Is the 5:2 exercise plan just a passing trend?

September 21 2015

Whether you’re a fan of it or not, by this point we should all be familiar with the 5:2 diet. In a nutshell, people who follow this plan eat what they like for five days of the week, before limiting themselves to just 500 calories a day during the remaining two. Although some dieters swear by this approach, some experts have questioned it, suggesting that fasting can be damaging to a person’s health, even if it’s only for two days out of seven.

A new trend emerges - the 5:2 exercise plan

We’re now seeing the principles of the 5:2 diet being applied to exercise routines, with some gym-goers cramming an entire week’s worth of activity into just two days. According to the NHS, the average adult aged between 19 and 64 should partake in moderate aerobic activity for a minimum of 150 minutes a week, and also engage in strength exercises on two or more days a week.

This is the least that you should be doing, and if you’re looking to lose a bit of weight, you’ll need to up your game, while at the same time ensuring that your diet is on point. The NHS recommends that in order to lose weight gradually, you should stick to a daily calorie allowance of 1,900 kcal for men, or 1,400 kcal for women.

The key word here is GRADUALLY. Crash diets are no good, as those who lose weight too quickly tend to put it all back on again further down the line. When it comes to shedding pounds, slow and steady usually wins the race.

Why are people doing this?

Many say that a lack of time is the biggest barrier to staying fit


In short; it’s convenient. We lead increasingly busy lives, and not everybody has the luxury of being able to exercise every day of the week.

The 5:2 plan is particularly appealing to those who work away from home, travelling to another part of the country early on a Monday morning and not returning until late on a Friday evening. We’ve also found that many night shift workers use the 5:2 method. Last month, a TUC report showed that in 2014 there were 3.168 million night-shift workers in the UK - a 6.9% increase on 2007. Now, 12.3% of the nation’s employees work at night, and this figure is expected to climb even further in the coming years.

Although a lot of shift workers will be able to fit in a daily workout - albeit probably at a different time to most of us - it’s easy to understand why many prefer to cram everything into the weekend when they have more time on their hands.

Is the 5:2 exercise plan bad for me?

Not necessarily, but you need to be careful. Naturally, it’s better that you spend two days at the gym each week than none at all. However, the 5:2 exercise plan does encourage “binge exercising”, which can have serious repercussions on your body.

If we were to use the NHS’s minimum weekly exercise quotas as a yardstick, we’d need to conduct around 22 minutes of aerobic activity each day to meet our recommended quota. If you wanted to shove everything into just two days, you’d have to exercise constantly for 75 minutes each day, and then throw some muscle training on top of that. This is certainly doable, but you must remember that this is the bare minimum that you should be doing in a week.

Having spoken to a few people who have adopted the 5:2 regime, most tend to work out for at least three hours at a time on their two allotted exercise days. Having done nothing for the previous five days, suddenly diving into such a prolonged period of intensive activity can have all kinds of repercussions - from muscle strain to sheer exhaustion. While the 5:2 plan can work, you need to be meticulous in your preparation.

How to do it safely

Can the 5:2 exercise routine work?

If you’ve planned two hefty exercise sessions at the weekend, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got enough carbohydrates on board to get you through. Okay, you might be thinking; “Carbs? But I’m trying to lose weight!” The simple fact is, your body needs carbs for fuel, and heading into an intensive workout on an empty stomach is a really bad idea.

You should make sure that the carbs you consume are used as an immediate source of fuel, otherwise they will be stored as fat. If you’re struggling to figure out what you need to eat, it’s best to speak with a personal trainer, who’ll be able to use their nutritional knowledge to help you prepare for your workouts.

Also, try to think about the types of exercise that you’ll be doing. Spending three consecutive hours on the treadmill is fine if you’re a seasoned marathon runner, but for the average person? Not so much. Try to integrate some weight training into your routine, and if you’re insistent on getting the full three hours in, you might want to consider supplementing your gym work with a swim.

Make sure your muscles are fully warmed up before you get into the high-intensity stuff, and don’t forget the importance of your warm down. Failing to allow your muscles to cool down gradually could lead to some nasty strains and pulls.

Taking opposite approaches: Two case studies

As already mentioned, everyone’s schedules are different, and an exercise plan that works for your friend may not work for you at all. We spoke to two people who have interpreted the 5:2 exercise plan in very different ways.

Jessica Wilby is 22 years old, and she has been using the 5:2 method for a few months now. Because of her busy work schedule, she finds it easier to exercise at the weekend when she has more time to play with.

Jessica exercises two days out of seven

“I eat healthily during the week, but I find it hard to get to the gym or out for a run because of my work commitments. I also have quite a lengthy commute, so I sometimes struggle for time. The 5:2 approach works best for me, as I can completely switch my focus to my exercise once work is done for the week,” she commented.

“Once I’ve warmed up on the bike or cross trainer, I’ll do some weights, before getting on to the treadmill for 45 minutes to an hour. Once that’s done, I’ll go for a gentle swim, which helps me to warm down a little. Sometimes I’ll mix things up by going to a class. It’s important to add as much variety into your workout as possible, as spending two/three hours in the gym can become repetitive if you’re doing the same exercises over and over again.

“I’ll be honest, I do feel tired on a Sunday after two big workout sessions, but I prefer to do things this way. Also, it’s not like I’m completely inactive during the week. I’ll use the stairs when I can and I try to walk whenever possible. I think this is the key to making the 5:2 approach work.”

Meanwhile, 29-year-old Lee Wagstaff does the exact opposite of what we’ve been talking about thus far, opting to visit the gym five times a week, and having two rest days.

Lee exercises five days a week, having two rest days

“If I go too many days without exercising, I find it far harder to get back into the swing of things when I do get back to the gym. It sometimes feels like I’m running through treacle when I get on the treadmill for the first time after a three or four-day break. I like to stay on top of things and build momentum,” he commented.

“I try to do five days of exercise, but I won’t have the same two days off each week. I found that taking the weekend off completely was a mistake, as I’d slip into bad habits. I try to do an hour each day, and will usually do some weights twice a week. I’m fortunate enough to have a work schedule that allows me to exercise daily, but I fully appreciate that others are in a different boat. I used to work away from home, and it was hard to stay on the straight and narrow.”

The practicalities of using a gym membership on the 5:2 plan

The 5:2 exercise plan can be cost-effective

Even if you’re only exercising for two days a week, you can still get plenty of value from a gym membership.

If you’re doing the bulk of your weekly exercise at the weekend, you can benefit from an off-peak membership. So, if you’re using your membership eight times a month, for argument’s sake, each visit is costing you just £3.50. If you’re the kind of maverick who decides to switch things up by going 4:3 instead of 5:2, if you have a Friday off work maybe, you’ll get even more value for money! Off-peak memberships are also handy for night workers, as they can get to the gym when many others are still at work during the week.

We’ve found that most 5:2 advocates highlight a lack of time during the week as the primary reason for their workout choices. In many cases, we actually have more free time than we perhaps think. There are a multitude of apps available that help us to monitor how much time we are wasting on a daily basis. ATracker, for example, allows you to log how much time you spend on certain tasks throughout the day. The data you are presented with can help you to assess where you can be saving time; time that you could be spending exercising. We recently wrote a blog post that explained how you can fit exercise in around your work schedule.

Verdict? Is the 5:2 plan a passing trend?

Can you achieve results when only exercising twice a week?

The 5:2 exercise regime certainly has its drawbacks, and in an ideal world it’s better to partake in shorter sessions more frequently. That said, if you plan things right, the 5:2 plan can be beneficial and it can still be a cost-effective way of keeping fit.

The 5:2 eating plan came to our attention a few years ago, and it’s still lingering even though plenty of nutritionists have advised against it. The 5:2 exercise plan is a little different, and could be a trend that has more staying power. As we’ve already stated, exercising twice a week is better than leading a sedentary lifestyle. Many people have been following the 5:2 fitness plan without even realising it, as we tend to get more done on non-work days anyway. Just make sure you don’t overdo it!

A lot comes down to organisation. You’ll be surprised how much time we waste, and you may find that the hour you spend trawling through Twitter each day could be put to better use. Also, why not kill two birds with one stone? If you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off, for example, watch it on your tablet while you use the bike or treadmill in the gym. There’s always a way to squeeze in a little more cardio!

As ever, the experts at DW Fitness Clubs will be able to advise on the best ways to stay in shape, so why not sign up for a membership today?