Christmas is often a time when our regular training habits go out of the window. For some, a few days off from exercising means not returning to training until well into the New Year. There will also be those who are reading this who may fall into the ‘new year, new me’ category, but whichever category you fall into it can be hard to get back into (or start) exercise after the festivities. However, there are some simple ways we can make sure we hit the ground running when January, and normality, returns.
Although we might be travelling more, it’s colder and access to the gym might be more limited, one thing to consider is to try and stay active over the winter and try to fit in a couple of training sessions, even if these are once every few days. This doesn’t have to be intense sessions in the gym, but gentle exercise every few days will help reinforce positive habits and also prevent a certain amount of deconditioning (and reduce the impact of mince pies on your waistline!).
Preventing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
When we first start training many people jump in at the deep end and are familiar with severe muscle ache called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Whether you’re an experienced trainer or an absolute beginner, if you haven’t exercised in a while, DOMS will most definitely be on the cards. For the consistent trainer, to avoid DOMS, simply go into maintenance mode, dial back on the training intensity but do a few gentle training sessions and this will help prevent the return of severe DOMS which can have a big impact on your ability to train for a few weeks in the New Year.
Although when taking up a new activity, or going back to training after a long layoff, it might be tempting to jump in at the deep end and ‘beast’ yourself. This is probably not the smartest idea because your body will not be able to adapt to this level of training stress and this will not only cause severe DOMS but also mental and physical fatigue.
Training Frequency in the New Year
Instead of focusing on hitting training hard and working out every day, start by ensuring your program is geared for beginners, make sure that your training frequency is under control to allow plenty of time for recovery and, if you do feel beaten up from going a little bit hard, it is completely normal to need to take a few days away from exercise to let the body recover and adapt.
So many people see this as failure, however, this is simply your body giving you what you deserve for pushing it in a way that it hasn’t done for a while, or potentially never before. This is not failing, it is completely normal, so focus on rest and recovery and next time you train things shouldn’t be so severe.
Training Volume to Prevent Injuries & Reduce DOMS
In terms of training approach, we want to control our training volume to make sure we can safely and comfortably recover from it. For example, for those who lift weights or are starting to use resistance training as part of their program, instead of doing ‘body part’ sessions, focusing on one muscle group (chest, back, shoulders etc.), which can easily ‘annihilate’ an untrained muscle; start by doing full-body workouts with just one or two exercises on each body part 3 days per week.
This will be enough to cause the response we are after, but without so much stress on a specific muscle that it rules out training for several days. Then after a few weeks, when the body aches less and you are more adapted to training, start to focus on more specific workouts towards your specific goals. This concept can be applied to every form of training; if you like doing endurance exercise don’t jump straight in covering huge distances or working at high intensities, and start with much shorter distances and build up slowly at lower intensity.
Unfortunately though, no matter how sensible you are with your approach it is likely that you will suffer with some form of DOMS and general fatigue. However, taking a proper approach to nutrition can help limit the damage and make sure your recovery is a quick as possible.
Nutrition in the New Year
Eating enough protein is the obvious first port of call when it comes to recovery; using supplements such as whey protein can help allow damaged tissue to recover more quickly. The amount of protein you will need is typically related to your overall training goal, but a solid amount to focus on consuming initially is around 1.6-2g per kg of body mass each day. This will be giving you the best possible chance of recovery as you adapt to training.
Making sure you eat enough calories is also important to provide the energy for recovery processes to take place efficiently. This can often clash with New Year weight loss goals, so if you are training to lose weight and are placing yourself in a calorie deficit, try to avoid a ‘crash diet’ and make sure that you are still eating enough calories to fuel your training. You can always lower them later if you need to, focus on properly fuelling your recovery and training first.
As well as consuming enough calories, you need to ensure you are eating the right types of foods. Focusing on nutrient dense foods including fruits and vegetables will help the body recover more quickly, support the immune system and help to control inflammations. If you don’t often eat oily fish then 2-3g of fish oil per day may also help with recovery as the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are important for controlling inflammation, supporting central nervous system function, joint health and may also directly promote muscle recovery.
Supplements to consider over the winter months also include vitamin D and vitamin C (or a good multivitamin and mineral). Vitamin C is important to keep the immune system working well whilst we place the body under extra training stress at a time when ‘bugs’ are everywhere and vitamin D plays all manner of essential roles in the body that promote recovery, performance and overall health and well-being.
Take Home Message
Jumping back in at the deep end, or starting there, might seem tempting in the New Year, but taking a more pragmatic approach to training, until you are back in the swing of things is the most effective approach. Combining a sensible training approach with adequate nutrition and rest will help to reduce DOMS and overall fatigue, keep you motivated and allow you to get back into the gym more consistently, make progress more quickly and make sure you don’t have to suffer (as much!) in the process.