Denise Hrncir (pronounced Hern-sir) of Farmington, Minn., loves to exercise. She’d do it every day if she had the time.
Getting physical: Denise Hrncir of Farmington, Minn., who often doesn’t have time to exercise during the week, walks her dog as part of her weekend routine.
But the 52-year-old human-resources administrator often works nine to 10 hours a day, stops for groceries on her way home, fixes dinner and then tries to go to bed at a decent hour so she can get up at 5 a.m. to make it on time to her job at an electric company.
So on the weekends, she crams in as much physical activity as she can. “I push-mow two big yards (about an acre total). It’s not even a self-propelled lawn mower. I try to go to the gym both weekend days and do weights. I ride my bike, and I love to walk. We have walking trails here, and I walk my dog.
“By the end of the day on Sunday, my body is saying, ‘What did you do to me?’ “
She has never injured herself, but she’s sometimes sore for a couple of days afterward.
Squeezing in a workout
People such as Hrncir have been nicknamed “weekend warriors” because they work out hard on the weekends but often can’t squeeze in much physical activity during the week because of work, travel commitments or family obligations. On days off, they may play basketball, soccer or softball, go rock climbing, jog for an hour each day or go for a bike ride. In some cases, they may overdo it and run the risk of injury.
If you’re a weekend warrior, you have to be careful not to injure yourself, says Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist in Ridgewood, N.J., who leads boot-camp conditioning classes for Baby Boomers.
“I see it all the time. I see golfers who haven’t done a thing all winter, and then when the weather breaks, they go out to the driving range and hit a hundred balls, and they’re a mess, especially their hips and lower backs.”
Weekend warriors who are working out in a controlled environment, such as jogging on the treadmill, using the elliptical or going to the gym, are at lower risk of hurting themselves than those who are out playing two back-to-back games of softball, he says.
If you want to perform like an athlete on the weekend, then you need to train like that during the week, he says.
Weekend warriors often ask exercise researcher Tim Church if what they are doing is enough.
“I tell them the worst thing is doing no exercise at all. The best thing is doing something spread out across the week, and in the middle is doing something just on the weekends,” says Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge and co-author of Move Yourself.
The reason for his advice: There are immediate benefits to working out, including better blood sugar control for 48 hours after, he says.
The other immediate benefits include improved sleep and mood and reduced stress and depression, he says. If you just exercise on the weekends, then you don’t get those immediate benefits during the other days of the week, he says.
Physical activity also reduces blood pressure, lowers the risk of heart attacks and stroke, reduces the risk of some types of cancer, helps control weight, improves bone and joint health, builds stronger muscles and reduces dangerous belly fat, he says.
Being a weekend warrior definitely has some benefits.
A Harvard study of about 8,400 men, average age 66, found that healthy men without major cardiovascular risk factors who burned 1,000 extra calories a week doing one or two sessions of physical activity were less likely to die early than their couch-potato peers.
“It’s best to be physically active on a regular basis, but if you don’t have the time, cramming your exercise into one to two days a week is better than doing nothing,” says the study’s lead author, I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
It’s possible to work out enough on the weekend to meet the government’s recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types.
Try to mix it up
Some people think that they have no choice but to be weekend warriors, says Mike Bracko, an exercise physiologist in Calgary, Canada, who has worked as a consultant to companies with employees who are truck drivers and heavy-equipment operators.
“I tell the guys that getting two bouts of physical activity on the weekend is a great start,” Bracko says. Many are playing vigorous sports or working really hard in their yards.
He encourages those weekend warriors to try to include at least one more 30-minute period of physical activity during the week. It can be done in three 10-minute sessions. That activity has to be vigorous enough to raise their heart rate, he says.
Church agrees. He tells weekend warriors to enjoy their longer workouts on their days off but try to squeeze in several 10- to 15-minute bouts of physical activity most days of the week, even if it means walking briskly to get their lunch at a nearby deli.
Hrncir says her job sometimes slows down during the winter, which allows her to make it to the gym four days a week.
In her ideal world, she would exercise daily. “It’s a great stress reliever. It puts my mind in a different zone.”