It’s summer, the weather is gorgeous, and you haven’t been hiking, cycling, water-skiing, or ___________ (fill in the blank with your favorite activity) for ages. All you want to do is get outside on the weekends and enjoy the Pacific Northwest.
Great! Go for it. But remember that stuffing most of your weekly exercise into just two days qualifies you for Weekend Warrior status. While sports medicine experts note it’s better to be a weekend warrior than to be sedentary, sporadic exercise may set you up for sports injuries that put a damper on your summer fun.
A double edged sword: Health benefits and injury risks
Ultimately, it’s ideal to get exercise most days, but those who only have time to exercise sporadically experience health benefits that the completely sedentary do not. Research suggests that just “one to two workout sessions per week is enough to reduce all-cause mortality among those with no major risk factors.”
While occasional exercise is associated with increased life expectancy, it’s paradoxically linked to an increased risk of injury, which researchers speculate may be caused by weekend warriors over-straining themselves as they attempt to cram the most exercise in the least time. Another hypothesis is that weekend warrior athletes are vulnerable because they are simply not as experienced in their sport. Ultimately, the increased injury risk is probably a combination of these factors, and perhaps others. But regardless of the reason sporadic exercise has paradoxical effects, there are steps weekend warriors can take to mitigate their injury risk.
Common weekend warrior injuries
“Leaping into a sport or exercise you haven’t done in months or years, and pushing yourself too far, too fast, without preparing your body first, is a quick route to injuries,” says Jessie Fudge, MD, a sports medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Everett Medical Center. Injuries she frequently sees include:
Ankle sprains are among the most common sports injury, and occur when a twisted ankle stretches or tears the ligaments that surround the ankle.
Depending on the activity, shoulder injuries—including sprains, strains, and dislocations—can occur, especially with overuse.
Many joggers and runners complain of shin splits, which are pains that run along the front of the lower legs.
Hamstring muscles, which are located on the back of the thigh, can be stretched from activities like running. Because hamstring muscles are difficult to rest, injury is fairly common.
Inner thigh muscles, or groin muscles, can be strained when pushing off in a lateral, side-to-side movement.
ACL tear (knee)
The anterior cruciate ligament essentially connects the leg bone to the knee. When runners stop too suddenly, or when athletes are struck in the knee during a contact sport, ACL tears can occur, and often require surgery.
Patellofemoral syndrome (knee)
This knee injury is caused by the kneecap rubbing against the leg bone, damaging tissue and causing pain.
Any repetitive use of the elbow, such as hitting a tennis ball, can irritate the elbow’s tendons and cause tenderness.
5 tips for preventing weekend warrior injuries
Fortunately, injuries can often be prevented with adequate preparation and a sprinkle of caution. Here are a few tips:
1. Don’t save your workouts for the weekend
Exercise at least every other day, week in, week out, to keep your body in shape for your weekend fun.
2. Set realistic goals for yourself
“If you haven’t done a sport or exercise for years, don’t expect to be able to start right back at the level where you left off,” says Dr. Fudge. “Begin doing conditioning exercises that prepare your joints and muscles for the sport. Then start back slowly and gradually increase your distance or duration.”
3. Warm up before beginning your activity
Many people skip warm-up exercises because they want to get right to the main activity. But even 10 minutes of stretching tight muscles can go a long way toward preventing injuries.
4. Mix it up
Focusing on just one sport or activity can over strain certain parts of your body. Try cross training, where you combine several diverse activities—like swimming and jogging, or cycling and basketball.
5. Listen to your body
Yes, exercise takes some discipline and determination, but pushing through the pain increases your risk of injury, or of exacerbating an existing injury. If it hurts, back off a bit or take a break.
Treating your warrior wounds
Minor aches, pains, and strains can often be treated with rest and an ice pack. But when in doubt, see a medical professional.
If you live in King County, you can visit CareClinic, a retail clinic at select Bartell Drugs that’s open seven days a week. If you’re outside King County, check out other retail clinics or urgent care centers for sports injuries that require attention but aren’t serious enough to warrant an ER visit.
Subscribe to our email newsletter to receive more tips about health, wellness, parenting, and nutrition.
Education is a key to good health and injury prevention. Share this graphic and link on Pinterest or your favorite social network to help your family and friends keep physical activity safe.