By Author(s): Martha Ellis  and Jeff Ellis 
Published Friday, February 20, 2009
| From the November 2006  Issue of FireRescue 
It’s no surprise that our workout programs can take a hard hit during the holidays. Maintaining the fitness level you worked so hard to attain during the spring summer and fall months suddenly becomes less of a priority. The plethora of food and snacks that constantly graces the kitchen tables of most stations is only the beginning. Add to this the shorter days cooler temperatures holiday stress and natural instinct to become more sedentary in the winter and you’ve got some significant forces working against your health and fitness regime.
It’s no surprise that our workout programs can take a hard hit during the holidays. Maintaining the fitness level you worked so hard to attain during the spring, summer and fall months suddenly becomes less of a priority. The plethora of food and snacks that constantly graces the kitchen tables of most stations is only the beginning. Add to this the shorter days, cooler temperatures, holiday stress and natural instinct to become more sedentary in the winter, and you’ve got some significant forces working against your health and fitness regime. Before you know it, the over-indulgence and lack of activity will leave you wondering, “Where did that extra 10 lbs. come from?”
Holiday Workout Tips
To help maintain your fitness level during the winter months, first, keep your training simple. The key is to keep your workouts short, getting you in and out of the gym in a hurry, but leaving you feeling like you did something. Shorter workouts also help keep you from using the “no time” excuse so many people rely on during this hectic time of year. If you know you’ll be done working out in 60 minutes, you’ll be more likely to just do it.
A second strategy: Add something a little different to your workout routine. Variety can be a training motivator during the tough winter months. For example, if you usually hit the treadmill, try the elliptical.
Finally, the holidays can be very stressful. But that’s OK, because exercise greatly helps reduce stress. People who exercise regularly but reduce or omit it from their daily routine during the holidays may actually increase their stress levels. Further, exercise sessions allow you to clear your mind, oftentimes helping solve a nagging problem or reach a decision on how to handle a personal situation. You may even think of the perfect gift idea for that special someone while sweating at the gym.
The Workout Matrix
Following is a flexible yet effective holiday workout plan you can incorporate into your existing program. Of course, one workout plan does not fit all; but the workout matrix is very flexible.
The matrix consists of three columns (A, B and C) and three rows, creating nine blocks, each of which contains a different exercise. Each column represents an area of exercise and lists three options (rows). You can create your own workout by performing one exercise from each column—A first, B second, C last.
Each block lists the exercise and the suggested number of reps. For instance, the top block in the A column is squats. You should complete 35 squats before moving to the next exercise you select from column B. When you’ve completed one exercise from each column, you will have completed one round. Rest for 30–60 seconds between rounds. For each exercise session, there are two goal options: Complete five rounds or, for the divinely motivated, go for 10. You can stick with the same sequence, or you can change up your sequences to add creativity to the workout.
Always exercise within your capabilities. The number of repetitions listed in the matrix represents a workout for someone who regularly engages in physical training. If you are at a moderate or poor level of fitness, decrease the number of reps appropriately. If you cannot complete the workout, make completion your goal. Each time you do it, try to get a little further through the rounds or add more reps.
We haven’t listed weights for any of these exercises because our objective is to keep this an easy-access workout. You don’t need to go to a gym to execute this program. Why tether yourself to a gym when you can perform high-speed, high-volume reps with minimal rest where it’s most convenient for you, like your home or a nearby park? You can add weights to any of these exercises, but we recommend first trying these circuits without weight. You may surprise yourself with how tired you feel after performing these seemingly easy exercises.
Remember, if you’re physically unable to complete the prescribed number of repetitions, focus on the negative portion of the exercise to complete the exercise, cut the number of reps in half and only do three rounds. (Negative exercises were described in “Use the Force,” October, p. 124).
Now let’s do a quick run-down on proper technique for the exercises listed in the matrix.
Perform squats with your feet shoulder-width apart. Cross your hands over your chest or use them for balance in any position that works best for you. Lower yourself until your knees are at a 90-degree angle, then immediately return to a standing position (if you have knee problems, only lower yourself as far as is comfortable). Remember: Don’t drop your head during the squat. Even though you’re not lifting any added weight, you don’t want to strain your back; dropping your head does just that. Keeping your head level is a good habit to develop so you have good technique when you do add weight to this exercise.
One-legged squats will pose a challenge for some of you but, again, do what you can. The one-legged squat is, simply stated, just like a regular squat except you’re balancing on one leg. The same rules apply as the normal squat, even though balance may be more of an issue. While you may be able to perform these unsupported, it’s OK to use a chair or some other stationary object for balance. With a little support, you’re more likely to lower yourself farther and get more out of the exercise. Keep your hips even, allow your butt to stick out and ensure your knee doesn’t extend over your foot. Also, keep your head up and take the squat down to a 90-degree knee bend if you can.
Walking lunges are like taking very long and deep steps. As you take a step, lower the knee of your back leg as close to the ground as possible. At this point, your rear knee should be somewhere close to your front foot. Like the squat, keep your head up and work on maintaining balance. One tip: As you begin to fatigue during the later rounds, it may be a bit easier if you make the first two lunges a little less deep. Start shallow and gradually increase depth with each lunge until the last few lunges are at 90 degrees; taking this approach will help minimize fatigue.
Last month, we addressed dips, push-ups and pull-ups. Perform dips as we described or, if you can do a fully suspended dip on supports designed for that, feel free to perform them that way.
For push-ups, we encourage you to experiment with different body positions. Start with the more difficult push-ups and move to the easier ones as you progress through your rounds and become more fatigued.
Pull-ups have long challenged the masses. Don’t avoid them because you can’t do them. Use the strengthening suggestions from last month to improve your muscular strength, and you’ll be cranking out pull-ups in no time. If you can’t complete all of the prescribed reps in one bout, do what you can, take a short break, and then do some more. Even if you do one pull-up at a time with short rests between, that’s OK. That applies to all of these exercises. There are no exercise police to tell you you’re not doing enough. The idea is to just do it.
For crunches, twisting crunches and scissor leg lifts, focus on keeping your lower back pressed against the floor by tucking your chin against your chest. This will help avoid placing undue stress on the lower back. When doing the scissor leg lifts (or any leg lift, for that matter), place your hands under you butt, as that will help keep your lower back on the ground.
There is a good chance you will experience some muscle soreness, called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), 24–36 hours after performing these workouts. There’s a common misconception about what that soreness indicates. Many believe it indicates lactic acid is still in the muscle, continuing to cause pain. In actuality, the body works diligently to maintain the appropriate acid/alkaline balance throughout the body. Even during muscle exertion, the body is working to neutralize the acid. As soon as the proverbial “burn” subsides, the acid is gone.
So why do you hurt so badly a day or so after a hard workout? As you exercise out of your comfort zone, you create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. This may sound bad and, in excess, it can be; however, in most cases, it’s perfectly OK. As your body heals, the muscle strengthens. The only downer is the pain you have to endure as the healing takes place.
The most important thing to take away from this gem of knowledge is that when muscles are sore, they must heal. It is very difficult for muscle to heal if you continually compound the damage. This is known as “over-training,” which can significantly diminish performance. You should wait until you feel little to no pain before working these muscles again.
Stay Fit Year Round
These workouts are great to do with a friend. Or, get your crew involved, and make a little competition of it. Enjoy the holiday season, but remember to take care of the body that serves you. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse for backsliding on your fitness.
Note: Please consult your physician before beginning any new fitness regime.
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