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3 Thanksgiving Workout Strategies

With most gyms closed on Thanksgiving, here are some workouts you can do to maximize calorie burn and limit the damage from excessive eating.
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The average American consumes about 4,500 calories during a Thanksgiving meal. And when you have large meals like this, there are some pretty disturbing health issues that can follow shortly after or even the next morning. Scientists have even found there's an increase in your risk of dying from a heart attack after eating a hefty meal.

But you're probably still going to have at least one big meal this week on Thanksgiving Day, accompanied by higher amounts of carbohydrate or alcohol than you may normally consume. So with most gyms closed on Thanksgiving, what are some workouts you can do to maximize calorie burn and limit the damage from excessive eating? Here are three easy and fun Thanksgiving workout strategies:

1. Use 10-Minute Workouts

Even with a ton of family activities on the horizon and little free time to oneself, most people can still find 10 minutes to squeeze in a quick exercise session. That's plenty of time to do a calorie-burning, metabolism-boosting workout! For each of these three 10-minute workouts, you don't worry about a long warm up or cool down -- everything is wrapped into the 10-minute session. And if you find extra time, you'll get the added benefit from repeating the 10-minute workout two to three additional times during the day.

10-Minute Workout #1: Full Body Burn

Equipment: One pair of dumbbells and a chair, step, stairs, or box

Instructions: Warm up with 25-50 jumping jacks, then complete 10-12 repetitions of each set of exercises twice, back to back with minimal rest, and move on to next set.

10-Minute Workout #2: Butt, Abs, Thighs

Equipment: None

Instructions: Complete this routine as a circuit, one time through, with minimal rest between exercises. No warm up required.

25 Body Weight Squats

10 Lunge Jumps per side

10 Lateral Lunges per side

25 Kickouts per side

Finish with 60-second Squat Hold

10-Minute Workout #3: Maximum Calorie Burn

Equipment: None

Instructions: Complete this routine as a circuit, three times through, with minimal rest between exercises. No warm-up required.

25-50 Jumping Jacks

5 Push-Ups

5 Push-Ups

2. Include Body Weight Moves

As I mention in my Thanksgiving Fitness Survival Guide, multiple studies have shown that a pre-meal exercise session, a post-meal exercise session, or both can significantly increase fat oxidation and metabolic rate. (See additional references below.) But you can even get benefits from just a few reps or a few minutes of a body weight exercise.

Here are three high-calorie-burning body weight exercises that you can implement at any time on Thanksgiving Day.

1. Counter-Movement Jumps. Simply squat down, swing your arms, and jump, then land and do it again. Try to set a timer for two minutes and do as many as you can.

2. Double Leg Back Bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent and thrust your hips toward the sky. Do as many reps as you can until your butt is burning.

3. Side Plank Rotations. Drop to the ground on your right or left side in a plank position, and reach for the sky until your abs can't go anymore.

I've posted more than 30 additional body weight exercises for you on the Ben Greenfield Fitness YouTube channel!

3. Exercise During the Big Game

Thanksgiving Day football games, or any sporting event that includes changes of possession, are quite conducive to cardiovascular exercise. For example, let's say that Team A is competing against Team B. You can set up a treadmill, bicycle trainer, or elliptical in front of the TV and get ready for action (or just choose from any of the body weight exercises mentioned above).

Any time Team A has possession, you perform an intense interval, such as pedaling faster, increasing the treadmill speed, increasing the elliptical strides per minute, or doing as many reps as possible of an exercise. Whenever Team B has possession, you decrease to an easy, aerobic, recovery pace, or simply rest. When the commercials appear, you can do a tempo effort, which is a moderate pace at a medium intensity. Alternatively, you could do intervals during the commercials, so that every time a commercial break begins, you increase the resistance or incline for the first commercial, decrease for the second commercial, increase for the third, and so on.

This type of workout changes drastically depending on the type of sporting event you choose. During a typical Thanksgiving football game, a team may have possession for more than five minutes (which will let you work up a good sweat!), while during a basketball game, possessions may just be a matter of seconds.

Do you have your own Thanksgiving workout tips to add? Simply leave them below.

For more television workout tips, check out How to Get Fit While Watching TV.

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body: A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape.


1. Brodeur, C et al. The metabolic consequences of low and moderate intensity exercise with or without feeding in lean and borderline obese males. Int J Obes 1991 Feb;15(2):95-104.

2. Goben KW, et al. Exercise intensity and the thermic effect of food. Int J Sport Nutr 1992 Mar;2(1):87-95.

3. Nichols J, et al. Thermic effect of food at rest and following swim exercise in trained college men and women. Ann Nutr Metab 1988;32(4):215-9.

4. Davis JM, et al. Weight control and calorie expenditure: thermogenic effects of pre-prandial and post-prandial exercise. Addict Behav 1989;14(3):347-51.

5. Segal KR, et al. Thermic effect of food at rest, during exercise, and after exercise in lean and obese men of similar body weight. J Clin Invest 1985 Sep;76(3):1107-12.

6. Segal KR, et al. Thermic effects of food and exercise in lean and obese
men of similar lean body mass. Am J Physiol 1987 Jan;252(1 Pt 1):E110-7.

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