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Smart Program Design Series: Incorporating Variety & Making Progression Seamless Part 4 – Structuring Work & Rest Intervals for Conditioning

The Smart Program Design Series: Incorporating Variety & Making Progression Seamless

Part 4 – Structuring Work & Rest Intervals for Conditioning

By Sarah Rippel, Author of The Ultimate Group Training System & Build ‘N Burn


I feel the fitness industry has been in a trap of “go as hard as you can” for far too long. This has not only affected the minds of our clients but also our own as fit pros when prescribing workouts. Yes, people need to be working and we do not want anyone lollygagging or sitting around a ton, but I feel the “go all-out” mentality is toxic for most people.


The pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the center however, as our industry always has a way of doing. Today more people seem hyper-focused on recovery measures & modalities. This is great because yes, recovery from hard work is very important!


Let’s not get crazy though…are most of our clients even working at an intensity level that necessitates these recovery practices? If we are focusing more and more on prescribing recovery work for our clients as a means of offsetting their training, why not also focus on prescribing workouts at appropriate intensities that allow for proper recovery between exercises as well as throughout the session?


I believe that if a person is prescribing workouts that are leaving their clients in a constant state of fatigue, this will soon become a negative and no amount of recovery work could bring things into balance. I feel a much more effective and logical practice would be to organize workouts in a manner that ensures the proper level of intensity and facilitates recovery.


It’s about time we thought about rest as much as we emphasize work in our programming! Many people do not know how to govern their intensity and if given the option in a group setting, will more than likely work at too high a level for the intent of the workout.


Rest Periods During Conditioning Work


In conditioning work, rest periods can have a big impact on whether the workout is anaerobic or an aerobic. In addition, the length of rest periods can enhance or impair performance.


Providing built-in rest intervals during conditioning work that is meant to be aerobic is a way to ensure the intensity stays where it needs to be.


When a person sees a workout such as:


3 RFT:

1) Jump Rope 1 minute

2) Heavy Slam Ball to Shoulder x 10

3) 200m Run


They may think they have to go as fast as possible from one exercise to the next. Yes, the goal is to perform the three rounds for time as fast as possible, but at the proper intensity! If a person sets out on the jump rope and starts feeling winded 45 seconds into that initial minute, they may need to catch their breath for 15-20 seconds after completing that jump rope interval. Moving on to the Heavy Slam Ball to Shoulder, they may try and attack that first set at a fast pace, quickly finding out that it is not sustainable and thus having to slow down midway. Upon completing those 10 reps, they may need 30 seconds before they feel ready to set out on that initial 200m run, and it just goes downhill from there. Their initial intensity was too high for the desired aerobic intent of the workout.


A better strategy would be for them to hold back from the beginning and then crank up the intensity as necessary towards the end, still focusing on being able to keep continuous movement.


Another strategy would be to plug in required rest breaks between the exercises OR give a suggested range of time for the rest breaks, such as 15-20 seconds.


So, here’s that circuit written in a manner that makes it easier to conceptualize recovery between exercises:


3 RFT:

1) Jump Rope 1 minute

2) Rest 20sec

3) Heavy Slam Ball to Shoulder x 10

4) Rest 20sec

5) 200m Run

6) Rest 20-40sec


Check out my articles “Unique Functional Conditioning Circuit” & “Unconventional Cardio: Strongman Conditioning Circuits” for more info on structuring circuits with built-in rest intervals!


Strategies such as EMOM can be very effective, especially with less-experienced trainees or those who tend to “go hard.”


For more EMOM info, check out my article “Alternating EMOMs for Small Group Training.”


Another way of implementing rest intervals is to strategize when arranging the exercises used in a conditioning workout. If exercises are placed at opposite ends of the room and participants are told to walk from one to the next, this can keep the intensity where it needs to be.


In addition, using strategies such as my “Static-Dynamic” manner of ordering exercises within circuits can have an impact on recovery and make conditioning work sustainable. If a more dynamic movement is chased by a static hold, the fact that the static hold is of less intensity can help regulate the overall intensity of the workout. It’s as if you are offsetting higher intensity movement with active rest.


For example:


10 Minute AMRAP:

1) BIG Rope Slams x 20

2) Side Plank – left – 20sec

3) Med Ball Over-the-Top Slam x 10 total (5/side)

4) Side Plank – right – 20sec


For more info on my Static-Dynamic format, check out my articles “The Static-Dynamic EMOM Format for Conditioning Workouts” & “30:30 Static-Dynamic Turkey Day Burner Circuit!”


If a conditioning workout pairs all-out intervals with incomplete recoveries, those all-out efforts will not be sustainable over time. A person may begin with the desired intensity, but because they are unable to fully recover in order to perform at that level again, the subsequent rounds may be performed with less power output, therefore negating the desired training effect.


Short burst, max effort conditioning intervals must be paired with proper recovery intervals! A 10-second sprint is better paired with a 50-second rest than a 20-second rest. If people are beginning to look antsy & commenting that the rest break seems too long, they are probably ready to go again!


So there you have it, a little emphasis on just how important “resting” is during workouts! I wanted to thank each of you for taking the time to not only read the articles in this “Smart Program Design” series, but also contact us with questions and feedback! I have really enjoyed being able to share from my experience what I feel may be useful to other fit pros & will continue to do so!


Stay tuned for Part 5 of this series which will continue to focus on conditioning!


In case you missed it: Part 1 Part 2  Part 3



……in the mean time…….

Go grab Build N’ Burn  – Done For YOU 16 Wk Metabolic Small Group Training Program for Fit Pros












And our Brand New:“The Ultimate Small Group Training System”  The most Comprehensive Guide to Semi-Private and Small Group Training








Other articles by Sarah Rippel:

SGT Workout Breakdown- Program 4  Part 1

The Conditioning Based Warm-Up: 10 Minute EMOM

SGT Workout Breakdown Program 4 – Part 2

Metabolic Circuit Revamp V1.0

Unconventional Cardio: Strongman Conditioning Circuits

Density Training for Metabolic Conditioning & Strength Work

Using Cluster Sets To Spice Up Strength Programming

Wall Ball Conditioning Workouts+4 Tips to Improve Wall Ball Technique(Videos)

Using a Tempo Focus with Build ‘N Burn Workouts

Speed Ladder + Static Core Continuous 30-Second Circuit Version 2.0




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