How 8 Philly Fitness Pros Stay On Track During the Holiday Season



It’s only December 8th, and I can already feel my lofty fitness goals succumbing to the demands of a busy holiday season. One peek at my calendar, and I can already see that my gym plans will get derailed more times than I care to admit in the next few weeks, thanks to the endless string of holiday parties, happy hours and gatherings.

Not that I’m complaining about my suddenly busy social life—Side note: Where are all these far-flung friends the other 11 months of the year? Couldn’t we get our annual hanging out out of the way in, say, August, when I have literally nothing going on, ever?—it’s just that I can’t help but feel guilty about the fact that all the hard work I’ve put in to attain my level of fitness during my more disciplined months goes right out the window come December 1st. And, well, that’s just frustrating.

So I did what I always do in these situations: I turned to the pros and asked what they do to keep on track during the holiday rush. I reached out to some of Philly’s top fitness pros to glean advice from their personal fitness routines in hopes that they would reveal something—anything!—to help me keep my eye on the prize. Hopefully I’m not the only one taking copious notes here.

Roger Dickerman, co-owner and coach at Relentless Fitness

“The holiday season is a constant give-and take-relationship with food and drink, but I try not to make it overly stressful. Instead of going into it with an ‘all in’ or ‘all out’ mentality, I shoot for a combination of these reasonable goals:

  • Earn what I eat. A solid workout early in the day puts me in a stress-free zone for the evening holiday party.
  • ‘Turn off’ only on the occasions that are worth it.  That means enjoying the home-baked Christmas cookies and New Year’s beverages but skipping the random end-of-December Wednesday ‘just because’ feast.  Keeping leftovers out of the house helps!
  • Set clear boundaries (I call them ‘hard stops’) around indulgences. If I know I’m going out for a work party on Saturday night, I schedule and implement a Sunday-morning routine designed to get me back on track.

“Lastly I know that something is always better than nothing. Maybe I won’t achieve personal-best body composition, run marathons, or set strength PRs this month, but these things aren’t necessary during a social, sometimes stressful holiday season. If I stay on track with a base level of exercise and intermittent clean eating, I can mitigate most of the damage and prepare myself for a record 2015.”

Audrey McKenna Hasse, personal trainer, registered dietician and owner of A.M. Fit and Be Well Philly Workout of the Week contributor

“On the days when I know I will be eating more than normal or differently than I would like, I definitely make my workouts a priority and up the intensity to compensate for those extra calories. If I have done a hard workout that day, I feel like I have a little wiggle room when it comes to my dinner that night.

“During the holidays when I know an indulgent meal is coming, I try to eat very light the rest of that day to save up some of those precious calories.

“Although it is called the holiday ‘season,’ I try to remind myself that there are only a few actual holidays. So if I really want to indulge, I can save it for those very special days. Otherwise, I try to stay on track the rest of the time, and don’t give myself a free pass for the whole season.

“At a holiday party, I try to avoid the appetizers completely, and if I need to, stand far away from the deliciously tempting food table. If there are some healthy options, I’ll make myself a little plate and take it with me. Otherwise, I wait until dinner where I fill my plate with mostly healthy stuff, leaving a little room on my plate for the more indulgent things. That way, I get a taste of the good stuff, but don’t overdo it.”

Gina Mancuso, owner and personal trainer at CoreFitness

“During the holidays, it’s easy to exercise less and eat more. To keep everything in balance, each Sunday I take a look at the next seven days to make sure I can balance my workouts with my celebrations; one party equals at least one intense, gritty workout. On the day of a party, I’ll be sure to fuel up on protein early in the day, so that by day’s end I’m not starving—that’s when I tend to eat mindlessly.

“Sugar is a killer for me during the holiday season, so this year, I’m partnering up with a friend and we’re challenging ourselves to ‘no sugar days.’  It really makes a difference to share the challenge with someone else. We support each other and earn bragging rights at the end of each week. I remind myself that I already know what that cookie/cake/extra piece of whatever tastes like, so why eat it? String together a bunch of no sugar days, and the holiday season won’t seem so daunting.

“All that being said, part of the joy of the season is sharing and celebrating with friends and family so there are times when I forget all the rules and just eat what looks good!”

Gavin McKay, president and head coach at Unite Fitness

“Nowadays, fitness studios are not only open when you are off, they have killer special holiday workouts with fun playlists and extra-calorie-burning programs. I like to hit up those special morning-after workouts and burn off the extra sugar and alcohol I’ll inevitably take in at family gatherings.”

Brian Maher, owner of Philly Personal Training and 2013 Best of Philly personal trainer

“Most people don’t work out as much during the winter because no one wants to trek through the cold to get to the gym. Do some body weight exercises at home or use what equipment you have access to. Even if it’s not as good of a workout as going to the gym would be, it’s better than doing nothing at all. And don’t forget to check in every once in a while. I hear so many people say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to weight myself until after the holidays. I know I won’t like what I see.’ While I’m the first person to tell my clients not to obsessively check the scale, it can be a good indicator of how good you’re doing over the course of the month. If you went to a holiday party over the weekend and didn’t gain a pound, then you can safely assume you did a pretty good job. If you went to a holiday party and gained three pounds, you should probably look back at what you did and correct that mistake so you don’t make it again.”

Holly Waters, owner of Fitness Alive and 2010 Best of Philly personal trainer
“After my birthday last week and Thanksgiving, I am really putting myself in check! Throughout the day, breaks are rare so timing my workouts around my busy schedule is key. If I am starting later than 6 a.m., I am setting the challenge to run in the morning with my pup, Franklin. With that comes my first trick: My alarm now sleeps in the bathroom, meaning I have to physically get out of bed and go into another room to turn it off. Here comes my second trick: I leave love notes to myself on the bathroom mirror: ‘Look good, feel good’ ‘Feels so good after you stretch.’ ‘Dedicated to motivating—that means you, too!’

“Once I am up and out, the day is mine, and I look forward to my clients motivating me to work as hard as they are and focus on eating healthy snacks and meals to keep my energy and spirits up.

“When I am at holiday dinners, I constantly have my hands around my glass. I split dishes with friends and have my workout planned for early the next morning so I don’t overindulge.

“Friends and family make the holidays, but being healthy will keep us enjoying those holidays. We just have to keep ourselves accountable. Make a plan, set a goal, sign up for a race and keep it going through the knew year!”

Wil Vicinus, co-owner of Fearless Athletics

“I follow two ‘either/or’ rules when I’m going to any sort of holiday party. First, I’ll decide before I get there that either my nutrition has been on track enough where I can ‘cheat,’ or it hasn’t been. Planning in advance helps me to stay on track when presented with options, as there’s already a voice in my head cautioning me if I’ve decided that I’m not going to cheat. If I am taking the opportunity to cheat, I’ll have either a piece of dessert or an adult beverage —never both in one meal. Desserts and alcohol drinks are both full of empty calories, so I make sure I’m not getting into double trouble by only partaking in one or the other.”

Juliet Burgh, vice president and nutrition director at Unite Fitness

“What I do is pick only a few parties to attend. I eliminate all temptations that way. You are not expected to attend every party you are invited to, so pick and choose two to three, max, that are really meaningful.

“I will also try to recreate some festive treats in a healthier way. For example I can’t get enough of hot cocoa this season, so I make my own using only three ingredients: unsweetened vanilla almond milk, cocoa powder and one to two tablespoons of coconut sugar. Way healthier than any coffee shop!”

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly—here’s how: