Winter is the cruellest season for personal trainers. December’s holiday obligations run roughshod over everyone’s schedule, and when time is tight, the first thing to go is usually the gym. Clients disappear – sometimes for days, sometimes weeks – and when they do return, it’s with all the enthusiasm of someone waiting for a bus.
This, of course, is why trainers have jobs. We ensure our clients are taken care of during busy times so they don’t lose the momentum that fuels their engagement, and even if they do fall off track, we know how to relight that fire under their butts (that’s right, there’s more to this gig than counting reps and offering high fives).
If winter caught you off guard and you’ve already fallen behind on your training, fear not. What follows is a strategy I use with myself and my clients for exactly these moments. We’ve got a plan for keeping you on the straight and narrow and also one for when you falter.
Staying on track
The most practical method for staying consistent with your workouts is to train daily. If you never give yourself a day off, you’ll never backslide. But for lots of people, holiday happenings can interfere with workouts: Make a commitment to exert yourself physically for at least 20 minutes every single day (at the gym or away from it) and when the new year arrives, you won’t have lost a step.
The great thing about this method is that everyone has 20 minutes to spare. Think outside the gym: Shovel a neighbour’s driveway (once you finish your own); ditch the car and walk to the mall and back at a hard and steady pace (an Urban Farmer’s Walk, if you will); skate beneath the stars at an outdoor rink. Do whatever it takes to break a sweat seven days a week, even if only briefly.
Of course, this approach will work even better if you continue lifting weights on the usual days. If your schedule is clear and you have time to spare, complete your full workout as programmed. If the annual Christmas recital or work party is competing for your time, focus on the essentials (i.e. compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and presses) and leave the bicep curls and calf raises for another day. Thirty minutes is plenty for a hard workout, if you’re making the right choices.
Starting over again
If, despite your best intentions and most careful planning, the holiday season whooped your butt, that’s okay. Beating yourself up mentally and emotionally won’t help. What will is getting yourself to the gym right away.
Even if you’ve been lifting for decades, a week or more away from the gym can leave you feeling like a beginner. The urge to resist will be strong, but you cannot waver. If the voices in your head are telling you to relax on the couch, quiet them by putting on your gym clothes. Once you’re standing there in your shorts and shoes, what else are you going to do but go to the gym? That’s Step 1.
Now that you’re at the gym, if you’re still stuck in neutral, find some floor space and stretch. Hit your hamstrings and back with a foam roller. Grab a resistance band and perform some pull aparts and dislocations and monster walks. As your brain and body begin to shift into Exercise Mode, add in some explosive exercises such as box jumps or kettlebell swings.
Once you’ve made it this far you have two choices: Consider everything you’ve done so far to be the workout itself and call it a day, or proceed with actual lifting following the same advice offered above for the time-crunched. Regardless of which path you choose, pat yourself on the back for taking the first step. Tomorrow’s workout will be even better.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto.
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