Christmas Day is obviously a big day for many reasons, not least marking some major milestones.

Beyond the respective religious traditions, William the Conqueror was crowned king on Xmas Day in 1066, whilst Sir Tim Berners-Lee used the festive period to power up the first ever web page which subsequently got its first hit around Xmas Day in 1990.

Sporting-wise, it’s infamous for a few more, with decathlete Daley Thompson quoted as turning December 25th into a training rampage over his imaginary opposition. He was out there juggling one or more of his 10 sporting disciplines in the cold as he imagined his opposition buried in turkey and bogged down by brandy butter. 

Runner Seb Coe wrote that he was so scared about what his rival Steve Ovett was doing that he once trained on Christmas morning, barely polished off his turkey lunch before then going for another training run, just to make sure...

Just another day?

My own Christmas training regime has varied in level of obsession and ‘attention to detail’. Yes, I train on 25th December, most years. I typically do something – even if it’s a quick weights session once I’ve told everyone else “I’m just popping out to the garage to get another bottle of wine” (only to swagger in suspiciously 20 minutes later with an extra inch on the biceps and an inability to lift a plate of cheese and crackers for an hour or two).

Before I settled down and became part of a very understanding family unit, I was typically racing most Boxing Days on the bike at our local 10-mile time trial event. This resulted in a certain degree of abstinence on Christmas Day with ambitions of showing everyone how well training was going 6 months before it even mattered and with your opposition; typically involving two dodgy looking Santa’s, a fairy and your mate dressed as half a reindeer. I’m all for being ruthless but I’d clearly lost my sense of perspective somewhere along the way.

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All in all, the 25th December is just another day.

It’s one of 365 to consider and I’m not a creature of superstition (although I’ve read recently that superstition-like behaviour is a common side-effect when athletes want increased confidence or control of their performance). The actual reason why I continue to train to some degree on that day is purely because it reinforces one of the few overarching competitive advantages I feel I derive confidence from (i.e. that of consistency). Consistency of training is the bedrock to getting where you want to be in terms of your goals.

I enjoyed reading the story of sculler Alan Campbell, who used to play Christmas music before his races in summer to remind himself that the hard work had already been done months before. 

So, should you train on Christmas Day?

In terms of what Joe or Jane Average can do on Xmas Day though, let’s assume for a minute that you have a small amount of time to play with before Uncle Albert realises you haven’t come back with his fresh glass of port yet - science is indeed here to help.

Short high intensity sessions, whilst often misunderstood as some kind of a training shortcut, have been shown to be incredibly effective at developing your aerobic, anaerobic or neuromuscular conditioning. Due to their intensity and severity, these can be completed in a very short span of time rather than hours.

Whilst remaining a contentious subject, it’s argued that some strength and conditioning work may improve your distance running or your endurance cycling.

Duck out and do a few cheeky lunges, they can be completed in the time it takes to watch the Queen’s speech or The Snowman. There’s no need to slam in that 4-hour ride and hope your return home is welcomed by a Christmas card rather than a set of divorce papers.

What are the ‘risks’ of taking Xmas Day off?

At the end of the day, a reality check is ultimately needed here. If you take nothing else from this, you really don’t need to worry about training on Christmas Day at all.

If you don’t want to or frankly just don’t have the time, don’t worry about it. If you miss a session, your Olympic dreams won’t fade like those cheap novelty socks heading your way.

Some adolescent swimmers took 4 weeks to see a temporary 3.8% drop in their swimming ability and the latest research suggests it’s going to take at least a week off entirely (and possibly up to 4 weeks) before you see any noticeable reduction or changes in your heart’s cardiac performance.

But, if you’re the kind of athlete who lives by the numbers and measures their training impact or ‘training stress score’ (TSS) using the array of software out there, you can actually model the impact of that lost session. Give it approximately 42 days and your graphs won’t even show the blip. Trust me, I checked this already in a blind panic after I missed my Xmas Day ride back in 2011 due to ‘excessive lunch’.

As for me? Well, this year I felt like rolling the years back so it’s off to the ‘winter world time trial championships’. The tyres are pumped up, the skinsuit barely fits, but there’s glory to be had out there in the midst of a thousand daydreams of medals and a dozen competitors dressed as Santa, Rudolf and elves.

Happy Christmas!

Further reading