A better body for the Holidays? It can happen

Is it actually possible to get in to shape before the end of the year? We have some foolproof ways to help you at least try!

Is it possible to get in to shape before the end of the year? We have some foolproof ways to help you try!

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While it can seem challenging enough to navigate the holiday season without compromising one's health and fitness, there is no reason why we can't take that goal one step further. This can actually be a great time of year to focus on giving the gift of a stronger body to, yep, ourselves.

With so many parties and gatherings, it can be tempting to push your workouts a little bit further to look and feel better (hello, office party dress!) — and get a jumpstart on those 2017 goals. If you focus on the right things, it is possible.

Here are some fitness hacks to help you get a better holiday bod without necessarily spending more time at the gym or missing out on all the festive fun.

#1. Prioritize intensity and power over steady state cardio. 

Now don't get me wrong, if you enjoy jogging, by all means, keep doing it. But know that day after day of steady state cardio isn't going to help you achieve greater fat loss. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown to provide a much greater metabolic burn than lengthy bouts on the treadmill, elliptical, and so on. This training technique involves alternating intervals of intense activity (at 80 % to 100 % intensity) with shorter intervals of rest or less intense activity. This can involve cardio, plyometrics, and bodyweight or strength moves.

So why is it so effective? "HIIT requires maximal effort and demands a lot from your muscles" says John Ledbrook, owner and head trainer at F45 Training Yorkville. "This is why HIIT gives such great fat loss results. Due to the high number of calories burned, not only during the exercise, but also after the exercise is complete as the body recovers (known as Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption), the body keeps burning the extra calories for up to 24 hours. Combine that with gains in lean muscle mass from HIIT and an increased metabolism, and you're now a fat-burning machine!" The key is to go all out during the work intervals. Running is fine, just think sprints or hill runs versus distance. You really need to feel the burn, in order to create a burn, if you know what I mean.

Many fitness facilities offer HIIT programs, and there are numerous examples online. Apps such as Nike+ Training Club and Nike+ Run Club are free to download, and offer either HIIT type programming with video tutorials or ways to track your speed and incline so you can push that pace.

#2. Strength training is your friend... but be wary of all those holiday treats.

It's not that I'm trying to give cardio a bad rap, but strength training is your greatest ally in your quest for the body beautiful. (And let's not forget, stronger, more functional, and durable!). Whether it's lifting weights, resistance training with tension, such as on a Pilates reformer, or bodyweight exercises, there is no better way to improve your body composition. As a Nike Trainer, Agatsu Senior Instructor, Olympic Weightlifter and Yoga and Pilates instructor, Paluna Santamaria knows this well. "When properly executed, strength training builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat your body burns, even at rest."

Essentially, pumping iron provides additional bang for your workout buck, so make sure you incorporate some weights into your regimen. However, as she also specializes in nutrition, Santamaria does deliver a slightly more difficult dose of reality for this time of year: "An appropriate nutrition program supports your recovery, which also aids in muscle building. To sum up, food and weights are the secret." So, if you want to make gains, reign in the holiday treat consumption a bit, and don't forget about those pushups, squats, and deadlifts.

#3. Don't forget about your posterior chain.

Would you like to have better posture (which makes you look taller and leaner), perform better athletically, prevent injuries, combat those tight hip flexors from sitting at your desk all day and have a rear view that won't quit? Then training the posterior chain is essential. These are the muscles at the back of your body: traps, triceps, back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Often, they are much neglected, because many people just tend to focus on what they see the most in the mirror, which are the muscles at the front of the body (like the abs). And this creates imbalances in the body.

Weak glutes, for example, can lead to tight hip flexors, and so on. All of these muscles are crucial to our overall fitness (and the way we look). Amber Joliat, who has a background in Pilates, yoga, and dance, and is the creator of the MISFITMETHOD and MISFITSTUDIO, backs up the importance of focusing on our more forgotten muscle groups. "These parts of the body need our attention. Proper hamstring connection and a strong back are important for full functionality. Understanding how to both work and stretch out the back body is key in a balanced body." Let's not forget, if your focus right now is to look dynamite in that NYE outfit, a well-toned back, booty and calves will make you unforgettable.

#4. Rest is key.

Now you're working hard, and because it's that time of year, your schedule is likely overloaded, and you're also not getting the down time you may need. However, it's as important to make time for rest as it is to make time to be active if you want to achieve your goals. Take it from an expert that knows tough-love training: "The need for a full night's sleep and full recovery is at an all-time high, specifically when in a phase of strength training, which usually involves heavy compound lifts that can be taxing on the nervous system," says strength coach Lee Boyce. "Being deprived of general rest can compromise our overall fitness, and subsequent workouts can suffer as a result." The concept of rest goes beyond sleep and days off, as well. According to Boyce, "A muscular fatiguing workout can benefit from mild activity the next day (even if it's aerobic based) to reduce soreness. Lightly training on sore muscles is ok. It can be a smart way to accelerate your recovery." As the saying goes, bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.

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