Research Says It's Fine to 'Catch Up' on Exercise Over the Weekend—But Should You?

We asked fitness experts what’s better: Spreading out your exercise or cramming it in over the weekend.


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Life gets busy, and fitting in a workout isn’t always easy (or possible). Fortunately, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that exercising longer and harder but fewer days per week (also known as being a “weekend warrior”), can be just as effective for your health as spreading out shorter fitness sessions throughout the week. 

For the study, doctors looked at the health data of 35,0978 adults in the U.S. who either exercised moderately for at least 150 minutes or vigorously for at least 75 minutes per week (presumably based on current physical activity recommendations). The data showed no significant difference in the mortality rates between those who fit all their exercise in over the weekends and those who exercised over multiple sessions throughout the week. The study also concluded that both of these groups “had lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates,” compared to those who did no exercise.

But is catching up on exercise and cramming a week’s worth of workouts into a day or two truly the best way to approach health and fitness? Here's what medical and fitness professionals have to say.

Is being a “weekend warrior” a good idea?

According to Leonard Pianko, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and internal medicine physician based in Aventura, Fla., the results of the study are counterintuitive to what the medical community has always believed. “It would be logical to assume that spreading out your workouts over the course of the week would improve longevity over those who work out just on the weekends. It turns out that intensity and the number of minutes are more important for longevity than frequency,” he says.

It’s great to know that being a just-over-the-weekend exerciser offers many of the same overall health benefits—and to confirm that any exercise is always better than no exercise—but Dr. Pianko doesn’t necessarily recommend taking a weekend warrior approach to fitness all the time. Let's put it this way: If you already exercise throughout the entire week, you don't need to rethink your workout routine and start saving it all for Saturday and Sunday.

“Regularly scheduled exercise has additional benefits, such as mood elevation, strengthening your bones, preventing falls, etc.,” he explains. “So if you can make the time to work out regularly and spread it out over the course of the week, that would still be my exercise routine of choice.”

Certified personal trainer Ridge Davis agrees that just because you can be a weekend warrior doesn't mean you always should be. Of course, some days will be harder than others for prioritizing a workout, and that's completely fine. Like Dr. Pianko, Davis recommends pacing yourself and working out regularly throughout the week. 

“This ensures you get the benefits of exercise more often—especially the endorphins and mood-boosting results moving your body can provide,” he says. “Jamming your exercise quota in a few days may have similar [overall longevity] benefits, but sustainability and progress with your fitness journey will be limited. The probability of hitting your movement goals is higher when you implement a strategy to move a bit each day.”

What's best: longer, moderate intensity exercise or shorter, higher-intensity exercise?

The short answer: It really depends. Those who struggle to find enough time to stay physically active may opt for shorter, more intense workouts to get their recommended movement in (HIIT workouts will get your heart rate up in no time!). But this may not be ideal for everyone. Others prefer swimming gentle laps, biking the neighborhood, or walking for a longer stretch of time. According to Roxie Jones, certified personal trainer and Alo Moves instructor, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to working out. “The type of exercise always depends—it's such an umbrella term and people's goals and levels can be so varied across the board. Not everyone is cut out to do vigorous exercise nor does it always produce the best, long-term results.”

Jones generally recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as a few resistance or strength training sessions including Pilates, yoga, or moderate cycling/biking in addition to daily movement. However, this can vary depending on what your goals are. The workout of someone training for a marathon will look quite different than someone trying to improve their flexibility or work up to lifting fifty pounds in the weight room.

The best workout routine is the one you will do.

No matter what your fitness goals are, your routine will be more sustainable if you create a plan you can stick to and enjoy. “[One of my more] advanced will usually train three to four times a week with lifting, take one day for cardio, and two days for rest,” Jones says. “My beginners are doing one to two days of lifting and perhaps one fun workout of choice.” 

So, if you've been a weekend warrior due to time constraints and want to integrate more frequent exercise into your week, the thing to do is find small pockets of time for any kind of movement. Instead of scrolling TikTok during your lunch hour, take a 30-minute walk or do a 30-minute online yoga class. Meeting a friend for dinner on Thursday? Ask if they want to join you for a spin class beforehand—or simply just walk with you to the restaurant. Opt for a hike with the family instead of going to the movies. Remember that while your body certainly needs rest, it was also made to move.

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