Its That Time Of Year Again!

I saw my first Christmas tree this year and worked out it must be about 50 days to the actual festive start date.

So I guess this is the time of year when most people's fitness regime goes on hold until that bright dawn of the New Year and the ensuing resolutions.

Why be so negative? OK so you're going to socialise a bit more? That's fine but why not make sure you keep doing exercise when you can during the festive season.

I think the best option for most people would be some circuit training at home or at the gym. A circuit is a series of exercises performed one after the other with little or no rest between. Take a minute or more (depending on your level of fitness) rest between series, and repeat 2 or 3 times.

You don't need a lot of equipment. Dig out that old 20lb/10kg dumbbell which you have strategically hidden under the stairs or in the garage.

Try the following exercises one after the other performing 5 repetitions with each limb ( double with the squats as you will be performing on both legs).

  • Single-arm Tall Kneeling Dumbbell Curl and Press
    Kneel on a well cushioned mat or carpet. (You don't have to, but a lot of people are knee sensitive to this type of exercise). Grab a dumbbell. Swing the dumbbell down by your side, curl it and press overhead. Maintain posture and balance. Find a smooth rhythm. Look straight ahead not down. Relax and draw in abdominal wall and slightly tighten buttocks.
  • Single-arm Dumbbell Row
    Begin in a squat stance knees over feet. Then lean forward and place one hand on a bench or chair to stabilise torso and take stress off lower back. The back is slightly arched with abdominals slightly braced. Focus on firstly drawing the shoulder blade in and raising the elbow drawing the dumbbell in toward the rib cage. Repeat.
  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat
    Hold the dumbbell vertically by one end against the chest. With elbows pointing down lower your body into a squat, with shins vertical abs braced weight on heels. Allow your elbows to brush past the insides of your knees (if you're that flexible). Push the knees out a little to help. Return to the starting position activating glutes (buttocks) and a little hip-press. Upper body should be still.
  • Dumbbell One-leg Straight-leg Deadlift
    This is a good exercise as heavy weights are not required thereby reducing the risk of back issues. One dumbbell is held in the hand opposite the supporting foot. Lean forward at the waist while the free leg to the rear in line with the torso. Attempt to place the dumbbell on the ground on the ground    outside the opposite foot (or near as possible we're not all gymnasts).

If you are having problems with quality of reps (balance issues) then use an assisted version. This entails keeping the ball of the non weight bearing leg on the floor. The mechanics of the exercise remain the same. I think this will ensure quality repetitions in a circuit exercise protocol.

Mountain Climber Cycle
Assume a push-up position with hands directly below chest and collarbone. The back and legs must be completely straight. Keeping the spine as long as possible with no observable movement, draw one knee towards the chest by bending the knee and the hip. Bring the knee as close as possible to the chest and then straighten the leg. Make the leg as long as possible and only lightly touch the toe to the ground. Now bend the knee to greater than 90 degrees without changing spine position. The spine and the non-moving leg should look like a straight line. If this causes a stretch on the thigh you are doing it correctly.

I think this circuit covers most of the body's movement patterns. Push/Pull/Squat/Hinge/Core. At all times the emphasis for the exercise repetitions should be on smoothness or elegance if you like. Focus on your breathing whilst performing the exercises breathing out on exertion and in on recovery. This works for me but may not for you. Good breathing tends to regulate pace of repetitions.

3 Workouts a Week
Perform 5 circuits with 5 repetitions of each exercise on each side (left and right). The only exception is the Goblet Squats which will be 10 reps as you are standing on both legs. Of course you can perform the Goblet Squat with one foot resting on a bench/chair behind you in which case it will be 5 repetitions on left and right. Make sure the working foot is a fair distance from the chair.

After a week increase repetitions to 6 each side and try and increase weekly by 1 repetition until you are able to perform 10 repetitions. Then start thinking about a heavier dumbbell. (2.5kg increment would work). Re-start with 5 repetitions.

4 or More Workouts a Week
If you are one of those eccentrics who like to train more frequently every week then the following protocol might be appropriate.

Take a pack of playing cards (Oh God I hear you think, if you've read my stuff before, not them again! What is he, a retired croupier from Vegas?). Use the following:

CLUBS = 2 circuits
DIAMONDS = 3 circuits
HEARTS = 4 circuits
SPADES = 5 circuits

Shuffle the cards. Turn over the top card. If it is a Club then you will perform 2 circuits of 5 per side for each exercise. If it is a Diamond the perform 3 circuits and so on. Train 4 or more days a week. Increase repetitions by one every week (two for the Goblet Squat) until you get to 10 repetitions per exercise, then think about a tad more weight where applicable. The beauty of this protocol is there are light, medium and heavy days built in. You might even want to chop and change so that an easy day follows one of those festive nights out!!

I think all ages can perform these circuits which provide a fair level of muscular conditioning and endurance reducing risk of injury and performance of every day life.

It may not be the most scientific programme in the world, but it's simple. It can easily fit into your Yuletide schedule (or longer if you like). It will keep movement patterns ticking over despite the ravages you may or may not inflict on yourselves over the Festive Season.

Many thanks to Mike Boyle, Gray Cook and Dan John who provided the ideas for the circuit exercises.