For many of us, Tofurkey Day (Turkey Day for you traditionalists) is a time to eat a ton of food with friends or family. But how do you keep up with your workout regimen — or, if your family stresses you out, how do you start one — on a holiday when most gyms are closed? If you don’t have access to fitness equipment, you can still get in a workout by using a tote bag* and every book you own (or just a few). (No tote bag or books? Check out these past bodyweight workout suggestions: Tofurkey Day Tabata and Moving it on Memorial Day.)
*Safety first: use a tote bag with strong handles and, if the tote bag doesn’t have a closing mechanism, try tying the handles closed.
Lower Body Pushing: Bear Hug Squats or Lunges
Give your tote bag a big hug as you squat or lunge!
Squat: Stand tall and tight, feet planted firmly in the ground in your squat stance. Reach your hips back, spreading the floor between your feet like you're stretching plastic wrap. Go as low as you can without losing the tension between your feet or your neutral spine. Drive your heels and mid-foot into the ground to return to your standing position. Keep your spine neutral throughout the movement and don't let your knees fall in toward the center of your body.
Lunge: Stand tall and tight with both feet planted firmly on the floor, toes facing forward. Take a big step back with one leg, lowering your back knee until it's an inch or two off the floor. Pretend you're on railroad tracks, not a tightrope, keeping your feet about hip-width apart. Step through your front foot to return to the starting position and then step the opposite foot back into the lunge. Throughout the movement, keep your front foot firmly on the ground — you should always be able to feel your front heel and toes on the ground — and your knee, hip, and ankle should all be in a straight line. At the bottom of the movement, your back toes will be firmly on the ground with your heel stacked directly over them. As you move, drive into your front heel and mid-foot, trying to engage through the glute to return to the standing position. No matter where you are in the movement, your spine should be neutral with your ribs stacked directly over your hips and your hips facing forward.
Lower Body Pulling: Single-Leg Deadlifts
Hang on to your handles (the longer the handle, the less stable the weight) and enjoy some balance work!
Single-Leg Deadlift: Start tall and tight. Keeping your weight in your standing foot, slide your other foot back. Think about keeping your middle toe on the ground until your back foot must lift up. Bend from the hip on the standing side, keeping that knee soft but not actively bending. The other leg should stay straight and you should have a straight line from your head to your back heel. When you're nearing the end range of your slide, allow your back foot to come off the ground, tipping your entire body forward. Try to keep your hips and ribs parallel both to each other and to the floor. Pause, then drive into your standing foot, engaging your glute and hamstring to return to your tall and tight position. Note: One side of your body should look like a Romanian deadlift; the other side should look like a plank.
Lower Body Power: Single-Arm Swings**
Make sure your tote bag is closed for this one!
Single-Arm Swings: Stand tall and tight with the tote bag in one hand. Without letting go of the handles, thrust your hand between your legs, driving your hips back and ending in the bottom of a deadlift position. Then forcefully drive your hips forward, allowing your lower body’s thrust to drive your straight arm up and away. When your arm gets to shoulder height, grab the handles with the other hand and drive your tote bag through your legs again. Make sure that throughout the movement your ribs and hips stay stacked. You should feel your glutes and abs working in this movement. If you feel your low back, stop and choose one of the alternatives listed below.
* *If you’ve never done swings before, it might be safer to do squat to jacks or (if you're not jumping) power squats.
Upper Body Pulling: Bentover Rows or Rear Flyes
Row if your weight is heavy; flye if your weight is light!
Row: Stand tall and tight by pulling your front ribs toward your back ribs. Keeping your spine neutral, reach your hips back until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. Without changing the shape of your spine, engage the muscles between and below your shoulder blades. Exhale through your mouth as you bend your elbow and pull the hand holding the tote bag toward your hips. Don't lift your elbows so high that your shoulders rotate toward the floor. Go just high enough so that at the top of the movement, your forearms are perpendicular to the ground and you feel a strong contraction in your upper back. Inhale through your nose as you lower the weight with control back to the start position. If you feel your low back during this movement, try stepping one leg back into a staggered position to offer more support.
Rear Flye: Stand tall and tight by pulling your front ribs toward your back ribs. Keeping your spine neutral, reach your hips back until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. Without changing the shape of your spine, engage the muscles between and below your shoulder blades. Start with your arms hanging below your shoulders. Your elbows should be slightly bent, but stiff. When you're ready, squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades to raise your weighted arm up and out from the side of your body. Pause for a few seconds at the top. With control, lower your arm back to the starting position. Your shoulders should stay down and away from your ears throughout the movement. Don't let your torso twist. If you feel your low back during this movement, try stepping one leg back into a staggered position to offer more support.
Upper Body Pushing: Bridge with Chest Press or Chest Flyes
Press if your weight is heavy; flye if your weight is light!
Chest Press: Lie down with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and abs tight. Using your glutes, drive your hips off the ground. Hold the tote bag straight toward the ceiling over your shoulder. The other arm can be flat on the ground or, if you want a bigger balance challenge, it can be extended toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbow and pull the weight down (pretend there is no gravity) until your elbow touches the ground. Breathe out with force as you press your weighted arm again to the ceiling. Maintain your hip bridge the entire time.
Chest Flye: Lie down with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and abs tight. Using your glutes, drive your hips off the ground. Hold the tote bag straight toward the ceiling over your shoulder. The other arm can be flat on the ground or, if you want a bigger balance challenge, it can be extended toward the ceiling. Keeping your elbow straight but not locked, pull your shoulder blades together as you pull the weight sideways toward the floor (pretend there is no gravity) until the tote bag touches the ground. Breathe out with force as you pull your weighted arm back up above your shoulder. Maintain your hip bridge the entire time.
Put it together!
Pick an exercise from each category. If you’re working on strength, get as heavy as you can and do more sets and fewer reps (i.e. 5 sets of 5). If you’re working on muscular endurance (or if you don't have a ton of books), stay a little lighter and do fewer sets and more reps (i.e. 3 sets of 10; the lighter the weight, the more reps you'll do). If you’re working on conditioning, set a timer and do circuits (45 seconds on and 15 seconds off if the weight is light; 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off if the weight is heavy).
I hope that this helps you stay healthy and burn off some stress during this holiday season! So grab your college textbooks or your romance novels and get sweaty!
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