The holidays. For a time of year that’s largely a “vacation,” it sure feels like a whole lot of work. Factor in online shopping binges, essential family errands, household chores, and hours and hours of planning safe travel—to say nothing of your decadent diet—and you’re looking at the worst month of the year for training. But the truth is, you don’t have to throw in the towel until January 2. You just need to be extra diligent about organizing your reps amid the revelry and other distractions. That’s why we’ve come up with this, your definitive 30-day plan.
Step 1: Calculate the number of days per week you exercise
Here’s our surefire formula:
Take the number of days your exercise each week and multiply it by four—that’s the number of workouts you do in a less-hectic month.
Now subtract the number of parties you’ll attend during the holidays—researchers found that the average adult goes to more than four between Thanksgiving and New Year’s—as well as the number of nights you’ll need to shop post-work.
Divide that number by four, and you’ve got the average number of days you’ll (realistically) be able to exercise.
So if you workout four days a week, have six big, can’t-miss parties (you’re cool!), and need to set aside two nights for shopping, you’re looking at two days per week of pure gym time.
Finally, consider the impact of your social commitments. The late nights might affect your sleep cycle, throwing off your traditional morning workout routine, so before you commit to the revised training schedule, predict how your body will feel.
Step 2: Identify the best days for you to exercise
Choose which days of the week present the best opportunity to achieve your goals. These are your official “training” days. For example, if two of your parties are on different Thursdays, you should eliminate the subsequent Fridays off the bat.
Step 3: Determine the length of your workouts
Estimate the minimum amount of time you’ll need to exercise on the busiest of your training days.
Let’s say you penciled in Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday.
Maybe you exercise early in the morning, which isn’t a problem on Tuesdays but is an issue on Saturdays. There’s your potential problem.
Since there’s always the chance something could unexpectedly come up, base the workouts on what you do know: the amount of time during a typical lunch hour, or before work in the morning. Start with that total, subtract whatever time doesn’t contribute to your workout (e.g., getting to the gym and showering), and what’s left equals the “base” exercise time you’ll have to achieve each day’s workout.
If you have time to spare, even better—you can always exercise longer than planned. But this approach ensures you have a concrete minimum and gives you the best chance to follow a winning game plan.
Step 4: Choose your mode of exercise
You want a combined program that’s two-thirds weight training and one-third cardio, which is best during the holidays. Why? It ensures you devote enough time to each base exercise.
If your week includes three training days, lift weights two of the days and perform cardio on one, or do both weights and cardio on all three days—but don’t forget, your time in the gym is precious.
Here, some workout guidelines:
Perform a full-body workout at least two days, and avoid lifting on back-to-back days. For each workout, pair an upper- and lower-body exercise, and alternate sets, resting 30 seconds between each. Repeat until you complete all the planned sets.
Emphasize exercises that work as much muscle on each rep as possible.
For lower body: squats, deadlifts, lunges, and stepups.
For upper body: presses (bench, incline, shoulder), rows, and chinups.
And remember, variety is key:
Alternate between 6-8 reps and 12-15 reps each session.
For continuous cardio, head for the treadmill, stationary bike, and row machine, and go further or burn more calories each session, so you’re constantly challenging your body to do a little bit more.
If you do intervals, run or cycle at your top speed from start to finish for one minute, then slow to an easy pace for one minute. That’s one round.
Do as many rounds as you can, making sure to include enough time for a five-minute cooldown.
Personalize your plan
Once you’ve designed your program, you’ll need to calculate the percentage of time you’re prepared to allocate for working out.
The Weight Workout
The amount of time you’ll spend lifting will depend on the number of reps and the speed at which you perform the movement, but on average it takes one minute to perform one set of one exercise. Add in the 30-second rest period, and that one set takes 90 seconds.
So if you have 18 minutes to lift, you can perform a total of 12 sets. You could do 12 sets of one exercise, two sets of six exercises or even one set of 12 exercises, but as a general guideline, aim for at least two sets of each exercise. This is the best way to train as many muscle fibers as possible—which, of coures, should be your main goal.
The Cardio Workout
Cardio is a bit easier to plan for: Just subtract the time you’ve allotted to your warmup, cooldown, and weightlifting, and use the remainder to perform your continuous cardio or interval work.