Everyone I’ve been speaking with lately has the same concerns when it comes to the holidays. You probably have them, too. We all want to attend as many events, dinners, and bad-sweater parties as possible, but we don’t want our fitness to be put on the back burner as a result.

You’d think that after all these years, everyone would have figured out how to have their cake and squat, too. Some of us have, though, and the answer isn’t to try desperately to do everything we do in July plus everything that only happens in November and December. You need a new approach.

Here are the five rules that could single-handedly make you finally learn to love the holidays!

The old rule Try (and fail) to stick to a split program through the holidays

The new rule Give yourself the gift of full-body workouts!

You missed your workout on Monday. Something came up, something went down—hey, it just happened! But you’re pretty sure it’s going to happen again on Thursday. No matter how you look at it, the order of your workouts is getting, well, disordered.

This doesn’t mean you should just throw in the towel until next week or next month. Instead, consider setting your precious airtight program aside for a few weeks and performing full-body workouts, or even at-home workouts, exclusively until things die down.

Add in supersets, cardio bursts, or more compound movements to elevate your heart rate and maximize your time.

Add in supersets, cardio bursts, or more compound movements to elevate your heart rate and maximize your time.

This doesn’t have to mean that your workouts will become easy. If anything, they might feel harder! Add in supersets, cardio bursts, or more compound movements to elevate your heart rate and maximize your time. Trust me: you won’t lose any ground. All you’ll lose is stress, because if you miss a workout, big deal. You’ll just do it the next day.

The old rule Let events and workouts compete for your time

The new rule Good morning, gym!

Is your schedule jam-packed with events after work—and a planned workout to boot? Don’t spend your day wondering if you’ll be able to “fit it all in.” You know you won’t—and if even if you do, that it won’t be any fun. But last time I checked, nobody schedules holiday parties before 7 in the morning!

Switch your workout to first thing in the morning on the days you know your evenings are taken. Load up your gym bag the night before, and when your alarm goes off, take a deep breath and prepare yourself to make the most of a crazy day.

This is important for more than one reason. Sure, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, but you also need to make sure to give yourself the gift of fitness and make time for it—even if it’s just 20-30 minutes a day.

Your friends and loved ones will reap the benefits when they have a happy, focused you at their event.

The old rule Don’t eat decadent treats at all*

The new rule Eat what’s special, skip what’s not

Have your favorite seasonal treats, but skip the stuff you can get any time of the year.

Notice that asterisk next to the old rule? That’s because almost nobody ever really followed it. And if they did, well, they were miserable doing it. I’m not interested in continuing that tradition.

So eat your treats! No, seriously, eat them. Just make sure that they’re yours. I don’t mean you have to make them; they just have to be meaningful to you. Sugary treats can be found everywhere you look right now, and you could easily—too easily—ride a blood-sugar high all the way to some sad New Year’s resolutions. But here’s a better way: Have your favorite seasonal treats, but skip the stuff you can get any time of the year.

I abide by this mantra, and recommend it to my clients each holiday season. For example, will I eat some of my grandma’s Black Forest cake at Christmas? You betcha! Homemade eggnog at a party or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? Dig right in! But to those Oreos in the office break room, I say, “No thanks.”

Same for all those overly sweet pumpkin spice lattes, and the seasonal junk that companies try to convince us are as special as treats made by our loved ones. Guess what? They’re not.

The old rule Try to “resist the urge,” even when you’re ravenous

The new rule Don’t let yourself get ravenous in the first place!

I know exactly how many of you responded to my last new rule—the one about “special” foods—by saying, “Yeah, Jen, but when you’re hungry and you don’t have time to cook, everything becomes special.” Hey, I know! This is when planning ahead becomes crucial.

I always pack protein powder, oats, raw almonds, a piece of fruit, and my favorite protein bar when I'm away for the day and don't have time to prep food.

I always pack protein powder, oats, raw almonds, a piece of fruit, and my favorite protein bar when I’m away for the day and don’t have time to prep food.

No time to cook due to a packed schedule? Bring simple, healthy options with you to help get through the day. I always pack protein powder, oats, raw almonds, a piece of fruit, and my favorite protein bar when I’m away for the day and don’t have time to prep food. Don’t let desperation win!

The old rule Train all year, hope it gets noticed during the holidays

The new rule Invite your friends and loved ones to the gym

The holidays are a time when you see people you haven’t crossed paths with since last year. Or maybe you have, but definitely not in the outfit you’ll be rocking at the company party.

It’s normal to secretly want to shock those people into a compliment—”Wow! What have you been doing? You look great!”—or even better, to help inspire them to embrace the fit life. But if all they see is the end result and not the process necessary to get there, it might ultimately frustrate them as much as inspire them.

The solution is to make a gym date with a friend, family member, or coworker this offseason. It doesn’t have to be much: just a quick workout before getting in some holiday shopping or heading off to a child’s school pageant. It will help hold both of you accountable for getting your workout in that day, and provide a more natural platform for fitness questions and conversation, if any arise.

It's normal to secretly want to shock those people into a compliment.

It’s normal to secretly want to shock those people into a compliment—”Wow! What have you been doing? You look great!”—or even better, to help inspire them to embrace the fit life.

The rest of the time, fill your holidays with activity, and invite people to go along. Go for walks after big dinners. Go skiing or snow-shoeing if you have snow, and hit the beach or go for a hike if you’re in a warm climate. Get your natural vitamin D and enjoy the fitness you’ve been building in great company.

When it comes down to it, isn’t this really what you’ve been training for all along?

The bottom line

The holidays only come around once a year, but they come around every year. This isn’t going to change! That means you’ve got plenty more dates with the “-ation” brothers—temptation and obligation—on the horizon.

You can either do battle with them, or you can do your best to work with them. I think you know which one I’m in favor of. Finish the year strong!

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