The hardest workout is the first one back after Christmas. From 22nd -30th December the most exercise I’d done was a couple of half hour walks a day. And that’s probably more than most people do over the Christmas holiday.
It’s not uncommon for the period from 15th – 22nd December to be low on exercise, and high on eating and drinking too much. After all, it’s the Christmas party season, and you’re in wind-down mode at the end of the year. So most people begin the new year without having done any exercise for a fortnight. Quite a few personal training sessions get cancelled around this time, due to party commitments in the evenings, and hangovers the next morning.
When you’ve not exercised for while, it can be hard to contemplate a session in the gym. You’re still in holiday mode, you’re sluggish from all that Christmas cake, Christmas pudding with brandy butter, turkey & trimmings, chocolates, cheeses, and gallons of alcohol.
Rather than wait till the new year, I thought I’d get my first post-Christmas workout done today, on new years eve. Although it was tough, I felt great having done it.
Here’s a few tips on how to approach your first workout after the holidays:
Do it as soon as possible
The sooner you get back into the routine of regular exercise, the better. It’s very easy to make excuses and put it off, but before you know it you’re half way through January and you’ve not exercised for a month. You’ll feel great when you’ve done it, and your body will start to come to life again.
Don’t push yourself too hard
Ease back on the intensity if it’s your first workout for a while. Don’t expect to lift weights as heavy as you did before Christmas, aim for around 60-70% of your maximum weights. When you know you’re not expecting peak performance on the first day back, it lowers the pressure, and makes it easier to break the ice.
If you try to lift heavy weights in this session, you’re at risk of injuring yourself, even if they’re weights you lifted just 2-3 weeks ago. Ease yourself back in, and steadily build up to your old 100% intensity over the next few sessions.
Don’t be surprised if this workout feels really tough, even with lighter weights. This is partly the result of all the alcohol and rich food you’ve consumed over Christmas, partly due to disrupted sleep patterns (alcohol wrecks good sleep, even if you’re not aware of it), and partly because you lose strength and fitness even after a couple of weeks lay-off. You’ll be amazed how fast you’re back to your old personal bests within a few weeks.
Do a wide range of exercises
This is not the day for a specialised split routine. As you’re going lighter, do a whole-body workout to cover all the bases.
Start with a 10 minute warm-up at moderate intensity on the cross-trainer or rowing machine. Don’t warm-up on the treadmill or exercise bike, they won’t sufficiently activate your upper body.
Then do some big multi-joint movements, but with moderate weights, making the first set really light. Barbell squats (for legs), bent-over barbell rows (for back), and barbell deadlifts (a whole-body exercise, but particularly hamstrings and back) are three great exercises to kick off with. Do a couple of sets of each.
For chest, perform a range of dumbbell chest-press exercises at a variety of angles, and throw in a couple of sets of light dumbbell flyes. Even when the weight is light, keep strict form, slow and controlled through the whole range of motion.
Your shoulders and arms will have been worked out sufficiently by the exercises above. This is not the day to spend too long on specialised isolation exercises for shoulders and arms, and after the multi-joint exercises you won’t have time.
Then do a 5 minute cool-down on the cross-trainer or rowing machine, at a relaxed pace and low resistance, to get your body down to resting state again.
Finally, don’t forget to stretch at the end. A good 10 minute stretch of all the main muscle groups is a key part of any workout, to restore (and in the case of tight muscles, to increase) the flexibility of your muscles. If you forget to stretch at the end of the session, you’ll regret it the next day.
Now you’ve broken the ice, get back into the gym two days later, and increase the intensity. You’re back into the routine of regular exercise!
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.