Updated: Jan 11
The new year has already begun. Holidays are over, and it is now time to get back to our previous habits of training, and eating right. Believe it or not, that simple act of getting back on track has a tendency to create so much damage to us regular gym-goers. We, as humans want fast results. We want to get back to our previous shape as fast as possible, so we are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve our desire.
During any holidays we are faced with a fear of losing the ends and falling back to the trap we have managed to escape from. I refer to this feeling as a Holiday syndrome. The state of our mind that prevents us from truly enjoying the moments with friends and family. I wrote it more specifically for the winter holidays, but the tips I list can be applied to any given holiday, so if you are interested, here it is: How to not gain a pound during the holidays?
Even if we manage to overcome that fear of gaining weight and losing muscles, there is another common condition that waits around the corner directly after the holidays - The post-holiday syndrome. The belief that we should compensate for the good time spent, by punishing our bodies and taking fitness to the extreme. Again, in my opinion, an interesting read that can help to prevent some people from self-sabotaging. In case you are interested, feel free to check it out: How To Survive The Post-Holiday Syndrome?
Assuming that we overcome those two common conditions, it is the time when a lot of people either begin their fitness journey or want to continue where they left off. This article is centered more towards the second group of people and teaches them how to get back on track, without risking injuries or burnout.
However, if you are a complete beginner looking to start from scratch, I have got plenty of articles, designed to teach the basics of training and nutrition, to those who are determined to start something new.
I am going to separate this article into two categories. Food and Exercises. Both, fundamental parts of health and fitness, also very commonly abused.
As we learned in my previous article, food is commonly abused, both during and post-holidays. The fear of gaining weight followed by the guilt of eating too much (both not true) leads to a common, yet very dangerous decision. To compensate.
Compensating for the extra food eaten usually comes in starving, referred to as fasting or a
drastic reduction of calories. While one can be used as a tool for detoxification and resetting the taste receptors, the other is completely unnecessary. Here are three tips that I highly recommend anybody follows, in order to get the machine going smoothly.
1. Eat the same amount of calories you ate before the holidays.
If you are a fanatic like me, you are very likely to be tracking calories or at least be aware of how much ruffly you consume. As we know, any change to the food we make is a stress for the body, as it is something different than it is used to. The amount of calories has completely changed during the holidays which has more or less stressed the body a bit. This and given the fact that you are also going to get back to training will cause too much unnecessary stress to the body, causing it to store body fats as an insurance policy. Especially if you decide to compensate with a huge calory deficit. There is nothing more stressful than continuously getting a lot less food than before.
Therefore I recommend getting back on track and eating the very same calories that you ate before the holidays. This will be far less stressful, considering all the other changes, making the body more responsive, and will also ensure to fuel the body with what it needs to respond to the training stimulus.
Speaking of nutrients, here is the second piece of advice I have for you:
2. Prioritise protein and vegetables.
Yes, me and my protein. Sounds like it is the magic powder to success. Well, it is very likely that you have consumed less protein and vegetables during the holiday period. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you want to get back to training and maximizing performance, you have to make sure that your body has all the resources it needs, in order to respond to the stimulus. Well, protein is one of them, often coming with healthy essential fats, ensuring optimal hormone production, and tissue recovery. Vegetables on the other hand will help restore the balance of the gut microbiome making everything work smoothly as it should.
Speaking of a healthy gut, here is a trick that can be very effective at getting back on track.
Fasting is a great tool everyone can use to get rid of unwanted toxins, such as alcohol for example, as well as resetting some taste receptors that might be disrupted while focusing mainly on the taste of the food.
I recommend 8, 10, 12 hours of fasting for one or two days. If you are more experienced, you can go 24 or even 48 hours. Be careful though. Drink plenty of water, and don’t engage in too heavy and vigorous activities. Let your body guide you.
Given the benefits that can come with fasting, there is a very common practice of using fasting as a weight loss technique. DON’T DO THAT!
Remember! The only way of losing weight is to be on a caloric deficit. Yes, fasting is effective at creating a deficit, just because we either do not eat or follow a protocol where the feeding window is so narrow, so it is physically impossible to get enough calories. However, remember what we said about calory deficit? Too much stress.
Fasting can be a great tool, but if used incorrectly can be dangerous to our goals. Just like a hammer. It can be used to build a house, as well as kill somebody. Use it wisely.
With all that being cleared, let’s see the other common topic that is being abused after the holidays.
Exercises are very easy to be overused, even if there is no quote on quote reason for that. We want fast results, and we are fooled by the belief that the more we push, the faster the results are going to be.
It is completely normal to feel this way, so in those situations, you should really stop and take a moment to assess. Ask yourself this:
If my car is already warm I can safely push the gas and rev the engine. But if the engine has been off for days, pushing it straight after starting, without worming it up will cause more damage to it. The same concept applied to the body. Given the fact that it takes more time for response and adaptation, means that I should take it easy in the beginning so I get the engine going.
1. The first action we should all do is to get back to the basics.
And when I mean basics I mean the basic compound movements that are fundamental. Squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, chest presses, rowings, etc… This means focusing on lifting with strict sets with enough time to recover. Any sort of cardio workouts, circuit training, or fat-burning weight classes is going to be fatal for your gains.
Sure it may not burn as many calories as a cardio workout, but it will ensure that your body responds to the right adaptation, which is building lean tissue, speeding your metabolism, and making it easier to get rid of any extra fats. It is a better approach for long-term success.
Yes, cardio burns more calories, but it also slows down the metabolism over time, creating the adaptation of either having to eat less or increasing the length or intensity of the workout. It causes more stress as well, and we all know what that stress does to our bodies.
2. Spend at least a week practicing technique with a minimum weight
Remember when we talked about warming up the engine? Practicing the techniques is the best way to do so. Pick the basic exercises and make sure that you approach them as a skill that you never had before. Spend your time in the gym practicing perfect technique.
Why? Well, first of all, the technique is one of the most important aspects of lifting. It will maximize the benefits you can reap from any exercise. It will minimize the risk of injuries and it will get the engine going. Remember, basic exercises, especially after a while of practicing target, not only the muscles and joints that are involved. They also require a much loader nervous system response, in order to tense the body and elicit that row power.
A very good way to achieve that is by making it lightweight feel heavy.
I know it sounds weird, but if you try it you will be surprised. Warm-up and pick no more than 50 % of the maximum weight you can lift. Tense the body, brace yourself, intensify the movement, squeeze all of those muscles that you feel active, slow down the repetition, and make sure that your form is more than perfect. I guarantee you that even if you chose very light dumbbells, you will feel pretty exhausted after the set.
3. Abuse the mobility exercises
Ah, mobility. Something I write or talk about quite often on the podcast. Well, there is a reason for it.
Mobility training is by far one of the best ways to ensure joint health and minimize the risk of injuries. Not only that, but it can help overcome the stiffness you may get from prolonged sitting.
I just returned back to France, and from all the sitting, in the car, then the airplane, then train and bus, my lower back felt like I just broke Eddie Halls’s deadlift record. The only thing that helped me was mobility. A few times a day, a simple cat-cow, pelvic tilts, and 90/90 got me out of the pain I experienced every time I bent over. Not only that, but it made it easier to get back to training.
There is no doubt that during holidays we tend to sit or not move as much and that is completely normal. But instead of beating ourselves in the gym for it, we can start by simply practicing a few times a day couple mobility exercises, so we get ready for the gym, minimize the risk of injuries and also get to move a bit more.
Speaking of movement, that leads me to the last tip I have for you. And that is:
Yes, another word that is on top of my vocabulary. But there is a reason for it.
Besides all the other basic movements that we evolved to do, such as squat, pull, and press, walking is probably one of the most practiced in human history. Why not make sure we give to our body what it evolved to do to the point where it needs it.
I will give you myself as an example.
I dint move much during the holidays. I did not work out, nor did I walk as much as I used to do. Of course, after the holidays, I wanted to get back to my previous activity levels. Guess what? I could only do half of what I used to walk. I felt like I had no energy. Combine that with mobility training and lifting at the gym it would have been a perfect recipe for overtraining. So instead, I chose the first two days to not go to the gym and only walk. I then introduced one light gym session, followed by an active recovery day (walking and mobility). I repeated this 3 times. I kept the same intensity in the gym but increased the walking. No muscle soreness, no lack of energy, no pain.
What I am trying to say is that we often underestimate and even take walking for granted. It is an exercise that is so essential. Why not use it to our advantage.
I do understand how hard it is to feel like it, but not push yourself. Especially when we are so driven by insecurities and false information and desire for fast results. But my experience showed me that taking it slow and steady is the safest, most beneficial, and in fact fast way to go. We are training for a better life, for permanent results, for a good relationship with ourselves, not for social media approval.
See you in the gym.
By the way, if you learn better by listening, check out Episode 21 of Fit Life Radio, to find out even more about how to get back on track without the risk of burning out.