Dear reader, happy holidays! 'Tis the season to rejoice with your family, share in the spirit of giving, and watch a year's worth of hard training go down the drain. Let's be honest—apart from waiting in long lines at the airport and reuniting with people who are best loved from afar, the holidays ensure two things: blubbering up with fatty food and sleeping in strange homes or hotels where it seems almost impossible to get in a good workout. By the time the New Year rolls around, it's no wonder you end up making the same ol' resolution again: "To get back in shape!" Happy holidays, indeed.
But we're not really that cynical here at MF. That's because we know holiday travels and tribulations don't have to mean a loss of progress or a long layoff from training.
In fact, it's actually possible to sustain or improve the condition you're in with very little maintenance at all. And with our Bare Essentials Workout, we'll show you how to do it—in just 20 minutes a day. The program offers two options you can employ over the next eight weeks for getting in a muscle-building, gut-busting workout when all you have at your disposal is a minimum of equipment. Take it with you on the road or to Aunt Tilly's house, or use it in your own minimally equipped home gym when time is short. Either way, you'll start the New Year right where you left off—in shape.
Know Your Surroundings
Wherever you end up this holiday season, take inventory of what's available to you. Does your uncle have an old pair of rusty dumbbells in the garage? Just one dumbbell? Or maybe all you can find is paint cans, which you could use in place of dumbbells. Perhaps your little brother has a set of water weights. Even if one plate has sprung a leak, the other will suffice. Pair it with a bar—hell, even a rusty lead pipe that's been left out on the street for the garbage man—and you've got all you need. In short, if there's a weight, there's a way.
The Bare Essentials program features two circuit workouts—you'll choose one depending on the materials you have access to. To keep it simple, one workout is designed for dumbbells (or paint cans, as the case may be) and the other is made for a barbell (or any long, moderately heavy, barlike instrument). Both work the entire body and are easily adaptable to your specific environment (see "No Excuses" below for instructions on what to do with your particular setup).
The key is that nearly every other exercise in each circuit works an unrelated muscle group. For example, you might do a lift for your legs and then immediately follow it with one that works your back. Since you don't have to wait for one muscle group to recover and can move on to work another one, organizing your workout this way allows you to train your whole body in a short time while doubling as a heart-pounding cardio session.
Go Light, Go Longer
As the song goes, "If you can't be with the weights you love, love the weights you're with," . . . or something like that. Because your options for how much load you can use on each exercise may be limited, we're going to save you the trouble of changing weights on each exercise (which may not be an option, anyway, depending on what you have). Instead, you'll choose the heaviest weight you can handle for 10–12 reps on the exercise that is most challenging for you, and stick with it for every exercise in the circuit. To ensure that your muscles get enough resistance on the exercises that are easier for you, you'll simply perform each rep a little slower.
For instance, in the Dumbbell Workout, you may be able to do 15 reps of the single-leg RDL with the weight you have available. However, you may only be able to complete 10 reps for the side plank w/lateral raise. Therefore, perform your reps in a more controlled manner for the single-leg RDL, so that you get the same amount of fatigue in 10 reps as you would doing the side plank w/lateral raise at normal speed.