Fitness won’t always fit into your week—especially the workweek—like a perfect puzzle piece. Most of us know the importance of exercise, but the practice of devoting time daily can be challenging with so many competing priorities. When this happens, we often feel that the only option is to use time on our weekends to workout. We refer to the habit of cramming a week’s worth of exercise into 1-2 days as the “Weekend Warrior” mentality. While not an ideal approach to physical fitness, this activity frequency can still yield health benefits if you take the right steps to mitigate the associated health risks.
How does this pattern of exercise affect health? It is easy to assume that any exercise will lead to positive health outcomes. However, physical ailments and injuries become more frequent when physical activity is confined to 1 or 2 days. The “Weekend Warrior” who confines exercise into a couple of days during the week runs the risk of overuse injuries, especially in the upper extremities. Common injuries include hand fractures, dislocations of finger joints, wrist fractures, and tendonitis; other injuries are especially common when playing sports, including acromioclavicular (AC) joint injuries, tears in the rotator cuff, elbow epicondylitis (in golfers and tennis players), ulnar collateral injuries at the thumb, iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tendonitis, meniscal tears, knee ligament injuries, muscle strains, and plantar fasciitis. These setbacks not only affect your ability to exercise in the future, but also affect the quality of your day-to-day life.
The best way to avoid injury is to spread your activity throughout the week. For example, a balanced weekly workout routine could include five 30-minute aerobic workouts, such as walking, riding a bike, running on the treadmill, or swimming. In addition, include two 30-minute strength workouts each week. An effective full-body strength routine could include exercises working the front of the body (push-ups, crunches, and forward lunges), the back of the body (glute bridges, calf rocks, and rows), and the sides of the body (oblique twists and lateral lunges). Incorporating full-body strength work two times a week decreases the likelihood of injury by promoting stability around the joints. Strong joints will promote more efficient exercise sessions and better movement mechanics during sports (such as tennis and golf). Remember too that when you reach the national recommendations for aerobic activity (150-300 minutes per week), you can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, mortality from cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality by 75%.
If your schedule still only allows for 1-2 days of moderate to vigorous exercise, then you can avoid injury by being more intentional about warming up and cooling down. At the beginning of your workout, warm-up the joints and muscles through mobility drills and foam rolling. Examples include shoulder circles, banded step sequences, plank walk outs, and foam rolling of the quadriceps and hamstrings. These 5-10-minutes of preparation will promote a temperature change in your muscles, optimizing range of motion and efficiency of movement. During the workout, gradually increase intensity rather than jump into heavy exertion right away. This allows you to progress safely and to recognize any painful movement patterns before adding resistance. For the cool-down, spend 5-10 minutes stretching out any muscle that feels tight, holding each for 30-60 seconds. This will help promote recovery and decrease post-workout soreness. If possible, perform some of these stretches and mobility exercises throughout the week, perhaps in the morning when you first wake-up or right before bed. A few minutes of mobility work during the week will pay dividends in joint and muscle safety during weekend workouts.
As is often said, something (in this instance, exercise) is better than nothing. An intentionally designed workout with gradual progressions in intensity can still offer some health benefits. However, to reduce the chance of injury, multiply the health benefits, and more realistically meet recommended amounts of physical activity, you should strive to exercise throughout the week. If you feel stuck in the Weekend Warrior routine, then be sure reach out to our Fitness Coaches to learn strategies for working out in a more balanced (and safer) way throughout the week.