The Christmas holiday period is typically extremely busy and can also be extremely indulgent with everyone gorging themselves on a sumptuous Christmas dinner and enjoying plenty of holiday hospitality with family and friends. In short, health and fitness is not generally found at the top of Santa's naughty or nice list.
Yes, Christmas is a time of celebration, and often excess, frequently resulting in firm New Year’s resolutions to get fit and lose weight, so it’s not surprising that many people struggle to maintain a healthy focus in December. If your fitness takes a back seat at this time of year, you’ll probably identify with some of the following problems:
- I’m too busy with Christmas preparations to fit exercise into my day.
- I get invited to loads of indulgent Christmas parties.
- I love Christmas but I know I overdo the eating and drinking.
- In January, I always have to try and make amends for the effects of the festivities.
If any of those phrases ring a few bells, these tips can help you. To enjoy the Christmas celebrations and maintain a healthy focus, simply follow our festive fitness guide which includes:
- Maintenance exercise routines.
- Time efficient exercise strategies.
- Calorie saving ideas.
So that when the festive season draws to a close, you don’t have a mountain to climb to get back in shape.
Keeping your fitness routine going
One of the hardest things to do when your time is in short supply is to maintain an exercise routine. If you usually exercise a few times a week, the extra demands on your time can mean that something has to give. However, reduced training doesn’t mean that your fitness levels have to plummet. Research has shown that a couple of weeks of maintenance training can result in minimal or even no fitness losses.
Indeed, in certain cases performance can actually improve after a short period of reduced training because the body has the opportunity to recharge and rebuild. Hence on returning to full training, you can find that you have renewed vigour and enthusiasm for your sessions. If you enjoy regular workouts, try the following tips for effective maintenance training:
Commit to stay fit
Simply plan, inform and execute. Plan in some shorter and/or less frequent exercise sessions. Explain to your friends and family the changes you’re making, but also the importance of keeping your fitness going, and then put your plan into action.
A little exercise is better than nothing
Accept that your workouts will be shorter but also realize that they can still provide training benefits.
- If you usually enjoy several jogging or running sessions, cutting your training time by half will still keep you fit.
- Instead of completing two or three sets of each resistance training exercise, reduce it to one or two sets. Your session will take less time but you’re still exercising the same muscles, so your strength won’t disappear.
Quality over quantity
If your typical training week includes some more challenging sessions, it is important to maintain them. Instead of interspersing them with recovery workouts where you exercise lightly, focus on every session being high quality. You can then omit the easier sessions, which will save time. A recovery session now becomes a rest day. The key to success with this strategy is to make sure you don’t let up on the quality of each workout. That way you are keeping your ‘fitness edge’ that you’ve worked hard to achieve.
In addition to focusing on maintenance training, you can also employ strategies within your workouts that save time. An additional benefit of some time-saving strategies is that the quality of your training session also improves.
Resistance training workouts
A typical session with weights in the gym involves completing two or more sets of a range of exercises, with a recovery period of anything between 30 seconds and several minutes between each set. This recovery period is an essential component of your training, but it is time during the festive season that you can ill afford to spare. Instead of relaxing and recovering between sets, for a change, try carrying out complementary exercises during the recoveries, for example: alternating between the following muscles:
- Chest and upper back
- Biceps and triceps.
- Abdominals and lower back.
- Quadriceps and hamstrings.
Cardiovascular (CV) workouts
Every workout should include a thorough warm-up and cool-down so there is no opportunity to save time there. However, in the main body of your session, there is an opportunity to reduce the duration but still get calorie burning and quality training benefits. Instead of doing a ‘steady-state’ CV session, try a few of the following time saving alternatives.
Five minutes brisk followed with five minutes easy
Whether you’re jogging outdoors or working out on a piece of gym equipment, alternate faster efforts with equal time recoveries. You get a greater training effect than just a steady workout and so you can cut your session time down yet still remain fit.
A short, intense time-trial
Again, any piece of gym equipment can be used, or walking, jogging or running outside. Decide on a time or distance that you’re going to exercise for and then after your warm-up, really go for it against the clock. It’s tough – but great training and a shorter session brings as many benefits as your usual longer workout. Always remember to include a thorough cool-down afterwards.
Hill training programs
For a change, select a hill training program, vary the resistance on the rower, cross-trainer or bike, or simply put more effort in on the hills for your outdoor training. This way you are substituting more quality for steady-state training, so a shorter workout brings greater benefits.
Simple calorie swaps and savers
Christmas is always a challenge to keep your calorie intake at normal levels but with a little planning you can still enjoy all the festivities and keep the calories in check. Simply try the three calorie saving ideas below to keep your weight under control at Christmas...
Watch the home measures
If you only get three glasses of wine out of a bottle, your 80 calories a glass shoots up to 160 calories a glass, so stick to standard measures if you can.
Standard potions of stuffing, combined with other trimmings such as bacon, sausage and sauce can easily total over 500 calories. Just sticking to stuffing and using the roasting juices as gravy will slash those calories by half.
Christmas pudding and mince pies are delicious – and also high in calories. However, when smothered in brandy butter or double cream, the calories go through the roof. Try some crème fraiche or yogurt as an alternative and you cut out fat and save calories.
Christmas all wrapped up
Most people will struggle with limited time and tempting fare at this time of year but with a little planning, the festive season can be enjoyed and healthy. By training smartly and following a few sensible eating strategies, you can maintain your fitness, balance out your calories and arrive at the New Year in good shape.