Try These Thanksgiving Classic Workouts for the Holidays

flag football
Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division participate in flag football at Falcon Field, Fort Bragg, N.C., May 22, 2017. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse Leger/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division)

For many of us, the hours leading up to the Thanksgiving feast are a time for getting outside and moving a bit more than usual. After sleeping in on a day off, many will find themselves ready to do something physical before enjoying a large meal and watching football the rest of the day.

Here are some of my favorite go-to activities that can be a part of your Thanksgiving Day.

Turkey Trots

These community gatherings are usually family-oriented, five-kilometer running or walking events that often raise money for feeding or clothing needy families. Get out and enjoy a 3.1-mile event and feel like you have earned that big meal.

Turkey Bowl

There is nothing more fun than a flag football game on Thanksgiving Day morning with friends and family visiting for the long weekend. If you have the numbers, get out there and enjoy the morning with a friendly neighborhood game of football.

Sometimes, these turn into tackle football games and can get pretty serious, but unless you want a Thanksgiving Day trip to the emergency room, opt for the less-intense version and go with two-hand touch or flags.

Longer Cardio Workouts

Thanksgiving is a classic morning for runs, rucks and long bike rides if you are looking to work the heart and lungs and burn some calories. If you live in warmer climates or gyms are open for you, you can amass a huge calorie burn and also add other options such as swimming, elliptical or rowing machines. Set a time for 60-90 minutes and mix in multiple 15- to 30-minute cardio segments to help break the monotony, if needed.

Hero Workouts

Over the past 20 years, Thanksgiving Day morning has become a perfect workout period to honor the fallen and thank people for their sacrifices and service. If you need some ideas for hero workouts, check out The Hero Workouts, a book written by my friend, Carter Henry. There is not a better way to honor the fallen, give thanks for their service and get in a tough workout than to do a hero workout before a Thanksgiving Day get-together.

My Personal Favorite

My friends, neighbors and family have been joining me for a Thanksgiving Day classic every year since I got out of the Navy in 1999. We do a variety of workouts, but the one element that has stayed the same is -- you guessed it -- the PT Pyramid.

Depending on the group, this workout is scalable for different fitness levels by adjusting sets, reps and exercises to make them either easier or much tougher.

Using a set of outdoor pull-up bars, we mix in short runs, pull-ups, push-ups, dips, core exercises, squats, lunges and carries of either gear or people (fireman carry), all mixed into a pyramid-style workout.

The great thing about the pyramid is that the workout starts off easy and creates a good warmup, builds up to a near-max effort level, then returns in reverse order as a nice cooldown.

We follow the pyramid with a moderate distance run or ruck to create our Classic Turkey Day Workout, now going on its 22nd year.

For ideas on how to use the pyramid, see the related links below:

The goal of the Turkey Day Exercise Day is to get out and enjoy some activity prior to a big meal with your family and friends. If you had one of those typical rushed weeks full of deadlines and travel headaches, you may want to opt for an easier version of activity and just walk and stretch.

Take a mobility day to de-stress as the holidays and hurried work and social schedules can turn an enjoyable time with friends and family into an anxiety and stress-filled event. Get outside and breathe some fresh air and try to relax before, during or after your family event. The goal is to stay healthy and live well. I hope you enjoy the start to the holidays and find reasons to be thankful.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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