6 Ways to Build Muscle Over the Holidays

Since it is that time of year again that we are going to be celebrating Christ-Mass and Bulks-Giving, I thought that I should take a post to cover some of the best ways that you can build mass on a budget.

Why the Holiday Bulk is so Important

If you have been telling yourself that you are going to be cutting weight and fat this holiday season, or at very least maintaining, you are probably lying to yourself.

There’s no judgement here though! You are talking to a guy who loves pigging out on turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. 

Here’s one thing that you have to remember about training and eating though, you should be integrating cycles into your program so that you don’t plateau and lose interest in what you are doing. If the entire summer you were working on staying lean and hanging on to your abs, the chances are that you probably lost some strength and some lean mass. That’s just the natural byproduct of eating a caloric deficit and consuming less carbs and sugars.

Now its time to have a little fun and change the orientation of your diet and training program. There’s no point in avoiding all of your favorite foods and torturing yourself over the holidays, you should be able to enjoy them since this season only comes around once a year.

There are some strategic implementations that you can start making to your diet and training program so that you can maximize your ability to build muscle, and minimize your fat gain.

1) Increase Your Training Volume

Increasing your training volume is one simple, yet challenging way to make sure that you are going to build muscle and minimize fat gain over the holidays. Take a break from your 3-4 sets of 10 reps, and focus on doing more sets and more reps.

Elevating your training volume is directly correlated to more gains via increased muscle fiber recruitment.

You think anyone gets bigger by doing a couple measly sets of bench press? NOPE! It’s from doing 5, 6, or even ten sets of your compound movements.

During the fall and winter months, focus on doing your compound lifts like bench press, squats, dead lifts, shoulder press, and barbell rows with set and rep schemes like

  • 5 x 5-6
  • 6 x 4-5
  • 7 x 3-4
  • Or even 10 x 10

2) Focus on Getting Stronger

Want to know one of the simplest ways that you can focus on building muscle during the holidays? Easy! That’s just a matter of lifting more and getting stronger. Make sure that every week you are making it a priority to incrementally and systematically bump the weight that you are using on your primary or focus lifts.

See if you can start bumping the weight on the movements that you are focusing on at even 1%-5% every week, or every other week. By gradually increasing the work load and demands on your muscles, they are going to adapt accordingly by getting stronger and bigger.

RELATED: 3 Simple Weight Lifting Programs that Torch Fat

3) Sneak in Cardio anywhere You Can

This is a really great way to make sure that you are burning more calories and keeping your body fat low while you are working on bulking. During your strength training, power training, and hypertrophy (or pump) workouts, sneak in sets of burpees, high knees, jumping jacks, jumps, mountain climbers, and even sprints so that you can make sure to keep your heart rate up during your workout.

RELATED: 4 Reasons Weight Lifting is Ideal for Weight Loss

4) Workout on The Days You Will Be Eating the Worst

You HAVE to make sure that you are doing some kind of resistance training on the days that you know that you are going to be eating the worst. Since I have been working on bulking for the last 2 years now, I focus on hitting my lower body 3 times per week. Now that might sound like insanity to some people, but it has helped tremendously with gaining 30 pounds of muscle, and minimizing fat gain while doing it.

On the days that you know that you are going to be eating the worst, I would highly recommend doing lower body workouts that involve

Or if you opt for total body, throw some rows, pull-ups, push-ups, and chest press in the mix.

5) Load up on Quality Nutrients First

To make sure that you don’t totally wreck your gains by eating dessert first, make sure that your first plate at Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner is a heaping plate of proteins, vegetables, and health fats. This will help supply the muscle growth that you are trying to achieve, and it will slow the release of the sugars into your bloodstream, minimizing the amount of fat that is shuttled to your cells.

6) Use metabolic circuits to build muscle and trim fat

Ah, by far one of my favorite techniques for building muscle and clearing some fat over the holidays. Just because the weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter, doesn’t mean that you need to be getting lazier. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

One of the best ways that you can maximize your growth and burn some extra fat is to structure your workouts into circuits. It will also help you save some time so that your training schedule doesn’t start eating into your social schedule over the holidays.

Here are some of the metabolic circuit designs that I like using in my workouts, and how to put them together.

  • Super sets
  • Triple Sets
  • Strength Circuits
  • Rage circuits

Super Setting

Super setting is the simple coupling of two different exercises together. I like to group these in two different ways.

Agonist vs. Antagonist (commonly known as antagonistic super setting)

An example of antagonist super setting would be doing a set of push-ups followed by a set of pull-ups. In this example you would be working your chest and triceps doing push-ups, followed by your back and biceps doing pull-ups. Push-ups would be the agonist in this set, and pull-ups would be the antagonistic movement because the back is opposite your chest, and your biceps are opposite of your shoulders.

Upper vs. Lower

Upper vs. lower super setting is fairly simple. I just like to pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise, making sure that there is little overlap between muscle groups used from one exercise to the next. A good example of this would be pairing bench press with dead lifts or pull-ups with dumbbell lunges.

Strength vs. Explosive (contrast training)

This is another fun way that put your super sets that involves a strength movement followed by an explosive movement that uses the same muscle groups or movement patterns. Some fun contrast sets that you can do could be

  • Bench press followed by plyo push-ups
  • Back squat followed by box jumps
  • Dead lifting followed by sprinting
  • Pull-ups followed by ball slams.

These sets are great if you want to burn considerably more calories during your workout, build some power, and get a good pump workout in too.

Triple Sets

Triple sets are where you perform three exercises in an organized sequence. There are tons of different ways that you can organize triple sets, and how you fill them will probably be based on how your program is structured. For instance you could perform an antagonistic, upper body super set followed by an explosive movement, core exercise, or lower body movement.

Here’s an example 

3-5 rounds of

  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Rows
  • Sled push (explosive), hanging leg raise (core), dumbbell step ups (lower body)

Another iteration of a triple set could be

3-5 rounds of

  • Upper body exercise
  • Lower body exercise
  • Explosive movement

The limits are pretty much endless!

Strength Circuits

If you are short on time or if you just happen to love full body strength training, this might be the one for you. I would recommend limiting these workouts to 3-4 times per week, just so you can get enough recovery time in between training sessions.

Here’s how I like to structure my total body strength circuits:

3-5 rounds of

  1. Lower Body Push/Pull
  2. Upper Body Pull (pull-ups or rows)
  3. Core
  4. Lower Body Explosive (box jumps, broad jumps, squat jumps, jumping lunges, etc.)
  5. Upper Body Push (bench press)

You should be able to make a sweat angel of yourself on the ground after a workout like this, and you’ll have a nice swell as you’re leaving your workout.

Rage Circuits

Rage circuits may be the most fun and most challenging workouts that you could possibly incorporate into your holiday training program. Due to the extreme intensity of these workouts, I don’t recommend doing more than 30 minutes total of rage training, per session. Reason being, these workouts are designed to maximize explosive energy expenditure during a brief period of time.

Here’s an example of one of my favorite rage circuits:

4 rounds of

  1. 45 seconds heavy prowler or sled push/15 seconds transition
  2. 45 seconds box jumps/15 seconds transition
  3. 45 seconds med ball slams/15 seconds transition
  4. 45 seconds speed ladder drills or athletic cone drills/15 seconds transition
  5. 45 seconds kettlebell swings/15 seconds transition

Rest 2 minutes between rounds

Moving Forward

During the holidays, make strength training the focal point of your program. Doing cardio alone will help you burn a ton of calories during your workouts, but it produces little in terms of muscle fiber stimulation and development. That’s why it is better to integrate your cardio within or immediately after your strength training work.

Otherwise, enjoy the holidays and happy feasting to all my mass-menaces out there! 

Jack Wilson

Was formerly almost 50 pounds overweight, and now I'm a trainer! I love working out with good people, running, dark coffee and dark beer, surfing, handstands, karaoke, country music, and picking some guitar when I can. Choosing a healthy lifestyle literally turned my life around for the better. I hope it can do the same for you.

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