The biggest mistake you can make this time of year is giving up on your workouts until January 1. You heard me. You know who you are. You think “I just don’t have time to exercise now with all the festivities and obligations.” “I’m going to gain weight anyway.” “I’ll just start again fresh.”  No, you’ll start at ground zero losing all that you’ve worked for thus far. In just 4 weeks time you lose muscle and strength. The muscle you lose won’t show up on the scale because holiday goodies will replace it with fat – up to 5 pounds — so you’ll start again, fatter and frustrated. You’ll also lose cardio capacity. Significant declines in VO2 max (your ability to use oxygen while exercising – higher VO2max means you can go harder for longer) happen in just 2 to 4 weeks. When you start again, you’ll huff and puff and suffer – and the frustration may make you give up…again.

Now for the good news. You can back off your training and minimize your losses. A paper published in the scientific journal Sports Medicine back in 1989 notes that you can maintain your aerobic training for several months even when you work at a reduced level. If you work out at one-thirds to two-thirds in terms of frequency (how often) and/or duration (how long during each session), you will not significantly affect your endurance or VO2max. You just have to work at a high intensity.

What this looks like is if you regularly train five days per week, you could cut back to three and see minimal loss in your fitness gains over the next six weeks. You could also prevent yourself from packing on the pounds as readily as you otherwise would. If you already have a minimal workout schedule (just two or three days per week), you might simply cut back the amount of time you spend exercising – go from an hour to 45 minutes – on those days.

The important message is not to stop completely.

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