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
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
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(5.) Osterberg et al. Effect of acute resistance exercise on
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(6.) Treuth et al. Effects of exercise intensity on 24-h energy
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(8.) Scott et al. Contributions of anaerobic energy expenditure to
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(9.) Scott et al. Energy expenditure before during and after the
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(12.) Ryan et al. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of
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(13.) Jacks et al. Effect of exercise at three exercise intensities
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(14.) Kern et al. Hormonal secretion during nighttime sleep
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(16.) Erdmann et al. Plasma ghrelin levels during exercise -effects
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(17.) Edwards et al. Self-pacing in interval training a
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(18.) Williams et al. Exercise, affect, and adherence: an
integrated model and a case for self-selected exercise. J Sport Exerc
(19.) Ekkekakis et al. Let them roam free? physiological and
psychological evidence for the potential of self-selected exercise
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(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
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