Middlesbrough (UK): Most of us know we need to exercise more. Yet finding time to do things is often easier said than done. For most, we have to exercise only on weekends. The good news is that so-called ‘weekend warriors’ – people who workout only two days a week – can still appreciate the health benefits they get from regular exercise, even if their workouts are limited to weekends only. But it’s important to make sure you’re doing the right kind of exercise to get the most out of these training sessions.
Cardio or Resistance Exercise?
There are two main types of exercise that everyone should aim for. The first is cardio, which of course refers to aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or cycling. Cardio is great for preventing and even treating many chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The second is resistance exercise, which includes any activity where the body or a particular muscle group needs to act against an external force – such as weightlifting or Pilates.
Resistance exercise is good for bone health and can improve muscle strength, size or endurance. It also slows the rate of bone and muscle loss during aging. Resistance exercise can also be great for controlling body weight, blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Since these two types of exercise have different benefits, it is important to combine the two for good health and fitness. But with so much time on the weekend, the idea of squeezing the two might seem a bit daunting.
As for cardio exercise, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is especially well suited to weekend warrior exercisers. HIIT produces the same benefits for cardiovascular health as a 30-minute jog, but in much less time. Studies have shown that doing intense exercise four to seven times a minute, followed by 60-75 seconds of rest, can improve fitness and health. So in theory, at least eight minutes of HIIT could be beneficial to your heart health. But to get the most out of your session, it’s important to perform your HIIT alongside resistance exercises.
There are two main types of resistance exercises. The first type is multi-joint exercises (such as the squat or bench press), which are effective for increasing strength. Single-joint exercises (such as bicep curls) are more effective when trying to increase the size of a particular muscle group. What exercises you do will largely depend on your goals. If your goal is fat loss, multi-joint exercises may be best because they burn more calories because they use more muscle.
Similarly, exercise sequence is important. If increasing muscle size is your goal, doing single-joint exercises before multi-joint exercises that use similar muscle groups can hinder your progress. If you want to build strength, the order of your exercises doesn’t matter.
For general health and fitness, a combination of upper and lower body exercises targeting the major muscle groups (chest, shoulders, back, hips, legs, arms and core) is best. For each muscle group, aim to do eight to 12 repetitions of the exercise between one and three sets, resting two to three minutes between sets and exercises. You should aim to lift weights that are challenging (but not too challenging) to the target repetition range.
If you want to save even more time in the gym, try supersets. Do a chosen exercise for eight to 12 repetitions, then move straight to your second exercise. Rest for one to two minutes before repeating your remaining sets. This method works best when the two exercises target different muscle groups.
designing your workout
How you structure your weekend workouts is largely your choice, your goals, and how much time you have. Whatever you do, be sure to include a good dynamic warm-up to avoid injury. If your focus is on improving or maintaining your general health and fitness, mix it up. You may want to incorporate HIIT training for cardio, followed by a mix of resistance exercises that focus on the upper body on your first day.
The next day you may want to start with some low-impact continuous cardio (such as bike riding), followed by some lower body resistance exercises. Try introducing a few new exercises each week or swapping out the exercises each week — such as using different forms of a squat (such as barbell squats one week and then sumo squats the next).
If you find it difficult to fit everything in one session then spread it throughout the day. Try going for a walk, jog or bike ride in the morning and focus on resistance exercises later in the day. To make these workouts a lifelong habit it’s important to find something that works for you and fits with your lifestyle.
For losing fat, HIIT has been suggested as the magic bullet. But remember that increasing your muscle mass leads to a higher resting metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories at rest. So be sure to include larger multi-joint exercises that target more muscles, such as the squat or bench press, to increase fat loss.
Of course, the more exercise you can do throughout your week, the more health benefits you’ll see. Just make sure that when you do your workout, you only do as much as your body can to avoid injuries — and make sure you warm up enough.