Ahh, the holidays. That magical time of year when bells are ringing, joyful spirits abound, and those hard-earned muscle gains you made throughout the year go poof!
Thank you, random chocolates that keep showing up uninvited in your house. And you, heaping helpings of Aunt Edna's loaded casserole. And you, that second slice third slice entire pumpkin pie. Thank you all.
While you can't and shouldn't sidestep all of these seasonal excesses, you can take a few evasive actions to mitigate the damage. Here are seven ways to stay (mostly) on track this December while still partaking in some of the end-of-year cheer.
1. Simplify Your Diet
Fitness enthusiasts often run into trouble because they try to treat December like any other month of the year, dutifully plowing ahead with their regular meal plan. That may sound admirable, but it's a recipe for frustration. No one wants to nibble on rice cakes while friends and family are feasting on turkey stuffing.
Instead of trying to stay completely on the straight and narrow and then gorging yourself when your resolve finally slips away, take a more moderate approach. By all means, stick with your diet for the most part. But for St. Nick's sake, make room for some cheat meals.
Go to those parties with the eggnog and ginger cookies flowing. Build yourself a huge sandwich out of leftovers. Just remember to eat clean on those other days. Holiday cheats are gonna happen, so don't kick yourself if you've been a little naughty diet-wise. 'Tis the season of forgiveness, after all.
2. Simplify Your Training
Your six-day-per-week, double-split, abs-and-calves-every-other-day approach will be hard to pull off while navigating the shopping and party circuit. Even if your training regimen isn't quite as crazed as all that, this is still a great time to clear out the clutter from your program.
Sweep away the extra exercises you picked up on a whim in 2016—the sets and reps you tacked on here and there, the parade of intensity techniques you crammed in for good measure. If you can't trim your waist right now, at least you can trim your program.
For example, here's a simple upper/lower split you can use to start anew. Do each workout twice per week, perhaps Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday while taking off Wednesday and weekends.
3. Create Shorter Workouts
Over the holidays, you might find that you don't have time or the energy for your usual 60-90-minute sessions. No matter.
Instead of skipping workouts altogether, find ways to squeeze in shorter, more convenient sessions. For instance, if you want to go to the gym but need to get done faster, just perform half of the upper-body or lower-body workouts listed above.
Or you can do a quick bodyweight-only or band routine at home, like this:
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To finish the workout even faster, combine these 12 moves into three giant sets, doing the first four exercises listed as a group, then the second four, then the third four. Do 2-3 rounds of each group, based on how much time you have.
4. Pig Out With Purpose
Wait a minute... Remind me how I'm supposed to stay fit while eating everything in sight. For those of you whose goal is to increase your size or strength, excess calories can be a good thing.
If you're a hardgainer by nature, or just want to boost your mass or power and have had trouble kick-starting the process, a season of gluttony could be just the gift you're looking for. Feel free to overeat throughout December. But couple that free-for-all mentality with intensive mass or strength workouts to put those extra calories to good use.
If you're after strength, build your program around the three core powerlifting exercises with a bench day, a deadlift day, and a squat day, doing sets of 6 reps down to singles.
If it's mass you want, follow a traditional bodybuilding split, so each body part receives maximum attention:
- Monday: Chest
- Tuesday: Legs
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Back
- Friday: Shoulders
- Saturday: Arms and abs
- Sunday: Rest
5. Phone a Friend
When your focus flags, it helps to have someone to steer you back on track. As you enter this season of excess, connect with a like-minded fitness fanatic from your social circle. Whether a workout partner or just someone you can touch base with regularly to "talk shop" about your program and goals, this person can help you tame those crazy urges and keep you in line.
Trust us, you'll have no shortage of bad influences this season. Having someone in your corner who gets it can serve as a valuable counterbalance. Beware, though, this tip can backfire unless you choose your fanatic wisely.
6. Stoke Your Motivation
The holidays are notorious for fitness derailments. Temptation exists everywhere, from the sweets your well-meaning but obviously devious office mates keep bringing in, to the comfort food spread across the family table.
Step away from holiday temptation every once in a while and press "play" on something that motivates you. Watch the original "Pumping Iron" with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or maybe the "CrossFit Games" or "World's Strongest Man" repeats on ESPN do it for you. Or maybe you need to binge-watch all the old "Rocky" movies. (Except "Rocky V," of course. That one was just sad.)
Whatever inspires you to go to the gym and get your swole on, put those video breaks into your schedule. I mean it; enter these appointments right into your phone's calendar, complete with reminders.
7. Try Some New Supplements
If there are supplement categories you've been considering but haven't tried yet, now may be a good time to experiment.
Maybe you haven't given pre-workout formulations a go, or want to try a fat-loss supplement. Or maybe it's something even simpler, like trying a new protein powder or BCAA product that's been on your wish list.
It's hard for even the most committed among us to stick to our super-serious workouts during the holidays. So instead of getting down on yourself for failing, make this a time of experimentation, a time to try some new things before you get back into your regimen. You'll feel better about yourself—and you may even discover some new things that re-energize you for the new year ahead!