The term “weekend warrior” has long held a somewhat negative connotation. It’s meant to describe someone who exercises only on weekends. If you play golf on Saturdays, hit the gym on Sundays and remained chained to your desk for the rest of the week, you could fall into this category.
Historically, it was thought that exercising only on weekends could increase the risk of pain, strains and even life-threatening issues like heart attacks, but research shows the opposite is true. Those who exercise twice per week have longevity benefits compared to people who skip exercise altogether. What’s more, research has shown that deaths from heart disease and cancer are lower among weekend warriors.
Experts still agree that the most effective way to reach your weekly physical activity quota – and protect against injury – is to avoid cramming a week’s worth of exercise into two days. But exercising only during the weekend is better than not exercising at all. So if your weekdays are jam-packed, you can become a safe weekend warrior by implementing these seven strategies:
- Eat a healthy diet. Exercise requires energy and the best way to fuel your body is with a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein to supply your body with the nutrients it needs to perform – which may also help you ditch unwanted pounds. And the less weight you’re carrying around, the less pressure your joints will feel.
- Stay hydrated. While exercising, you lose water faster than your brain realizes. Drink too little fluid and your performance may take a hit. Perhaps even more concerning, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion – and that can take you out of the game. But you don’t have to rely on liquid alone. Water-rich fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, grapes, berries and cucumbers can help you reach your daily needs.
- Wear proper footwear. Don’t try to run a 10K on last year’s overused sneakers. In the same way running requires extra cushioning, court sports like basketball, tennis and racquetball demand shoes with side-to-side ankle stabilization.
- Warm up and cool down. Stretching before and after a workout helps prevent overuse injuries. Tight tendons and muscles are more likely to strain and snap if they’re not warm. Your best bet: Do a dynamic/moving warm up for five to ten minutes (such as walking) followed by a few static stretches for another five to ten minutes. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. After your workout, cool down with gentle stretches to relax worked muscles while your heart rate recovers.
- Do supplemental activities. The key to weekend warrior success is keeping muscles conditioned and supple throughout the week, even if that doesn’t include a standard 30-minute workout. Just ten to 15 minutes of stretching or strengthening can help prime your body for weekend activities. Playing a tennis match over the weekend? Do planks on weekdays to condition your shoulder and core muscles.
- Mix it up. If you do the same activities every time you exercise, you run the risk of developing an overuse injury. Maximize your workouts by focusing on different muscles each day and giving your other muscle groups a break. Avid runner? Take a few laps in the pool. Play soccer on the weekend? Shoot a round of golf or play tennis instead.
- Know your limits. You have to listen to your body. If your workout is causing pain, dial it down. You may be mentally ready to run a half marathon, but your body may need time to get up to speed physically. Can’t keep up on the tennis court the way you used to? Play against someone who is new to the game or find a partner and play doubles so there’s less stress on your body.
If you work out too hard and too soon, you run the risk of pulled muscles, cramps, serious sports injuries and even heart attacks. Use the RICE method for treating sore muscles: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Pay attention to how the soreness feels and how long it lasts. If it doesn’t dissipate – or if it worsens – you should see a doctor.
For more information about sports medicine at Henry Ford Health or to request an appointment, visit henryford.com/sportsmed.
Christina Chapski, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training and Community Outreach at Henry Ford Health. Read more of Christina's articles.