Q: I need some advice on what to do during the holiday season. I hear that a lot of people take off training during the month of December, since their diet is totally shot anyway. Do you take time off? What do you suggest?
A: No, I don’t take time off from training during the holidays. In fact, I’ve rarely taken time off in the past 14 years. During my first 12 years of bodybuilding I would usually take two weeks off after my last contest of the year and two weeks off at Christmas. I had read that it was good to take off a couple of weeks at least twice a year. I quit doing it because I repeatedly found that in two weeks I’d add too much bodyfat and lose muscle, strength and endurance. Not only was it discouraging to see the negative changes in my body composition, but I also found that by the end of the layoff my body hurt worse from not training than it did from the soreness of training.
What’s more, the first few workouts back would just feel horrible, and I’d get ridiculously sore on top of everything. After 12 years of hating the time off, I decided to stop taking it. Here’s what I do now: When I feel that I’m getting stale and need a break from training, I reduce my weights by 40 to 50 percent, but I continue to do the normal number of sets and reps. The light workouts are actually boring for me; I like to work out hard. Still, they let my body recuperate while still maintaining my muscle and keeping my metabolism up. After two weeks of easy training—if I last that long—I’m eager to hit it full tilt again. I’m refreshed without the deconditioning that takes place from laying off completely.
Back to your question about the holidays: Don’t give up. It’s so important not to miss workouts, especially at that time of the year, when you may be taking in more—maybe a lot more—calories than normal. Every year I see that the gyms are much less busy from Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Many people have the attitude that since they’re partying and blowing their diets, they’re wasting their time working out. Workouts are never a waste of time.
Okay, so maybe you put on a few pounds from all the great food and drink that you have during the holiday season. If you’re not working out, it’s going to be worse. Hitting the gym is going to maintain your muscle and metabolism. If you don’t work out, you won’t be burning off any extra calories. You’ll also lose muscle and strength, and your metabolism will probably slow down, making it even easier to gain fat. Keep training hard, and at the very least you’ll minimize the damage.
Here are some helpful ideas for helping you survive the holiday parties with your physique intact. Number one, if you drink alcohol, leave the sweet drinks alone. They contain a lot more calories because of the sugary mixers, and most folks drink more because they taste so good. Plus, you suck them down faster. Instead, have your mixed drinks with a calorie-free mixer—water, soda, rocks. Or choose wine, so you’ll be more likely to sip rather than gulp. It’ll last longer, and you’ll drink less.
Fill your glass with water twice for each alcoholic beverage that you drink. Often friends put another drink in your hand if they see you with nothing at all. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of alcohol you take in at a party will decrease the calorie total and make it less likely that you’ll completely give in and pig out on all the bad stuff.
Most hosts these days have trays of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. Go for the good stuff first. It’s likely that you’ll eat less of the rich, high-calorie foods and sweets if you’ve already eaten enough turkey, veggies and fruit to be satisfied.
Enjoy your holidays. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate with family, friends and coworkers. But don’t give up. Get your workouts done on a regular basis, and you’ll hit the new year running. When the New Year’s resolutioners are all dying of extreme soreness after the first few days, you’ll already be looking great and planning to trim off a few holiday pounds—instead of dozens of them.