on dropping the back knee down in a straight line will keep you from having any excessive forward motion, which can draw the knee over the toes (potentially causing knee pain).
Make this move more challenging by turning it into a lunge jump. Instead of pushing through the front foot and drawing the back leg forward, once your feet are split explode into the air and switch your foot position so that upon landing your back foot is now the front foot. Repeat for desired time or repetitions.
This type of push-up is great for targeting the shoulders. Set up your standard push-up position, except this time draw your feet closer to your hands, sticking your butt into the air to create the top of an inverted V (as if doing a downward dog in yoga). From this position your hands should be in line with your head and neck. Complete the move by lowering the top of your head toward the ground, pushing back to the starting position with arms fully extended. The closer your feet are to your hands from the starting position (the smaller the angle between your torso and legs), the more challenging this exercise will be.
Not hard enough? Try elevating your feet on a chair or other raised surface for even greater difficulty.
As the king of core exercises, planks target all of the abdominal muscles, including the deep core stabilizers. This exercise is great for beginners and advanced athletes alike!
Complete the move by getting in a normal push-up position, except this time you will want to be resting on your forearms instead of your hands. Your upper arm (from shoulder to elbow) should intersect the floor at 90 degrees to put the least amount of stress on the shoulders. A good rule of thumb is to make sure when you are in your plank position that your hands fall directly under your face, which will help ensure your arms are not tucked too far underneath or ahead of your body.
Once in the plank position you want to focus on keeping your back flat by engaging your core and fighting gravity (draw the navel toward your spine). Again be careful not to let your hips sink toward the floor (which could aggravate your lower back), or let your butt stick up in the air. Hold this flat-back position for the desired amount of time.
Want to make the plank more challenging? Try elevating your feet on a chair or other flat surface.
This exercise is great for targeting the entirety of your back (low, middle, and upper), as well as your glutes and core stabilizers.
Start off by laying facedown on your stomach, with hands down at your sides. Engage your glutes and lower back, retract your shoulder blades, and lift your feet to raise as much of your body off the ground as you can. When engaged in a prone cobra, your body should make a curve with only your upper thighs and lower abdominals touching the ground. Hold this position for the desired amount of time.
Tricep Bench Dips
A great exercise for targeting the triceps (back of the arms). For this exercise you will need a chair or other raised, hard surface. Sit on the edge of the chair, with hands on the edge (palms down) just outside of hip width. To begin the exercise slide your butt just off of the chair, but remain close enough that as you lower yourself you can feel the chair graze your lower back. Legs can be bent (easier) or fully extended (harder). Lower yourself until your elbows reach at least 90 degrees. Push yourself back to the starting position by extending your elbows (to ensure you are working the triceps).
Want to make it harder? Elevate your feet on another chair for an additional challenge.
About Alex McBrairty
Alex McBrairty is a personal trainer based in Ann Arbor, MI. He educates his clients in exercise, nutrition, and behavior change to help them develop new habits and reach their goals. Alex also teaches, writes, and speaks about fitness motivation and behavior change.