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Rest-Based Interval Training

Jade Teta

There is a built in limitation to interval training that is often overlooked. Standard interval training defines a set time you should be working along with a finite period of recovery. This can become an issue since not all exercisers are able to comply with these protocols. The work phase and rest component of intervals can be too long for some or not long enough for others. With true interval training the work phase is meant to push the body above the anaerobic threshold repeatedly. This is why a rest phase is necessary, because even elite athletes cannot maintain anaerobic intensities for long, and therefore rest is necessary to generate repeated high intensity effort. This leads most practitioners of interval training to turn their workouts into aerobically based sessions with lower highs and higher lows. Rest-based interval training is a technique we use to create adequate stimulation of the anaerobic physiology by allowing the individual to rest for as long as is required for their own level of fitness to generate a higher intensity than would be otherwise possible.

Wimpervals vs. Splintervals

In order for interval training to be truly effective, high-intensity effort is essential. However, high-intensity effort is the exercise equivalent to putting your hand on a burning stove, most people will not do it voluntarily. Often, trying to force someone to push themselves harder is like trying to get a cat to take a bath. They will resist it any way they can. With interval training this avoidance shows up in the form of pacing. People may go a little bit harder but fall short of full throttle exertion. We call intervals done this way “wimpervals”. Not to poke fun at our clients, they are only doing what is natural, but to point out the lack of results that will come from that approach. From a psychological perspective, pacing on the sprint phase of an interval leads to a rest phase that will be higher in intensity than it should be. This approach has very little difference from regular aerobic training since anaerobic effort is never truly reached.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have what we call “splintervals”. This is an interval protocol that is so intense only the fittest of people could hope to do them. The work to rest ratios of these workouts is virtually impossible to maintain. Yet, these programs are the ones promoted in the mainstream fitness magazines and passed around the gym as if they were the ultimate weapon for fat loss. There is no question these types of routines generate big results for the 1% of the population that can actually do them, but for the other 99% these splintervals often turn into wimpervals or worse – end up being unsafe. These routines are also very defeating because psychologically the exerciser will feel defeated and more apprehensive next workout. A client that dreads working out will not be a client for long.

Rest-based intervals

Rest and hard work are inextricably linked. The harder you work in any endeavor the more rest is required, and the more rest taken in a workout, the harder you will be able to work and the better results you will get. This truth is systematically ignored in the world of fitness and taken to mean rest between workouts rather than rest within workouts. Rest-based intervals take the whole interval concept and turns it on its side so exercisers can look at it from a fresh perspective. The idea is too push as hard as possible on the work phase and then rest as long as necessary on the rest phase. While the work intervals are set, the rest intervals are not. In this way, the control of the workout is handed over to the exerciser. Rather than prescribing a 40 minute workout with defined work to rest ratios, rest-based intervals instruct exercisers to push as hard as possible for a particular time, but to rest as long as necessary until they are ready to go again.

And we mean rest. We tell our clients they should be moving in literally slow motion during the resting phase and to maintain that pace until they feel 100% certain they can exert the same intensity once more. Finally, rather than setting a set number of intervals within a particular time, we instruct our clients to do as many interval rounds as possible in a given amount of time. In this way, they can see that they are improving with each workout yet never have to dread a two-hour workout just because they require more rest.

This approach has immediate consequences because it effectively individualizes the protocol for those who are super fit and those who are not. More importantly, exercisers feel in control, feel safe, and leave the gym feeling accomplished. In our opinion, regularly employing one-size-fits-all interval protocols is a big mistake that leads to a few people getting results but most lagging far behind their potential. Rest-based intervals are our form of individualized interval training that adapts to all fitness levels. Here is our beginning protocol.

Here is our Rest-based interval program:

20 second full exertion sprint followed by slow motion rest as long as is required

30 second full exertion sprint followed by slow motion rest as long as is required

40 second full exertion sprint followed by slow motion rest as long as is required

60 second full exertion sprint followed by slow motion rest as long as is required

Repeat this sequence for 30 minutes achieving as many rounds as possible.


Want to know the detailed science on Rest-Based Training, then click here