The Holidays: Still A Fitness Enthusiast's Nightmare

It's that time of year again. The most dedicated and hardcore lifters are still in the gym for two hours a day, six days per week, while the rest of us (a.k.a. the non-loser majority) are facing a time-crunched, often unavoidable four to six week period packed full of bullshit shopping, crowded malls, kick ass family get-togethers, boring-as-all-hell family get-togethers, parties with friends, parties with co-workers, parties that you just crashed, and hangovers.

Then your low carb diet goes out the window when your niece and nephew show up with a tray of cookies they've just baked for you...

And of course there's the first class flight to Colorado Springs, being put up in a top hotel, and attending the Biotest/T-Nation annual bash and having to put up with the annoying Spike girls who just won't leave you alone and keep going on and on about how sexy your accent is, while you and the other writers take turns hitting Eric Cressey (who's sporting very seasonal rosy cheeks, all year long) with a pointy stick.

Or is that part just me?

Seriously, if you can maintain your regular gym routine through the holidays, then more power to you. Keep on keeping on. In my sporting youth, I can remember training right through the holidays, including running wind sprints on Christmas morning to prepare for a fight in mid-January.

At this point in my life, it's just not realistic for me not to expect to cut back on gym time during the holidays. And to be brutally honest, my life is more enhanced by spending time with family members I rarely see than it is by doing another leg workout.

I wrote a similar article to this one last year, and also presented some related "short on time" training tips later in 2006. Both articles were misinterpreted by many. I got a ton of emails and comments about how to adjust the workout if you could "make it to the gym five days per week." And "Is it okay to add extra bench work, or do 30 minutes of cardio, or do extra arm training?" etc.

If you can honestly make it to the gym five days per week during the holidays and continue with your planned workout uninterrupted, then stick to your regular routine and read no further. But for the majority of us, sometimes something has got to give, and when it comes to spending time with your kids and your families, it's often your workouts.

The mistake most guys make during the holiday season is trying to fit their regular workouts into their busier, more unpredictable holiday schedule. This never works. All that ends up happening is they inevitably miss workouts, feel frustrated, and don't make any progress. They do too much for it to count as recovery work, but don't do enough to actually make any gains.

Not us. We, as Chris Shugart is fond of saying, will "display adaptability."

So this year, why not take a proactive approach and make a conscious decision that for the two to three week period at the end of the year (or perhaps for a few weeks longer to avoid the newbie rush in January), you're going to switch to a customized workout designed around your lack of time and availability?

Instead of trying to work around the limitations, we'll use them as our parameters. That way it's almost guaranteed that we'll succeed.

So, regardless of our long term goals, whether they're fat loss, strength, or hypertrophy, maybe we can use the holiday season as a mini off-season. Spend some time with your families and friends, regroup and recharge a bit, and at the very least maintain your fitness qualities. And quite possibly, because of an entirely new training stimulus, we may even come back refreshed and able to attack our New Year's program with even more intensity.

The Plan

We're going to try to train three days of the week. If you can't do that, then training three times over 8-10 days is fine.

We're also going to focus on undulating rep ranges, so that (should we have to because of scheduling) we can train three days in a row without repeating the same workout. But if we can only get into the gym once every three days, we still hit each body part twice in any seven or eight day period.

Is this optimal? No. But is it practical and doable? Absolutely.

Option #1: The Total Body Enthusiast

We're sticking with an undulating periodization program that will target all major muscle groups in a variety of rep ranges.

Workout Sample (Cycle through an A-B routine)

Week One

(Workouts will take between 25 and 40 minutes in general.)

Week Two

(You can obviously continue if necessary or stretch it out so that you get three workouts in over 8-10 days instead of seven. Whatever works best with your schedule.)

"A" Workout Sample

A: Dumbbell (DB) snatch

B1: Single DB overhead squat (Hold a DB at your side, twice the weight of the overhead load – e.g. 10lbs overhead, 20lbs at your side). Perform the reps for each side.

B2: Bentover barbell row

C1: Single leg Romanian deadlift (RDL)

C2: Incline DB press

D1: Prone abdominal hold ( e.g. plank) 2 sets (30-90s)

D2: Rotational abdominal work (e.g. woodchops) 2 sets of 10-12 reps

"B" Workout Sample

A: RDL bentover row combo (perform one rep of each)

B1: Single leg squat variation (e.g. pistols, Bulgarian split squats)

B2: Wide-grip chins

C1: Back extension or Glute ham raise

C2: YTWL exercise

D: Abdominal circuit: Trunk flexion/ Hip flexion/ Lateral flexion – 1 exercise of each in a circuit. 10 reps of each. Perform 2 circuits.

E: Lower back stabilization exercise (e.g. bird-dog, cobra etc). One set of 60-90 seconds.

Option #2: The Split Routine Aficionado

We'll use the same workout parameters as the total body enthusiast, but we'll concentrate on an upper and lower body split routine.

Workout Sample: Cycle through an A-B routine.

Week One

(Workouts will take between 25-40 minutes in general and all loads should be heavy enough to bring you close to failure.)

Week Two

Workout A: Lower Body

A: Front squat

B: Reverse lunge from a box

C1: Glute ham raise or back extension – 2 sets of 8-12 reps

C2: Swiss ball crunch – 2 sets of 8-12 reps

Workout B: Upper Body

A1: Barbell bench press

A2: Bentover barbell row

B1: DB military press

B2: Chins

C1: DB curls, 2 sets in the designated rep range

C2: Weighted dips, 2 sets in the designated rep range


If you recognize the challenges the holiday season brings with it, you're smart enough to know that you can't fulfill your regular workouts, and you're open-minded enough to try these new routines, then I expect you'll make greater progress in January than any year past.

Enjoy the holidays. Best wishes to all of you!