Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Resting for Fitness.

The box Pete is sitting on has magical powers: It can make you stronger and faster.

Most CrossFitters don’t like to rest.  They don’t like to rest on Rest Days, in between sets of heavy lifting, or in between sprints. 

These athletes would be fitter if they learned to rest.

This article will focus on resting during workouts.  If you want to apply near-maximal power output multiple times in a workout, you will have to take substantial rest periods in between efforts. 

I’m sure you’ve seen guys doing “heavy” squats taking 30 second rests in between each set. When you see a workout that says something like Deadlift 3-3-3-3-3 or Snatch 1-1-1-1-1 you should not be rushing the rest periods.  It’s not a metcon workout.

Hit each set with as much load as you possibly can, then sit down.  Don’t get up for a few minutes.  You’re not trying to improve your endurance here; you’re trying to get stronger. 

If you still want to get some metcon, because it is a weak point or because you just like it, then do some double-unders when you’re done with the heavy sets.  After 200 or so you may regret that decision.

Rest periods are vital for effective sprint workouts as well.  I see too many people running 100m sprints with 30 second rest periods in a mistaken effort to get faster.  While such workouts are great for improving conditioning, they are not going to allow you run quickly enough to make progress in your speed or power.  If you want to run fast, you need to rest for a while in between efforts.  A smarter alternative would be to run five sets of 100m with 3-5 minute rests in between each set. 

I think a lot of CrossFitters don’t understand what fast running is.  I keep hearing that a 60 second 400m is fast.  While certainly respectable, it’s not a fast time.  The sad thing is that it’s not these athletes’ lack of general fitness which prevents them from running fast, but rather their lack of appreciation for sprinting as a discipline.  They don’t know how fast it is possible to run, or how much faster they would run if they took long rest periods and approached each set with full intensity.  A 400m sprint shouldn’t leave you mildly out of breath; it should leave you barely alive just like "Fran" or "Grace."

The key principle here is that rest periods allow for higher intensity.  By resting between efforts, you’re not being weak, you’re training smart. Your reward will be greater strength, power and speed.


Serge said...

And tomorrow is my rest day :D

traucer777 said...

its good to see that someone else has come to this conclusion as well.
ive always been a big fan of rest, especially a REAL rest day, when you literally do next to nothing besides sit around.

ive also found that when you know you aren't going to be able to blast through a WOD straight away with no rest whatsoever, it can be advantageous to actually set up a place to sit even if it is "on the Clock"
this can make ONE HECK OF A DIFFERENCE in power endurance when the WOD has lots of leg stuff.

now i actually have a bone to pick with the resting more than 30 seconds on 100m sprint repeats.

i was actually part of a study that we did in my exercise phys class. now according to the test and the class, during true maximal effort bouts, resting 1 min only yields a 2% increase in recovery over resting 30 seconds.

i wish for your guy's thoughts on this.

Jay Ashman said...

good stuff..... except if you look at OPT's programming (and a lot of advanced lifting templates) rest times are specified for some lifting sets that can be as low as 30 seconds. That isn't to build metcon, it is build more muscular endurance. It works.

However... in most cases, rest between heavy sets.

osatts said...

Resting is my favourite part! After a 400m I ideally want to rest for about 10mins before my next effort. Same on squatting and pressing.

That said I don't feel I need as much rest for the oly lifts.

Dutch said...

I can say with the utmost confidence that i completely agree with this post.

Russ said...

"i was actually part of a study that we did in my exercise phys class. now according to the test and the class, during true maximal effort bouts, resting 1 min only yields a 2% increase in recovery over resting 30 seconds."

James, we need more information here. Who were the test subjects, what were they tested on, what performance levels had they attained, etc. Also, note that I wasn't advocating a 1 minute rest period, but far more. Even if it only makes a 5 percent difference (which I doubt) to rest 5 minutes rather than 30 seconds, that 5 percent would still be worth it.

Russ said...

Owen (Osatts)

That's interesting about the olifts. Why do you think that is?

The o-lifters I have seen all take long rests in between sets, but it could be up to personal preference.

Russ said...


Good point about muscular endurance. When I wrote this I should have been more explicit about the assumption behind my advice (that the goal of the training session is power, speed, and/or strength rather than endurance or stamina).

I was not saying that 30 sec. rest periods don't have their place, but that they are going to hurt your ability to generate maximal force and thus develop speed, power, and strength.

Rich Vos said...

Just curious, how can one measure recovery? Is it just how you feel after a 2-3 minute rest or VO2 Max or something else. If what we all like to deal with is objeective data, then how can we collect data points for analysis and future training?

I know that after a hard and short (less than 8 min) metcon, I usually spend about 50 seconds to a minute on my back before getting up. I'm assuming that's pretty good. Any thoughts?

Jeff said...

When it reads a few minutes what would be typical for a rest time. Is it a set amount of time or is it until ready?

osatts said...


It could be that my power endurance is far better than my strength endurance.

Also on power lifts the muscle is under tension for far less time, in comparison to slower lifts.

In short I'm unsure, however I think I have just discovered a good subject for my MSc dissertation...when I finally get around to it!

Russ said...


It depends on the individual and the activity. I don't time rest periods, but just wait until I feel recovered and ready to tackle the next set. Some people do time their rest periods, though. I would suggest experimenting with longer (3-5 minutes) and shorter (1-2 minutes) rest periods in different activities and seeing how you react.

Russ said...


Let me know what you find with your research. I'm sure you know this, but as a general note, it's important to pay attention not just to cardiovascular and muscular recovery, but to neurological recovery as well.

osatts said...

A question...what kind of rest periods do people use when hitting WODs like 'Lynne'?

Jacob programmed a WOD using max reps this week:

3rds of max reps - rest as needed
95# OHS

By the last round 5mins was the bare minimum I felt I could rest for, however, I didn't rest any longer than 5mins.

What are people's thought on +5min rest periods?

Russ said...


Personally, I rest longer than 5 minutes whenever I feel the need. For example, on the 400m sprint, max ring dips, max pullups WOD I rested like 25 minutes in between each set. I needed every second.

I can see the value in enforcing shorter rest periods, but given the option, I am going to squeeze out every ounce of recovery I can.

traucer777 said...

hey sorry i took so long to reply

test subjects
2 groups of
3 guys, 3 girls
all of us were of varying fitness levels. i of course was fittest :), but levels varied from: me, a marathoner, a bodybuilder but with a long distance running background (weird I know), HS softball player, non crossfitting personal trainer, soccer mom, and everywhere else inbetween.

test consisted of 4 100 yd maximal sprints done on a track.
( i got the fastest time by almost a full second, btw... just sayin :-D)

group 1. got 30 seconds of rest in between each effort, group 2. got 1 min of rest.

we recorded all 4 times.

we then compared average % decrease in time between each efforts.

after looking at the data, everyone who rested 1 min only recovered 2-3% more than those who rested 30 seconds.

teacher said this has happened every time in all the classes he has conducted this test in.

My thoughts on this.
i believe that as the exercise effort becomes more aerobic the less the above effects are seen.
i think the above 2-3% difference can only be seen during maximal efforts that lean heavily on the PCR system or Glycolytic pathway. in other words anaerobic stuff.

not gonna lie this is where my exercise physiology (it was only an applied class i wont lie) gets a bit fuzy. i think this is because recovery has to do with how much 02 you can get right? now if we have gone anaerobic our body is still trying to catch up with the 02 demand, and it will thus it will take longer for our body to recover enough for it to make a big enough difference to be worth resting more than 30 seconds. This would be why we can only see this effect during anaerobic but not aerobic. When we are aerobic we are already getting enough 02

With this in mind, the question now become whether or not this 2-3% increase occurs in a linear fashion. We did not test to see whether there was an extra 2-3% per 30 sec after 1 min. If so that would imply that after, 2:30 you could get back 9-12%
As we all know for Rep maxes that can be the difference between making the lift (and PRing :-D) and not making the lift.

Tsypkin said...

James, a few things:

1) The test subjects used in this study were relatively untrained, meaning they were unable to operate at the same level of intensity as would a trained athlete.

2) You're talking about a rest period of 30 seconds to 1 minute. Assuming a 15 second 100m, this is a 2:1 or 4:1 Rest:Work ratio. Russ is suggesting a rest period of 3-to-5 minutes. Assuming the same 15 second 100m, this is a Rest:Work ratio of 12:1 to 20:1, a rather significant difference.

A few hypotheticals that may help you envision the difference. Feel free to try them out and see what the results are.

Attempt a 5 rep max deadlift and time it. Rest 2-4x that and repeat. Then rest 20x the work period and repeat again. Note which set you get further in, the second or third.

A less similar, but still relevant example: Do 1 round of "Fight Gone Bad." Rest 5 minutes. Repeat. Rest 1 hour. Repeat again. Note the difference in scores between the second and third rounds.

Russ said...

To add to Jacob's comment, recovery is a hell of a lot more complicated than restoring oxygen. What about the CNS?