Christmas is a time to relax, spend time with loved ones and most importantly eat lots of food! This ultimately results in many people letting loose until the New Year when they can begin a “detox” diet with the intention of losing their Christmas weight (plus more), and looking better than they did before. Don’t sacrifice your body this Christmas as you can maintain your physique simply by exercising regularly and applying a few smart changes to what you eat. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean hours of running in the cold (unless you want to); instead just 20 minutes of hard work will allow you to enjoy eating plenty of food and you’ll definitely have earned a drink!
HIIT vs Endurance exercise
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a much more time efficient form of exercise compared to long-duration cardiovascular training. The high intensity nature of HIIT requires short all-out efforts with slightly longer rest periods, meaning you can burn a serious amount of calories in a short amount of time. The metabolic adaptations associated with endurance training may also be similarly replicated under certain HIIT training protocols, so it’s an excellent quick alternative to classic endurance exercise.
There’s a huge variety of exercises that can be performed as part of HIIT and it’s important to mix it up. Also the beauty of HIIT is that it can be done anywhere, even in your own home, so there’s no excuse not to get fit this Christmas!
Before every workout it’s essential that you warm-up properly. Spend 5-10 minutes loosening and stretching your muscles to prevent any injuries. Depending where you’re working out you could do:
- Light jog on a treadmill
- Combination of press-ups, squats, star-jumps, pull-ups, twisted lunges, high knees, squat jumps
- Thera-band rotations and extensions
- Neck mobility stretches
- Perform a wide range of static stretches
Regardless of fitness levels, whole bodyweight exercises are ideal to create a HIIT workout that will leave you exhausted at the end of it. Some of the exercises you may have done as part of your warmup but that’s not an issue, you’ll be doing a lot more that will really stress your muscles.
There’s no limit to what you can do, but this is a very simple and exhausting workout:
10 x press-ups
10 x sit-ups
10 x squats
10 x burpees
After you’ve done 10 of each exercise, do 11 of each, then 12, up to 15, then work your way back down to 10.
So it should look like 10,11,12,13,14,15,14,13,12,11,10
Do this as quickly as you can and should take no longer than 30 mins if you’re well trained. If you’re just starting off then simplify it and do 5 of each exercise up to 10 and back (5,6,7,8,9,10,9,8,7,6,5).
Another very simple HIIT workout is doing repeated sprints. This is the original form of HIIT and can be performed on a treadmill or an ergometer (bike), or even on a playing field/football pitch.
Do a 5 minute warm-up first if you haven’t already. The best way to do repeated sprints on a treadmill is to set a speed that you can sprint at for approx. 20 seconds. Start off by standing off the belt with feet either side on the rests and set the required speed. Once you’re happy, careful lift yourself onto the belt using the handlebars for support and begin running. Sprint for 20 seconds then hop off again and rest for 30-40 seconds depending on your fitness level. Repeat this until you cannot go again. Remember – Familiarise yourself with a slow speed before you try this properly, and wear the emergency stop clip.
Performing repeated sprints on a bike is a lot easier to manage and you can also reduce the speed between sprints to keep your legs moving. Traditionally this is used to measure anaerobic capacity via the Wingate test protocol; a 30 second maximal effort against a heavily-fixed resistance. This can then be repeated 5-6 times with 4-5 minute intervals.
Do a 5 minute warm-up first if you haven’t already. As you’re about to sprint, increase the resistance to an intensity that is approx. 80% of your max and pedal for 20-30 seconds. Immediately drop the resistance to a very low intensity and continue pedalling in your rest period of 30-60 seconds (depending on fitness levels). Repeat until you can’t pedal anymore.
Including weights and dumbbells into your HIIT should only be done if you are competent with using them. You should also practice certain exercises without additional weights if you are just starting off. The extra resistance will help to improve your strength and should be done in a gym for a greater variety of exercises, but if you have some dumbbells at home that will do to start off with.
Here are 3 examples of a whole-body HIIT circuit using a variety of weights to get you started:
Kettlebell goblet squats
Romanian barbell deadlift
Walking dumbbell lunges
Assisted pull-ups (machine)
Dumbbell push-up into a row
Hanging knee raise
Weighted walking lunge twist
Barbell bicep curls
Dumbbell chest press Dumbbell side bend
Seated cable row
Dumbbell squat, curl & press
Medicine ball toe-touch
Dumbbell squat jumps
Use a low weight and do 8-12 reps on each exercise, rest for 1 minute and repeat circuit 5-6 times.
Christmas is all about enjoying amazing festive food, but it’s the amount of it available that’s the issue. Exercising is all well and good but if you’re still consuming more calories than what you’re burning, you’ll put on weight. Therefore it’s really important that you’re smart about what you’re eating, but not holding back too much to stop you enjoying the festive delights. Here are a few tips on how to structure your diet to get the most out of your training, but also prevent excessive weight gain this Christmas.
- Eat protein with every meal – protein is vital for muscle development and in order to achieve the best results, it’s recommended to consume sufficient amounts of protein with every meal, especially after training. Try to have a high quality source of protein every time you eat; lean meats (chicken, turkey, beef), fish, eggs, milk, Greek yoghurt, or if you’re on the go opt for a protein shake like Nutrition X’s Big Whey.
- Earn your treats – after a hard training session your body needs refuelling with carbohydrates as the muscles are depleted of glycogen (internal carbohydrate stores). Therefore saving your favourite sugary and savoury treat for after training is really rewarding, but make sure you’ve earnt it!
- Train before breakfast – early morning fasted training is very popular for its enhanced metabolic and performance benefits. Training before breakfast can improve body composition by enhancing the body’s ability to burn fat, but also if you’re training before you’ve eaten, you are more than likely to eat less throughout the rest of the day.
- Dark over milk – if you haven’t already tried it then give dark chocolate a go this Christmas. Opt for 70% or above which is rich in antioxidants and because it is low in sugar and additives, a couple of squares will satisfy your craving without you feeling the necessity to finish the whole bar, unlike Dairy Milk!
- Sensible late night snacking – if you’re peckish late at night, be sensible and avoid large quantities of carbohydrates. A pint of milk, an omelette, vegetable sticks with low fat hummus, cottage cheese & rice cakes, handful of nuts or a protein shake are all much healthier options to the usually sought after cheese and biscuits, chocolate, crisps & cereal. That one sensible swap could really save your waistline!
Take home tips
It’s really important that you enjoy yourself over the festive period, but don’t turn around in the New Year regretting how much weight you’ve put on. Exercise on a regular basis, train hard and reward yourself for your efforts. Eat sensibly, perform short HIIT workouts 3-4 times per week either before breakfast or after work, along with regular & sufficient protein intake will help you to maintain your physique and feel happy about yourself.