We’re mid-way through holiday season and coaches are fretting their athletes aren’t working out and many athletes are busy counting sugar plums instead of training. Here’s some thoughts on what to do during this great and festive (but very disruptive to training) time of year:
- Figure out a way: Most of the time when athletes leave their school or training center, they’re moving to a less ideal training scenario. That might be worse weather, lack of facilities, no training partners, less / no equipment, or all of the above. Whatever the case there’s no excuse to miss training. Something is always better than nothing. Bodyweight strength exercises can be made as hard as almost any loaded exercise. Rest intervals can be shortened when the weather’s too cold to run fast outside. Up-back or turn-around split runs can be done in place of speed endurance work when a track isn’t available. Stairs or benches can be used instead of plyo boxes. Stones or weight plates can be used instead of medicine balls or shots for multi-throw routines. Whatever the roadblock, there’s always an appropriate detour.
- Increase the training density: Due to social commitments, most athletes can’t commit to the usual 3+ hours of daily training that they would normally do. That’s not a big deal. There’s more to training load than just time spent working out (an indirect measure of volume) or intensity. You can somewhat compensate for the expected loss of training time and volume by building in increased training density. Shorten rest periods, incorporate rest-pause protocols, split-runs, etc to increase the quantity of work done per unit of time. This will keep the overall training load high and provide a little bit of a refresher for the athlete’s work capacity.
- Overload before the holiday: If you didn’t already, this recommendation is for next year. Try bumping the training load up a little bit in the weeks preceding the break. You know that training will be compromised for several days to a week and by bumping the training load up prior to this point you know that you’ve provided a training stimulus that can take them through the early part of the break without much detraining. You have to tread a fine line here but I actually try to very slightly overtrain my athletes prior to a break because I know that they’ll rebound very quickly once they enter the break, train less, and rest more (see Fitness-Fatigue model).
- Watch what you eat: This is the time when most people eat the most. It’s built in to the celebration. Compounding matters is that the food choices aren’t always the healthiest and the caloric expenditure is often at a low point. The sum of these parts is weight gain. Make sure your athletes know that less training should equal less food…even when there’s more on the table in front of them. This goes for tapering periods as well. Also, educate them on making healthy food choices long before the Christmas cookies, candied yams, and butter-soaked mashed potatoes and gravy are staring them in the face.
- Do SOMETHING: No matter what, you can always do SOMETHING. Many athletes make the mistake in thinking that training is an all-or-none scenario….that if you can’t fit all the prescribed work in that they might as well do nothing. This is a recipe for disaster during the holidays. An intense 2 minute ‘challenge’ of burpees, squats, and pushups will stoke your metabolic fire and keep your neuroendocrine and enzymatic system clicking. A couple 15 minute continuous tempo runs or Fartlek style runs will keep the cardio system in shape and the joints lubricated. My point is that time constraints should never be a valid excuse to getting something done….especially when recent research indicates that even as little 6 minutes a week can get you and keep you fit.
- Rest…but not too much: Now is the time to take a small break and enjoy being able to sleep late, eat good food, and de-stress with friends and family. Just make sure you’re striking a balance between doing what still needs to be done to accomplish your goals and what you want to do socially. An imbalance here could easily cost you the results you want for the better half of the indoor track season.