This may not apply to you, but most folks take the summer ‘off’ from fitness in many respects. We see this by the drastically reduced number of visits to our gym in summer, and the big turnout of people in September. You may have been active and busy, but more like coasting than being ‘on purpose’. Time off tends to be more frequent and barbeques happen quite often, so does ice cream, and ice cold beverages that are yummy, but pack a caloric punch! And that’s cool – it’s perfect, it’s what summer can be all about – fun, food, friends and good times! Absolutely! It just speaks to what we see in the gym every September; folks coming back now that life has settled back down and things are into the routine again and many people are up 20 lbs or more since May.
So now what? What is the strategy to get back on track, and drop that holiday weight?
The biggest tip I can give you is one I give the athletes I coach for triathlon – start easy. And if you are wondering where I get my article ideas sometimes – well, from my own experience and the people around me, would be the answer. I sit here at my desk with abs that are so sore from a ‘back at it’ workout several days ago, that I can barely stand up straight or sleep. Yes, I know better, but even after 18 years or so as a trainer I am still a person, just like you, who thinks they can just pick up where they left off. In the middle of a big workout I did 55 situps with a 20 lb medicine ball – sure! (dummy). You might think that just because I finished an Ironman two weeks ago I am in great shape, and that is sort of true, if you are talking about swimming, biking and running. But I have not done any serious strength training since spring, and it shows.
So start easy. Use lighter weights, take more rest breaks, drink plenty of fluids and give yourself permission to build back up. In endurance training, we call this a ‘negative split’ where the second half of the event is faster than the first half (usually referred to in running, but it applies to pretty much everything). This works best if you have a set amount of time in place to work with, so for your general fitness, let’s look at fall from a larger perspective.
September is the ‘get back at it’ month. Kids are in school, summer is done, the days are getting shorter, mornings are crisp and afternoons nice – the routine kicks back in. This is the time to get back at it, and be nice to your body. Treat it well, avoid going too hard, too soon. Build up to it but allowing that extra rest. This is the time to really focus on nutrition and tighten up on all those sneaky extra calories and summer habits. Harvest time is amazing for fresh produce locally grown, so hit that farmers’ market and stock up on goodness.
October is when you can really start to pick it up a notch. If you ate really well and re-established that consistent pattern in September, then you will be seeing results start to come faster now, and when Thanksgiving hits, it is a great re-feed (higher calories after a longer period of lower calories – this improves leptin levels – the hormone that helps you burn fat) will serve to amplify your results.
November we are dealing with some shorter days and colder weather so we are inside a lot more. Vitamin D production is at a drastic reduction from summer’s sunshine and it is more likely you might get a cold or flu. This is the time to make sure you get extra vitamins, supplement with Vitamin D or even a few short sessions per month in a tanning bed. Not enough time to change skin colour even, but enough to make Vitamin D naturally. Your workouts should be getting really intense and powerful as you are fully engaged and in the zone. Fat loss happening fast, strength coming on board more every day and results evident.
December will likely be like summer – more coasting. Parties, dinners, treats, snacks and fun! It’s ok, you can manage it. Stay as on track as you can, keep moving, keep up with training but allow that little break. Mentally and physically you need and can handle this. Then it will be January and you can start the next phase of your fit, healthy lifestyle and get back to summer.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.