the joy of strength training


December 13th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Staying focused over Christmas

Photo credit peterastn

A reader suggested I write about staying focused over Christmas. It’s a great idea and so I shall.

At this time of year there will doubtless be many magazine articles suggesting ways in which you can navigate the demands of the festive season, ‘survive’ the office Christmas party and all that nonsense.

My take is different: I say sod all that, why should Christmas be any different from the rest of the year?

It’s basically a big, fat excuse to be lazy about your health because you’ve got more shopping to do than normal. If you see Christmas as an opportunity to let it all hang out, you probably need to re-examine your motivations for better health and fitness.

Dan John tells a harsh story about a woman who was on a diet and in the last few days of her diet she said she was looking through cookbooks, presumably planning all the indulgent meals she was going to have once her diet was finished. As Dan says, “she failed”. Because what’s going to happen the day after she ‘finishes’ her diet? Or the month after? Or six months later?

If you’re looking forward to Christmas as a time to eat, drink and be merry excessively before knee-jerking into detox mode in January, then you’ve failed.

The ideal situation is to evolve a diet and training regime that can take the odd indulgent meal or party in its stride, and cope with the demands of family life, especially around holiday times. If you really can’t keep strictly to your usual routine – and I realise we all have people in our lives who simply don’t get this concept – then here are some things to think about:

Short, sharp workouts

Have some short, intense workouts ready that can be done in 10 or 15 minutes a day. If you can’t find 10 or 15 minutes a few times a week, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Burpees with a push up really get my heart rate going, so any routine incorporating burpees works a treat. Mix them up with push ups, air squats, swings with a kettlebell or dumbbell if you have them, some kind of overhead press and you’ve got a great circuit. Do 15-20 of each as many times as you can in 10 minutes. Or make up your own combination.

More workouts from gubernatrix:

Be inventive

You don’t have to have a kettlebell or a dumbbell. An overhead press with a bag of compost or something else from the shed (nothing sharp, people!) works just fine. Go crazy and make it a clean and press. Then add in some windmills or turkish get ups – which again can be done with many different implements if you haven’t asked Santa for a kettlebell this year.

Christmas parties/drinks

I’m not about to preach to anyone about alcohol but if you are serious about your health, diet and training, you gotta keep a lid on the drinking. Really. There’s no way around it. Drinking is detrimental to athletic performance, fat loss, muscle building, recovery – you name it.

It’s your choice how many times you drink but Christmas should not be an excuse for guzzling more alcohol than you do the rest of the year. I meet plenty of people who say that they are ‘not prepared to give up’ their drinking, or most of it. That’s fine, but they will find it much more difficult to achieve their health and fitness goals than those who do.

Get outside

I always go for a run on Christmas day before lunch. Not because I’m a huge running fan but because getting out in the fresh air on a national holiday is just nice. People smile more, the kids are excited. It freshens you up before lunch. If you can’t get out on Christmas day, Boxing day is always a good option. It’s generally the day when everyone gets up off their arses and goes out with the family, so make it an active one!

Start healthy Christmas traditions

My Christmas day workout/run has been a part of my Christmas tradition for a few years now and when I have kids, this will be part of our family tradition too.

It could also be a great way to keep the kids entertained after they have broken all their new toys. ‘Honey can you bench press the kids while I’m putting the roast on?’

In the UK countless families have evolved a ‘tradition’ of huge, belt-popping meal, followed by falling asleep in front of the Queen’s speech, followed by heading to the pub if they haven’t already passed out. Don’t let this be you!

Have a goal for the festive season

It’s easy to let goals lapse over the festive season. We tend, sometimes subconsciously, to plan for December to be something of a black hole where normal routines are concerned, knowing that we can ‘start again’ in January.

Be different this year. Have a plan that starts now and takes you right through the festive season. This will keep you on track better than that nagging voice telling you that you need to do ‘something’ to stave off disaster.

Have a goal for mid January, whether its fat loss or skill based or an increase in your lifts. You can achieve a lot in a month.

Need a bit more help to stay focused? Want a new toy?

A goal to be ready for your goals?

If you’ve let things slide recently, how about having an interim goal to be in shape for purusing your longer term goals?

So instead of starting off your new programme in January feeling fat and unfit, start it feeling reasonably good and ready for more. If you want to drop fat next year, perhaps have an interim goal to maintain over the Christmas period. If you want to improve your lifts, have an interim goal to work on some of your weaknesses in preparation. If you don’t want to push the heavy weights, use these few weeks to learn/improve a skill – the olympic lifts or leverage clubs perhaps.

I’m planning something along these lines myself. I’m refining my diet to get it in shape for the new year (I find it’s useful to ‘practise’ a new diet before getting into it properly), I’m getting in some practise on key skills that I want to develop in 2010 and getting outside for some short sharp workouts. Perfect!

What are your experiences of getting through the festive season unscathed?

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  • 1

    Great post Gubes.

    One of the things I try and tell people who seem to pig out and then start a detox in Jan, is that Christmas is just one day! It does not run from 1st Dec to 1st Jan.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have treats as they appear in the office, but don’t see it as an excuse to eat anything and everything for weeks on end.

    It also means I can have Xmas day off from exercise – although after a few hours with the family I tend to want to get out of the house and do something active.

    Your bench pressing the kids idea is a good one – I don’t have a kettlebell so use my 2 for kettlebells swings and bodyweight squats with them sat on my shoulders (thankfully they are both under 3 so I may give up on this in another year or 2) – it keeps them entertained long after I have run out of energy. Maybe you should have a full post on ways to use the kids for exercises!!!!

    hatter on December 14th, 2009
  • 2

    Hey thanks for the tips you are absolutely right. I am not going to make the same mistakes as last Xmas. Now on to those quick & dirty push-ups!

    Carmen on December 14th, 2009
  • 3

    Nice Post – I agree with you a 100%, it is just one day. I actually am challenging myself to make it through December and January better than when I started. Got a friend to join me and now there is a prize at the end of January for whoever made the best progress according to their challenges.

    Barb on December 14th, 2009
  • 4

    @ hatter: I don’t want to be responsible for breaking anyone’s kids! Children seem to love being thrown around though; me and my sisters’ favourite game when we were little was to lie in the hallway pretending to be ‘rubbish’ so that my dad could pick us up and chuck us out (onto the sofa), whereupon we’d fling ourselves down on the floor again. And again. And again. Poor man, the only sport my father ever played was chess!

    gubernatrix on December 14th, 2009
  • 5

    @ Barb: that is a great idea. Nothing like friendly competition to keep the motivation high.

    gubernatrix on December 14th, 2009
  • 6

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  • 7

    i love this website its one of the best ive ever come across i love the authors views and comments very well balanced view on training and diet very well done and thanks tim james , blackpool england

    tim on December 16th, 2009
  • 8

    Loved the reminder not to eat like a pig over Christmas!
    I have to admit though – at first – I thought the photo of roasted veggies was a big pile of wine gums (it was early – I wasn’t quite awake yet)!
    Now, I REALLY like wine gums (really, really like them. I can hear their voices, calling me to eat them ;-)), but, thanks to this article, I’m going to steer clear of them this year – veggies for me!!
    I’ll try to avoid bad puns like going “cold turkey”…oops…

    Moose on December 17th, 2009
  • 9

    @ tim: Thanks so much, I’m really stoked you like it! See you again soon.

    @ moose: a-ha! you have the solution – veggies are sweets, kids! Seriously, I am going to try to fool my mind into thinking this as I have the world’s most ferocious sweet tooth.

    gubernatrix on December 17th, 2009
  • 10

    Hey there – great post.

    Christmas party season can be absolute hell for eating if you get invited out to lots of people’s places. I’ve dealt with it this year by hosting all the parties and only giving people sensible-sized portions of food that fits with our diet. Most people have said they’ve appreciated not being force-fed large meals that they know are bad for them, which makes you wonder about human mentality.

    I so love the idea of you going for a run on Christmas Day. In the same vein, we usually go to bed early on New Year’s Eve and get out for a long bike ride early on New Year’s Day. There’s never anyone out on the roads, it’s blissful!

    Ammi on December 19th, 2009
  • 11

    Ammi, interesting point about human mentality. I am very weak-willed so I have to surround myself with healthy stuff.

    gubernatrix on December 19th, 2009
  • 12

    I thought the pic was of sweets at first glance too!

    I have no hope of staying healthy over Christmas as I’m going to my parents’ and they have no concept of the word. It’s a nightmare. Unfortunately I have no self control either so if it’s there, I’ll eat it. At home, we just don’t have the bad stuff or we’d all pig it all.

    Still, I’m going to the gym as much as I can this week in preparation, and same when I get back, so hopefully not too much damage will be done, and it’s only 4 1/2 days at the parents’…

    nickyhusky on December 19th, 2009
  • 13

    Poor you nicky! My long-suffering mum who is aware of my predilections on food has asked me what type of foods she needs to get in for me, bless her. It’s basically going to be a nut and fruit fest, with some dark chocolate as a treat.

    But I know many in your situation!

    gubernatrix on December 19th, 2009
  • 14

    Wow, your mum’s great! Mine buys all the puddings she thinks I’ll like! I do, of course, but that’s besides the point…

    … had to laugh at your idea of going for a run on Christmas morning, by the way. There speaks someone who doesn’t have kids and doesn’t have to cook the Christmas lunch! Nice idea if you can manage it though.

    nickyhusky on December 20th, 2009
  • 15

    Yup, no kids, but I will certainly have Christmas lunch duties! I tend to get the run done early.

    gubernatrix on December 20th, 2009
  • 16

    […] Stay Focused over Christmas  […]

  • 17

    I wish I could have found this article before christmas!
    Although it wasn’t too bad – I managed to eat as healthly as I could on the day and I guess the scales will tell me how well I do over the next week or so!

    Diane Corriette on December 27th, 2009
  • 18

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  • 19

    […] rules of thumb Staying focussed over Christmas What’s your food […]


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