Rest-Based Training: What Are the Benefits?

Rest-Based Training: What Are the Benefits?

(Last Updated On: April 14, 2019)

rest-based training

In the past few years, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become one of the hottest trends in fitness. No surprise here! High-intensity training is challenging, effective, and time expedient. With HIIT training, you don’t spend thirty or more minutes doing exercise at a sub-maximal intensity. Rather, interval training scales the intensity up several notches by alternating high-intensity intervals with periods of recovery.

With HIIT training, you cycle between intense intervals of exercise and periods of partial recovery. This places the body under substantial amounts of stress but for short periods of time. With interval training, you can exercise at an intensity you wouldn’t be able to sustain for long periods of time. Studies show that high-intensity interval training boosts aerobic capacity as much as moderate-intensity, steady-state exercise but also boosts anaerobic capacity by 28%.

How Interval Training is Different

HIIT training can be structured in different ways. In traditional high-intensity interval training, you select a set duration for the active and rest intervals. For example, one variation of HIIT training is called Tabata. With a Tabata interval structure, you do 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeat 8 times to complete one Tabata cycle. A full Tabata cycle takes four minutes. You can do as many cycles as you like, but you need not cycle through many times as long as you keep the intensity high during the active intervals. With interval training, you trade duration for intensity. Tabatas are short and sweet.

Tabata is only one type of interval structure. You can choose various lengths for the active and rest intervals. The length of the intervals determines what energy system you predominantly tap in to. For example, if you’re training your glycolytic system, you might use a work-to-recovery ratio of around 1 minute (active) and 3-5 minutes (recovery).  In contrast, if you want are an endurance athlete and want to improve your aerobic capacity, a ratio of 1 minute (active) to 0.5-1 minute (recovery) works well. To improve target your body’s creatine-phosphate system, the one that fuels explosive movements, a ratio of around 1 minute (active) to 10-15 minutes (recovery).

One drawback to having pre-established intervals is it can reduce your performance. Knowing you have to exercise for a pre-set time, there’s a tendency to conserve energy to avoid becoming exhausted before the end of the interval. So, you never push yourself to the max because you hold back some effort. A way around this is to have no pre-set intervals at all. That’s the basis of rest-based training. You might think if people choose their own work and rest intervals, they wouldn’t work as hard, but studies show the opposite. Research shows it leads to a tendency to work harder.

How Does Rest-Based Training Work?

With a rest-based system, rather than conforming to a set time interval, you exercise as hard as you can until you reach the point where you have to stop. Then, you recover as long as you need to before starting the next active interval. Rest-based training is psychologically liberating. You’re not bound to a particular interval structure. You push yourself hard until your body tells you to stop.

The whole idea of rest-based training comes from self-determination theory. It’s based on the concept, supported by research, that having control over one’s fate and determining your own course is liberating and motivating. You push harder because you control the structure of the workout and you’re not forced to conform to a pre-determined workout structure. If you know you can stop whenever you want to, you’ll feel more motivated to go all out as there’s less of a tendency to hold back. Rest-based training is also a safe approach to training since it accounts for individual differences in fitness levels. If you’re not as fit, you don’t have to go as long, and you don’t feel like a failure for not busting it out for a full 30 seconds or a minute.

Rest-Based Training is Versatile Too

You can use this approach for a variety of forms of exercise, including cycling, sprinting, plyometric moves, kettlebell swings, and more. The type of exercise isn’t important, but the concept of self-regulation is. With rest-based training, you get the benefits of interval training, including the metabolic advantage that interval training offers. in a form that best works for your individual fitness level. Some studies show that interval training is more beneficial for fat loss as well. One study found that subjects lost more body fat when they took part in 20 minutes of interval training than when they 40 minutes of steady-state exercise. The interval training group lost 5 pounds over 115 weeks while the steady-state group showed no significant fat loss and a trend towards fat gain.

When using rest-based training, exercise during the active interval until you’re forced to rest and recover. Then, rest until you feel capable of giving it your best shot again. If you rest 30 seconds, that’s okay, and if you rest 2 minutes, that’s okay too. It all depends on your fitness level. You can rest differing lengths of time for each interval as well. There are no minimum or maximum rest periods. You’re in charge!

The Bottom Line?

Rest-based training is a novel approach to interval training and one that puts you in the driver’s seat. It offers the same benefits as HIIT training that uses pre-determined intervals. Some studies suggest that you might work even harder without the confines of set intervals. Give it a try!



On Fitness. September/October 2011. Page 50.
Idea Fitness. “Rest-Based Training”
Ricerche di Psicologia, 27 (1), 17–34. “Rest-Based Training – A New System and Psychology for Safe and Effective Personal Training and Group Exercise Article by Lincoln Bryden and Jade Teta”
International Journal of Obesity. 2008;32:684-691.
British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43, 789-795.
J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Sep; 12(3): 612–613.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Interval Training Structure: How Long Should You Rest Between Intervals

Why You Should Do High-Intensity Interval Training Before Your Next Cheat Meal

High-Intensity Interval Training: How Intense Does It Have to Be?

5 Common Myths About Interval Training

Hiit Training: Get More Done with Less Perceived Effort

High-Intensity Interval Training: How Long Should Your Active Intervals and Recovery Periods Be?

5 Cardio Mistakes That Are Killing Your Fitness Gains


Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

HiiT and Interval Workout DVDs

One thought on “Rest-Based Training: What Are the Benefits?

  1. This is a reassuring post. I used to always try to keep exactly with the recovery periods set by Cathe, but then one day while doing To The Max, I was missing a piece of equipment, so paused the DVD to go grab it, and when I restarted, I felt I was able to give even more effort to the next cycle.

    Since that day, I have given myself permission to pause and recover more fully if I am not ready to resume at 100% effort. It makes it much more fun and rewarding.

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