Holiday Weight Loss Tips

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I like Christmas. It’s not my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving takes the cake), but it’s definitely up there. I prefer keeping things pretty mellow for Christmas; I don’t get too caught up in the madness of finding the perfect gift for people and would prefer to not get blasted with an outrageous credit card bill in February. But as the holiday gets closer, people tend to get nicer and it always turns out to be a pretty good day.

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However, from a strength coach’s perspective, it’s potentially the worse time of the year. Time becomes an issue for everyone and priorities are tested because people tend to get distracted or overworked. I get it: you have to spread yourself pretty thin and it would help if one of the gifts you received were a clone.

Nothing is worse than when a client tells me they’re taking the holiday season off. I want to let out a big NOOOOO! like Darth Vader in Episode III of Star Wars. Here’s the thing with training: it takes a while for your body to change and it also takes next to nothing for the body to toss away all your hard work. Kind of cruel, isn’t it? In fact, research with an Olympic distance runner showed changes in fitness within just six days after a training session (1). Should you really let all that hard work go to waste? Personally, I’ve seen clients work hard for four months, take the holiday season off, and come back weeks after New Year’s like it was their first day.

So what are you to do? Wait for New Year’s to come? I wouldn’t. New Year’s resolutions don’t work and I’d rather take the Rocky Balboa approach: asked when he can start a new job Rocky responds with “How ‘bout right now?” That’s talking my language. Rather than just giving you some random holiday weight loss tips, we’ve taken it a step farther and provided you with two workouts that will save you time while keeping you lean and strong.

Staying in shape during the holiday season isn’t as tough as you think it is. You also don’t have to sacrifice time spent at the mall looking for a toy that you can’t even pronounce nor find in a store, but your son really, really needs it. In about 30 minutes, three days a week, you can maintain, or even surpass, your current fitness level.

Your first option is circuit training. Circuit training is a great way to burn some fat and possibly even build a bit of muscle in the process. You simply run through 3 to 6 movements in a row. The movements should be rather taxing to your metabolism, so relying on aerobics (like running on a treadmill or doing jumping jacks) isn’t the best strategy. Instead, pick a lower body movement with an upper body movement. The following circuit could be used for an advanced trainee:

Movement Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1. Back Squat 4 8 4-0-1-1 45 seconds
A2. Wide Grip Pull Up 4 6-8 4-1-1-1 45 seconds
A3. Clean Pull 4 6 2-0-0-0 2 minutes


Research backs up the benefits of circuit training. When comparing circuit training to conventional resistance training, researchers found big differences between the two. Subjects who circuit trained in an 8 week study lost more body fat and gained lean mass, and worked out in half the time compared to another group that didn’t circuit train (2).

Your second option is to perform what’s called post exhaustion. Post exhaustion is somewhat similar to circuit training in the fashion that you perform exercises in a row. In this case though, you would perform a big compound movement like a bench press and then follow it up with a small movement that trains one of the same muscle groups. So in our example of the bench press, you would follow it up with a triceps press-down. Once again you’re getting more work done in less time. Choose circuit training if your goal is to lose fat, while post exhaustion training would be in order for those who want to give themselves the gift of muscle for Christmas.

Here’s an example of a post exhaustion routine to train the whole body in one session:

Movement Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1. Walking Lunge 4 12 3-0-1-1 15 seconds
A2. Seated Leg Extension 4 15 2-0-1-1 2 minutes
A3. Incline Dumbbell Press 4 10 3-0-1-1 15 seconds
A4. Flat Dumbbell Fly 4 15 2-1-1-1 2 minutes


This type of training can also lend itself to increases in strength. A meta-analysis done found that performing a compound move first (the bench press) followed by an isolation movement (the DB fly) had greater strength gains that doing the same thing in reverse (3). Best of all, the workout will only take about 25 minutes of your time. A tough 25 minutes, but it will be worth it.

Here’s the trade-off: the workouts are tough, but definitely worth your time investment. So don’t worry: you’ll be in great shape Christmas morning and can spend the month of January guilt free because you never had to worry about that resolution stuff anyway!


[toggle title=”References“]

1. McGregor, S.J., Weese, R.K., Ratz, I.K. “Performance Modeling in an Olympic 1500-m Finalist: A Practical Approach” (2009) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23;9. 2515-2523

2. Alcaraz, P.E. Perez-Gomez, J., et al. “Similarity in Adaptations to High Resistance Circuit vs Traditional Strength Training in Resistance Trained Men.” (2011) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25.9,

3. Bryant, Josh. Built to the Hilt Idaho, The Creative Syndicate. 2013. pp 16 [/toggle]


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