The Case Against the Weekend Warrior

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Do you remain glued to your chair for your 50-hour workweeks, but then jump to play five sets of tennis that first spring Saturday? Do you come home from the office too drained to hit the gym, but then double up on fitness classes over the weekend? If so, you may just be “a weekend warrior,” or someone who crams his or her exercise into one time period. While weekend warriors achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendation to exercise moderately for 150 minutes each week, they do it in one bout instead of breaking it up into shorter time periods several days a week.

Is this healthy? On the one hand, getting some exercise is definitely better than not getting any, and some research suggests that being a weekend warrior can protect you against heart disease and cancer as much as being a more regular exerciser. But there are some definite drawbacks to doing too much at one time.

For one, most weekend warriors engage in vigorous activity, like running and contact sports, as opposed to more moderate types of exercise like walking or hiking. That sporadic level of intensity can boost your risk of injury. As a physical therapist who specializes in sports and orthopedic injuries, I see such effects firsthand. Many of my patients make appointments on Monday morning after hurting themselves during their weekend workouts. Believe me: You don’t want to be one of them. While injury preventionis, of course, important to avoid pain and dysfunction, it’s just as important to prevent lapses in your ability to exercise.

Being a weekend warrior also means experiencing all of the negative health effects that come with being sedentary all week. Think about what sitting for 40-plus hours a week does to your body. It tightens your hip flexors, shuts down activity in muscles like your glutes and encourages poor posture in your lower back and neck, especially if you look at screens all day.

Ready for more bad news? If you’re a weekend warrior in your 30s or older – as many are because young and middle adulthood is also when people tend to be the busiest with family and career life – you are not doing all you can to protect yourself against age-related changes that affect your athleticism and resiliency. As early as your 30s, your tissues lose elasticity and water content, making them more susceptible to damage. Unless you’re exercising regularly, muscle mass and strength also decreases, and the heart is less able to promote good blood flow, making vigorous exercise more difficult.

 

Now for the good news: Regular, consistent exercise can help protect you from injury and counteract many of these negative changes. While there is no magical formula for how to best increase your activity, there is data that suggests it’s typically safe to increase your activity by 10 percent per week. But what if you’re not doing straight running, cycling or swimming? How can you gauge when you are ready to play a 90-minute game of soccer? Here’s my advice:

  • While you are working out, listen to your body, take breaks, stretch often and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Complete an appropriate warmup; this improves blood flow to tissues and primes the heart to sustain higher levels of activity. Warming up also helps to increase the extensibility of muscles and tendons, helping them to resist damage.
  • Take caution when starting a new level of activity – especially if it requires quick movements like changing direction or jumping. Want to sign up for that neighborhood twilight basketball league? Go ahead, but give yourself two to three weeks to get in shape before joining a pickup game.
  • Work on strength and flexibility during the week. Try, for example, sitting less, doing a few brief exercises throughout the day and staying out of habitual postures. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; do a few rounds of walking lunges, air squats and stretches every other day and you will markedly reduce your injury rate.

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