3 Day Thanksgiving Workout Plan

family running in the fall
John Barry
Sports Performance Specialist

Looking to make the most of your Thanksgiving Day feast? Let’s make those extra calories count. I like to take a 3-day approach to Thanksgiving (or any other big eating day). It’s a process to not only limit the damage from overindulgence but how to take advantage of the second helping. These are the basic workouts I plan for the three day period.

Day 1 Wed:

24 or so hours out, we’re finishing up work, travel plans and possibly buying/baking our homemade specialty. It also tends to be our last “normal” day of the holiday. Hopefully, you can make it to your usual training spot and hit it hard. I prefer to go big with heavy, compound lifts. This includes your squats, deadlifts, heavy press/pull, Olympic lifts, and also plyometrics. Pound your lower extremities with your most intense training of the week.

Our legs have a higher concentration of mitochondria (we can discuss mitochondrial concentration vs. efficiency at a later date) and will require nutrients in the 24-48 hours after an intense session. This power workout will set up our body to take advantage of the protein (turkey), vegetables (those green beans look good), and even deplete our muscles glycogen reserves enough to need to be replenished through stuffing and pumpkin pie.

Day 2 Thanksgiving:

woman running in the fallWe wake up and hit the road. Before we drive to our in-laws, we hit the pavement on our feet or bike for a run/bike ride. Our schedule usually looks a bit tighter on Thursday. Perhaps we awake in a different place and don’t have the convenience of barbells, a track or a Vertimax to challenge our muscles.

Do not worry. After our hard day yesterday, today is an “off” day. Best bet for today is 30-60 minutes of medium intensity “cardio”. A quick run around the neighborhood, a light bodyweight circuit, a bike ride with the family, any of it works.

I find the key is to do this early, before eating. This means to complete exercise while fasting (only do so if you have experience with fasting/ketogenic dieting and have no medical issues).

This will be tough but gets our body revved up to burn fat and synthesize protein. Have some fun with it as well. Challenge family members to a race. If all goes well, you can brag how well you did through dessert.

Related Article: How Will Turkey Dinner Impact Your HIIT Workout?

Day 3 Friday:

Did you really eat that much? No worries, I’m sure I had more than you. Friday can be tricky. Most people want to do all of the exercise. Our bodies aren’t ready for that. Raise your hand if you had any refined sugar, wine, beer, excess fat, carbonated beverages or after dinner coffee that kept you up ’til 2.

Let’s use this as a recovery day. It’s best to get weights back in your hands, but we’re scaling back from our Wed workout. Stick to isolation/accessory work with lower weight and high volume. The benefit of this is it tells our body to increase our growth hormone and testosterone secretion naturally.

This helps to burn fat and blood sugar. We’re also not overloading our nervous system which is likely fried with all of the festivities and stress that holidays bring. Stick with your mindless, “going through the motions” exercises such as split squats, dumbbell row, dumbbell press, lunges, tight T-Shirt/frat boy, hip thrusts, bridges, extra abdominals, etc. this will set us up for…

BONUS!!! Day 4 Saturday:

It’s now Saturday, back to business as usual.

Related Article: Post Thanksgiving Detox Tips

Additional Tips For Maintaining Weight and Staying Active for the Holidays


High-intensity interval training consists of bursts of maximum effort exercises followed by a shorter rest period, continued for several repetitions of different exercises (Shehata & Mahmoud, 2018). The idea behind this style of training is that by performing exercises at maximum intensity, glycogen stores will be depleted for a longer period of time which will induce an increase in metabolic rate for hours following the workout (Kravitz, 2014).

In short, this means that HIIT workouts burn more calories and increase post-exercise fat oxidation compared to the same duration of steady-state exercise (King, Broeder, Browder, Panton, 2002).

A recent study in which 24 individuals were assigned to follow either a high-intensity interval running, high-intensity circuit or steady state running program, found that the highest rate of fat oxidation was achieved in those who followed the high-intensity circuit training program.

They also noted that the individuals completing steady state training used more carbohydrates for energy whereas the group of individuals following the high-intensity circuit training program relied more heavily on fat stores for energy (Stenman, 2016).

Many studies have found further benefits of HIIT including improvements in VO2max, reductions of subcutaneous fat and cholesterol levels (Jabbal & Baxter-Jones, 2017; Boutchers, 2011; O’Donovan, Owen, Birds, et al., 2005).

HIIT can be a good option while traveling because it can be done without equipment and takes a much shorter amount of time to get the same benefits as other aerobic workouts (Shiraev & Barclay, 2012). These workouts can be designed yourself or can be found on our website.

2. Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Maintaining a healthy body weight is simply a balance between energy consumption and energy expenditure: make sure you are doing enough activity to burn the number of calories you eat. In small quantities, alcohol can have a positive effect on health.

However, alcohol has a lot of calories and can thus cause weight gain if consumed in excess (Sim, 2015).

A recent study conducted on high school students estimated that, among those who drank once a week, alcohol contributed to 5200 to 11440 calories per year (Kate, 2017). If you want to drink (as many of us do on vacation) try to stay away from sugary cocktails and ciders and stick to champagne or low-calorie liqueur such as vodka.

These tips should help you stay fit through the holiday season!



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