Let's be honest: The holiday season can feel like anything but a celebration--especially when frenetic, stressful weeks and some hefty holiday meals threaten to undo a year's worth of sweat and healthy choices. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average American gains around one pound each holiday season. Problem is, we don't often lose that pound. A few seasons later...well, you do the math.
Relax. Survival is possible. "It takes a little forethought and planning, but you can swim against the current," says triathlon and running coach Matt Fitzgerald, C.I.S.S.N., co-author of the new book Run Faster From The 5k To The Marathon.
In this strategic guide, expert trainers and sports nutritionists offer solutions for the top five excuses women give for losing sight of their fitness goals, and Her Sports + Fitness readers share time-tested strategies for a festive and fit season.
The Excuse: With all the holiday distractions, I'm not motivated to exercise.
The Fix: Make a realistic plan and be consistent. "We women lose focus on ourselves while we are trying to make everyone else happy," says running coach Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running for Mortals. Take time to set some concrete fitness goals for yourself during the holidays and share them with your family. For runners, Hadfield advises setting a realistic weekly mileage goal of 15 to 20 miles per week. "Put it on your fridge," she says.
Your best bet to stay motivated: Commit to a road race or triathlon. "I signed up for a Turkey Trot 10k as well as a Jingle Bell Jog to keep me moving," says Christine A. Kopsidas from Bethesda, Maryland. Holiday races have a fun vibe and are often family-friendly. Best of all, registration fees often benefit charities, which can help you feel better about plunking down all those dollars at the mall.
In addition to training for a race, Fitzgerald says the season "is a great time to add in cross-training. That gives you variety, and variety gives you motivation."
Need more incentive? For a competitive athlete, abandoning your training plan can be risky. "If you realize in February that you are out of shape and suddenly step up mileage, that's when you get injured," Fitzgerald cautions. "If you plan, you won't have to hit the panic button later."
The Excuse: I can't stick to an exercise routine because of all my holiday travel.
The Fix: Be flexible and think ahead. "Do some intel before your travel," Hadfield advises. She suggests calling a local running store--staff members are usually glad to rave about favorite running routes.
Find training partners in the community at active.com or connect with local running clubs through Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org). Then, track your mileage using Web sites that chart your route, such as mapmyrun.com, runtheplanet.com or usatf.org/routes.
If winter weather drives you indoors, ask neighborhood gyms if they offer special deals for travelers. "I live in Atlanta, but my family lives in Michigan, where there was a lot of snow last holiday season. I found a local gym offering a 'home for the holidays' promotion, which included 15 visits for only $30," says Nicole Kuiper. If you have a long layover, visit airportgyms.com to find a place to work out either in or near the airport.
But realize you don't need to hit the gym to continue training--mix it up by doing fitness routines from your favorite magazines or trying something new. "A yoga class can be a great way to de-stress during the holidays," Hadfield says.