Exercise your options
As the holidays roll around, so, too, do days spent cooped up indoors with kids and relatives, braving rainy weather (or even snow, for those who head East) and moving very little, except perhaps to the dining room table and back.
It might seem like a time to abandon all hope of exercise, but the truth is that there’s no need to head to a gym or a studio for those looking to keep their heart rates up — according to fitness experts, plenty of effective workouts can be done from home.
“There are so many things you can do, whether you’re inside or outside,” says Jonathan Aluzas, owner of Arena Fitness in Encino. “There’s an infinite variety; the challenge is that it requires a little bit of creativity, work and research.”
Over the next few months, for many of us that will mean modifying our usual routine to accommodate a living room, a hotel room or a guest room at a family member’s house. But as we succumb to our 10th latke in one night, that extra effort will no doubt feel worth it.
Exercising at home can seem daunting, certified Pilates instructor Shana Stark says, because we may think that we need to go full bore for an hour, like we would in a fitness class. Instead, it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way.
“If you give anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes of concentrated, focused work, it should be enough to get your circulation going, get your body oxygenated and wake yourself up,” she said.
Workouts also needn’t be done all at once, Aluzas says.
“You can put together a few 15-minute blocks of exercise in a day, and it has the same value as if you had done it all at the same time,” he said. “The cumulative amount is just as effective.”
In other words, fit in whatever you can between breakfast and lunch, shopping and more shopping, or cooking meals and wrapping Chanukah gifts.
Whenever you’re working out — and particularly in cold weather — it’s important to spend some time warming up. Here are a few exercises that Stark teaches in her Pilates classes, and from a series of workout videos created by Aluzas:
Warm Up the Whole Body
Lie down on the floor and stretch your arms and legs out, keeping your arms beside your body. Pull your knees to your chest, then return them to a straightened position.
Medicine Ball Chop Squat
Holding a medicine ball overhead (or “anything that weighs anytwhere from 4 to 8 pounds — you could literally grab an encyclopedia,” Aluzas said), with legs shoulder width apart, squat and carry the ball down past the front of your body, with straight arms, until it’s between your legs. Stand and lift the ball overhead again.
Lying on your back, wrap a towel or resistance band around the bottom of one foot. Keeping both legs straight, use the band or towel to pull the leg up toward your chest. Release back down and switch legs.
Alternating Lying Crossovers
Lying flat on your back with your arms outstretched in a “T” shape and your legs straight, lift one leg until it’s perpendicular to the floor, cross it over your body, lift it back up and place it down again. Repeat on the other side.
Rolling Like a Ball
Sit up and pull your knees toward your chest. Lift your feet a few inches off the floor, and keeping yourself tucked like a tight ball, use your core muscles to roll onto your spine and roll back up.
Lying on your back with your knees bent, lift your hips up off the floor while digging your heels into the floor and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower back down.
After finishing the warm-up, Stark says, your body should feel toastier, and it’s time to get to the bulk of the workout. Aluzas notes, though, that for people who are newer to working out, a warm-up can be enough exercise on its own.
“It depends on the degree of fitness of the person involved,” he says, adding, “People have to be patient with themselves,” and do as much as they are able to do without overexerting.
The following exercises can be done using dumbbells, or using household items of the same weight. Best of all, they can be done any place where there’s enough room to “lie down on the floor and stretch your arms and legs out,” Stark says.
Standing up, lengthening the spine and holding 2- to 4-pound weights, lift your arms straight out in front of you, keeping the elbows straight. Do not lift beyond the shoulders. Lower back down. “The key is not to swing your arms but to resist, almost as if you have to push your arms through water,” Stark said.
Squat Curl Press
Holding dumbbells in each hand and standing with your feet shoulder width apart, squat down with your arms hanging by your sides. As you stand, bend your arms at the elbow, curling the weights up to your shoulders. Finally, press the weights over your head, twisting your palms to face forward and keeping your arms shoulder distance apart.
Standing with your feet hip distance apart, bend your knees and push your tush behind you like you are in a downhill skiing position. Lean forward, bring your elbows back behind you and straighten your arms back behind you. Bend the elbows back to return to starting position.
Starting in a plank position, face down with both hands on the floor and your tush slightly lifted, bend one knee up to your chest and place that foot on the floor. Keeping your hands on the floor, alternate your legs with a slight jump.
Lying on your back, lift your legs about a foot off the floor, keeping the knees straight. Lift your head and shoulders until you feel the tip of shoulder blades come off the mat. Keeping the arms straight, lift and lower the arms from the shoulders rapidly, moving the arms only about five inches. Inhale and pump for five counts, then exhale and pump for five counts, until you reach 100.
Lying on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, place your hands behind your head and lift the shoulders, pressing the lower back against the ground. Lower the shoulders to return to starting position, keeping the head lifted.
In addition to maintaining your existing level of fitness, working out over the holidays can have particular benefits for travelers.
“The best thing for jet lag is exercise,” Stark says. “Even if it’s cold or you’re in a new place, throw on a coat and some gloves and go for a brisk walk for five to 10 minutes.”
Aluzas adds that those who are able to push themselves to exercise on their own, especially during the holidays, deserve a pat on the back. People get caught up in berating themselves for what they aren’t doing, he says, rather than commending themselves for what they are doing.
“You should applaud yourself for being willing to work out on your own in your living room,” he says. “That’s not easy to do.”