Training for the Holidays
By Jim Wendler


The Holiday season may be great for reuniting families and running up your credit card debt, but it can wreak havoc on your training. Ever since I went to college, Iíve been traveling extensively during Christmas and Thanksgiving. I have been to a lot of high school, college and commercial gyms during this season and have had a lot of experience trying to get good, productive workouts. This has been about as challenging as trying to crap in a one room apartment without anyone knowing. For all of my single life I lived in one room apartments and itís always a nightmare when you have some girl over and all you want to do is blow it up, Dresden-style, and all you can do is try to time your flush with your farts. For those of you that have lived it, you know exactly what Iím saying.

Enough with the stories and small talk; before we go any further about some good ways to train during the holiday season, letís make sure we are on the same page. This article will be especially useful for those that meet most of the criteria below:

Are a powerlifter or someone that is just trying to get strong as hell.
Are currently using the standard WSB program or something similar.
Are pretty sure that you will be training alone.
Will not have a lift off or spot; or a poor one at best.
Will be lifting in a commercial gym.
The commercial gym will not have optimal equipment.
Arenít looking to break any records but still want a great workout.
I think the above list is fairly common for most lifters and is often used as a good reason not to train. For those that are chronic over trainers, this might be a good option. But for most of us, we need to do something and itís a GREAT excuse to get out of the house and away from the mayhem. For my first couple years of my holiday training, I complained about the equipment and gyms and those in them. Because I couldnít change these aspects, I decided I needed to change my attitude. Before we go into the training aspect, I should point out that when visiting a commercial gym you should be aware of the following things:

The price for a one day session will run you about $10-20. Do not be alarmed at this. I was in the Atlanta area one holiday season and when the lady told me it was going to be $20 for one day, my knee-jerk reaction was (and this is an exact quote), ďAre you f*cking kidding me?Ē I normally shy away from this kind of exchange with the general public but I felt as if I just got hit in the yam-bag. She was startled and gave me a week pass for the same amount. But just be ready.

Take a Master lock or something similar for the locker room. Since you are probably going to have you car keys, your wallet, phone and a jacket, this is a good option to have. It sucks having to tote these things around the weight room and trying to keep an eye on them. You can take bag, but some of these places have rules about it. If you can, leave most of your crap in your car but some people are uncomfortable about doing this.

Holiday training is no time to bring in your chains, bands and boards. You are already going to create a spectacle with your training and itís extremely cumbersome lugging this stuff around. No need to make an already complicated situation even worse. Our goal is to get in, get a great workout and get out. I have tried bringing gadgets in the weight room and itís been nothing but a pain in the ass.

The Warm-up

This is an essential portion of the training session that often gets lost during your nomadic training sessions. There is little atmosphere, bad music and no training partners to talk to and get your mind ready to train. This is when you have to do a little extra to get yourself ready. Because it cold outside, I usually had to ride a bike or something similar to warm myself up. Iím not especially keen on wearing headphones when training, but this might be a good time to break them out. After about 10 minutes on the bike, do some leg swings and other dynamic stretches to get you ready. Remember that this is more about the mind than the body.

Training for the Squat/DL

Dynamic Squat

We can all agree that most commercial gyms are going to be woefully inadequate in regards to equipment. Since this is the case, we can pretty much assume that there is not going to be a box to squat onto. I have seen some gyms that have something that you can use, but I would prepare not having anything. I have tried stacking 45lbs plates, but they tend to slip and Iíd rather be safe than sorry. Of course this can be a severe detriment to your dynamic training for the squat. Here are two options that I have used to off-set this:

Train without a box; this is usually done with a fairly light weight and done with a closer stance than I would usually take. This is because I didnít have the option of a Monolift or a rack that could accommodate my wider stance. The good thing about this is that it was something different and it made training a little more fun.
Train while squatting on a dumbbell bench: This is interesting as most benches are higher than most would usually squat and the surface area of the bench isnít accommodating for those with a large rear end. But it can be done. Because of the higher bench, you think you can use a little more weight, but remember that the stance is going to be different; the atmosphere is going to be different, etc. So you must account for that. I would recommend that you keep the golden rule of dynamic training; percentages are a guideline, bar speed is crucial. I would rather err on the side of too light, than too heavy.
I would keep the sets to about 8 and the reps at 2.

Max Effort Squat/DL

We are going to assume that most gyms are not going to have a cambered squat bar, a safety squat bar or other bar to use. Compound this with the fact that you are not going to have a spotter and we can rule out most max effort squat movements. This is not the place to be dumping huge weights on the floor or in the racks. We are left with various deadlift options.

Rack Deadlifts Ė this can be an option if the gym has a rack and has pin holes low enough to pull from. This is probably the best exercise to choose as itís easy to set up. I highly recommend bringing in some kind of deadlift straps to use. Most gyms donít allow chalk, so this is going to be the key to holding on to the bar. Add in the fact that most gyms have very smooth, unknurled bars, and the straps become essential.
Deadlifts while standing on elevated platform Ė To do this, you are going to have to stack 2 45lb plates on top of each other and pull while standing on those. You are probably going to want to use deadlift straps on these also.
Although you may have trained with these movements before, they may be set up a little differently than usual, so itís going to be hard to judge where your max is going to be. When I did this, I usually worked up to 1-2 heavy singles, but never failed. I got a good strain but never went overboard. I found that my mind wasnít always optimal for training and if I pushed it, I could end up getting hurt. You may call me a wimp; I call it being smart.

Assistance work for the Squat/DL

Now here is where things get interesting. You can opt for two things:

Stay with basic strength movements that you know.
Do something completely different.
Now if you go with the former, I would recommend doing one or two basic movements that most of us know: good mornings, pull-throughs (all gyms have a cable machine), Romanian deadlifts, or straight leg deadlifts. This is also a good time to use one leg movement such as lunges, one-leg squats or step ups.

I always liked doing something different than I was used to so I would do some leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, etc. Basically just get on some machines that you never use and go for it.

For abdominal training, you can use any of the million of gadgets that lie around or just do weighted sit ups. What I usually did was work up to 1-2 heavy sets of sit-ups and then reward myself by hopping into one of those crunch/roller things that were popular about 5 years ago. Itís a good way to check out the women and appear to be training.

Because the max effort and dynamic workouts are abbreviated and bastardized, I recommend really pushing the assistance work. This means more volume and more intensity. Think of your holiday workouts as more repetition method and less dynamic and max effort.

Training for the Bench Press

Max Effort Bench Press

The bench press is the most dangerous exercise in the weight room. Physical therapist and chiropractors may claim the overhead press or the deadlift, but Iím still trying to find anyone that has died as a result of these lifts. Add in a crappy bar, no spotters and no chalk and you might as well take a handful of sleeping pills. I have tried doing max effort bench training during my holiday training and have nothing good to say about it.

Because of this, I highly recommend not doing max effort work during this training. If you have been consistent with your max effort work, you are not going to get weaker. In fact, this may be a good lay off to have to give you body a rest. What I have found best to do is to incorporate a repetition day involving dumbbells. You donít have to go to failure on these exercises, but feel that you can do a lot of volume work on this day. Here is a sample list of pressing exercises that you can do with dumbbells:

Dumbbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Incline Press
Dumbbell Floor Press
Dumbbell Military Press
When doing these exercises there is no magic set/rep combination. What I want to do is go heavy enough to stimulate but not so heavy that the thin, wobbly bench that Iím pressing off of is going to break. Here is an exact workout that I did at a World Gym in Illinois on Christmas Day several years ago.

Dumbbell Bench Press Ė 25x10, 40x10, 55x8, 70x8, 90x10, 100x10, 115x10, 125x10, 115x10

If you choose not to heed my warnings and do a max effort lift, here are some recommendations.

If they do not have at least an 11Ē wide bench, find a way to floor press. A 12Ē bench is competition width and 11Ē is just good enough. Think of the 12Ē width as Jessica Simpson and the 11Ē width as Ashlee Simpson. I canít say that Iím a fan of either, but I think you get the point.
If you canít use chalk, donít use a wide or semi-wide grip. I recommend using a grip that is about an inch or two from the smooth part of the bar. This will prevent (a little bit) your hands from slipping out on the bar.
If you absolutely, no doubt-about-it, have to board press, use a 3 board. Why? Because there is a good chance that you will have to put it under your shirt and the higher board will fit a little more snugly then a two board. A 4 board is ok, but is sometimes too much board to fit under the shirt. If you plan on board pressing, try wearing a tighter shirt.
Rack lockouts is sometimes a good option but you need to have a very stable pressing surface to push off of and I have never been in a commercial gym that has a bench that is worth a shit. So while in theory, this looks good, in reality it kind of stinks. Especially when pressing heavier weights (such as a rack lockout) the thin, crappy bench is a shoulder injury waiting to happen.
Incline presses also look good but can be a nightmare getting out of the rack. What I have done before (and this is hard to explain) is take a bar out like this:
Get your grip set and get your butt and back set.
Rise up on your feet and get your head fairly close to the bar. This will improve your leverage a bit. At this point you will almost be standing.
Remove the bar from the rack, pressing up on the bar and sliding down the bench at the same time.
What Iíve found is that you practically dislocate your shoulder if you try to unrack an incline press in the standard position. The above scenario can actually help you unrack the bar, but is difficult to get the timing correct.

Dynamic Bench Press

There is not much change here as you are probably not going to be using chains and bands. But you must remember the rule of dynamic bench pressing; percentages are guidelines. So if you are not ďfeeling itĒ lower the weight. It is dynamic training not ego training.

I do recommend using a fairly close grip to prevent your hands from slipping. You can also do speed work on the floor if the bench presses suck. This is what I usually did.

Assistance work for the Bench Press

This is where you can have some fun. No matter if itís dynamic or max effort day, itís time to hit the machine circuit. Some people hate going to commercial gyms, I like it. Itís a chance for me to use things that Iíve only seen in magazines. There are decline machines, standing row machines and other apparatuses that require you to have the mobility and flexibility of a gymnast/pole dancer to get into. Screw the extensions and the JM Press and face pulls are so ďlast weekĒ. The basic rule of thumb is to at least have a 1:1 ratio of pushing and pulling exercises. Other than that, do your worst. Itís time to pump up.

Training Guidelines

We went over a lot of ideas in this article but letís simplify things and give you the real deal.

In the standard template, the max effort squat/DL day and the dynamic bench press day are the only holiday workouts that can be easily duplicated.
Think about holiday training as more repetition work than max effort or dynamic.
Training gear for the gym: belt and deadlift straps.
Donít get wrapped up in breaking records, just have good workouts.
This is the magic of this system Ė if you miss a week every once in awhile, your entire training program isnít shot. This is because the training is not based on percentages but by how you feel and your strength for that particular day.
If in doubt, get on the floor. Narrow benches suck.
Wherever you train and however you do it, have a good holiday season. Donít let the holidays ruin your progress and donít let your training ruin your holiday.