17 July 2018What Is No-Rest-Day Training? And Does It Work?
When the realisation hits that your Hawaii trip is just around the corner and your gym routine has been sporadic at best, anything that promises to get you in shape in a mere 10 days is akin to fitness nirvana.
Over to the latest too-good-to-be-true fast-results workout trend, which centres on doing high-intensity sessions every day for more than a week. With no rest days! Boot camps are all over it, with a-class-a-day "Hell Weeks" and Instagram is awash with 10-, 15- and 30-day fitness challenges. And so I ignored my quite rational fears and signed up to take one on. All in the name of science, and that bikini, obvs. On day one of my gym’s 10-day package, I arrived at a local 45-minute reshape class: an intense mix of bodyweight exercises, sprint intervals and weights. Nine more days of sweat sessions after this? Yep – daunted.
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So what’s the deal?
“Training every day for just over a week will lead to improvements in body fat percentage, muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness,” says trainer Danny Gates. “But only a mix of HIIT and weights will work. Steady-state cardio won’t trigger the same results.”
Vary your workouts though if you want to see gains. “Your body adapts quickly,” says Gates. “You need to be constantly surprising your muscles by mixing up the lengths of sprints and the number and intensity of reps.”
Cut to the midway point of my 10-day torture trial and I’m struggling.
My muscles feel drained and I’m already dreading each workout.
“That’s the problem with working out every day,” says sports scientist and former Olympian Professor Greg Whyte. “It’s not sustainable. While it’s unlikely you’ll overtrain in such a short space of time, without rest days you’ll get fatigued. The quality of your training drops in terms of form and intensity.”
But can exercise alone, with no change in diet, make you lean?
“Most people won’t burn enough [kilojoules], even in an intense exercise session, to initiate weight loss,” says cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra. My final session eventually arrives and I’m elated but exhausted. I am leaner, though – particularly my thighs – and my abs are more defined. I dropped 4.9kg in body fat. That said, a week later, the thought of hitting the gym fills me with dread. Going hard for a big event is doable, but for the long term, I’ll have those rest days – if only for my sanity.