It seems like it starts earlier every year…
For some, the holiday season starts with Halloween. For others, it’s the week or so before Thanksgiving. Whenever it begins for you, this time of year presents a challenge for your fitness routine. The holidays should be a pleasant time where we are thankful for the company of friends and family.
It often turns out to be the most stressful time of the year! Holiday parties, family gatherings, traveling to or hosting relatives, and all that shopping for the perfect gift. That’s a lot to handle!
With all the food related celebrations, holiday weight gain is a particularly stressful topic for many. It doesn’t have to be though, and I’m here to show that you can make it through happy, healthy, and without gaining weight! Below are a set of guidelines that will help you make your way.
Your Trusty Holiday Survival Guide
Rule 1: Maintain
If time is tight and you’re off your normal routine, trying to make progress while adjusting to all that is going on is a recipe for frustration. Focus on maintaining versus losing weight. This allows you to enjoy a few holiday meals without depriving yourself and removes any guilt associated with “falling off”. This is especially true around the holidays, but this rule can be applied to other hectic times of year as well.
Rule 2: Keep Exercising!
Time is tight and you may not be able to get to the gym for your usual high powered workout. That is fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop completely. Remember, the goal is to maintain. 20-30 minutes of exercise will keep you in the habit, improve your mood if you’re stressed, keeps your appetite in check, and helps maintain your current fitness level. If you don’t have 30 minutes, research shows that 10 minutes of intense exercise can be just as effective as 30 minutes of moderate activity. Have at it!
Rule 3: Stick to a schedule and don’t skip meals
A plan is helpful for most situations, so take a few minutes and make a new schedule for your current situation. Start by eating a good breakfast and eating throughout the day. This will make overeating at dinner less likely.
Rule 4: Get rid of leftovers
Freeze them, send them home with guests, do something with them, just don’t leave them sitting around for you to pick at over the next few days.
Rule 5: Make one trip and make it count!
It is tempting to say “forget this, lets eat!” and turn every holiday dinner into a free for all. Just remember that you are in control here. If you are serious about staying focused on your fitness and weight loss goals, you can have your cake or pie and eat it too (what’s the point if you can’t eat it?). Use the “one plate” rule for parties and family gatherings. You are allowed one plate at dinner, no second trips. Choose your favorites and enjoy.
This is something I have always done during the holidays, Thanksgiving in particular. When I was in high school, basketball tryouts were always early the morning after Thanksgiving. Pigging out wasn’t an option, but I didn’t want to miss out on apple pie, mom’s mac & cheese and my other favorites either. I experimented with this idea and found it to be a perfect compromise between having a satisfying dinner and still being able to perform on the court the next day. It worked wonders for me then, and it will work for you too!
Rule 6: Enjoy yourself!
You’ve worked your tail off in the gym and been mindful about nutrition all year. Don’t stress out over a few holiday meals and a few missed days in the gym. There’s an entire year around the corner for you to make it up. It’s good to take a break from mentally and physically pushing yourself so you can recover and continue to reach for bigger and better goals. Consider this your break. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, so relax and enjoy the company!
I had a conversation with a client recently that made me stop and think for a while. She commented on the advice and coaching throughout the session and how helpful she found it, both in and out of the gym. It’s part of the job and automatic at this point, so I tend to think nothing of it. I thanked her for the compliment and then tried to think of a time when I was in her shoes.
Sit back, put your feet up, and relax. Its story time!
Flashback to 1997 and a gym somewhere in suburban New Jersey.
About halfway through one of many basketball practices, the coaches split us up to practice free throws. Right behind sprints, this was my least favorite part of practice. I had a lot of work to do in this area and I was a very inconsistent shooter.
I must’ve missed several shots in a row, because our “shooting coach” felt the need to chime in…
“Jay, you’re a horrible shooter.”
And that was it. Nothing else. No help, no advice. Nothing. From the shooting coach. The coach who’s job it was to help us improve our technique. To say I was angry is an understatement. As an athlete, you get used to coaches pulling you aside to tell you where you messed up. I didn’t mind the criticism, but the other coaches would tell you something you could learn from and use next time. This guy gave me nothing. Thanks for the help, coach!
Here’s my question: if you’re a coach and see a player struggling with some aspect of their game, why open your mouth to criticize if you have no intention or ability to help them? To any personal trainer and coach, fitness sports or anything in between, I ask you the same question:
why criticize and berate your clients if you can’t do anything productive to help them?
This approach does nothing to correct or solve any problems It is confusing at best, and discourages people from trying at worst.
There’s a much better way to go about it.
Compare that experience to my brief time practicing with the basketball team in college 2 years later.
During one evening practice, the coaches had the big men together working on free throws and post defense. My free throw shooting was better, but not by much. After a few shots, the head coach came over and explained what he saw that was causing me to be so inconsistent. He told me what to do and what I should focus on while on the line.
Within 5 minutes there was a noticeable improvement. Mind blown! Even after I quit the team I continued to use his advice when I played or went to shoot around.
These two experiences stick with me to this day as examples of what to do and what to avoid when coaching people on exercise, nutrition, and daily habits that lead to better health.
Of course, fitness is much different than sports, but coaching is an important part of both. In all my experiences with coaching, on the receiving end as an athlete and student and on the providing end as a personal trainer, these are a few of the things I believe make great coaches stand out:
1.Observe, listen, and do something helpful.
Being critical is fine, but also give them something they can do to improve. It’s silly to have to say it, but this is what coaching is! If you’re coaching a client with nutrition, don’t yell at them for having a bad day. Listen to them and discuss what they can do to get back on track and solve the issue going forward. Instead of “wow, your push ups look awful!”, show them how to do it right. Train them. This is what you’re there for!
2.No advice is better than bad advice.
Sometimes its better to just be quiet. The last thing anyone needs is more bad advice that doesn’t help them solve their problem. If you can’t help, keep it to yourself.
3. Communication is key.
As a coach, you have an understanding of fitness, nutrition, sports, or whatever your chosen field is. Your knowledge is useless if your clients don’t understand you when you speak. Big words and industry specific terms are fine when talking to colleagues, but your clients most likely don’t care. Skip the buzzwords and learn to speak their language. The better you can communicate, the better their results will be.
4. Be patient.
It would be great if everyone was 100% on board and ready to go from day one, but that’s not how it works. People progress and learn at different speeds. Understand that it takes more time for some than it does for others. Encouragement, reminders, and even a little “tough love” are all fine, but don’t hold it against them or get mad because they aren’t getting it as fast as you want them to.
Fitness. Exercise. Working out. Training. Whatever you call it, it is a tool that can significantly improve your life in many ways! Improved strength, appearance, health, confidence, and more.
Much like a hammer, a saw, or a wrench, you must learn to use your tools first. This learning process means a lot of bent nails, ruined wood, stripped bolt heads, and a fair amount of swearing and frustration. Maybe a few band aids as well. Nothing wrong with that, mistakes are part of the learning process. In fitness, this would probably mean missed workouts, falling off your food plan, or possibly an injury from overdoing it in the gym. Again, this is how we learn what works and what doesn’t.
Learning to use a hammer means bending some nails
As you gain experience with these tools, your ability to use them also improves. The hammer requires less effort to swing. Your cuts with the saw become more precise. Getting to the gym regularly doesn’t require as much thought and planning. Food prep is easier, and your squat technique is starting to feel more natural. This means you are improving!
Over time you may learn that your needs require an upgraded set of tools. A few screwdrivers were enough before, but now an electric drill is a necessity. The training plan you started with to lose 20 pounds worked great, but your new goal of finishing a marathon or entering a powerlifting competition requires a more advanced program.
Keep your “fitness tools” in good condition. Find the most effective ways to use them and regularly add new tools to the box so you can easily complete any “project” that comes your way.
We can learn a lot from history…
Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized personal transportation, lost financial backing and support twice before finding success with the Model A. He never lost sight of his vision, learned from his mistakes and applied that knowledge forward until he got it right.
Many stories tell of Thomas Edison’s experiments to perfect the incandescent light bulb. The numbers range from 300 to 10,000 experiments, but he never stopped and used every “failure” to make the next one better.
Abraham Lincoln, one of our most famous presidents, lost a lot in his life.
He lost his wife and son, went out of business, and lost six elections for public office before being elected President of the United States. Now there’s a lesson in not giving up!
There’s a lot to learn from the past, and we can use that to create a better future. What is the take away from these examples?
An obstacle only stops you if you allow it to.
Whether it is your 1st, 2nd, 10th, or 100th try, KEEP GOING!
Do something different. Learn from what went wrong and use that to help you succeed in the future.
Stay focused on your goal. Don’t let any setbacks or challenges stop you. In fitness or anything else, “failure” only happens when you stop trying.
One of the biggest myths surrounding success, especially when it comes to weight loss and other fitness goals, is the idea that everything – nutrition, exercise, sleep, supplementation, has to be “perfect” from day zero for any progress to be made. This just isn’t true. The unrealistic expectations that come from this myth discourage so many people and I would love nothing more than to get rid of it forever!
Where to start? How about the simple fact that “perfect” is not your goal? Your goal is to make progress. Losing inches, gaining muscle, running faster, putting more weight on the bar. That is what this fitness thing is all about. Progress! You do not need to be perfect to make progress.
Forget perfect. Improve your game!
I’m not much of a sports fan, but this is the perfect place for a sports analogy. A baseball team can still win if the pitcher doesn’t throw a perfect game or several hitters strike out. A football team can still win if the quarterback throws an interception or a player fumbles the ball.
Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, had a career shooting average of 49%. He missed half of the shots he took! A quote from the man himself: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Through all the missed shots and lost games, he never stopped playing. This is just a guess, but I’d say he learned something from every missed shot and used that to adjust his game.
When it comes to exercise and nutrition, a “bad” or missed meal does not mean the day or week is ruined. You can always adjust, get back on track and continue working towards your goal. The same goes for training. A few missed workouts or bad days in the gym won’t ruin all your hard work.
You don’t need to be perfect to win, but you do have to keep playing. Taking action, learning how to adjust, and being consistent are far more valuable. Keep taking shots, keep working, keep “improving your game” and you will be successful.