“Long Rests”: A Revolution in Interval Training

In the beginning he was Christopher Bellew. By the time he was at college he had become Chris Bellew. Later, in the Bohemian crowd of San Francisco, he was called Kit Bellew. And in the end he was known by no other name than Smoke Bellew. And this history of the evolution of his name is the history of his evolution…

Not long ago, my father and I were having a typical father and son conversation, about rest periods between sets. He reminded me of Smoke Bellew, a classic story by one of our favorite writers, Jack London. The protagonist, a city slicker, tries “high intensity interval training” in the wild:

He fastened the straps to a ninety-five-pound sack of beans and started. At the end of a hundred yards he felt that he must collapse. He sat down and mopped his face. “Short hauls and short rests,” he muttered. “That’s the trick.”

Sometimes he did not make a hundred yards, and each time he struggled to his feet for another short haul the pack became undeniably heavier. He panted for breath, and the sweat streamed from him. Before he had covered a quarter of a mile he stripped off his woolen shirt and hung it on a tree. A little later he discarded his hat. At the end of half a mile he decided he was finished. He had never exerted himself so in his life, and he knew that he was finished. As he sat and panted, his gaze fell upon the big revolver and the heavy cartridge-belt.

Jack London Fitness TrainingEventually, as Chris evolves to Kit and Kit starts evolving into Smoke, he learns:

Kit plodded along the trail with his Indian packers. In recognition of the fact that it was to be a long pack, straight to the top of Chilcoot, his own load was only eighty pounds. The Indians plodded under their loads, but it was a quicker gait than he had practiced. Yet he felt no apprehension, and by now had come to deem himself almost the equal of an Indian.

At the end of a quarter of a mile he desired to rest. But the Indians kept on. He stayed with them, and kept his place in the line. At the half mile he was convinced that he was incapable of another step, yet he gritted his teeth, kept his place, and at the end of the mile was amazed that he was still alive. Then, in some strange way, came the thing called second wind, and the next mile was almost easier than the first. The third mile nearly killed him, and, though half delirious with pain and fatigue, he never whimpered. And then, when he felt he must surely faint, came the rest. Instead of sitting in the straps, as was the custom of the white packers, the Indians slipped out of the shoulder – and head-straps and lay at ease, talking and smoking. A full half hour passed before they made another start. To Kit’s surprise he found himself a fresh man, and ‘long hauls and long rests’ became his newest motto.

Modern Russian sports science supports “long rests” for your conditioning.

Most coaches still base their endurance training on the XX century model of muscle cell energy supply. They train the power and the capacity of each of the three energy systems, alactic, glycolytic, and aerobic. Glycolytic capacity training or “HIIT”— the antithesis of “long rests” — is especially popular.

Smoke Bellew Takes Long RestsRevolutionary research by Prof. Victor Selouyanov teaches us that instead we should be focusing on building aerobic power plants — mitochondria — in our muscles. In slow twitch fibers, it can be done by building the fibers themselves. They grow with new mitochondria pre-installed at no extra charge. (I explained how in the Should You Train Your Slow Fibers? series of blogs.)

In intermediate and fast fibers, mitochondria are developed by pushing the fibers into light acidity (slight local fatigue), then backing off and recovering aerobically over and over. (Kettlebell Simple & Sinister does just that.)

If you let the “burn” in the muscle rise too high, you literally destroy the mitochondria, the very thing you tried to build. And, as new research suggests, being “acid” could lead to worse problems than that, in addition. Al Ciampa, SFG warns:

Deep and frequent glycolytic training, the brand so common in fitness training today, that leaves you lying on your back sucking wind in its wake, causes an accumulation of cellular damage that will express itself on a systemic level as daily lethargy, a lack of energy, and eventually, adrenal exhaustion/shutdown which begins a cascade of endocrine problems that your doctor will not likely figure out. Research suggests that frequent exposure to the free radicals and lactate produced by continued exercising above the cell’s ability to use oxygen (high-intensity anaerobic work) causes cellular organelle damage that accelerates aging and cause ill health. You can see this cluster of symptoms manifest in a typical high-intensity junkie who walks around like a zombie, is only “awake” when it is time to train, and is in and out of the doc’s office for unexplained health issues. Deep glycolytic training is a highly volatile form of rocket fuel that should only be minimally dosed by elite athletes preparing for an event that either grants them a million dollar paycheck, or an Olympic gold medal.

Russian science to the rescue.

Maximov, Selouyanov & Tabakov (2011) classify predominantly anaerobic work of different intensity as:

  1. Maximal power exercises (90-100% intensity contraction, <20sec duration)
  2. Nearmaximal power exercises (70-90% intensity contraction, 20-50sec duration)
  3. Submaximal power exercises (50-70% intensity contraction, 1-5min duration)

To counter the side effects of acidosis Prof. Selouyanov insists on plenty of rest between sets. A 1:2-6 work to rest ratio is recommended, but, unless you are very well conditioned aerobically, play it safe with 1:4-6.

And when it comes to the submaximal power zone notorious for its crazy acidity, the scientist demands unimaginable to many 10-30 minutes of rest! In addition, he warns against any all-out efforts 1-5 minutes in duration — except in competition. Not only do you burn up your mitochondria, but great psychological and endocrine stress in this zone quickly leads to overtraining.

In all zones the rest must be active — walk around and do “fast and loose” drills rather than plop on the deck and suck wind.

Applying Long Rests to TSC Training

Here is how the above “long rests” recommendations can be applied to the TSC five-minute snatch event with a 24kg kettlebell:

  • On Monday, deadlift and then do 10-20 sets (sum of both arms) of 7-10 one-arm kettlebell swings with 40kg on the minute every minute.
  • On Wednesday, snatch 32kg hard with your left arm for as many perfect reps as you can.  Stop before your grip gives out or you compromise your explosiveness.  Park the bell and rest for 4-6 times the duration of your set before matching the reps with your right. (E.g., you got 10 reps in 30 seconds with your left, so you rested for 2-3 minutes before hitting your right.)  Repeat for 4-6 sets (sum of both arms).
  • On Friday, go for full 5 minutes — with a 16kg. While maintaining our trademark explosiveness dial the effort of each rep down to 50%. And carefully maintain the pace you intend on using in competition. Do 2-3 sets in this manner with 10-30 minutes between them. As an option, do a time ladder of 4, 5, and 6 minutes.

Let “long rests” become your new motto.

Long rests work for TSC training
Hector Gutierrez at Hardstyle KBJJ, competing in the elite division of the TSC.

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Pavel Tsatsouline
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Pavel Tsatsouline is the Chairman of StrongFirst, Inc.

51 thoughts on ““Long Rests”: A Revolution in Interval Training

  • If you are training someone for events that are Glycolytic (7-12min) how would you do it then?

  • Gdaye again. As an English born expat Australian now living in Norway………….Registered nurse human and equine trainer. The Russian concept you describe is something many have been doing for years especially within the equine world. The reason is fairly obvious in that horses have an increased weight bearing requirement on ankles close to the size of humans. Many have intuitively known that A..A work increases mitochondrial density in 11a muscle fibres which further enhances capillaries. From Sjostrand and Astrand et al, Saltin etc. Sweden, a little Gerschler and Reindell from Germany, Maximov, Selouyanov and Tabakouv and many others from Russia and reaching human athletic potential doesn’t have to be hard it simply takes time for adaptions to take place. Now I have the Maximov et al. reference, the theory is now complete, and supports the practice and results achieved.
    Pavel, thanks for rounding out my own personal journey………….which as ever will continue to be fine tuned.

  • Pavel,
    This is an excellent article and as I see it, it’s the “Easy Conditioning” to compliment “Easy Strength”.
    I’ve had a similar freestyle approach that has kept my conditioning steady and comes close with heavy moderate reps and light high reps, but this improves upon my own method considerably. Can’t wait to make this standard procedure and see where it takes me.
    Thank you.

  • I may be in this state now. I thought for sure that it was neural fatigue but this article fits my former exercise routine and symptoms to a T. Is there any way to speed recovery that you are aware of? Would long aerobic exercise sessions help or do more harm?

  • Hey there Pavel! Greetings from Singapore! I’m a conscript in the army here and I want to improve my 1.5mile run timing. Been doing 1/4 and 1/2 mile intervals to do so, but the rest to work ratio has been about 1:1. Do you think it would be beneficial to increase rest?

    Thanks pavel, love your work ever since I read enter the kettlebell.

  • I’m really rusty with the physiology, but how does this compare/contrast to the Tabata protocol? Seems like the 1:2-6 work/rest ratio is applicable for a GPP situation, where the Tabata protocol might be more applicable for something more specific, like a VO2max increase. Diving back into training volleyball athletes and curious which direction I should head for off-season conditioning.

    Best,
    Drew

    • Drew, the Tabata protocol is along the lines of what these researchers are speaking out against—too much acidosis.

  • It isn’t entirely clear that I am entering glycolysis because I am working with a 1:5-6 work to rest ratio for about 32 intervals, and I’m feeling relatively fresh afterwards.I am using double 32 kgs with a Viking press, and a swing to upright row / high pulls with the beast. I am doing pull-ups and push-ups as well, with fast eccentrics and compensatory acceleration technique (CAT). I would probably be more smoked if I was entering glycolytic bioenergetics. All of this has skyrocketed my results to the max. Thanks for giving the power to the people yet again.

    Ken

    • Ken, you cannot avoid glycolysis—you just need to keep it limited.

      The subjective feeling of freshness may not be enough; follow Al Ciampa’s posts on our forum about the HR.

  • Pavel good to see you writing again. Russian high volume training (Smolov, Derevyanenko, and Funtikov) has played a big part in my powerlifting success over the years. I even did a Smolov squat routine at 49 years old before my terminal cancer diagnosis. I think I have some powerlifting left in me once i recover from the chem and surgeries. Thanks for staying true to what you believe. Superior health and strength via years of consistent training has already saved my life once. Now I need it to prolong it for as long as possible. Also thanks for putting my picture in “Power to the People Professional” a great honor.

  • I was a bit vague when I asked If you forsaw anything negative with my approach delving minimally into the glycolytic power energy system. I meant to frame that question in the context of mitochondria development? Especially if you agree with the buffering action of lactate…?

    Ken

    • Ken,

      Thanks for the reference.

      Whether lactate helps in buffering H+, remains to be seen, but, even if it does, obviously this strategy is very limited when trying to counter the performance reducing effects of H+.

      Selouyanov’s work suggests that you would be better off not forming much H+ by keeping glycolysis in check. There are many measures that can be taken to make that happen, in addition to developing mitochondria in glycolytic fibers. Kozhurkin lists these measures: up the alactic capacity (which answers your other question), speed up the aerobic system deployment (ladders are one great way to do it), increase aerobic power.

      And yes, glycolytic power efforts (20-50sec) done with extra long, 10-30min, rest periods seem to address many of the problems of glycolytic training.

      • To add to that, in the early years of my first kettlebell cert I often prescribed heavy sets of 10-20 reps in snatches or double jerks with powerlifting long rests. We saw great results in power, various types of endurance, body comp, etc.

  • Your introduction of Selouyanov ‘s principles with the kettlebell as the tool is ushering in a revolution of “power endurance ” t. The protocol for the elusive “super muscle” type IIc…

    Ken

  • Pavel, have you run across any research on the effects of alactacid training on lactate threshold? It seems that it would be pushed up, but it would be interesting to know the extent that this could occur?

    As well, I have run across research that suggests that lactate functions as a H+ (Hydrogen ion) buffer, can you comment on this?
    (Robergs, Ghiasvand, Parker 2004) cited by Len Kravitz, Ph.D. and Lance Dalleck, Ph.D in Lactate Threshold Training unm.edu .

    Thanks,
    Ken
    I have found that entering into glycolytic power and backing down in repeated intervals is done with minimal fatigue. Do you see any thing negative with this approach?

  • Thanks, Allan!

    Karate kata are not hard glycolytic efforts, so it does not apply.

    For the bag it would apply for very hard 30sec and less efforts; otherwise the key is pacing yourself not to get to glycolytic. You can hit the bag for 30min, remaining largely alactic and aerobic—if you keep pushing and backing off and stay relaxed.

  • Pavel, fantastic post. This reassures me, that I’m doing S&S correctly. My question is about practicing karate kata.
    karate kata usually take from 30 sec. to several minutes to perform. Should I be resting in a 1: 4-6 ratio as well?
    This also would apply to heavy bag work as well.
    Thanks, Allan

  • As usual, great article, Pavel! I’ve been especially interested in the most recent posts on conditioning. As a sculler, I’ve been trying to find a balance between the sport’s competing demands of strength endurance, lactic toleration, and aerobic fitness. Switching over to the kettlebell (thanks to Easy Strength) has been excellent in terms of retaining “relevant” strength without burning out the cns.

    This article is especially good–it got me thinking how longer rests on sprint sessions (1-5 min) might be better rather than pushing through really painful lactic buildup with short rests. A question for you would be: during a long low HR session row, would doing occasional “power tens” (20 sec sprints) interfere with the aerobic development process, or help it along?

    • Thanks, Ben!

      According to current thinking, 20sec sprints are very fine—as long as they are followed by plenty of rest.

    • Ben, in one of Charlie Francis books he mentions that for sprinting, anything above 7 seconds moves beyond alactic. I run a few sprints and find I need to shorten them to 10 seconds. It depends on how fast you run, if it is uphill, etc. Pavel may correct me, but I would not blindly hold to 20 seconds. That may be a specific recommendation for the swing.

      Also, in Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Body, he discussed Barry Ross’ training of Alyson Felix and other sprinters. Ross prescribes repeats between 15-55 meter, keep much of the train below 40 meters and has “completely eliminated training runs of over 70 meters for events of 400 meters or less.” And he still recommends 4 min between sprints.

      • David, Ben’s event is much longer and training a sprinter is an altogether different matter. It is all alactic power and capacity.

  • This is one of your best articles ever! I agree 100%. Compressed rest intervals were killing my CNS.

    Thank you for providing such an intelligent framework.

  • Pavel,

    a bit confused I politely ask: how do ROP Heavy Day Swings fit in the picture? Also how does Geoff Neupert’s ONE programme relate?
    Is therefore VWC not to be recomended in the context of the article?
    Bjoern

    • Bjoern, an excellent question!

      Indeed, the ROP heavy swing day does not follow these guidelines—and neither do some of my other plans and those by some of my respected colleagues.

      First, there is more than one way to get any job done. Glycolytic training has been proven to deliver body composition changes (thanks to anabolic hormones released in response to psychological stress and the low blood pH acting on metaboreceptors) and “conditioning” (in large through improved buffering). But it can be improved—or even replaced.

      It appears that one can still benefit from many of the positive effects of anaerobic glycolysis training, both in endurance and body comp, by doing glycolytic power training (intense sets of under 1min) rather than glycolytic capacity (longer sets) and radically stretching the rest periods. One example, in the early years of my first kettlebell cert we had great results (conditioning and body comp) by doing 3-5 sets of hard style snatches or double jerks with 5min or so rest between them. Another example: last year we conducted an experiment based on some other research by Prof. Selouyanov where a number of experienced SFGs were doing sets of various “grinds” for 8-12 reps to RM (just short of failure)—for many sets and with 10min of rest between them. Their gains were exceptional (more about this program in the near future).

      In summary, it is impossible to deny that many glycolytic programs work. We are only trying to make them better—or im some cases even replace them with alactic+aerobic training.

  • Thanks Pavel, I loved the Smoke Bellow intro! Definitely going to be reading that one soon. Reminds me of the Louis L’Amour cowboy books my dad loves.

    Fast and Loose style active rest really stands out to me here, as it drops the acidity so much faster than sitting or lying down. Is the literature clear about whether it’s the cumulative dose of acid over time, or the highest level reached that correlates with mitochondrial death?

    • I ask because I’ve noticed that the active rest drills are very much a skill. I get much better results when I’m focused on really being loose and turning off the muscles. I got better at this after practicing the progressive relaxation techniques from Psych, because I then had an idea what to aim for. That skill seems much more important in the accumulated dose case.

    • “Is the literature clear about whether it’s the cumulative dose of acid over time, or the highest level reached that correlates with mitochondrial death?”

      Travis, it can be either or.

      • Thanks Pavel. I really appreciate the example of your dad. Do you know of any books or websites geared at older athletes your dad’s age? I’m looking for something to give my parents different thoughts about what it means to get older.

        Btw in my intro for a professional talk last night they asked for something interesting outside of work. I told them to mention that I’m very excited about about a guy named Pavel Tsatsouline and kettlebells. It drew some cheers, the word spreads!

        • Thanks, Travis! My dad did another 400+ competition DL yesterday.

          No books to think of. Strength training older folks is no different; you only need to get clearance from a doc.

          FYI, my dad DLs 2-3 times a week and does 100 pullups 2-3 times a week.

  • Strength loves rest. Conditioning loves rest. How about hypertrophy? I know low reps and volume are key, but I assumed you needed to compress the rest breaks between sets of 5 reps. In Easy Strength, Dan John discusses his 2-3-5-10 ladders as an option because “more load in less time will lead to greater muscle” and in RoK you discuss compressing rest periods. However, in your interview with Tim Ferris you mention longer rest periods when discussing the theories, specifically Selouyanov’s, of hypertrophy training.

    Can you provide guidance on using volume and rest periods to build some – as Dan John says, “Armor” – especially, in the press. I specifically ask about the press because ” to press a lot, you must press a lot”, so volume and training load is always a factor.

    My best guess is that you simply have to find a balance between weight, reps, and rest that allows the most work in the shortest period of time, but I would have assumed that for conditioning, and it seems you need to rest longer for conditioning so you stay out of the glycolytic pathway. How does that translate to armor building?

    Thank you.

    • David, density training for hypertrophy is a legit tactic (see RTK for example), just not one to use full time.

  • Pavel, Great article, in fact great series of articles by all contributors over the last month.

    As a scientist it is fascinating to watch a consistent story emerge from the endurance training and strength training worlds (even if different tools and a different vocabulary is used). The cross over benefits of strength, across any sport / physical endeavour, and the benefits of aerobic fitness / mitocondrial health are becoming clearer as a mainstay of a healthy lifestyle.

    It is very easy to overtrain and impede progress, it would be great to see more articles on protocols balancing aerobic and strength training, what minimum effective doses are there for each, how do they impinge on each other? etc

  • I particularly appreciate the 3rd component of the snatch training: explosive, sub-maximal effort *light weight* snatches to rehearse timing, pacing, and rhythm. I’ve noticed that many athletes will faithfully adhere to the first two recommendations – heavy, moderately difficult swings; medium, difficult snatches – but will neglect the rhythm and pacing work. The same has been true for my sprinters and field sport athletes – they neglect the rhythm and pacing of great running. The love the sleds, hills, and all-out sprints…

    It is an important example for a critical insight – that sub-maximal work is, and has always been, the long-term foundation for gains, not because of its role in strength, but because of its “perfect practice” character.

  • Excellent Pavel. I’ve been off the tabatas for a while now! See no reason to go back to them. Cleared up, again, some questions and ponderings I’ve had about energy systems and how it all fits together. Thank you

  • Thank you Pavel for a great – as usual – article!

    How can I adjust this knowledge to my actual training protocol?
    I’m using sucsessfully since 3 months a mix of S&S (2-3 per week) and ROP C&P complemented with the same quantum of tactical pull ups (2-3 per week). The number of training sessions depends on messages of my body, to wich, being 42 years old and having few old injuries, I’ve finally learned to listen. In total I usually train 5 or 3-4/week by lack of time. I have no qustions to S&S. There I’ve switched from 24kg KB to 28kg. On days, when I feel, the 28 bell would be to heavy, I run my program with 24 under testing conditions.

    The rest periods is during the ROP C&P training are my question.
    The full training with some warm up, five ladders of C&P (4-4-4-4-3 reps today), the same number of pull ups and 10×10 dh swings on minute with some stretching after it took 125 min.

    The working/rest ratio looks as follows: 1 C&P per arm without putting the bell down (switching via hand to hand swing) – 1min rest – 1 tac pull up – 1min rest – 2 C&P per arm without putting the bell down (switching via hand to hand swing) – 1min rest (fast and loose for lower back and shoulders) – 2 tac pull up – 1min rest – 3 C&P per arm without putting the bell down (switching via hand to hand swing) – 1min rest – 3 tac pull up – 1min rest – 4 C&P left – 1min rest – 4 C&P right – 1min rest… My absolute focus is on the proper technik. The pull ups are not weighted and easily done. The rest periods are a full minute long. Sometimes I take a breath or two more.
    I’d lie, if I’ll tell you, that I’m totally fresh at the end, but I’m definitely not exhausted.

    I’ll be very thankful for any kind of critique or suggestions!
    Best regards
    Sergej

    • Sergej, for ROP style presses the rest instruction is simple: take as long as you need, without trying to make it into a density protocol. If it takes too long, just split the session into two: AM and PM or two consecutive days.

      • Pavel,

        Thank you for answering Sergej. I am also doing ROP with the pull-ups and swings/snatches as written. I was considering adding S&S on the variety days 2-3 days each week as Sergej is doing. Is that a good plan? Or would you recommend something else?

        Thanks!

        Nate

  • Great post, Pavel! I greatly enjoyed reading it. There’s definitely something to be said about adequate rest between sets, but where would other forms like density training (e.g. EMOM, progressively increasing reps and thereby decreasing resting intervals) fall? Or does it mostly depend on your goals?

    • Bry, density training has a lot of value—but it is completely different from what I described in this article and usually incompatible if done at the same training period.

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