Forget the gym —3 ways to burn calories without HIIT or lifting heavy weights for the holidays

Two males holding a forearm plank outside during sunny workout
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As we enter the holiday season, it’s not that easy to maintain weightlifting or HIIT routines. If you plan to travel or spend more time with loved ones at this time of year and heavy weights or gym access is limited — here are three ways to burn calories without them. 

That means you can put down your dumbbells, the kettlebells, gym machines and barbells because the three techniques we list below don’t involve heavy lifting, running or HIIT — at all. 

We recommend tying on a pair of the best running shoes to keep your feet protected and putting your best foot forward with these three calorie-busting exercise routines instead. 

Forget the gym — 3 ways to burn calories without HIIT or heavy weightlifting

1. Increase NEAT

If you’re interested in learning how to burn calories by switching up your daily routine, we’ve got you covered — it’s called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT. Seriously, if you have limited time or access to the best home gym equipment, this will become your new calorie-burning best friend. 

NEAT simply refers to energy expenditure outside of sleeping, dedicated exercising and eating. If weight loss is your goal and you’re currently trying to tip the scales of energy burn in your favor (staying in a calorie deficit and consuming fewer calories than you expend), this is one way you can boost your chances.

While we don’t recommend counting calories for extended periods, especially over the holidays, any additional movement you can clock up throughout the day could help you tear up calories — walking part of your commute, standing more often, or taking up a hobby like cooking or gardening, for example. 

According to research, NEAT could help with weight control, and accumulating movement could increase your metabolic rate, helping burn calories. Your basil metabolic rate (BMR) refers to the number of calories your body needs to survive; it accounts for around 70% of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), alongside exercise (20%) and the energy expended when digesting food, called the thermic effect of food (TEF).

As those percentages suggest, even one intense HIIT workout or run equates to a small portion of overall energy expenditure. Everyone will have a different journey when trying to shed pounds, and it varies depending on your exercise routine, but NEAT could help tick things along without the pressure if you can't get to a workout.

2. Take walking workouts

If your daily walk isn’t helping you clock up many steps or you’re getting bored easily, a walking workout could help burn more calories than a standard stroll with the dog. Don’t get us wrong, some of the writers on our fitness desk own a dog and love nothing more than getting out in nature with their fluffy friends, but sometimes it’s stimulating physically and mentally to shake things up. 

TikTok can be credited with sending several treadmill walking workouts viral, like the Taylor Swift treadmill strut, which saw Swifties everywhere strutting along to Taylor’s music for 36 minutes. But if you’re not using a treadmill and prefer to take it outdoors, simply experiment with your pace, inclines and declines. 

For example, begin gently walking to warm up your muscles, then every 30 seconds, increase your pace to hit a brisk power walk. We were surprised by just how beneficial power walking vs running could be for your physical health, and it’s a brilliant idea for supercharging the metabolism and burning calories without HIIT or weightlifting. 

If you live in a hilly area, add hills for an extra challenge and focus on RPE (rate of perceived exertion) on a scale of 1-10 to track your efforts, or use a fitness tracker, if you prefer. The first few minutes should be a low effort (1/10), and the last few minutes should be closer to 10. 

Despite how satisfying it is closing your Apple watch rings, the benefits of walking extend beyond it to include building stronger bones and muscles and increasing cardiovascular fitness. A brisk walk can boost your metabolism, calorie burn and mood, and here’s what 30 minutes of walking each day can do for your body

And no, you don’t need 10,000 steps. The latest research suggests even 7,000 could be enough. Here are some of the best walking workouts to add to your routine, plus how to do them. 

3. Try calisthenics

At Tom’s Guide, we love bodyweight training as much as we enjoy lifting heavy weights or going for a run, and you can still build strength and muscle using this functional training method. 

All you need is one of the best yoga mats and your body, making calisthenics arguably the most versatile training method. It can act as a stepping stone for beginners who want to start weightlifting, build foundational strength and muscle, and help people progress toward advanced gymnastics. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, calisthenics refers to functional bodyweight strength training like push-ups or squats and can also encompass advanced exercises like muscle-ups, planches, or handstands. While weight training can be subdivided into sub-maximal and maximal weight lifting (here’s more on hypertrophy vs strength training to help determine the difference), bodyweight training taps into your ability to move with your own weight, sometimes alongside a pull-up bar, stairs, or resistance bands. 

It’s great for your joints, muscles, ligaments and bones, and when done regularly, could counteract muscle atrophy and injuries associated with aging.

Three men performing body weight squats outside

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found significant upper body strength increases following a calisthenics regime compared with a bench press group. Even a simple combination of compound exercises like push-ups, squats and pull-ups several times a day could be beneficial. Some studies like this one by the European Heart Journal have shown that short bouts of as little as 15 to 20 minutes of exercise throughout the day could positively impact your health. 

Although the study refers to intensity as the driving factor, spreading short bursts of exercise throughout the day accumulatively increases NEAT, burns calories, boosts mood and hits physical activity goals. If you’re keen to give it a go during home workouts, this calisthenics workout uses just 4 exercises to build full-body strength and muscle.

More from Tom's Guide

If calorie burn isn’t relevant for you, here are other ways to rev up your training efforts.

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.