I used to think that making a New Years Resolution was stupid. I was bad at keeping them, I saw other people being bad at keeping them, and everyone seemed to make them because they thought they were supposed to. My main objection was that it felt like glorified procrastination. “I'm going to quit smoking, but not until the arbitrarily selected date.” Why not get started right away? In many cases, a resolution feels like an insincere attempt to change something we sincerely want to change.
It snowed last night. There have been flakes in the air a few times this season, but this was the first morning of the year that we were greeted by a heavy blanket of white. After a brief moment to enjoy the beauty of it, I dutifully grabbed my shovel and set about cleaning off the driveway. As you likely know, shovelling is truly a full-body event. You bend down as your arms drive the shovel into the snow, your legs lift you back up as you throw it aside, often twisting as you go. You take a step or two forward and do it again, moving quickly because you're cold, or late for work, or just sick of shovelling. Sweat starts to drip, the jacket comes off, and you're usually pretty tired after. Strength and cardio elements all at once? Sounds like a good workout to me. So are there any drawbacks?
I think that depends on you. Every year there are people who get injured while performing this routine task. Shoulder and back injuries, as well as heart attacks, are fairly common, especially in men over the age of 55. We don't suddenly become more fragile at 55, but heart conditions become more common, and general fitness levels often decline as we age. Regardless of your age or sex, launching into this task without taking your physical condition into account is just asking for trouble.
The irregularity of a large snowfall makes it tough to think of shovelling as a reliable addition to your workout regimen. It's more an activity that needs to be trained for, rather than a training activity. I often use the term “functional conditioning,” by which I mean working out to improve our performance of real-world tasks. Shovelling is a perfect example of this. Doing deadlifts, biceps curls, triceps extensions, medicine ball torso rotations, trap shrugs, and a variety of core strengthening exercises will all work towards making you a better shoveller, and will make the chore easier and less likely to result in injury.
So the snow hits the ground and you head outside. As with any workout, you can get the most out of shovelling by preparing properly and using good technique. Make sure to warm up before you start, which can mean doing the easy parts first (the steps, the sidewalk, etc) before tackling the main area. Any other dynamic movements you want to do are great here, including arm circles, torso twists, and touching your toes a few times. Once you start, try to periodically switch the position of your hands on the shovel to keep the work balanced. Keep the weight of each shovel-full as consistent as possible, and try to throw the snow forward rather than twisting to the side. Take breaks as needed, make controlled, mindful movements to prevent injury, and take a few minutes to stretch once you're done.
You may not find it fun to clear the snow from your driveway, but with the proper preparation and precautions, you can certainly use it as a safe and effective full-body workout. If it's work that needs to be done, it may as well work for you.
You've been hearing the music and seeing the decorations for weeks now. Perhaps you relish it as the most wonderful time of the year, or maybe, like me, you've been in a state of mild denial since November 1st. Either way, there's no getting around it now; the holiday season is in full swing. With it comes stress, food, demands on your time, food, travel, and more food. Many people abandon their health & fitness goals this time of year, with the promise of getting back on track in January. That isn't how it has to be. Here are a few tips on how you can make it through the next month or so.
Make a New Plan
If your schedule is shrinking and you are finding it difficult to fit your workouts in, it may be time to reevaluate your fitness plan. The important thing is to keep at it, even if it means a temporary change. You've worked hard to establish a set of good habits, and giving up on those will make it more difficult once the tree comes down and the songs on the radio go back to normal. Instead, come up with a reasonable schedule that you know you can maintain. Even if it means working out once or twice less per week, or for 20 minutes rather than 60, it is important to continue with your plan rather than giving up. Make a new schedule to act as a placeholder for the old one, making it easier to ramp things up in the new year.
Allow Yourself Reasonable Indulgence
It is almost impossible to separate holiday celebrations from food and drink. Big meals, parties, desserts, and treats are everywhere. Should you avoid every single bite of holiday food? Should you just not go to your Mother-In-Law's Christmas dinner? That seems a bit drastic to me. You need to be able to enjoy these things, but at the same time, there is a spectrum between not eating at all and going for a third plate of turkey and stuffing. Portion control is your friend here. If you really love the act of going for seconds, just take less the first time through. Try to really commit to actually enjoying these things when you do eat them, since eating mindfully makes meals more pleasurable and less likely to get out of control.
Ditch the Scale
Our weight fluctuates throughout the week, and even through the day, and this can be exaggerated after a big meal or a night of snacks and drinks at the Office Party. Obsessing over the 3-5 pounds you may have gained over the weekend is not a positive use of your time. You know what the results of overeating are, so being upset about them is a waste. Instead, make the best choices you cam, and know that you'll be right back at it once this holiday season is over.
Tune out Negative Voices
This is a time where we see people we may not have seen in a while, so be prepared to have conversations about your commitment to eating right and working out, especially if its a new thing. I've covered this in depth elsewhere, but remember that ultimately the decisions you make are for you, and you don't need to explain yourself to Aunt Tina. The most difficult part of this is the pressure to eat something you may not want to eat. Saying “no thanks” to a homemade treat can feel rude, even if it isn't meant to be that way. As I said above, be mindful of your portions, be fair and reasonable with yourself, and you'll be fine.
Most of all, don't just give up. An effective change to your diet and fitness is really a lifestyle change, so it can't just be put on hold while you celebrate whatever it is you are celebrating. There will always be a reason not to stick with these changes, and birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc all have similar ways of sabotaging our plans. The holidays can be difficult because they're a 6-week marathon of tough choices, but you can do it.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!