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December holiday fitness challenge

December Holiday Workout Challenge | UPMC Health Plan

Unpredictable winters in Pittsburgh sometimes prevent us from getting outside to walk, run, or participate in other outdoor exercises we enjoy. The holidays also make it challenging to get in even the quickest of workouts when your schedule is jam-packed. This month, we are making those indoor workouts less painful by adding in variety and using equipment that most gyms have.

Workouts consist of rowing, cycling, treadmill, and strength options. Each one is between 20 and 30 minutes in length with warm-up and cool down included. This month we haven’t included a calendar because the goal will be to complete two or three of the indoor cardio workouts and one of the strength workouts per week. Within these guidelines, any option you choose will give you a total of 150+ minutes of activity during each week of the holiday season.


 Rowing works your core, upper body, and lower body as you move. It’s a low-impact exercise, so most people find it easy on their joints. And the best part is that it’s challenging for all fitness levels.

Row workout 1:

Warm up for five minutes. Then choose five of your favorite songs, each at least three minutes long but no longer than five minutes. Next, start rowing at a moderate intensity. During the chorus of each song, pick up the speed and head to a high-intensity pace. Once the chorus is over, return to moderate effort. Recover for 30 to 60 seconds between songs. Cool down for five minutes and stretch.

Row workout 2:

This workout is pyramid style. Each set has the same amount of recovery but varying work periods measured in meters. Warm up for five minutes, then start.

  • Interval 1: Sprint for 100 meters, rest for 30 seconds.
  • Interval 2: Sprint for 200 meters, rest for 30 seconds.
  • Interval 3: Sprint for 300 meters, rest for 30 seconds.
  • Interval 4: Sprint for 400 meters, rest for 30 seconds.
  • Interval 5: Sprint for 500 meters, 30 seconds.
  • Repeat backward, then cool down and stretch.



Indoor cycling can challenge your cardiovascular endurance as well as your mental strength. If you have time to go to a class, most of them incorporate steady riding with intervals and hill climbs to really focus on cardio and strength. But if you don’t have time to attend a whole class, try one of these workouts for a quick blast!

Cycle workout 1:

This workout is all about control through a longer set. Warm up and then head to a mid hill where your cadence is around 80 RPM at a moderate effort. Each set you will push your cadence to a hard effort (about a 6-9 on a scale of 1-10), then recover.

  • Interval 1: Hard effort for 60 seconds, recover for 30 seconds.
  • Interval 2: Hard effort for 90 seconds, recover for 45 seconds.
  • Interval 3: Hard effort for 2 minutes, recover for 1 minute.
  • Interval 4: Hard effort for 2:30, recover for 90 seconds.
  • Interval 5: Hard effort for 3 minutes, recover for 90 seconds.
  • Cool down and stretch.

Cycle workout 2:

This workout is heart-pounding and fun at the same time because it has three big hill climbs in it with each one getting a little longer in duration.

  • Warm up five to six minutes before beginning at an easy to moderate pace.
  • Hill 1: 1 minute on a flat road, 1 minute on a mid hill, 1 minute at the top of a hill, 1 minute of recovery.
  • Hill 2: 2 minutes on a flat road, 2 minutes on a mid hill, 2 minutes at the top of a hill, 2 minutes recovery.
  • Hill 3: 3 minutes on a flat road, 3 minutes on a mid hill, 3 minutes at the top of a hill, 3 minutes recovery.
  • Cool down and stretch after the last set.



Running may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a great way to vary indoor routines and get a quick and effective cardiovascular blast in.

Treadmill workout 1:

This workout is perfect for when you want to get into the gym and back out in 20 to 25 minutes. You can adjust based on whether you want to run or walk, and how challenging you want the workout to be.

Minutes MPH Incline
Warm up 3 1
3:00-3:30 3.5 3
3:30-4:30 3.5 5
4:30-5:00 4 7
5:00-6:00 5 1
6:00-8:00 4 4
8:00-8:30 4.5 6
8:30-11:00 5 7
11:00-12:00 3.5 1
12:00-13:30 5.5 2
13:30-14:00 5 7
14:00-16:00 4 1
16:00-17:00 5.5 3
Cool down 3 1

Treadmill workout 2:

This workout is for those of you looking for speed and a great challenge.

  • Warm up
  • 1-minute run at 70-85% max
  • 1- to 2-minute recovery
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Cool down and stretch


Total body strength exercises

Complete 10 repetitions of each set (or what you are able to) for a total body blast.

  • Sit-up
    1. To start, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with heels placed flat on the mat or ground.
    2. Next, place your hands on opposite shoulders (arms crossed across the chest) or behind or either side of your head. Note that it’s important not to grab or pull your neck or head.
    3. Time to engage your core by making sure the small of your back is being pushed into the floor. Draw your belly button into your spine, tightening the abdominal muscles.
    4. Begin to slowly and gently lift your head and then your shoulder blades off the floor or mat. Next pull up from the floor (keeping your core engaged) until you are at a 90-degree angle and your elbows are on or past the knees.
    5. Hold this position for a second or two, then slowly lower your torso back to starting position.
    6. Finally, remember to breathe throughout the exercise. Think exhale as you exert. In this exercise the exhale is on the way up and inhale on the way down or at the bottom of the exercise.
  • Squat
    1. To start, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
    2. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward with your head forward, looking at a spot on the wall throughout the entire exercise.
    3. You want a strong base. This means your weight should be on your heels and not your toes. Give them a little wiggle just to make sure.
    4. Arms can be in several positions: out in front with palms face down and bent at the elbows, or behind your head being careful not to pull on the neck.
    5. Take a deep breath and flex your knees and hips to sit back in your hips. Visualize sitting back into an imaginary chair. As you progress through the movement, keep your head forward and back straight.
    6. Lower your squat so your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as close as possible depending on flexibility). Stop when your knees reach a 90-degree angle and avoid extending your knees past your ankles, which could cause injury.
    7. Finally, engage your core, exhale, and push through your heels to get back to the starting position. Make sure to focus on squeezing your glutes and driving your hips up.
  • Push-up
    1. Start on the floor and set your hands at a distance slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
    2. Feet should be about shoulder width apart. Depending upon your strength, you may choose a wider stance in your feet. The wider your stance, the more stable you will feel when starting out.
    3. You will want to think of your body as a straight line throughout the movement, so make sure your hips are not up in the air or sinking down.
    4. Position your head to be looking slightly forward in front of you. Always avoid looking straight down and never tuck your chin.
    5. To start the push-up you want to slowly lower your body until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle, keeping your elbows close to the body. Many people fan their arms and elbows out for the push-up and it can put stress on the shoulders, so try to avoid it.
    6. Pause for a moment and explode back to starting position.
  • Burpee:
    1. Start by standing with your feet hip width apart and your arms down by your side.
    2. Next, lower into a squat position, placing your hands flat on the floor in front of you.
    3. Then, kick your legs backward as if you were headed into a push-up position and lower your chest to the floor.
    4. Next, complete the push-up and then thrust both feet forward so you are back in the squat position.
    5. Finally, jump up and raise both hands over your head.
  • Jumping jacks:
    1. Start out standing with your feet together and your hands at your side.
    2. Next, jump your feet out to the side and raise your arms above your head.
    3. Finally, reverse that motion by jumping back to your starting position.
  • Planks:
    1. Start with your hands directly under your shoulders as if you were about to go into a push-up position.
    2. Next you want to make sure that your toes are pointed into the floor, making sure you are not locking your knees. Try to squeeze your glutes (butt) here to help with stabilization.
    3. Next, position your head so that your neck is in a neutral position. You can do this by picking a spot on the floor just beyond your hands to stare at. This will then put your head in line with your back.
    4. Finally, hold the plank for the allotted time making sure to breath throughout the exercise.
  • Lunges:
    1. Start with your chest lifted, chin up, abs contracted and feet parallel and hip-distance apart and knees soft.
    2. Next take one giant step forward and lower your body slowly, bending both knees, and creating two 90-degree angles, then return to standing.
    3. Repeat on the other side for one repetition.
  • Bicycle crunch:
    1. Start by lying on your back with your hands behind your head and legs raised and bent at 90 degrees.
    2. Next, alternate knee to elbow by bringing opposite knee to opposite elbow.
    3. Hold each rep for a count and then switch sides.
  • Bicep curl:
    1. To start this exercise, place two dumbbells in your hands, keeping your elbows close to your torso and palms up.
    2. Next start to curl the weights towards your biceps until the dumbbells are at shoulder level.
    3. Pause at the top and slowly release to starting position.
  • Overhead triceps extension:
    1. To start this exercise, stand with your feet hip distance apart holding one dumbbell with both hands, bending at the elbows behind your head.
    2. Next straiten your arms to lift the dumbbell into the air towards the celling keeping your elbows pointed forward, biceps stationary and only the forearms moving.
    3. Finally lower the dumbbell to starting position.
  • Dead lift:
    1. Start with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs.
    2. Next, bend at your hips to lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
    3. Remember to keep the weights close to your body.
    4. Finally, return to standing — that completes one repetition.
  • Hip bridge:
    1. For this exercise you will start on your back with your knees bent and feet hip width apart.
    2. Next you want to slowly bring your spine off the floor starting with your tailbone. As you start to head up, remember to tighten your glutes (butt) and hamstrings (back of the leg).
    3. The goal is for the body to have a long and slanted line from your shoulders to your knees.
    4. Hold this for a few seconds and then lower back to starting position, back flat on the floor.