Pros and Cons of the Weekend Warrior Approach to Exercise

If you don't have time to work out every day, you may try to fit it all in on the weekend. Here are the benefits of a weekend workout.
weekend warrior workout

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should spend a minimum of 150 minutes weekly in “moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity,” or a minimum of 75 minutes in “vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity,” or a combination of both. Oh, and let’s not forget strength training all the major muscle groups at least twice a week, and if you are over 64, WHO recommends adding another day for movement that focuses on “functional balance.”

No wonder the average person can’t find the time for fitness. However, a recent study found that cramming all the exercise into a day or two was as effective as spreading it over the week. Using a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, researchers measured the overall levels of fat, including problematic belly fat, in a group of more than 9600 people between the ages of 20-59, who ranged from weekend warriors to couch potatoes and those who exercised regularly. Far more accurate than Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, the DXA can analyze things like bone density, lean mass, and fatty tissue for more comprehensive results.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the associations between physical activity patterns and DXA-measured adipose (fat) tissue mass,” corresponding author Lihua Zhang, a health care scientist at the National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing told CNN via e-mail.

The results concluded that the weekend warriors and the regular exercisers saw similar results in measurably reduced fat overall, smaller waistlines, and lower BMI. However, the weekend warriors who worked out longer and more intensely saw even more reduction in belly fat. While that sounds promising, is the weekend warrior approach for everyone?

The Pros

strong woman

How often have you had to cancel an exercise class due to work, felt discouraged, and then sat on your couch the rest of the night feeling guilty for missing your workout? One of the biggest pluses of the weekend warrior-style workout is that it sets you up for success by eliminating the pressure to get a specific amount of minutes into each day to meet a weekly goal. Did you miss class? No problem! You can make up the time over the weekend. Another check in the plus column is that weekends generally lend themselves to more outdoor activities like a long run, walk, or bike ride. Then, there’s the fact that the results, according to this study, speak for themselves. You will still reap the rewards and see a reduction in overall body composition and fat. Finally, it’s a “one and done.” Once you’ve finished, you don’t have to think about it for another week.

“The weekend warrior pattern is worth promoting in individuals who cannot meet the recommended frequency in current guidelines,” advised Zhang.

To be clear, a weekend does not have to be a Saturday or Sunday. Every schedule is different. The point is that you are looking for the days when you have more time to commit to completing it all at once.

The Cons

exhausted after a workout

The biggest con to the weekend warrior approach is that you must be in pretty good shape to work out for an hour and a half or longer. That’s intense and not beginner-friendly. If you aren’t ready for it, you risk injury. Another caution is that encouraging prolonged exercise on a weekend can be triggering to some people who suffer from eating disorders or exercise addiction. Finally, the promise of reduced belly fat with longer workouts is slightly misleading. You cannot spot reduce fat. It is important to note that these individuals experienced an overall decrease in body fat, which included belly fat.

Those weekend warriors who saw a higher reduction in belly fat were the ones who worked out at a higher intensity for extended periods. Even Zhang admits that those results could be misleading, explaining that the weekend warriors in the study spent 147.6 minutes in each exercise session over the two days. She added that may “partially explain our results while needing further investigation.”  Finally, this study does not tell us what the subjects ate during the study. Were they on a low-carb diet? Keto? It would be interesting to note participants’ eating habits because not even a weekend warrior can out-exercise a bad diet.

The Conclusion

couple working out with tennis

Love it or hate it, regular exercise is a non-negotiable when it comes to staying fit and healthy throughout our lives. And yes, it’s not always convenient to fit the recommended amount of exercise into our daily lives. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Whether you break it down into daily chunks or knock it all out on a weekend, moving your body in a way you enjoy is what matters. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It just has to be something. Start slow, build up, and commit to yourself and your overall health.

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