Getting in shape? Avoid ‘weekend warrior’ mentality

Countless numbers of people ring in every New Year vowing to get in shape. So here we are in late January, and if you’re like many of those people, you’re still wondering how to begin. Here’s my word of advice: don’t become a Weekend Warrior. 

Weekend Warriors are people who participate part-time in a fitness activity, attempting to squeeze in a week’s worth of fitness into a small number of sessions, usually on the weekend. Unfortunately, weekend warriors typically overload their system and do more than their bodies are ready to do.

The weekend warrior is set up to have many problems during exercise, mostly due to the overload stress on the body. These include sprains/strains, fractures, pulled muscles, contusions, and other injuries. People who are not acclimated to exercise and try to do too much also set themselves up for heat illness and dehydration. Why does the body have trouble handling the stress of participation? Essentially there exists a lack of muscular, cardiovascular and nutritional fitness, which are then combined with improper technique and cause breakdown.

One of the best ways to prepare the body for the stress of being a weekend warrior is to turn the weekend warrior into a routine exerciser, improve nutrition, and ensure proper technique during exercise.

The main factor is making workouts work for you. Exercise should be fun and shouldn’t have a military mentality behind it. Committing yourself to daily physical activity is the first step—where the mind goes the body will follow. Put fitness on your schedule as you would any other mandatory appointment and don’t miss it. Setting some short-term and long-term goals will also help to keep your exercise regimen in perspective. Avoid the ‘all or nothing’ view. Don’t be discouraged if you miss a session, just reschedule and get back on track.

As you look to begin an exercise program, start small and gradually build up. Aerobic activities, such as running, biking, elliptical, swimming, and brisk walking, are great for improving cardiovascular fitness and overall health. Aim for 20-60 minutes per day and feel free to split your time into multiple smaller workouts in the beginning.

Be creative with time at work and home to get in more activity: use the stairs, walk longer/farther, carry one bag of groceries at a time, start a hobby that involves movement. Simple things like household chores can be your exercise friend.

Remember that your body needs the right fuel to exercise. Check your nutritional fitness. You may need to adjust the types of food you eat and fluids you drink to provide your body with the best nutrients for energy. Water is the ultimate nutrient and adequate hydration is vital for maximizing your exercise potential and preventing dehydration. Sports drinks are only needed for longer exercise sessions, typically more than one hour.

Avoid drinks that cause a negative fluid balance, such as caffeine, alcohol, and so-called “energy drinks” which typically have caffeine or other stimulants that actually cause you to lose fluids.

Making exercise a focus and a regular part of your routine will help you to feel better, increase your energy level, and improve your overall health.

 -By David Berkson, M.D.