If your working week makes scheduling gym sessions feel like a challenge in its own right, then you may be forced to cram the majority of your exercise time into the weekend. But how effective is this as far as staying healthy and reaching your fitness goals? If a recent study is anything to go by, “weekend warriors” are reaping many of the same benefits as their weekday counterparts, but there are some important considerations and caveats to note.

Researchers monitored 350,000 individuals over the course of a 10-year period to compare the health outcomes of people who trained throughout the week, against those that squeezed their workouts into the weekend. The conclusion made by the report, published in the JAMA International Medicine Journal, suggests that that the type of exercise, and the time spent doing it, is more important than how sessions are spread out during the week.

Adults who clocked up 150 minutes of ‘moderate to vigorous’ or 75 minutes ‘vigorous’ activity within 7 days all received similar cardiovascular benefits and reduced cancer mortality, whether the workouts were all taken at the weekend or distributed evenly throughout the week. This report should serve as encouragement that finding the time to exercise is of great value no matter how many days of the week that you train. Still, there are some questions to be answered. Firstly, since the data was self-reported by the participants in the study, it is difficult to determine the accuracy around ‘moderate’ or ‘vigorous’ activity. Additionally, the ‘Weekend Warrior’ group made up just 3% of the total study cohort, so many observers feel that a bigger sample is needed. Then there’s another consideration: weekend training may be enough to keep you relatively healthy, but will it help you to make progress in the areas of losing body fat or gaining muscle mass?

“One workout is better than none, but with adequate recovery, the benefits increase with the more sessions that we undertake per week,” says Jake Gowan, who owns Halo Gym in Tunbridge Wells, England, is the founder of Leading Personal Trainers. As a certified personal trainer, Gowan recommends that a large section of the general public should try to take at least a day of rest between workouts. “If your goal is to lean-up and gain some muscle then training only on the weekend is just not enough. Yes, you will see some health benefits but only a fraction compared to spread out sessions. Let’s say you are looking to gain some muscle and drop some bodyfat, then you likely need to train at least 3 to 4 times per week. So, if you train vigorously on Saturday, will you be fully recovered for your Sunday session?”

Another factor not properly covered in by the study is the lack of information around other activities that the participants engaged in throughout the week. Even those who don’t hit the gym, swim, or play sports may have a long walk to work, or be employed in a physically taxing job.

“The participants in the study would all need to follow the same workouts with their sessions tracked,” suggests Gowan, who would like to see more concrete data in future reports. So, only training at the weekend will still contribute to maintaining your health and fitness levels, but whether you decide to just train at the weekend, or workout consistently throughout the week, may come down to your personal fitness goals and how much progress you want to make.

Muscular female entering an empty gym carrying a gym bag

The Weekend Warrior Workout for Busy Lifters

Pressed for time during the week? Get a full-body blast with this weekend-only plan.

Read article