This time of year presents many amazing opportunities. We often get a few days off work for the various holidays we celebrate, allowing us to sneak in more training or family time. With family and friends around, these opportunities might also result in a loss of training rhythm since we often choose to spend more time at social events and family gatherings. The weather also may eliminate training opportunities as the temperatures and snow start to fall.
I have always valued the importance of routine and consistency. However, there are certain times each year that prohibit routines, causing us to adapt our training. Here are my top tips for navigating an ever-changing life schedule and getting through the holidays with minimal fitness destruction.
First: Adjust your expectations…a little and prepare for the adjustment by planning. Write down your entire schedule from now through the first or second week in January. Write down every day off and every day you will be out of town. Include any social responsibilities that will impact your normal training routine. Once you have done this, determine how many training days you will miss. Next, write down the days you have training opportunities that you normally don’t have. Try plugging in some “missed days” to your days off or your existing workouts. Most of us will net out fewer days to train, but that does not mean we have to do less overall training volume.
Second: Take advantage of other opportunities to stay fit. You have all heard the phrase make hay while the sun shines. Well, the holiday season is all about making hay when you have the opportunity. When you get a few days off work, you might be able to get a few more workouts in. It is OK at this time of year, even if they are back to back. The key, when you get in a little two- to three-day holiday training block is to keep the intensity a bit lower early in the block so you can manage two to four days in a row. It will help keep the training effective. These blocks will move the needle when it comes to getting stronger and banking some volume. This can hold you over a bit during the windows when you are not able to train. For those of you who might be traveling, figure out what training tools you have at your disposal in order to stay active. There are often rental bikes in warm climates, hotel gyms to get good strength work or decent swim and run opportunities. Try to map out a workout plan that incorporates these things to keep your fitness while away from home. It is important to remember that places you visit might also have local activities or events, like scuba diving, snorkeling, skiing, wake-/snowboarding, etc., that keep you more active than just sitting around. Try to encourage your travelmates to get up and get moving too.
Third: Enjoy with moderation and be mindful of your diet based on your activity level. Watch your diet and really try to keep your weight in check. Often, the holidays create opportunities to eat and drink more. If your training volume is reduced, you will gain weight unless you also reduce your caloric consumption. The math is pretty simple on this one. Now, gaining a couple pounds over the holiday season is OK because we want to be able to enjoy the festivities, but putting on five to ten pounds is not good and you will not be happy with the deadly combo of gaining weight and losing fitness. So remember to base your diet on your activity level and enjoy within reason.
Fourth: Keep your eye on the ball. Have an early spring goal? Keep your focus, but learn to be OK with losing a little fitness. Just having the goal on the books will increase your mindfulness toward better choices. It is important to enjoy the holidays, vacations, parties and out-of-town guests even if you know it will negatively affect your fitness. This is when prioritizing your fitness comes into play. Making the most of the time you do have helps reduce the stress of meeting early season goals and allows you to keep your eye on the ball while also keeping in mind that the fitness goals/events can never be at the expense of things that are more important in our lives. Believe it or not, this is an acquired skill. Once you understand there are ways to limit the effects of training loss, you can start to have fewer of those feelings and better engage in the opportunities this time of year brings.
Enjoy the holidays, make hay when you can and, once the holidays are gone, focus more fully on your spring goal. Whether it is a half-marathon, a cycling training camp or an early season triathlon, getting back to your routine and tuning up your diet will get you back on track and who knows? maybe some of those holiday fitness blocks will leave you in a better place than before the holidays started.
Good luck and happy holidays!