Are You Recovering?

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


One thought on “Are You Recovering?

  1. Andy T

    I truly believe tabata style training is very useful, it just needs to be carried out until the point of neural fatigue (technique breaks down or a specific weight/time is missed). An example would be in the world of swimming; 16 x 25m @ 30 seconds aiming to hit a target pace of that you wish to hold in a 100m event. Once you missed your desired target time you rest and rejoin the set after that rest period (additional 25m rest + recovery time). Another way would be to rest once the desired technique breaks down. An example would be if a swimmer is aiming to swim 60 seconds for a 100m event, their goal 25m target in the set would be 15 seconds per 25m. This would be a 1:1 work:rest ration. Once the swimmer misses the desired time or technique fails they miss a rep out and recover during that time. They would then rejoin the set and further attempt to hit pace+technique. If they fail again that is the end of the workout as they reached their optimal performance for that day in that specific session.

    A typical set for a distance swimmer would be 30 x 100m (30 x 60-65 seconds of work followed by 15-25 seconds of rest). This training set is quite commonly used by world or olympic champions.

    Doing pure HITT/Tabbata to exhaustion will most definitely not benefit the person, and needs to monitored to point of neural fatigue/technique breakdown. When the swimmer comes to repeat the same session there goal would be to increase the number of repetitions before technique or the desired time is not achieved. I am currently using this model of training and having great success in preparing swimmers at a Junior International level. Not only that I have applied this methodology to training for GS Kettlebell lifting and seeing very positive results.

    I have attached a swim specific document which also includes how TABATTA style training can stimulate all energy systems during a specific set.

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that TABATTA/HIIT training is probably the most effective training method over energy system tainting (Aerobic capacity, power, Anaerobic Capacity/Power etc), as long as it is carried out and terminated once neural fatigued or technical breakdown occurs. This will reduce the chance of chronic fatigue and will allow the athlete to train at Maximum capacity almost everyday, providing they have a well balance training program. (Point 1.28 describes the energy systems stimulated during "Tabatta" style training)

    Watch out for a guy called Micheal Andrew, who is setting all the US National age group records following this training protocol and will potentially qualify for Rio at the age of 16.

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