The good news is that after ten years of researching strength training, I can tell you that your hard-earned muscle gains from the rest of the year will not disappear during a few weeks of reduced training frequency.
That means that with the right routine, you can go to the gym once per week during the holiday season and still maintain (and maybe even add a little) muscle mass. What follows is a simplified routine that hits the major muscle groups so that your body does not enter a catabolic (muscle reducing) state. Think of it as maintaining what you have until your schedule and eating habits return to normal in a few weeks.
Believe it or not, this routine involves a total of 20 seconds of exercise. Yet the intensity of the four exercises will be so high that your body will not enter a catabolic state. In order to do this, you must stimulate the largest muscle groups in the body: legs, back, chest, and shoulders.
In each of these exercises you will lift a very, very heavy weight only an inch or two in your strongest and safest range of motion and you'll hold it in that position for five seconds. If you can hold it longer than five seconds, then the weight is too light... so get ready to set some personal records! You can perform them in any order.
Move the empty sled of a leg press to the top of its range and lock it into position with the safety stops. Load the press with double what you would normally press or triple what you would normally squat.
Sit in the leg press machine and adjust the seat so that your legs are within two or three inches of full extension. Press the sled up and try to hold it motionless for five seconds. Do not lock out; force your leg muscles to do the work. On your first workout, you'll likely have to adjust the weight so that holding it for just five seconds is an all-out effort. Don't cheat yourself here... load that baby up!
If you are already very strong, you might have to do this exercise using one leg at a time. I know many trainees who can hold over 1,000 pounds with one leg. Make sure to jot down the amount of weight used.
BackWe target the large muscles of the upper back with a lat pulldown. Adjust the seat under the high pulley so the pulldown bar is at the end of your reach. Select a weight that is about double your usual weight for this exercise. Using an overhand grip, pull the bar down two or three inches and hold it motionless.
Again, if you are very strong already, you might have to resort to using one arm at a time. I want to stress again that you shouldn't go easy on yourself with the five-second hold -- the weight has to be so heavy that it is very difficult for you to hold it even that short amount of time. If it's easy, you might as well stay home and eat fudge. Again, jot down the amount of weight used.
Place an empty barbell in a power rack or Smith machine. Adjust the safety stops so the bar is within two or three inches of your fully extended reach. Place about double the weight you normally bench press onto the bar.
Using a wide grip, press the bar up off the pins and hold it for five seconds without locking out. You might have to adjust the amount of weight so you can get it off the pins, but you should still only hold it for five seconds. When you get it right, make a note of the amount of weight used.
Do this standing shoulder press using the same power rack or Smith machine you used for the bench press. Adjust the safety stops so the bar is two or three inches below your full overhead reach when standing. If you are too tall for the rack, then you can do a seated shoulder press.
Load the bar with double the weight you normally use for this exercise. If you don't normally do a shoulder press, try starting with the same weight you used on the lat pulldown in this workout. Using a shoulder-width stance and a wide grip on the bar, press the weight up an inch or two and hold it motionless for five seconds. Do not lock out. Note the amount of weight used.
Hold that weight
When you are finished, you'll know how much weight you can hold for five seconds on each of the aforementioned exercises. Over the coming weeks, all you need to do is return to the gym once every week or ten days and repeat each of these exercises with the same weight.
As long as your muscles can duplicate the intensity of these exercises, I guarantee that you will not lose any ground over the holidays.
This is the perfect routine to get you through the challenges of the holidays. You don't need to visit the gym often, and you can be in and out in 10 minutes.