Let’s face it: not all seasons are created equal.
Some seasons of the year (of life?) are well-suited for fitness progress. Others are well-suited for fitness maintenance.
For many of us, much of the year is spent in a groove, and though the schedule may change from week to week, there are relatively sacred windows of time each week when you can exercise, should you desire to do so. But this isn’t always the case.
Take December, for instance. Beyond your normal commitments, you need to shoehorn the kids’ Christmas concert, the work Christmas party, the family Christmas party and a trip to the in-laws into the mix. Pretty soon your normally-scheduled exercise time is compromised by distractions and compressed by the calendar.
Fortunately, there are a pile of ideas for times like these. I’ll offer five for your consideration.
IDEA ONE: STATUS QUO
Perhaps your scheduled times of exercise are like a boulder in your schedule, something around which you build your schedule. If that’s the case, you can stay the course, or you can strategically utilize some of these other ideas to make some different types of gains or even to free up your schedule to party more.
IDEA TWO: DIMINISH DURATION
No surprises here: shorten your workouts. There’s a lot you can accomplish in ten minutes per day. Sometimes shorter for short’s sake is great.
When you’re in maintenance mode, you can usually get by with less work than when you’re trying to make gains. It’s practically a universal principle: maintenance is easier than repair. When you’re – for a busy season – just trying to not lose ground, it’s sometimes okay to just punch your exercise clock, squeeze in a short workout, and get on with life.
- 30 seconds of Kettlebell Swings
- 30 seconds of rest
IDEA THREE: INCREASE INTENSITY
Now, it is possible to actually make gains by working shorter. The key is to work maniacally for the time you’re working. Now, I never advocate cranking out reps when you’re fatigued; this invites injury. Don’t forget that if you’re form is breaking down due to muscle failure, you should not continue; you need to rest and recover a few seconds before continuing.
With that said, squeezing more work into less time can be incredibly demanding on the heart. It helps with conditioning, expanding work capacity, and the elevation of the metabolism. So this is about doing the same amount of work as you usually do (or more!) in a compressed window of time. There are a few variables in play here, and I’ve written about them before (e.g., you’ll have to use less weight than when you’re training for strength alone), but you get the idea.
- 45 seconds of Kettlebell Swings
- 15 seconds of rest
Example B: Tabata Burpees
- 20 seconds of Burpees
- 10 seconds of rest
IDEA FOUR: FOCUS ON FORM
Consider taking your time to work on your form. You’ll be forced to slow down, but you’ll also be surprised how tiring this can all be! I’ve been focusing a lot on this lately, when working on my Clean and Presses. Consider this checklist when practicing your own Clean and Press:
- Brace your abs
- Squeeze your glutes
- Flare your lats
- Squeezing the handle of the kettlebell hard
You do that, and you’ll be able to press more weight for sure. But you’ll also tire out quickly. So this is a different way from work density (increasing intensity) to actually accomplish a lot with a little time.
Example: Over the span of half an hour, while watching a TV show or reading a book, do the following:
For example, what I’ve done is one Clean and Press, then read a few paragraphs, then one Front Squat, then read a page, and so on, until I’ve done five reps total of each. And I’m sweating. Very gratifying.
IDEA FIVE: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Finally, consider just playing around with your movements, with a view to practice. (It’s called “training” for a reason, right?) Just about anyone can do this and be better off for it.
Example: Throughout the day, do one of these:
- Two or three max sets of pull-ups.
- Three-five sets of 30 pushups.
- Three-five sets of one double Clean and Press with medium-weight kettlebells.
- Three-five handstands against a wall.
- Five-seven sets of deep bodyweight squats.
You get the idea. These can’t be the sort of movements that require a lot of warmup, and as always, focusing on form is going to maximize the benefit here.
Obviously it’s possible to combine some of these ideas, too. But if you do, you’ll pass beyond your maintenance mode in better position to make gains.
Do you have ideas that I missed? What do you do when you enter maintenance mode?