Does Cumulating Endurance Training at the Weekends Impair Training Effectiveness?

Meyer T Does cumulating endurance training at the weekends impair training effectiveness? Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2006 Aug;13(4):578-84.

BACKGROUND: Due to occupational restrictions many people’s recreational endurance activities are confined to the weekends. We intended to clarify if cumulating the training load in such a way diminishes endurance gains. DESIGN: We conducted a longitudinal study comparing training-induced changes within three independent samples. METHODS: Thirty-eight healthy untrained participants (45+/-8 years, 80+/-18 kg; 172+/-9 cm) were stratified for endurance capacity and sex and randomly assigned to three groups: ‘weekend warrior’ (n=13, two sessions per week on consecutive days, 75 min each, intensity 90% of the anaerobic threshold; baseline lactate+1.5 mmol/l), regular training (n=12, five sessions per week, 30 min each, same intensity as weekend warrior), and control (n=13, no training). Training was conducted over 12 weeks and monitored by means of heart rate. Identical graded treadmill protocols before and after the training program served for exercise prescription and assessment of endurance effects. RESULTS: VO2max improved similarly in weekend warrior (+3.4 ml/min per kg) and register training (+1.5 ml/min per kg; P=0.20 between groups). Compared with controls (-1.0 ml/min per kg) this effect was significant for weekend warriors (P<0.01) whereas there was only a tendency for the regular training group (P=0.10). In comparison with controls (mean decrease, 3 beats/min), the average heart rate during exercise decreased significantly by 11 beats/min (weekend warriors, P<0.01) and 9 beats/min (regular training, P<0.05). There was no significant difference, however, between the weekend warrior and regular training groups (P=0.99). CONCLUSION: In a middle-aged population of healthy untrained subjects, cumulating the training load at the weekends does not lead to an impairment of endurance gains in comparison with a smoother training distribution.

My comments:
As the introduction to the abstract mentions, some people, due to their scheduling find that training during the week is nearly impossible. And while the standard dogma in terms of endurance training is that you have to train at least 3X/week (generally for a minimum of 20 minutes), preferably on non-consecutive days, this study brings that into question.

As indicated, subjects were either placed on a traditional training program (5 days/week for 30 minutes at 90% of lactate threshold) or given weekend warrior training (75 minutes at 90% of LT done on Sat/Sun) and monitored for 12 weeks.

Note: lactate threshold (LT) is generally defined as the highest intensity that you can maintain without fatigue, above LT fatigue generally occurs fairly quickly (in a few minutes anyhow). I want to mention that the argument over LT (as opposed to competing concepts such as anaerobic threshold, onset of blood lactate accumulation, threshold power, critical power) is neverending but ultimately kind of tangential to this study. Just think of LT as the highest intensity you can maintain without fatigue; LT is a pretty challenging intensity. 90% of LT is doable and some believe that working in that range gives the optimal endurance adaptations. But I digress.

In any case, over the 12 weeks of the study, at least in this population (untrained middle aged individuals), both training programs gave identical results. As above, this goes against the commonly held belief and may represent a workable schedule for folks who simply can’t train during the week.

Alternately, someone might be able to train twice on the weekends and fit in a third workout during the week; it wouldn’t entire surprise me if this gave even greater adaptations. In any case, this shows that getting most of your aerobic training done (again, in untrained individuals) can stimulate adaptations similar to spreading it out.

An interesting question is whether a weekend warrior pattern of weight training might be as effective as more frequent weekly workouts? Could someone train full body 2 days in a row and then take the next 5 days off and make gains?

Perhaps more interesting is that this ties in with a current trend in aerobic training methodology which is usually called block training. In block training, rather than spreading out hard workouts through the week, they are done in series. So a cyclist might do 2-3 days of high intensity interval work in a row followed by multiple days of rest (for recovery). In highly trained athletes, this may be a way to stimulate further adaptation by accumulating fatigue/training stimulus over several consecutive days and then allowing the body to adapt. I’ve had a couple of the bodybuilders on my forum use this kind of approach for bodybuilding with good results; I hope to write up the idea at some point in the future.