Posted 2 months ago

Tackling weekends 101

So, you’ve smashed your week of training, work, and you’ve been on a maximum productivity level. And now Friday evening is looming, and the anxiety starts to kick in. Does this sound familiar?

Weekends have historically always been a difficult or challenging “variable” to contend with when it comes to physique development. Never mind the fact that society has pushed forward the mindset of “cheat-days” only happening on weekends, or “bad foods” suddenly becoming more “acceptable” to consume between Friday at 5pm and Sunday evening. Weekends can be difficult for many reasons, but from my experience, the main difficulties present themselves because weekends typically come with a change in schedule. This might mean that you work more on weekends, or don’t work at all; you might have more time, or less time than you do during the week; you might be socialising more or socialising less during the weekend too. Each of these situations bring about different discomforts that are often overlooked, or overshadowed by unhelpful advice such as “just get on with it”. Thanks… for nothing.

I used to struggle a lot with weekends. If we look back on 2017, I used to find food restriction very easy between Monday-Friday, but this over-restriction (paired with more exercise and output than what was helpful for me at the time) would mean that every Saturday morning I was up at 8am, stomach grumbling, and would walk into my nearest Tesco’s and buy £20 worth of binge food. And it wasn’t just biscuits and crisps, it was also all the fruit I was restricting during the week, pasta, rice, protein bars, you name it. My mindset fuelled my binge-restrict approach, which I thought was manageable because it was contained to the 48h between Saturday and Sunday. But of course, it would come to Monday and ridden by guilt, shame, and disgust, I’d start restricting again.

Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience, but I thought that sharing my own story would perhaps allow us to normalise these difficulties, before we address some of the tangible action points we can implement in order to make weekends easier and more enjoyable for ourselves: guilt and shame free!

(Please note that all the advice provided below is free of context, so please assess your own situation before applying any of it to yourself. If you have a coach and would like to implement any of these strategies, please consult with them before you do so).

#1 Struggle – adherence to diet
I’ll start with the most obvious factor as this one seems to crop up most frequently. Whether it’s a change in schedule, socialising, or society’s messaging that pizzas are only acceptable on a Saturday, struggling with weekend dietary adherence is incredibly common. There are not many scenarios where I can think of the “just get on with it” approach being more useful than an alternative, so here is my best advice:

Firstly, if you need to adhere to your deficit over the weekend (e.g., competition/photoshoot prep, dieting), this might be a good time to swap some of your food choices and jazz it up. Having slightly different foods to what you’re used to – whilst keeping in with your calories and macros – can make a huge psychological difference, and support adherence. If you don’t work on weekends, you could try changing your training time too so that your dinner meal coincides with your post-workout meal, which will probably be higher in calories. During both of my 2018 and 2019 preps, I always used to train later in the day on a Saturday and have something like nuggets and potatoes or halo top ice cream as my dinner/ post workout meal. Is it the most nutritionally optimal choice? Not really. Is it the best choice for me 1x a week to ensure I can adhere to my diet for 23 weeks? Absolutely.

A second approach you could choose to adopt is that of tracking weekly calorie intake as opposed to daily calorie intake. For example, let’s assume that you currently eat 2,000kcal/day, which would total at 14,000kcal per week. If you find that you are consistently hungrier on weekends and/or struggle to adhere to that number, you could try eating 1,750kcal/day Mon-Fri and then have 2625kcal on a Saturday and Sunday. In this scenario, just be mindful of the possibility of it triggering the binge/restrict mindset: that’s not the goal here (obviously). The way you want to practice thinking about it is simply that it supports your goals better. Weekends aren’t “cheat days” – they’re just days where food might change a little, and this approach could help you adhere to your total weekly deficit.

Both of these changes promote adherence by making some subtle changes to your routine to support the change in routine you might experience over the weekend. If planning your meals out for the week works well as an adherence tool for you, don’t throw it out the window over the weekend because you can’t be fucked – success leaves clues, so assess what those are and adapt them to your own situation.

#2 Struggle – a fear of relaxing
It’s crazy to think of how many of us look forward to winding down over the weekend, only to find ourselves fidgeting on the sofa because we feel like we should be doing something. Either that, or we’ve looked forward to the weekend and then we can’t stop thinking about the impeding anxiety over Monday being around the corner. And yes, you guessed it – Monday comes along and we regret not chilling out enough because now we’re extra stressed and extra anxious. I don’t need to write another article on the negative impact of stress on your physique development (read here) or on the importance of rest for progress (read here), but it’s worth highlighting that these struggles are normal. Many of us also find that with less to do over the weekend, all those thoughts we were suppressing by being busy during the week come looming out the dark, ready to sit with us uninvited.

So, what can we do about these situations?

Permission to take a break
Not to bash our society again, but the grind harder mentality has really done some serious damage on our ability to wind down and relax. Since when did rest and digest become a deplorable state to be in?

As hard as it can be to rest, what I’d implore you to do is ask yourself what’s getting in the way: what do you fear happening if you do allow yourself to take a break? What is your mind telling you is the unavoidable consequence that will result from you resting? These are not always easy questions to contend with, as some challenging thoughts and emotions can show up, but it’s important to address these too. If we don’t know what’s blocking us and if we don’t address that block, we will inevitably end up burnt out, which is not an ideal situation to be in, whether you’re working on your physique or not!

Give yourself permission to take a break. If it helps, make a list of the things your mind is urging you to do immediately in the here and now, put it aside, and come back to it when the rest period (Monday!?) is over.

The anxiety of the week ahead
Let’s face it, not all of us have the luxury of working a job we love, and this might have become even more challenging over the past year, with the requirement to work from home, or with constant strain being placed on us in our workplaces. We obviously cannot just walk away from our jobs, so if you’re in a position of feeling constantly worried and avoidant of the week ahead, why don’t you ensure you enjoy your weekends?

For those who work 9-5 Monday to Friday, training on both a Saturday and a Sunday can be a great way to enjoy the weekend. You have more time to be in the gym, you don’t have to rush out in the morning or fight in a busy jungle of people in the evening. You can also add in other activities such as going for coffee with friends, walks, and if you are dieting, there are many diet-friendly activities you can do (crazy golf, cinema,…?). And what about gymming if you work weekends? Well, there’s always the full week to make time for that. Remember, your schedule needs to work for you, and needs to be the most optimal for your own circumstances.

The bottom line here is that, as above, if we let ourselves wind up even further over the weekend, we will end up burning out. Chronic stress will impede your ability to gain muscle mass and/or lose body fat, whichever your goal. Similarly, if you find that having more alone time during the weekend becomes a stressor due to darker emotions showing up, use this time to reach out to someone, or do some personal development work that can help you manage these thoughts and feelings when they do emerge. It’s not about getting rid of them, but it’s about ensuring they don’t stop you from doing what matters: whether that is resting to recover or going to the gym to reach your goals. (You can read more about stress management techniques here.

Altogether, although weekends can be challenging when it comes to barriers to achieve our physique goals, there are always going to be alternatives and options that will make your life easier. For the most part, unless you’re a professional bodybuilder and get paid to do this, ensure that this lifestyle is always in line with and not in opposition to everything else that matters. Building an epic physique is awesome, but it’s even better when we can do it without compromising on our mental, emotional and social health.

If weekends keep getting in the way of your ability to achieve your goals, click the button below to find out how we can help you overcome those barriers.

Clara Swedlund MSc MBPsS