Are your intense, weekend workouts doing more harm than good?
Busy lifestyles, long working hours and a hectic home life mean more than 50 percent of Aussies aren’t reaching the recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week. While the guidelines recommend spreading our exercise sessions over most, preferably all, days of the week, many Australians are time poor and instead opt to compress their weekly exercise sessions into longer periods of physical activity on just one or two days over the weekend. Those of us that take part in this less frequent, intense form of exercise are known as weekend warriors. While weekend warriors may reach the exercise target, the question is, does this intense form of exercise come at a cost to our health?
When you look at injury statistics, we are more likely to injure ourselves when we switch from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one and the injury risk increases as the intensity of exercise increases. In fact, weekend warriors are more likely than consistent exercisers to suffer acute tears and sprains thanks to their less frequent, yet more intense exercise bouts. While injuries to weekend warriors occur in both men and women of all ages, they’re most common among formerly active people over the age of 30 whose work and family obligations prevent weekday exercise.
More alarming than tears and sprains though, is the strain this zero to hero style of exercise places on the heart. Just like any other muscle, the heart can be overtaxed by sudden and demanding exercise, putting weekend warriors at higher risk of developing a heart attack compared to frequent exercisers or even people who are sedentary.
But it’s not all bad news for weekend warriors; according to research from the US in 2004, men who exercised only on weekends were less likely to die prematurely than those who remained sedentary. Weekend warriors also develop an impressive degree of cardiovascular fitness, with a 2006 study of “out-of-shape” adults who began vigorous endurance training on weekends becoming just as fit after 12 weeks as those who worked out more moderately five days a week.
So how can weekend warriors get the health benefits without the nasty side effects? The best advice is to avoid doing too much, too fast. A better plan is to start slowly, exercising at lower intensities for shorter periods of time, more often. It is then recommended to gradually increase the length of each session and level of intensity on a week-to-week basis. Most of all though, listen to your body. It will tell you when you’re doing too much.
About the author
Caitlin Reid is a unique health professional with qualifications as an accredited nutritionist, accredited exercise physiologist and yoga teacher. Caitlin is passionate about all things health and wellness, and keeps up-to-date with the latest health research, which she uses when contributing expert advice to health, fitness, lifestyle and food companies. She is also the nutrition expert for the Women’s Fitness magazine, the dietitian for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and ambassador for Papaya Australia. Follow Caitlin on Instagram @caitlinareid or visit her website.