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Stuff I changed my mind on: Rest Periods

I grew up as a martial artist.

And you know something martial artists suck at?


Especially those of us from the more traditional schools, the "Pyjama Arts"

I came up through Wado Ryu Karate, and then spent years training in whatever art was local to where I lived as I travelled around.

When I started WG-Fit as an offshoot of our Wild Geese Martial Arts project, I was pretty much collecting martial arts.

Moving in fitness coaching as my primary job, I was training people very much as I'd always trained, as most martial arts guys train. Basically balls out all day every day.

Rest periods were for other people.

Even in hypertrophy training, we stuck to the very 80's bodybuilding idea of 60-90second rests between sets.

When I trained for Kettlebell Sport way back in 2009/10, guess what? Rest periods were always too bloody short!

No wonder so many "pyjama" martial arts dudes like myself are so broken up!

Anyhow, I learned my lesson and did some reading, studied and listened to the exercise science guys. And I started to appreciate the value of rest periods.

For basic training, general fitness stuff, how long should we rest? The simplest answer for that is: as long as you need to in order to complete the next set well. That's the exact advice I've just sent to an online client for his lighter training day.

I like to think of this as "preparation" rather than rest, an idea I got from Core Combatives founder and former Military dude Mick Coup. Coup says "Don't think of this as recovering from what you just did, think of it as preparing for what you're about to do!"

I like that philosophy, it's a hardcore way of giving yourself permission to rest, it also shifts the focus away from chasing fatigue to chasing quality.

For strength and power training, I'm really coming to the conclusion that rest simply cannot be long enough. My ADD karate brain struggles like mad to accept resting over 2 minutes, but I find that by the time I get me breath back after Power Cleans or Heavy Squats, then do a handful of reps of a rehab drill, then change the weight on the bar, I've had over 2 minutes without noticing. To just sit and wait for that time to pass would feel like forever!

And then we have the higher level conditioning, the kind of stuff we might have the Combat Sports or the Kettlebell Sports guys use. These often use time rather than reps for gauging a sets duration. The Kettlebell sport guys start with and mostly stick with a 1:1 work to rest ratio, but we're not against resting longer, maybe 1:1.5 Combat sports might end up using fairly convoluted work to rest ratios depending on the energy system we're targeting in that particular session.

If I'm looking for explosive work, we need short work with long rests. I remember the reaction from one of my top combat sports fighters when she read the session she was to do. It started with Kicking the heavy bag for 10 rounds. The program asked for 10 seconds work, 50 seconds rest x 10

As an ADD martial artist, this threw her, "Surely this is a typo and it's 50 seconds work, 10 seconds rest?" she asks.

"No, it's right" she was informed, so she worked it as written.

After 10 rounds she was spent!


The longer rests allowed her to pour her heart and soul into every single kick she threw, there was no pacing herself, every kick was an attempt to cut that bag in half. Rather than a steady aerobic pace while kicking for time, this was all out anaerobic aggression!

And she learned to access more power, more quickly. After a couple of weeks those kicks sounded like gunshots going off! I'm sure the offices two floor up from our studio could feel the vibration!

This is all information I wish I had when I was in my teens and 20's.

I was the duracell bunny, I'd go all day every day, I'd "rest when I'm dead" Right up until my body blew up and forced me to slow down.

Maybe If I'd understood the value of rest periods, I'd be stronger and more powerful than I am, with fewer injuries?

Who knows?

But, I'll tell you now, It's my mission to ensure that you lot don't repeat my mistakes.


Dave Hedges

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