Yes, it's that time again. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, snacks, pies, pies and oh yeah, more pies. The dreaded HWGS is upon us. What's HWGS you ask? You may know it as the very sneaky Holiday Weight Gain Syndrome.
Holiday Weight Gain Syndrome
Holiday Weight Gain Syndrome usually starts its attack around Halloween and works its black magic all the way through the New Year. Before you know it, you've lost some muscle, added five or ten pounds of fat and don't feel so great starting off the new year.
But there is good news. HWGS is preventable. You don't need to succumb to its temptations. In fact, you can even improve your body over the holidays and slap HWGS upside the head. You just have to follow the right holiday program involving weight training, cardio, nutrition and proper supplementation.
Boosting Your Metabolism
One key to fighting off HWGS is boosting your metabolism so you're burning more calories every day.
A properly designed weight training program, along with high intensity cardio will help boost your metabolism. On top of that, the right training will increase your body's natural growth hormone, which incinerates body fat like a blow torch!
To make sure you're burning as many calories as possible, boosting your metabolism with the right training program, and releasing more fat burning growth hormone, you won't need to increase your training time and spend hours in the gym. But you will need to ramp up your training intensity.
For your weight training, this means a program that includes the following:
Shorter rest periods between sets (no more than a minute, less if you can). Don't rush the performance of the exercise itself but you want to limit your rest period between sets and exercises.
Include intensity techniques such as supersets, trisets, dropsets and end of set partials. These all help to boost the intensity of the exercises, release more growth hormone, boost your metabolism and keep your rest periods short.
Example Holiday Season Routine:
The holiday season is a hectic one with a big increase in demand on our time. So I'm going to give you a very effective routine that includes all of these and takes up very little time.
This weight lifting routine is usually called the 3 x 3 workout for the simple reason that you perform three exercises in a row, three times without stopping. Yes, that's nine sets in a row without stopping. But that's all you do for the workout and then you can go home. And it's a full body workout so it's as time efficient as it gets.
Of course, it's also about as hard as weight lifting routines get. This isn't your grandparent's circuit training routine. It's also one of the most time efficient weight lifting routines in existence.
There are a number of variations you can do but the key is to select three exercises that target the whole body. So you will want multi-joint compound movements that target the lower body, the chest and the back.
Weight lifting routines that ignore certain body parts can spell injury trouble down the line.
A few examples are the leg press, the bench press, and the curl grip lat pulldown. You would do each exercise without stopping and repeat three times. In other words you would do the following without stopping:
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
Make sure you use a curl grip on the pulldown due to the more direct biceps hit from the exercise.
Now, when you begin, you may want to try a 30 second rest interval between each set. Weight lifting routines in this manner are brutal, but you get out of it what you put into it so be prepared to go through the whole workout without stopping as soon as you possibly can.
The repetition targets should be as follows:
Keep the weights the same until you hit the target repetitions on the 3rd and final set.
Try starting out by doing this weight lifting workout three times per week.
As you really start progressing you may find you get better results working this routine twice per week and eventually 3 times every two weeks. For example, during the first week do the workout on Monday and Friday and next week only do it on Wednesday.
If you work it right, this is as demanding a weight training routine as you will do. That's the main reason you never see anyone performing this routine.
After a couple break in workouts you shouldn't do this routine for more than 4 weeks, 6 weeks max, before downshifting the intensity for a week or so. This is perfect for the holiday season.
The workouts are short, but very taxing. If you tried to adopt this type of workout every time you went to the gym, you'd eventually start dreading your workouts, then giving them a half hearted effort, then skipping them altogether. And no matter how result producing weight routines are, they can't produce results if you stop training, right?
Benefits Of This Routine:
Now, what's so special about this routine? A few things, really. It makes sure you increase the intensity of your workout, which is a key to muscle growth. By cramming more work into a shorter amount of time your intensity increases greatly over what you were doing previously.
By shortening the workout so much, you are more likely to go all out on each set because you won't be pacing yourself for a silly two hour workout.
If you've been doing a routine with a decent amount of volume and numerous workouts per week, this will be quite a change and your intensity levels will skyrocket, spurring your body into a higher muscle building, fat burning zone.
On the fat burning side, this routine will elevate your heart rate, giving you a good cardio workout. Believe me, if you do the typical cardio routine of most gym goers, this weight training program will be more of a cardio workout than you are used to.
You'll also crank up your body's growth hormone release as well, causing your body to burn even more fats.
You will burn more calories during the actual routine. Your body's metabolism will stay elevated long after the workout, burning more calories at rest, and helping to melt the body fat away.
Numerous studies have shown that high intensity training (both weight training and high intensity interval cardio training) can keep your metabolism elevated for up to 39 hours after your workout is over.
In other words, train intensely enough, and you'll be burning fat while doing nothing. Not a bad deal, for a brief period of working hard.
This workout should only take about 20 minutes, maybe slightly longer with a few warm-up sets. And you'll be doing it only 2 times a week or less, 3 times max.
And the workout will build muscle, burn fat, and rev your metabolism to much higher levels, throwing you headfirst toward the body you want.
Okay, we've got your fat burning weight training program in place. Let's take a look at your cardio program.
In order to maximize your chances of avoiding HWGS, not to mention finding the time to fit your workouts into your schedule, we're going to be performing high intensity interval training for our cardio program.
Click Image To Enlarge.
We're Going To Be Performing
High Intensity Interval Training For Our Cardio.
High intensity interval training will help you burn fat faster and with much less overall training time. Even so, most people today still perform endless amounts of low intensity aerobic and wonder why they aren't making the fat loss progress they want.
I believe this happens for two reasons.
- Most people still aren't aware of the incredible fat burning potential of high intensity interval training (HIIT).
- This type of cardio fat loss training is very hard work. It's much easier to walk on a treadmill or spin a stationary bike for an hour than it is to do 10 or 15 minutes of interval training.
With a typical aerobics fat burning program you perform your exercise (treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, etc.) in a steady state manner at around 60 - 75% of your max heart rate. Usually, your sessions last 30 minutes to an hour and a half.
|HEART RATE CALCULATOR|
With interval training your workout sessions are much shorter and you can add a lot more variety into your program. High intensity interval training is just like it sounds. You alternate all out aerobic exercise with active rest. Here's an example:
Luckily for me, I have a hill just down the road that is perfect for interval training. I jog over to the hill.
This takes about 4 - 5 minutes and serves perfectly as my warm-up. Then I sprint up the hill to the top. This takes me about 15 - 20 seconds. I turn around and walk back down, which serves as my rest interval. I then repeat for a certain number of intervals and the jog (or walk) home serves as my cool down.
Another great interval training program is jump rope. You may need to practice a bit on this one. After a brief warm up, I will jump rope as fast as I can for about 10-20 seconds, followed by a slower cadence for about half a minute.
This form of interval training is brutal and will get your heart rate up fast! You won't last long on this program.
Always warm up before starting your intervals. If you're not in the best of shape break into it lightly, starting with more low or moderate intensity cardio. You might also want to check with your doctor. No sense in getting hurt right when you start your interval training.
Interval training has been shown, in study after study, to be a much more effective fat burner than steady state aerobic exercise.
- Burn more calories by elevating your metabolism so you lose fat faster.
- Increase your power.
- Increase your speed.
- Increase your endurance.
No matter what your fitness goals, interval training is one of the best ways of helping you achieve them. And the variations are endless.
You can vary the training parameters (exercise to rest ratio, number of intervals) to make the workouts harder or easier, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
You can also use any number of exercises for your training, such as:
Here's a simple fat loss cardio plan you can use with high intensity interval training.
3 Month Cardio Fat Loss Plan
(Perfect For The End Of Year Holiday Season):
Month 1 (4 - 5 workouts per Week):
- 45 minutes to an hour at 60-70% of Max HR (3-4 times per week)
- Interval Training Session (Once per week)
- Perform the interval session as follows
- 4 minute warm-up
- 20 seconds all out followed by 1 minute at easy pace
- Perform 8 "sets" followed by 4 minute cool down
Month 2 (4 - 5 workouts per week):
- 60-90 minutes per workout at 60-70% Max HR
Month 3 (3-4 workouts per week):
- Interval Training
- 4 minute warm-up
- 30-60 seconds all out followed by easy recovery of 30-60 seconds
- Start with 4-5 "sets" and work up to 8-10
- 4 minute cool down
If you haven't been doing this kind of training, work up to it but get started now so you can hit it hard over the holidays.
If you aren't ready for high intensity interval training, here's a sample progression for you:
- Alternate jogging with walking
- Alternate running with jogging
- Alternate sprints with walking
- Alternate sprints uphill with walking down the hill
Don't continue doing endless hours of aerobics that aren't helping you reach your goals anyway. Get more out of your cardio workouts by performing high intensity interval training.
Keep in mind, high intensity interval training is almost like a weight workout for your legs so you need to be careful about overtraining. If you use the 3 x 3 weight training program three times a week you may only want to do one or two three HIIT sessions a week. Or maybe you'll do two 3 x 3 sessions a week and two HIIT sessions.
If you want to do more to burn calories then you may also consider adding a couple of "normal" cardio sessions.
Eat More Protein To Burn Fat:
Protein isn't just for building muscle. It's for burning fat too. A good way to keep HWGS at bay is to greatly increase your protein intake over the holiday season. While protein helps build and preserver muscle, it also helps to control your appetite as well as boost your metabolism.
Eating more protein to burn fat was confirmed in a study published in the . One group was fed a high protein diet (just over one gram per pound of bodyweight per day) while the second group consumed a protein diet near equal to that of the RDA.
The group eating the high protein diet burned more fat than the group consuming protein near equal to the RDA.
One reason for the ability of protein to burn fat could be an increased "thermic" effect. The thermic effect of the RDA group was elevated 16% after eating.
However, in the high protein group the thermic effect increased a lot after eating, almost 3-times that of the RDA group.
This thermic effect of digesting your food peaks approximately one hour after eating.
By adding more protein to each meal, you increase your metabolism. Your body requires more energy (i.e. calories) to process protein than it does carbohydrates.
So go ahead and indulge a little in those high protein holiday foods such as the devilled eggs, shrimp cocktails and of course the holiday turkey!
Let's look at some of the food sources you should focus on:
High Protein Foods:
High Carbohydrate Food:
Make sure to continue to have a post-workout shake. And that means loading up on the right protein and the right carbs at the right time - immediately after your workout. You can prepare your post-workout shake before you hit the gym, stick it in a thermos and take it with you to store in your locker.
Here are two versions of my favorite post-workout shake.
Post Workout Shake 1:
The first one involves using a post-workout powder. The second version will do pretty much the same thing, without the post-workout shake and just using a good whey protein powder instead, like 100% Whey from Optimum Nutrition.
- 1 serving Post Workout Powder
- 1 serving Creatine
- 1 cup frozen fruit (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)
Mix in a blender. You can alter how much of the powder and fruit you use to get the appropriate number of calories you want.
Post Workout Shake 2:
Or you can try this version of the fat burning post-workout shake:
You can alter this any number of ways to suit your taste buds. You could add banana, or even some yogurt, which will also make the shake a little thicker in its consistency.
Want to indulge in some of those great holiday treats like pie? Instead of having it after a big holiday meal, save the dessert for post-workout. Have a serving of a good whey protein powder like Optimum Nutrition's 100% whey with water for your protein and then have that piece of apple or pumpkin pie.
Lastly, when it comes to holiday eating and fighting off HWGS, eat slowly and graze. Let's face it, most of us go to the holiday dinner table already full from the appetizers. Don't make this mistake. But don't go to the dinner table starved, either! Graze (snack) on appetizers like shrimp cocktail, almonds, cashews, and other nuts. And don't forget some great tasting protein bars. Protein bars and protein powders are a life saver for me, especially during the holidays.
Take a walk after dinner (before dessert if you are going to have it!).
By putting all these things into play, you can not only avoid the dreaded HWGS, you can make improvements in your body over the holidays, leaving you pumped up and motivated for the new year instead of upset because you let yourself backslide over the holidays.
Your workouts will be hard. They'll also be very short so suck it up and crank up the intensity for a successful holiday season!
About The Author:
Gregg Gillies is a trainer and fitness author. His articles have appeared in Ironman Magazine. He has written two books and is a regular contributor to Body Talk Magazine. He publishes a free fitness newsletter available at his site that includes lots of weight training tips, fat loss, nutrition and exercise program information to help you build your best body as quickly as possible. You can find them at and His new blog is