Rest-based training: a new system and psychology for exercise.

Recent research has raised questions about how useful aerobic

exercise can be in combating obesity. In contrast, more intense

exercise, such as weight-lifting and intermittent–burst type activity,

provides unique fat loss advantages. Despite this new understanding,

physicians remain reluctant to embrace intense exercise modalities due

to concerns over safety and applicability. We have developed a novel

fitness method that we call rest-based training (RBT), which allows all

fitness levels to engage in and benefit from high-intensity exercise

protocols in a safe and scalable way.


The Science of Aerobics, Anaerobic Exercise, and Weight Loss

In 1997 Miller et al. published a meta-analysis on the impact of

aerobic exercise to combat weight gain. (1) This research looked at

close to 500 studies over a period of 25 years. The results showed that

aerobic exercise provided only about a 2-pound weight loss advantage

over diet alone. A more recent review by Melanson et al. showed mostly

that aerobic exercise provided no metabolic advantage beyond calories

burned during the activity. (2)

In contrast, Dr. Chris Scott at the University of Southern Maine

has shown that anaerobic energy use can be underestimated by 70% for

weight training and 95% for interval exercise. (7-9) Anaerobic exercise

also elevates fat and calorie use after exercise has ended. This

“afterburn” can last 16 hours in women and 48 hours in men,

amounting to many hundreds of calories burned at rest as a result of the

workout. (4-5)

Trapp et al. compared 20 minutes of anaerobic interval training to

40 minutes of aerobic-zone exercise. (3) Each program was done 3 times

per week for 15 weeks. At the end of the study, the anaerobic group lost

approximately 5 pounds of fat while the aerobic group, surprisingly,

gained fat. Insulin and leptin were also positively affected by the

interval exercise but not the aerobic workout.

Shifting from a Work to a Rest Paradigm in Exercise

Rest and movement are often seen as opposites, but they are

actually complementary and dependent on each other. Exercisers told to

run as fast as possible for 10 minutes will necessarily regulate

intensity to complete the task. If they were instead told to run as fast

as possible for 10 seconds, the intensity could be dramatically

elevated. True high-intensity exercise is impossible to achieve without

rest. Quality rest leads to quality work and vice versa.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) and intense weight lifting

have always coupled work with rest. One issue with these workouts is

their rigid structure. The work–rest ratios “force”

individuals of varying fitness to work at mandated levels. This works to

lower intensity, inducing the same pacing effect seen in traditional

aerobic exercise. These types of workouts are often too intense for many

and can create psychological resistance to participating.

Rest-Based Training (RBT)

Rest-based training (RBT) uses rest, autonomy, and time

manipulation to optimize intensity for all fitness levels. It combines

the latest in exercise science and motivational psychology. Rest-based

training enjoys the same physiological benefits of intense interval

exercise and weight training, but with key psychological benefits.

Rest-based training differs in the application of rest. Where

interval training and weight training have clearly defined work and rest

ratios, RBT leaves the exerciser in charge of when to rest and for how

long. The language employed in this type of training is “push until

you can’t, rest until you can.” This shift in paradigm acts as

reverse psychology for exercisers.

Motivational psychology of exercise is an important consideration

regarding exercise consistency, frequency, and intensity. The primary

goal and purpose of interval training is to maximize work effort across

all work bouts and employ the shortest recovery time possible to

maximize the training stimulus. Contrary to popular belief, research has

shown that exercisers who have autonomy over their workout parameters

will often work harder and are able to self-regulate to an optimal

work-rest ratio for their physiology. (17-19)

Rest-Based Training Principles

There are four key attributes in our RBT system. All are geared

towards maximizing work effort in a safe and scalable way. The key

tenets of rest-based exercise are represented by the acronym REST:

* Rest-based. Pushing to the point of rest is actually the goal of

a rest-based workout. By putting the focus on rest, as opposed to work,

RBT not only automatically increases the quality of work, but also makes

exercise psychologically easier. (17-19), (21) When exercisers know that

they have permission to rest, they may voluntarily work harder without

even being aware that they are doing so. Interestingly, animal research

shows that intermittent exercise is inherent and may be an evolutionary

adaptation to maximize distances covered per unit time. (19) Animals

naturally engage in sporadic work and rest ratios during movement, and

self-regulate exercise to optimize both performance and recovery.

Research shows that humans have the same capability. (17)

* Extrinsic focus. A major inhibitor of intensity is

exercisers’ focus on intrinsic sensations such as breathlessness,

burning, and other uncomfortable feelings. (18), (20) Rest-based

training uses strategies that focus participants away from these

intrinsic sensations to more extrinsic factors. Workout parameters

change quickly, monotony is minimized, circuits are utilized, exercise

timing is limited, and different movement strategies are incorporated in

the same workout. All of this is designed almost as a distraction

technique so that the exerciser focuses more on what he is doing than

what he is feeling. This helps him work harder and therefore rest more


* Self-determined. In psychology research, self-determination

theory posits that when people are given control and choice over their

options, internal motivation automatically increases. (10-12) With RBT,

there is structure in the workout, but the exerciser is left in complete

control over how hard to work, when to rest, how long, and even movement

choice and modifications. These factors serve to not only increase the

quality of work within a session, but also improve exercise adherence

from session to session. (10-12), (17-19), (21)

* Time-conscious. Given that time and intensity are so closely

linked, harder workouts by necessity must be shorter. RBT workouts can

be as short as a 1-minute bursts repeated multiple times throughout the

day, to as long as 40 minutes of continuous exercise employing

start-and-stop working and resting. Workouts lasting over 40 minutes

suffer in intensity and may have negative hormonal consequences. (13-16)


Work and rest ratios employed by traditional interval and

weight-lifting workouts succeed for some but are an imperfect fit for

most. By focusing on rest in a workout, and allowing exercisers control

over when they rest and for how long, optimal intensity for results can

be achieved in a safe, scalable way. A 96-year-old grandfather would be

able to use the same workout approach to deliver optimal intensity for

him, while a 24-year-old elite athlete could use the concept to deliver

an intensity optimal for her. Rest-based exercise can be seen as a new

functional model for fitness and fat loss.


(1.) Melanson et al. Exercise improves fat metabolism in muscle but

does not increase 24-hr fat oxidation. Exerc Sport Sci Rev.


(2.) Miller et al. A meta analysis of the past 25 years of weight

loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention.

Int J Obes. 1997;21:941-947.

(3.) Trapp et al. The effects of high-intensity intermittent

exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women.

Int J Obes. 2008;32:684-691.

(4.) Schuenke et al. Effect of an acute period of resistance

exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for

body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002;86:411-417.

(5.) Osterberg et al. Effect of acute resistance exercise on

post-exercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young

women. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000; 10(1):71-81.

(6.) Treuth et al. Effects of exercise intensity on 24-h energy

expenditure and substrate oxidation. Med Sci Sport Exerc.


(7.) Scott et al. Misconceptions about aerobic and anaerobic energy

expenditure. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005;2:32-37.

(8.) Scott et al. Contributions of anaerobic energy expenditure to

whole-body thermogenesis. Nutr Metab. 2005;2:14.

(9.) Scott et al. Energy expenditure before during and after the

bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Mar. 23(2)611-618.

(10.) Deci et al. Self-determination theory and basic need

satisfaction: understanding human development in positive psychology.

Ric Psicol. 2004;27:17-34.

(11. ) Markland et al. Motivational interviewing and

self-determination theory. J Soc Clin Psychol. 2005;24:811-831.

(12.) Ryan et al. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of

intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol.


(13.) Jacks et al. Effect of exercise at three exercise intensities

on salivary Cortisol. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16:286-289.

(14.) Kern et al. Hormonal secretion during nighttime sleep

indicating stress of daytime exercise. J Appl Physiol.


(15.) Karamouzis et al. The effects of marathon swimming on serum

leptin and plasma neuropeptide Y levels. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2002;40(2):1


(16.) Erdmann et al. Plasma ghrelin levels during exercise -effects

of intensity and duration. Regul Pept. 2007;143(1-3):127-35.

(17.) Edwards et al. Self-pacing in interval training a

teleoanticipatory approach. Psychophysiology. Epub Jun 1 2010.

(18.) Williams et al. Exercise, affect, and adherence: an

integrated model and a case for self-selected exercise. J Sport Exerc

Psychol. 2008;30:471-496.

(19.) Ekkekakis et al. Let them roam free? physiological and

psychological evidence for the potential of self-selected exercise

intensity in public health. Sports Med. 2009; 39(10):857-888.

(20.) Duncan et al. Exercise motivation: a cross-sectional analysis

examining its relationships with frequency, intensity and duration of

exercise. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2010; 7:7.

(21.) Rose et al. Exercise experience influences affective and

motivational outcomes of prescribed and self-selected intensity

exercise. Scand J Med Sci Sports. Epub Jul 6 2010.

by Jade Teta, ND, CSCS, and Keoni Teta, ND, LAc, CSCS

jade@metaboliceffect.com | keoni@metaboliceffect.com

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