The week is often busier than we expect—whether you’re spending extra hours in the office or taking care of a sick kid. At the end of the day, you feel drained and that workout just isn’t going to happen.
It’s easy to put fitness on the back burner with so many other tasks on your list, but the fact remains that an active lifestyle is important for both physical and mental health. The good news is, you don’t need to add a 50-minute workout to your M-F to-do list.
One alternative is the “weekend warrior” regimen. It’s convenient and time efficient, which can be a life-saver for a hectic week while ensuring that you still make time for you and your body. Still, it may not be the perfect solution.
Consider the benefits, drawbacks and another simple alternative, to find the best way to make time for fitness in your hectic schedule.
Benefits of weekend warrior workouts
The idea of weekend-only workouts is that small doses of exercise are more beneficial than no exercise at all, and research from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) does support this. The data finds that as long as adults participate in at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, the benefits are the same—regardless of when or how that activity is achieved.
If you condense this required physical exertion into just two days, the results can be as effective as a fitness routine spread out across the week. JAMA explains, “Quality might be more important than quantity.”
In fact, the study, which tracked the exercise habits of more than 63,000 men and women found that people who engage in weekend warrior workouts are at a 40 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 18 percent lower risk of cancer mortality and 30 percent lower risk of death in general, compared to those who are “insufficiently active.”
These health benefits, the research suggests, are similar to those observed in people who exercise on a more frequent basis during the week. But, that’s not the whole story.
Drawbacks of weekend warrior workouts
While the JAMA data makes a strong case for the health and longevity benefits of a weekend warrior workout, there are potential hazards associated with this regimen too. Performing 75 to 150 minutes of high-intense movement in just two days increases the risk of injuries:
“If you exercise during the weekend enough to meet recommendations, you’re probably more likely to do it in a vigorous fashion. So because of that, you’re probably more likely to suffer musculoskeletal injuries,” cautions I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an article for U.S. News & World Report.
In order to ensure the body can sustain this level of strenuous exertion, you have to be dedicated to stretching consistently before and after your workouts.
What’s more, there are some limitations to the JAMA study. Brian Parr, associate professor of exercise and sports science at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, explains in an interview with CNN Health.
“It doesn’t tell us much about how these activity patterns impact health the way most of us would consider it, from controlling blood pressure, diabetes and blood lipids, to depression and weight control. It also doesn’t say anything about fitness including strength, endurance and flexibility which is an important reason many people are active.”
Parr also points out that 94 percent of weekend warriors participate in sports that are full-body and often “more intense than what they might do if they exercise regularly.” This can lead to extreme muscle soreness, pain and discomfort, or athletic-related injuries.
Finally, exercise increases your serotonin levels, leading to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. By exercising more throughout the week, you may be able to better handle the stresses of a hectic lifestyle.
How to integrate movement into your busy life
No matter how you choose to schedule your time, you need to find a way to stick with fitness long-term if you want to reap the benefits. Creating consistency in the workouts that you do, not just in the frequency, is key to seeing results, says Matt Russ, an expert level coach for USA Cycling explains this importance. Russ explains the importance of the former:
“Consistency doesn’t just apply to the frequency of workouts, but how consistently that you adhere to the workout format. It’s no surprise that those who follow their plan precisely are the ones who see the greatest improvements in performance. There might only be room for one or two breakthrough workouts per week, [but] hitting these important workouts consistently and correctly is the key to forward progression.”
As you might have expected, consistency in frequency does come into play as well, as Russ continues to explain: “It is too straining for the body to experience sporadic spurts of strenuous exercise. For optimal results, you want to build up to higher levels of cardiovascular, flexibility and strength training.”
This gradual increase allows your muscles and associated tendons and ligaments to grow and adjust to the challenges of a tough regimen.
If you simply cannot fit a full workout in during the week, there are low-maintenance ways to help you become more active on a consistent basis during the week. The idea is simple: perform quick, explosive bursts of movement for short periods of time. These intervals can be done anywhere with minimal—or no—equipment.
Even if each one adds up to only 10 minutes, speed, vigor and intensity allows you to experience similar benefits as a 50-minute endurance workout in terms of reducing blood sugar and boosting the metabolism, suggests the Public Library of Science.
Here are a few short exercises to add to your daily routine:
- Do jumping jack repetitions in the kitchen while your coffee brews each morning.
- Jog up the stairs instead of taking an elevator and lift your knees for extra momentum.
- For exercise at work, stand up from your desk periodically to execute a fast-paced series of lunges, squats and pushups.
- Pace briskly around the office or parking lot on your lunch break and keep a pair of dumbbells on hand, so you can perform upper-body moves like bicep curls, deltoid presses and tricep extensions as you walk.
- Do abdominal sprints in the evening as you watch Netflix to target the core, obliques and thigh muscles.
All of these can also be done in 10 minutes in the morning or at night, right in your living room or bedroom.
Get active all week long
The benefits of intense, weekend warrior workouts don’t seem to outweigh the potential drawbacks. Use quick, intense movements for short bursts of time to reap the mental and physical benefits of working out. You may even notice your weeks feel less stressful with a few short workouts mixed in between appointments.