How to Survive the Holidays and Enter the New Year from a Training Perspective

So, if you’re reading this you’ve survived Christmas and, if you’re American, Thanksgiving and the whole holiday buildup.  But you’re not in the clear yet.  There’s the holiday season between Christmas and New Year’s which can be a busy time making it hard to train.  It’s also a time full of social and family events that can present conflicts with the healthy, fitness-oriented routine you’ve established throughout the year.  Here are some tips to getting through holidays in one piece, without the fitness you’ve worked so hard to build all year taking too big a hit.

  1. Enjoy the holidays.  While the key is enjoying the holidays responsibly with your paddling goals in mind, the last thing you want to do is be obsessive compulsive about your training.  The holidays are a family time and your family will expect you to spend time with them.  You can’t be running out the door to train all the time.  They’ll also expect you to eat, drink and be merry.  Fortunately, there’s no need to forego any of the holiday festivities in the name of training.  In fact, you’re making a big mistake if you do. Relax a little and have some fun.  Being able to let your guard down a bit and get just a bit of distance from grind of training is healthy once in a while and doing so increases the chances of you finding sustainable success through the entire season ahead. 
  1. Don’t fret about missed workouts.  Rare is the person that gets through the holidays without missing at least one training session.  It could be due to family commitments, travel, bad weather, the gym being closed, or any number of other reasons.  Roll with it.  If you’ve been training consistently and following a program diligently through the months leading into the holidays missing a few workouts isn’t going to hurt you.  Your consistency has given you a high level of fitness and a bit of a cushion or margin for error.  You’re not going to lose any fitness through a few missed sessions.  Now, if you continue to miss sessions into the New Year it’s a different matter but missing a few sessions over the two weeks of holidays isn’t going to hurt you.
  1. Keep your eye on the “little things”.   I’m a firm believer in taking the “no stone left unturned” approach to training and preparation for competition.  It’s not just working hard on the water or in the gym that leads to success.  Things like consistently making appropriate food choices, getting proper rest and sleep, utilizing recovery strategies between training sessions, etc. may not make or break your chances of achieving your goals on their own, but when added together they can have a big impact on your success.  The holidays present scenarios where it is awfully hard to control all these little things.  In fact, it’s almost impossible not to falter a little in one area or another.  The key is to exercise moderation in any transgressions in these areas.  By all means, partake in all the holiday festivities you can, but be mindful of your goals and the small things that in combination play an important part in your pursuit of those goals.  Enjoy yourself but make responsible decisions and exercise moderation. 

There’s always going to be people who look at the holidays differently.  They may not have as busy a family schedule or may have an extended period of time off work and suddenly find themselves with more time to train than normal.  It might make sense for these people to use this time to train more.  I wholeheartedly support using the holidays for a “training camp” should you be motivated to do so; however, I strongly recommend taking the following suggestions into consideration:

  1. Resist the urge to go crazy and train like a maniac.  If you’re able to paddle it’s really tempting to try to pile up the mileage especially since it’s hard to get on the water in the winter, even in warm climates, because of shorter daylight hours.  If you’re unable to paddle it’s tempting to do extra cardio or make a few extra trips to the gym, just because you finally can without feeling fried after a long day at work.  My advice is to strongly resist the urge to do more than you normally would in a typical hard week of training.  Remember how hard those hard weeks actually are.  How realistic is it to attempt to do even more?  Because you’ll be dealing even more fatigue than normal if you try, all you’ll end up doing is risking injury or compromising the quality of the work you’re trying to do. 
  1. Make a training plan or consult your coach for one.  Whatever you do, don’t just train randomly without any coherent plan.  Take some time to consider what you can do in the time available and organize your week so that you have full days between your strength sessions and aren’t doing intense or high-volume paddles or cardio on consecutive days. Build in some rest with a day off.  Of course, the easiest way to ensure your week is set up properly is to consult your coach.  Most coaches are flexible and recognize the value in an enthusiastic athlete taking advantage of an increase in free time to do more training. They should be happy to help you structure a training plan that is properly balanced and matches both your goals and your capabilities.  This should help you maximize the return on the time you invest in your holiday training and minimize the risk of injury. 
  1. Exercise caution increasing training activities that you haven’t been doing recently.  If you’re a cold climate paddler that hasn’t been paddling much recently and are spending the holidays in a warmer location so you can paddle, be very careful that you don’t attempt to do too much on the water.  Similarly, if you’re going somewhere cold where you can cross-country ski (which is excellent training for SUP) and haven’t been skiing much so far this winter, be very careful not to do too much too soon on the trails.  Whatever the activity, if you’re rapidly increasing the degree to which you’re doing it or are suddenly doing it at a much higher intensity that you’re used to, you’re flirting with danger.  In the worst case you’re risking development of an overuse injury that can become very hard to manage once you have it.  If you’re lucky and escape injury, you’re still likely to do more harm than good to your paddling technique by paddling poorly while you’re tired.   You’re better off doing a little less paddling and replacing it with some quality land-based cardio work.  Looking ahead, there’s lots of time to do more paddling this season.  Doing too much in December and early January is as likely to hurt you as it is to help you. 

Entering the New Year

New Year’s Day has always been a time for people to make resolutions and set new goals.  Gyms always see a membership spike in early January as people are full of enthusiasm about improving their health and pursuing their fitness goals.  It’s likely there are many paddlers who do the same thing, making a big push in their training at the start of the New Year.  So here are a few suggestions on how to approach the New Year from the perspective of your training.

  1. You should have already set some goals for the upcoming season, but if you haven’t, set them now.  Having some goals to train for makes you train better.  They provide you with some direction and some accountability.  More importantly, the goal-setting process makes you think about your upcoming season, your strengths and weaknesses, and should encourage you to create a plan that is going to help you achieve the goals you set.  Try to make your goals specific and “performance related” rather than “results related”.  There is lots of information about goal setting found in “Posts” on the Paddle Monster app that is worth reading before starting your goal setting process.
  1. Make a training plan for the year.  Once you’ve set your goals the next step is coming up with a plan that is going to help you meet those goals.  You’ll want to break your year into blocks or phases of different types of training all based on the competitions that you are training towards, and you’ll want to periodize the work you do within those training blocks so that you maximize the results of your training while minimizing the risk of overtraining or injury.  There is lots of information on the Paddle Monster app about periodizing training that you can find using the app’s search engine.  It’s worth a read before you start developing your plan. 
  1. Get a coach.  Alternatively, you can find a coach who can help you develop a training plan based on your goals, strengths, and weaknesses.  If you’re serious about your training it’s well worth it.  I should make clear, however, that there is a big difference between having a coach and effectively working with one.  Remember, as the athlete you’re in charge of your own destiny.  While the coach is there to help you, they can only help you to the degree you’re prepared to help yourself.  More than anything else, you need to take responsibility for working with that coach by asking questions, seeking clarification and advice, and fully taking advantage of everything they have to offer. 
  1. Follow your plan and pace yourself.  It’s not the work you do in January that counts, rather it’s the work you do day after day all year that makes the difference.  Gyms typically see the January spike in membership level off after a few weeks.  By April, membership levels are typically back where they were at the beginning of December.  Why?  Well, some of it’s due to attrition in long standing members. People move away or quit for a variety of reasons.  However, the reality is a large percentage of the new January members lose their enthusiasm and don’t stick with it.  It’s not enough to put in a few hard weeks in January.  You’ve got to maintain that effort throughout the year.
  2. Set a pattern in January that you can maintain throughout the year.  Rather than starting the New Year as if nothing else matters other than your training, start it instead with a pattern of behaviour that is going to help you train sustainably throughout the year.  It’s better to do a little less in January but find a balance in your life that includes daily training and the self-discipline required to follow your training plan for the entire year. 
  1. Develop a “no stones left unturned” approach to your training.  Little things add up to make big differences when it comes to training in sports.  Consider all the variables which go into a typical race performance, from the training you’ve done, to your dietary habits, to the degree to which you’re able to rest and sleep properly, to how well you monitor your body and address stiffness, sore muscles, etc, to how well you warm up and how often you do paddling drills.  While these variables and more, on their own may not make or break whether or not you achieve your goals, in combination they have a dramatic effect.  Since many of these variables are “lifestyle” in nature it makes sense to start your New Year looking at your life beyond your paddling.  Are you eating as well as you should?  Are your drinking habits an issue?  Do you deal with stress as well as you can?  Do you get enough sleep?  Make an audit of your general health habits and fix things that need fixing.  These things are exactly the types of things that, in totality, can impact your athletic performance in addition to your overall health.
  1. Become “professional” about your health and training.  While by definition a professional is someone who is paid for their work, you shouldn’t have to be paid to paddle to conduct yourself professionally.  Take the little things mentioned above seriously.  Your body is the tool of the trade in paddling.  Why should you treat it any differently than a professional athlete would treat theirs?
  1. Make a commitment to, no matter what, have fun.  None of this is worth doing if it isn’t fun.  While it pays to take your training seriously, if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.  Find a way to keep things in perspective and enjoy what you do.  Focus on the process of training and on the joy of being on the water, being fit and healthy, and doing an activity that you love rather than on results.  You’ll find that results your after end up taking care of themselves.

Happy New Year!  Here’s wishing everyone the best for 2020!