By: Barbell Logic Team

Part of the holiday training slump stems from the attitude that training is just like work. You take time off work for the holidays, and it seems natural to also take time off from training. Before you do, though, consider why you started training in the first place. It wasn’t just to give you another chore during the work week. It wasn’t some form of self-flagellation. It was to do something beneficial and positive in your life. You’ve chosen to engage a process that reshapes the structure of your physical self and that refines your psyche. You do this for the value it brings to you, not because it is work.

Happy Holiday Training

Some lifters thrive through the holiday season, others seem to take a holiday from training as well as work. The holiday season can be busy, many people travel or host family, or really just don’t feel like training during the holidays. But training and celebrating the holidays shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. We don’t suggest missing your kids opening presents so that you can go squat, but consider the following reasons why Training and Holidays go together like turkey and stuffing, like milk and cookies for Santa, like squats and fahves.

Recover Better: The First Three Question

The Starting Strength adage is that “You don’t get stronger from lifting weights, you get stronger from recovering from lifting weights.” And this has lead to a series of troubleshooting questions that we almost always ask when a lifter first gets stuck during training.

  1. How long are you resting between sets?
  2. How big a jump are you taking in weight on the bar between workouts?
  3. How much, and what, are you eating, and are you getting enough sleep?
    “The First Three Questions,” Mark Rippetoe.

Watch this video with Dr. Sullivan for a more complete discussion of the First Three Questions.

As Sully says, Question #2 is an issue of greed. But the other questions are issues of time and recovery practices. And they are perfectly addressed in holiday training.

You are used to squeezing in training between commitments and eating what is available. For your holiday training, one of your first priorities should be to carve out more time (not less) for training. You cannot do this most other times of the year, but when you are off from work and the rest of your day is filled with R & R, taking a little bit more time can make your training a lot more enjoyable. Rest more between sets; this will make your hard sets more manageable and it will break your usual routine. If you are, or have been, stuck or you are in a phase of training where lifting is starting to feel like a chore, just setting aside a little more time for training can be just the thing you need.

Then, of course, there’s the food. Training creates a need for calories for two reasons. First, as with all physical exercise, training depletes your energy reserves and engages a process of replacing them. Second, training at sufficiently high intensity disrupts your body’s homeostasis and engages the processes of getting stronger, which requires protein, fat, and carbs to build muscle, bone, and tissue. Even if you don’t go ham on the turkey and pie, whatever extra fuel you take in is better spent lifting. Extra calories, extra protein, and homemade deliciousness is great for training.

That same hormonal process that tells your body how to use the extra energy is most effective when you are sleeping well.

“It would be hard to overstate the importance of sleep to the lifter—it may well be the most important anabolic factor within our control.” Practical Programming for Strength Training.

Any extra sleep you are able to get is another reason to train during the holidays. Extra sleep is the best tonic for good training and effective recovery you can take.

This makes the holiday season ideal for training.

  1. Take longer workouts
  2. Eat Homemade Food
  3. Sleep More

Rather than feeling like training is taking away from your time off, take the time to have some of the best training of your year.

De-Stress

Of course, the holidays are not always filled with fun, family, good food, and good cheer. They can be an intensely stressful time as well. If this is true for you, it may mean that the above benefits of holiday training don’t apply as readily to you. Stress, depression, and anxiety are anathema to good training. But this is not a reason to stop training during the holidays. Actually, this is an even more powerful reason to take some personal time and lift.

Training affects your mood and mental health. In a short review of literature discussing the link between physical exercise, depression and cognitive performance, Dr. Puder concluded that

training for physical strength is important for enhanced ‘brain strength,’ and has been shown to treat depression and improve cognitive function. Those who had the highest strength gains experienced the highest improvements in their mood issues. Strength gains also improved cognitive performance. Therefore, strength training should be another tool used in the treatment and prevention of psychiatric issues. In particular, I practice and recommend the ‘Starting Strength’ model for strength training due to the technical nuance and effectiveness that occurs in strength acquisition.

You can read more about this connection here: David Puder, MD and Amul Shah, MD, “The Prescription of Strength Training For Treating Depression And Optimizing Cognitive Performance” (Aasgaard 2017).  Or follow Dr. Puder’s Psychiatry & Psychotherapy Podcast for more information. While the holidays are not all “gay apparel” and yuletide cheer, there are still good reasons to train. It’s not selfish, especially if it keeps you sane.

If you are feeling less-than-motivated to train these holidays, take some advice from Coach Niki Sims and make strength training a priority:

Ease Up, Don’t Give Up: Balancing Life and Lifting

“Treat yourself like you deserve to train well,” is some of the best advice on training you will ever receive. Even if you are stressed this holiday season, train like you need it, because you probably do.

Reflect on Why You Lift

Part of the holiday training slump stems from the attitude that training is just like work. You take time off work for the holidays, and it seems natural to also take time off from training. Before you do, though, consider why you started training in the first place. It wasn’t just to give you another chore during the work week. It wasn’t some form of self-flagellation. It was to do something beneficial and positive in your life. You’ve chosen to engage a process that reshapes the structure of your physical self and that refines your psyche. You do this for the value it brings to you, not because it is work.

There can be a benefit to having a punch-the-clock attitude toward training. Sometimes, you need to get into the gym and get your sets and reps done even though you don’t want to, keep your head down, eyes down, do your reps. Get out the door, get home, sleep, and repeat. Treating training like just something you have to do works great on every normal day. But, don’t extend the metaphor of “getting your work done” to taking time off when the holidays roll around.

For this holiday season, remember what got you started lifting in the first place. The term Holiday comes from “holy” “day.” While typically religious, the purpose of the holiday was to dedicate the day or time to a sacred purpose. That purpose, for you, may be something bigger than yourself, but the term “holy” likely derives from the old Germanic term heil for “health, happiness, or good luck,” giving a personal sort of narrative to this term and this season. Ultimately, this time is about what is sacred or important to you. Make training part of that celebration.

Happy Training and Happy Holidays.

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