The world of fitness is growing in popularity fast and it’s awesome. In this information age that we live in there is much to be learned from each other in regard to human performance, resiliency, etc. One component of that is recovery. People use foam rollers and sticks, ice baths and cryotherapy, eat the right food, sleep and follow things like the MobilityWOD.
One aspect of recovery that I think people pay less attention to is that between sets. In particular while during conditioning or that “cardio” thing. I believe for the average person, and most athletes for that matter, interval training is the answer when it comes to conditioning. So again, I’m referring to the recovery that occurs between bouts of work (often high effort). The idea being that you are conditioning yourself to recover between bouts of effort and ideally get your heart rate back down so that you can perform the next interval at a similar effort level. With popular terms and training protocols like Tabata, some would have you believe that more work and less rest would obviously be the answer to improved fitness. Something like this:
This looks impressive but let’s think about it logically. I see two problems. Number 1, how long can you actually perform at 100%? Unlikely for the above duration, like ever, for anything. Certainly you could train yourself to decrease the time duration of the 20% effort seen above if/when you are able to continuously reach the 90% or even 100% intensity level above. However I don’t believe that you can “max interval train” for very long bouts of time, only condition yourself to decrease the time it takes to recover between intervals. I often wonder if those who love crazy things like the Tabata protocol of 20 sec work followed by 10 sec rest x 8 sets (at maximal effort of course) would be open to the idea of 45 secs of maximal effort followed by 5 secs of rest done for 12 sets? I mean, that puts the Tabata protocol to shame. Only sissies would consider Tabatas. More is always better, right? That’s where I see the problem number 2. What if the quality is declining rapidly? What if during each subsequent interval effort the output is declining by a significant margin? I argue that those are essentially “bad reps”. The truth is that eventually performance is going to decline and that decline is going to come faster if you aren’t recovering between sets – provided you are actually putting forth 90% ish effort. Otherwise what you are truly doing is operating at maybe 65% on the above graph for an extended period of time, much like steady state cardio, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different than interval training. Using the graph below try to keep performance mostly high and if needed save the extra effort for more rare occasions or whatever your “game day” might be.
There are few ways to do this. The best is perhaps to wear a heart rate monitor and recover to a predetermined HR% (learn more here). Another being to use a work to rest ratio such as 30 sec work followed by 60 rest. Or 15 sec of maximum effort followed by 25 sec rest. The problem again is that most people, athletes included, do not need a negative work to rest ratio like 1 min of high effort followed by 15 sec of rest. As described earlier, when this is done the % of intensity will decrease dramatically as the sets go on. This is less than optimal for conditioning the body to be more efficient at recovering.
– Mike Baltren