The Holiday Survival Workout

Heavy Lifting
Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images

It’s that time of year again: the holidays. And that means nobody’s expecting you to hit the gym and work out four days a week as usual, or to keep up your low-carb diet in the face of your great Aunt’s delicious—albeit ab-killing—recipe for triple-decker lasagna.

However, we do expect—no, we demand—that you keep off the extra five pounds this season anyway, comfort food be damned. And when you see how simple it is, your holidays—and post-holiday season—are sure to be a lot happier. Again: Simple, not easy.

Most fitness magazines sell you short around the holidays—they figure you’re not going to have much time to work out between your snow shoveling, shopping for gifts, and cooking, so they give you some wussy workouts designed to help you “maintain” the shape you’re in while stress, traveling, and food take their inevitable toll. But we’re not letting you off that easy, and you’ll thank us for it in the New Year. We promise.

Consider this fact: The average American gains more than 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We’ve lost track of how many people we’ve seen every January who are struggling to get back into their November shape. Their New Year’s resolution is always to drop 10 pounds—but it’s the same 10 pounds they just gained in the last two months! Now imagine being able to lose five pounds in that same time frame. By my calculations, that’ll make you 15 pounds leaner than your co-workers when you head back to the office on January 2.

But to take off that weight, you must do more than just maintain—you need to make gains. While our Holiday Survival Workout promises to be one of the most physically taxing regimens you’ve ever tried, it’s also one of the shortest and most flexible time-wise.

Furthermore, you won’t even have to curb your gluttonous feasting to reap the benefits. So grit your teeth, and give it a try.

The plan

When you do make time to work out over the holidays, it seems like everyone else has, too. This program eliminates the problem of both scheduling conflicts and crowded gyms, freeing up your week and ensuring you get the most out of your workouts when you can make it to the gym. Here’s how it’s done:

Work out two or maybe three times a week

When you’re busy, one of the worst mistakes you can make is trying to stick to your regular routine. Before you know it, you’ve missed a day or two, and—because you figure by then that your momentum is blown—you quit. Instead, try out our plan. All we’re asking is two days out of your week. Choose any two days to work out-as long as they’re not back-to-back (you’ll need at least a day to recover between sessions).

Pick one weight and stick with it

You’ll be doing what’s called a “barbell complex“—a method used by Eastern European weightlifters to increase their work capacity and strip their bodies of excess fat. It combines the benefits of lifting and cardio, and it works like a circuit. You’ll do five barbell exercises, performing one after the other with no rest in between, using the same weight for all. That’s right—grab one barbell, load it up, and use it for the entire workout. Not only will it be enough to work you like a dog, it’ll keep you from having to compete for equipment or space. Also remember that the goal here isn’t superheavy lifting, it’s survival.

You must choose a weight that lets you keep up the pace and complete all the repetitions for each exercise. Don’t worry if it seems like you’re not “bombing” each muscle group-these exercises work a lot of muscle at once, and the speed with which you’ll have to transition between them will give you plenty of stimulation to stay strong and get you lean. As a result, your whole workout will last, at most, 10 to 12 minutes.

  1. Deadlift
  2. Bentover Row
  3. Hang Clean
  4. Thrusters
  5. Overhead Squat


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