Fitness experts experience the same problems that we all experience during the holidays. You know the problem during the holidays and other busy times when your routine is almost impossible to follow. That’s why we reached out to these seven fitness experts to get them to share their favorite holiday fitness tips to battle the major holiday issue when it comes to our fitness goals: time and temptation. Time as in all the things that demand your time and attention that take you away from want you want to do, like a workout. Temptation, particularly around the holidays, with all the excellent food and drink within reach.
Denying the problem doesn’t make it go away, but finding solutions to your problem is where it is at. Coaches are great at giving you direction and accountability and are underrated problem solvers. Here the seven top coaches share their client strategies to help keep you on track during the holiday craziness.
Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D.
Holiday Fitness Tips: Find the Time To Do Some Training, Pre-Eat
Training: Finding time to stay on track with your regular fitness routine around the holidays is challenging. My best advice is to not worry about perfect or the mythical optimal and work to find a way to do something training related to your regular schedule. For example, if you usually do an hour of upper body work at the gym on Mondays, but you find that you only have 20 minutes, instead of skipping it entirely, bang out some pushups, inverted table rows, and body weight squats.
Nutrition: The holidays present many nutritional challenges. You may expect me to say things like, “just buckle down and stick to your macros no matter what,” or some other related nonsense. The truth is that eating is part of the holidays, no matter how you cut the pie. My advice is to fill up protein first before any big meal. Pre-eat 20 -40 grams of protein before the main, and then relax and eat until you are full.
Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D. is a metabolism fitness professional, strength coach, and educator specializing in tailoring nutrition to each individual’s needs.
Andrew Heming, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
Holiday Fitness Tips: Exercise Snacking, Eat Protein First
Training: Exercise snacking is a newer idea in research. The idea is to slip exercise in throughout the day instead of taking time for a complete workout. For example, one might take a 10-minute walk after breakfast, do a set of single leg squats mid-morning, do another 10-minute walk after lunch, do a set of push-ups mid-afternoon, and do a set of TRX rows in the evening.
Nutrition: Eating protein first makes it very difficult to gain fat from protein. It also helps to build and maintain lean muscle. By filling up on protein first, it is easier to enjoy the Christmas treats in moderation.
Andrew Heming, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, a former university head strength coach, professor, and trainer
Chris Cooper, strength and nutrition coach at Nerd fitness
Holiday Fitness Tips: Do What You Can, Don’t Go Back For Seconds
Training: Adjust your expectations. A workout doesn’t necessarily have to be an hour-and-a-half endeavor, especially when time and stress are high during the holiday season. Do what you can base on your available resources and move on.
Nutrition: Never two in a row. If you have one meal that goes off plan or is less than optimal for our goals, the plan is to not back it up with another less than optimal meal. Get back on track the next meal or the next day, so we avoid setting a streak.
Chris Cooper, strength and nutrition coach at Nerd fitness
Detric Smith, trainer and owner of Results Performance Training
Holidays Fitness Tips: HIIT, Don’t Binge at the Party
Training: HIIT it! If the holiday slam is leaving you stressed for time, try short workouts at a high intensity. Even 20 minutes is enough time to burn fat and maintain conditioning. The key here is maintenance. Prioritize compound movements and combos that hit multiple areas at once. Supersets and circuits help you save on rest time and intensify your workout.
Nutrition: Don’t fast before a feast. You’re more likely to get famished and overeat! Pregame the party with a small snack that includes some protein, good fats, and fiber to help curb your appetite.
Allan Bacon, Ph.D., is an online personal trainer specializing in training powerlifters and body composition clients
Holiday Fitness Tips: Focus on the Sets, Prioritize Important Events
Fitness: I recommend making the most out of your time in the gym through advanced training techniques. The following two methods are not superior to straight sets for muscle growth but are often shown to be on par with them in the research, and they can help maintain strength during your busy period until you can get back to your regular schedule.
- Dropsets: Dropsets involve completing an initial set conventionally, then immediately lowering the load (weight lifted) by 25-50% and performing a second set until momentary muscular failure, then dropping the load a third time by 25-50% of the second set and completing a final set until momentary muscular failure. In this manner, you have one conventional set with two “drops” counting as a single overall drop Set. After each dropset, rest as long as you typically would between conventional sets.
- Cluster Sets: Cluster sets involve heavy weight lifted in a triplet fashion, with very little rest in between the triplets (usually 15-20 seconds). Each triplet ultimately counts as a single set in your programming. There are a variety of schemes used in cluster sets, so I will give you one as an example that I often use: 4 sets of 2-2-1. Choose a weight that challenges you for two reps. Start the triplet off with two reps, rest 15 seconds, perform two more reps with the same weight, rest 15 seconds, then perform one last rep to complete the first cluster set of the four total you programmed. After each cluster set, rest as long as you typically would between conventional sets.
Nutrition: Setting a priority list at the beginning of each month. This is good practice every month but is particularly helpful in months you are extra busy with obligations. At the beginning of each month, list the important events you have coming up, and rank them from least to most important. Once you have an order of importance, you can decide on how much, if any, you plan to moderate on these occasions. If you know you have a holiday that is important to you coming up, that office party the week before may not seem as important to you…which can give you the confidence to moderate more on the days you have not deemed a priority.
Dr. Bo Babenko, physical therapist and strength coach
Holiday Fitness Tips: Focus on Smaller Bodyweight Movements, Protein Protein Protein!
Training: Get your movement snacks—10 pushups and an hour or 20 squats between zoom calls, for example. All movements are good, and rather than worrying about getting a full workout when time-stressed, pick one movement and do a certain amount of reps per hour.
Nutrition: PROTEIN!! Focus on protein to be more satiated and help avoid the less-than-ideal stuff. I get most of my clients to hit .7 grams per pound of ideal body weight. And this becomes particularly important when you are pulled every which way during the holiday season.
Raphael Konforti MS, senior director of fitness at You Fit Gyms
Holiday Fitness Tips: 15 Minute Workouts and 5/2 Calorie Split
Training: Keep a 15-minute bodyweight workout on hand. The biggest challenge is staying consistent. Having a workout you can do anytime, anywhere, keeps you consistent. Even as simple as going back and forth between push-ups, lunges, and planks. Working out regularly will cause you to make better fitness decisions the rest of the day around nutrition and sleep.
Nutrition: Follow a 5/2 calorie split. You can try to resist temptation, or you can balance out temptation. The 5/2 diet has 5 days of moderate to high calories and 2 days of low calories, typically low carb and moderate fat. This allows you to indulge and keep overall calories in check. You can exit the holidays without any weight gain if you find two days a week without a party or dinner. It’s best to lift on the high-calorie days and recover or perform cardio on the low-calorie days.
The common theme is that by all means, try to keep up your routine the best you can on the fitness and nutrition side. And when that doesn’t work, and something has to give, use these methods and techniques to stay on the straight and narrow the best you can. The goal during the holidays and other busy times is maintenance.
Happy holidays and see you on the other side.