For all of the fun and merriment, the holidays can be an all-out assault on the waistline.

Every get-together over the next six weeks is laden with cookies, candy, pies and cakes. Family feasts pack thousands of calories into a single meal.

Compounding the problem, the travel and extra commitments can make getting to the gym a struggle.

But even if the gym is closed or you’re miles from a treadmill, the holiday season doesn’t have to be a fitness quagmire. A quality workout can be achieved with little more than a chair and your own body weight, doing exercises such as pushups, abdominal planks and squats.

“With the holidays, there are lots of parties that revolve around food. You take in a lot more calories this time of year. To counter-effect those calories, it’s important to get your exercise in,” said Dr. Michael DaRosa, a sports medicine specialist with Community Hospital South. “Using your own body weight is a very effective form of not only getting a good aerobic workout but building strength as well.”

Body-weight exercises work the muscles the same way pumping iron does. Repetitive motion and exertion increase muscle mass over time. Using your own weight as resistance has the added bonus of melding strength training and cardiovascular workouts.

According to a study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, a 12-exercise circuit of high-intensity moves, such as chair step-ups, wall sits and high-knee running in place, was an effective way to lose weight and get a full-body workout.

The workout burned more fat than simply doing strength training or cardiovascular exercises alone, according to study authors Brett Kilka and Chris Jordan of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida.

These types of exercises are useful because of their adaptability, DaRosa said.

Body weight exercises that target the major muscle groups are becoming more popular, he said. Body squats, wall sits, sit-ups and push-ups are all easy movements that can have a tremendous impact on health.

If people don’t have free weights, they can get a can of beans or something that’s a few pounds and do arm curls or shoulder presses.

But probably the greatest advantage is that you don’t need a gym to do them.

“It’s a huge advantage, being able to do it anywhere,” said Jobie Meunier, a Greenwood resident and body-weight fitness enthusiast.

Meunier tries to do a high-intensity body-weight training session almost every day. She does burpees — a series of movements that include pushups, squats and jumping — to get her cardiovascular system moving.

Crunches, planks and other simple abdominal movements can be done anywhere you have a small carpeted space or a mat.

Meunier, who had a baby in January, found that in order to get a workout in, she would have to get creative. Bottles of detergent served as makeshift dumbbells for bicep curls.

“The weather was crummy, so I had to do a lot of workouts in my basement,” she said.

She’s found the most success creating a interval circuit of exercise — quickly doing six or seven exercises in a row, then rest before starting another round.

Even more important is that these simple moves can give you a better workout than the traditional gym

“It’s functional. It’s movements and activities that you’ll do every day,” Meunier said. “Instead of sitting on a machine, you’re building the functional movement of the muscles as you extend that as you age.”

DaRosa advises patients who want to do these types of workouts to start slow, especially if they’re just getting back into fitness. Check with a physician if you haven’t been exercising a lot before. Start at two sets of eight repetitions, beginning with a lower intensity of exercise, then work your way up.

Most important is to find movements and workouts that keep you interested and engaged, DaRosa said.

“You want to choose something you want to enjoy,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy it, it won’t become habit and a routine.”

Pull Quote

“It’s functional. It’s movements and activities that you’ll do every day. Instead of sitting on a machine, you’re building the functional movement of the muscles as you extend that as you age.”

Jobie Meunier of Greenwood, on body-weight fitness

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.