Christmas may be a time of celebration for millions of people, but for some it's the saddest day of the year. Because the gym isn't open.
Fitness buffs used to doing an hour or more of cardio and weights are forced to forgo hitting the elliptical and the leg press on Dec. 25, and many are not happy about it. Sure, it's good to take a day off now and then and let those muscles repair and grow, but on a day when eating is often the priority, it's nice to get a calorie burn in before drinking the eggnog.
So for those who feel the need to do something, here are suggestions for some free workouts that may also offer a welcome break in your usual routine:
Head for the beach. Running or even walking on sand taxes the legs and the cardiorespiratory system. Choose a spot with playground-type equipment -- bars, rings, etc. -- and do some resistance training using your body weight. If you don't feel confident on the equipment, use a spotter or just do some push-ups, squats and lunges. Doing those on sand will work your balance and coordination skills. It may be a bit brisk by the ocean this time of year, but once you get moving you won't feel the chill.
Take a walk on the wild side. Most people who are really into fitness don't consider walking enough of a physical challenge. But by using elements of the environment during a walk, a stroll can become a serious workout. Consider the landscape something of a par-course: walk up and down flights of stairs when you encounter them, repeating if necessary (see more stair workouts below). Use low walls for incline or decline push-ups. Pick a good-sized sidewalk grid and do ladder drills (quickly moving your feet in and out of the grid boxes). Get in some plyometric work by jumping and trying to touch awnings or overhangs.
Engage in a stair-ng contest. A long flight of stairs is a boon for the fitness-minded, but there's so much more to do than walking up and down. Try taking steps two at at a time going up, concentrating on using the quads and the glutes to push off (take single steps on the way down to protect the knees). Walk up and down sideways or do lateral squats to work the abductor muscles (ones on the outer part of the thigh that move the legs outward) and adductor muscles (ones that connect the lower pelvis to the inner thigh bone that pull the legs to the body's midline). Jump from one step to the next for some plyometric training. If you're not the shy type, try crawling up the stairs on all fours, Spider-Man-style, to work upper and lower body.
Give interval training a try. Most gym rats avoid interval training. That burning feeling in your lungs as you up the pace on cardio equipment doesn't feel great, it can become monotonous, and it can totally ruin your concentration while watching "Top Chef." But somehow doing those bursts of speed and power become more fun outdoors. Pick a spot with room to move, such as a park or track, and vary the drills and intensity. Run slowly, then sprint. Walk quickly, then skip, catching as much air as you can and lifting arms up overhead. Walk, then do a series of one-footed and two-footed hops. Run at a moderate pace and then do a sideways run, crossing one leg over the other, and switching sides. How much time you spend in each interval will vary, depending on your fitness level.
After an hour -- or even half an hour -- of any of those workouts, you'll be able to indulge guilt-free.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times