When your roadmap is clearly laid out and you’ve got the right plan in your pocket, getting or staying in shape isn’t as hard as you think. Whether you want to put on some new muscle or add plates to your deadlift, you usually only need a few good, uninterrupted months of consistent training to get there.
However, the holiday season can be a pretty big disruption in your regularly scheduled training, but if you’re worried about losing your hard-earned muscle, fear not. Thankfully, the holidays land predictably at the same time each year, which lends itself to a bit of creative strategizing when it comes to retaining gains.
Whether you’re dealing with travel, tempting treats, or extra time with family, you need a convenient way to stay active during the festivities. Here are the five best holiday workouts.
The Best Holiday Workouts
- Best Holiday Workout at Home
- Best Holiday Workout While Traveling
- Best Holiday Workout for Calorie Burn
- Best Holiday Workout for Muscle Maintenance
- Best Low-Intensity Holiday Workout
Training at home can be awesome. There are fewer people, no scrambling for equipment, and you only have to hear the music you actually like. The downside is that there also can be less space or equipment to utilize during your workouts, so leaning into the strengths of what you have at your disposal is essential.
At-home workouts are often about getting the biggest bang for your buck while training with a minimal setup — at least when compared to a full gym. For example, if hypertrophy training is the goal, generating enough fatigue to come close to muscle failure during a set likely means using pre-exhaust or set-extending techniques. Calisthenics, supersets, and drop sets are great tools for at home workouts.
To perform this workout at home, all you need is a good set of dumbbells.
- Push-Up: 3 x AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible)
- Dumbbell Bench Press + Dumbbell Flye superset: 3 x 10, 3×15
- Dumbbells Skull Crusher + Bodyweight Dip superset: 3 x 12, 3 x 12
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 3 x 12, 10, 8 as a drop set
- Plank: 3 x 60 seconds
Travelling can be a stressful experience, and worrying about optimizing your gains while on the run could get a bit hairy. Instead, focusing on maintaining your mobility, stability, and endurance is a much better option to bridge the gap until you’re back in the gym.
Bodyweight and unilateral exercises will be super effective here. When external load is difficult (or impractical) to come by, using single-leg and bodyweight variations of major movement patterns is the way to go if you have to train in a hotel room or at the airport. Using suitcases or other handy ‘implements” is another solid way to mimic the challenge of gym weight.
- Front Foot Elevated Split Squat: 2 x 12 per leg
- B-Stance Suitcase Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 12 per leg
- Lateral Lunge: 3 x 10 per leg
- Deficit Push-Up: 3 x 10
- Suitcase Carry: 3 x 20 steps per side
Calorie control over the holidays is a contentious topic. The joy of home-cooked meals or holiday treats are hard to resist, but they also pack a big punch when it comes to caloric density. One way to offset the boost in calorie intake is to temporarily try to match it with a boost in large, full-body compound exercises.
No amount of exercise will ever outwork practicing discretion when it comes to chowing down over the holidays. That said, life is about balance. Enjoy your meals and give this style of workout a try!
30 Minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
- Bodyweight Jump Squat: 10
- Reverse Lunge: 10 per leg
- Burpee: 10
- Reverse Lunge: 10 per leg
- Bodyweight Jump Squat: 10
Rest when necessary, and attempt to complete as many rounds as possible within 30 minutes.
For those without a gym this holiday season, muscle maintenance is much easier than muscle gain. Muscle is also lost a lot slower than you might think, and thankfully, workouts can be designed to delay it as much as possible. As long as intensity remains high, reduced volume might not be as detrimental in the short-term as many think — especially if you have less experience in the gym. (1)
Increasing weight over time is only one way to challenge your tissues. You can also maintain muscle through the accumulation of metabolic stress (or the “burn”). If an abundance of machines or free weights aren’t available, training to near-fatigue through higher reps is also a viable short-term option for muscle maintenance. (2)
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 x AMRAP
- Dumbbell Bent-Over Row: 3 x 15
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 x 20
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 20
- Dumbbell Floor Press: 3 x 15
The best low-intensity workout is anything you can do outdoors, with friends and family, or activities that may only be seasonal. While holiday training is often viewed as suboptimal, it’s important to remember that stress management and enjoyment are a huge part of longevity in training. Sometimes the best thing is to take advantage of the fact that what is normally available is absolutely not an option – and not to stress about it at all.
Some great options for low (or moderate) intensity holiday exercise with family and friends that take advantage of the season could be:
- Ice Skating
- Winter Hikes
Barriers to Holiday Workouts
The overarching theme of many holiday workouts is the fact that normal training conditions have been made unavailable in some way, shape, or form. Some common barriers to staying active over the holidays may include limited equipment, limited time, or on the contrary, excess time.
It can be hard to stay motivated when the gym environment isn’t always available during the holidays. Travel, closures, or perhaps even an unwelcome snowstorm may make access to a full gym more difficult, but it doesn’t mean that maintaining progress needs to be completely forgotten.
Limited time due to travel, social engagements, or even odd working hours can definitely play a role in causing barriers to working out over the holiday season. Condensing workouts into more efficient, fast paced circuits or maintenance routines are great work-arounds. There’s also the option of picking up daily yoga as a short-term counterpart to normal resistance training.
While limited time may seem obvious, an excess of time during the holidays can also serve as a demotivator. When fast-paced schedules finally slow down, it can be easy to sleep in, get a slow (or no) start to the day, or lose track of time. Staying on top of a routine, even when time seems abundant, can help prevent a rut from forming in normal training habits.
Benefits of Holiday Workouts
While it may seem like the easy option to just forgo workouts altogether during the holiday season, there are quite a few benefits to hanging on to some semblance of training normalcy. Maintaining a routine, deloading from hard training cycles, and pure enjoyment are all benefits to working out over the holidays.
Consistency of working out is one of the most powerful tools in realizing any goal throughout the totality of all training styles. The longer a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise can be maintained, the more likely it is to reach any goal. Maintaining the momentum of a consistent set training time, even during the holidays, prevents the need to re-establish the habit of working out.
Training hard all year round can be a very taxing experience. Deloads are a normal tool meant to reduce training volume, intensity, or some combination of both in order to allow the built-up fatigue to dissipate.
Planning a deload around a natural period of lowered intensity training is a brilliant way to take advantage of the disruption that the holidays tend to provide.
Another obvious but often overlooked benefit of working out over the holidays is enjoying the pleasure of exercise itself. Training for health or specific performance goals are often the centerpiece of workout planning, but simple, non-specific activity for the sake of enjoyment is another valid — if not the most valid — reason to work up a sweat over the holidays.
Not everyone has their normal training routine disrupted during the holidays, but for those that do, there are always options to stay productive. Although it may seem stressful, there’s not a ton of damage that can be done to derail strength, hypertrophy, or cardiovascular performance within that short of a time period.
Even if you do find yourself on a break from the gym during the wintry months, don’t fret. The bounce back is exceptionally fast — so train where you can, don’t stress when you can’t, and above all else, enjoy the holidays.
- Bickel, C. Scott; Cross, James M.; Bamman, Marcas M. (2011). Exercise Dosing to Retain Resistance Training Adaptations in Young and Older Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), 1177–1187
- Schoenfeld, Brad J (2010). The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857–2872
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