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Gym Alternates to Keep Fit This Holiday Season


It’s easy to pack on pounds during the winter and even easier during the holidays. With work and social parties, large, rich family meals and higher doses of alcohol, it’s really no wonder.

Winter, a classic hibernation season, indulges cozy sweaters and looser fits, neither of which benefit the waistline. According to a recent report by US News, the average American will gain one pound each holiday season, a pound that most people don’t lose. Over time, those pounds accumulate. It’s even greater, they report, for those already overweight, packing on as many as five pounds, on average, during the season.

Oftentimes, having somebody else as a motivator helps keep us on track, be it a friend or family member, a class-full of people, or a personal trainer. Below, we take a look at three different forms of exercise to stay motivated and fit, without going to the gym.

Take it to the barre

Kirsten Prieto, an instructor and co-owner of a Pure Barre studio slated to open later this month in Wynnewood (50 E. Wynnewood Road), has seen plenty of friends and mother-daughter groups coming in to exercise. “It’s a nice way to catch up over a class. It’s a healthier way to interact,” says the Aerobics Fitness Association certified trainer. From her own personal experience going to gyms, she finds the camaraderie refreshing, noting that many clients form friendships over the classes. “It becomes a little bit of a family atmosphere,” she says.  

Pure Barre, which now has over 300 studios across the United States, is “a fusion between Pilates and yoga,” Prieto says. “It uses small isometric movements and it’s all set to music. It’s a 60 minute class and a full body workout.” By using small movements it targets areas like abdominals, thighs, arms and the core, helping elongate the muscles. 

“Especially for women, I think it works everything that we’re probably most concerned with. It creates long, lean, dancer-body muscles,” she says, noting its variance from traditional gym workouts, which target larger muscle groups.

It’s an exercise that almost anybody can pick up. “If you can hold onto a bar, then you can do Pure Barre. If you have knee issues, or feet injuries, everything can be modified to work to your different level,” Prieto says. Once you have the basics down, there are moves that can even be done outside the studio, perfect for traveling over the holidays.

The studio offers class packages, which Prieto says helps with commitment. Signing up for a package encourages members to attend classes, and on their own schedule. Come January, she expects to offer classes as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m., recognizing that people have tricky schedules, which can make fitting in a class difficult.

Personalize it

The holidays can make already hectic schedules even busier. Between young children, work and other commitments, finding time to go to the gym can be difficult. For those in a lurch and in need of a little help, in-home personal training is a great option. Tom MacNeal, owner of Fitness2go, brings health right to client’s living rooms, throughout the Main Line. MacNeal, who has 11 years of training experience, is certified for nutrition and wellness, personal training, holistic therapy and sports nutrition.

“The in-home training allowed me to give clients a more personalized experience, something that I could customize and cater to them,” he says. “A lot of clients want to train more privately because they’re embarrassed about their image or whether they’re doing [an exercise] properly. I thought if I came to their houses, it would eliminate those obstacles and get them better results.”

His clients can expect to have workouts catered to their needs and based on their goals, whether that’s gaining muscle or losing weight. Even those with injuries can be accommodated. “If they have limitations, injuries, I know how to work around that,” he says.

One of the benefits of personal training, whether it’s in a gym or at home, is having a customized exercise program. “I get a better idea of exactly why the person has the obstacles they have, why they have trouble losing weight,” MacNeal says. “It’s not the same for each person. Every program and diet is going to be different. There’s no generic program that gives everybody the same results.”

For those just starting out, MacNeal recommends trying two training sessions a week and progressing to three, for 45 minutes to an hour.

Traveling can put a damper on workout routines, even for the most ardent gym goers. “You can always find a good set of stairs for step-ups or running up and down the stairs,” MacNeal says. He also recommends doing lunges in hotel rooms, push ups, or any other body weight exercises.

As for the holiday temptations, MacNeal says everyone should drink plenty of water, try avoiding sugary foods and make smart decisions when it comes to carbohydrates. “Take a sweet potato over mashed potatoes, brown rice over white rice, wheat bread over white bread, and keep your protein intake high.” Similarly, with cocktails, swap high-sugar options for a low-sugar counterpart, simple syrup for honey, fruit syrups for fruit and so forth.

For those on strict diets, he says, “Try to keep most of the foods that are going to be of temptation out of the house. If you have to have it in the house because everybody else in the house isn’t on a strict diet, or you have to cater to other people who are visiting, make sure it isn’t visible. One of the best tricks is to find smaller treats that are individually wrapped.”

Indulging, though, can be inevitable. “One day of indulging will not do anything detrimental to the body, as long as you come back to a clean diet the next day,” MacNeal says. “Don’t be afraid to actually enjoy it for one day.” 

Shake it Off

Dance is a fun way to burn calories without feeling like actually exercising. Julie Berger, founder and artistic director of Media’s Salsa in the Suburbs (1245 N. Providence Road) created her dance studio eight years ago out of a desire to share Salsa dancing. “I taught dance as a teenager. I fell in love with Salsa dancing and I just wanted to share it with anyone and everyone that I would come into contact with,” she says.

For the past six and half years, she’s been in her current studio, bringing varying forms of dancing and fitness classes, including Salsa, Bachata and Merengue, Cha Cha, Ballroom, Ballet, belly dancing and Zumba, to the area. Zumba, a fitness craze trend for the past few years, incorporates Latin dance steps with a fast-paced cardio routine.

“Our teachers are hand picked and have extensive dance and fitness backgrounds,” Berger says. “I’ll take lots of different Zumba teachers’ classes and hand select people I want to come work at our school.” The studio offers about 10 Zumba classes, which typically last an hour, including toning classes that incorporate low hand weights.

The higher cardio intensity of Zumba classes can burn between 500 and 1,000 calories in an hour class. “I think because it’s so fun, a lot of people think of it as addicting, it very easily becomes a part of people’s lives and something they crave,” Berger says. “The burning of the calories happens as a byproduct of having fun and socializing and laughing and interacting.”

Many of her students sign up for classes alone, though she does get some couples coming in together. “There’s a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork and collaboration,” she says, noting that many people quickly make friends in their classes.

While many think that dance classes are for experienced dancers, Berger says she gets all levels and body types, making it a great alternative to gyms. “A lot of people feel bored or uninspired going to the gym. When there’s music and dancing and laughter and socialization, it’s a lot more motivating,” she says. “You’re learning a new skill, your mind is sort of focused on the art form or interacting with your dance partner.”

Whether looking to lose weight, keep the pounds off during the holidays, or simply find a new fitness regimen, there are plenty of options which don’t require a gym to stay fit and healthy this holiday season and into the new year.


Prieto’s Pure Barre is currently offering five week unlimited class packages for $100 and Salsa in the Suburbs is currently offering one free class by signing up online. 

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