Rest-Based Metabolic Training

by Jade Teta on Apr 21, 2011

Rest-based training (RBT) is a system that makes rest, not work, the primary goal of the workout. It allows participants to take a rest for as long as necessary. Rest actually becomes a tool for increasing intensity, because exercisers can strategically use it to work harder than they could without rest. It also provides a buffer against overexertion, making even high-intensity workouts safe. There are four key components of RBT, represented by the acronym R-E-S-T:

  • R = Rest-based. Rest, not work, is the goal of rest-based training. This automatically increases the quality of work done and makes exercise psychologically easier. When exercisers have permission to rest according to their needs, they voluntarily work harder without being consciously aware they are doing so.
  • E = Extrinsic focus. Intrinsic sensations—such as breathlessness, burning and other sensations—are inhibitors of exercise intensity. Rest-based training incorporates techniques that focus exercisers on what they are doing (extrinsic factors) versus what they are feeling (intrinsic feelings). With this in mind, an RBT workout is often structured to be quick-moving and psychologically motivating.
  • S = Self-determined. RBT workouts are structured, but exercisers have complete autonomy over exertion and rest. They are taught to use their rest strategically to push harder than they could without it. Giving control to exercisers increases workout quality, improves exercise adherence, makes exercise psychologically easier and improves results over time, in comparison with more definitive exercise prescriptions.
  • T = Time-conscious. Time and intensity are linked. Harder workouts must therefore be shorter by necessity. RBT workouts usually last from 20 to 40 minutes and incorporate start-and-stop work and rest segments according to individual needs.

Rest-Based Training in Practice

To help novice exercisers tap into their inherent ability to self-regulate, RBT relies on a 1-4 scale. This scale, which works as both an exertion score and a readiness rating, helps exercisers and/or trainers recognize more clearly when they should rest and when they may want to resume training.

RBT Exertion Scale

  1. Exerciser is at rest.
  2. Exerciser is exercising but can still talk, there is no burning in muscles and/or the weight is light.
  3. Exerciser can no longer talk, there is burning in the muscle and/or the weight is getting heavy.
  4. Exerciser must rest and recover.

RBT Readiness Scale

  1. Exerciser is ready for full exertion.
  2. Exerciser is ready to attempt full exertion.
  3. Exerciser is unable to attempt full exertion.
  4. No exertion is possible.

The goal of the workout is to repeatedly reach a 4 on the RBT exertion scale. Rest is then taken until the exerciser reaches a 2 on the RBT readiness scale. In time, the scales are no longer required, as participants quickly learn to hone in on their self-regulating abilities.

Sample Rest-Based Training Workout

Here is a simple RBT workout that can be done with a group of clients or in a one-on-one personal training setting.

  • Choose three full-body exercises, using a 10- to 15-repetition maximum.
  • Complete 8 reps of each exercise in circuit fashion.
  • Instruct trainees to work until rest is required, reaching a 4 on the RBT exertion scale.
  • Coach exercisers to rest as long as required, reaching a 2 on the RBT readiness scale.
  • Direct exercisers to resume the workout where they left off.
  • Have them continue this way, starting and stopping according to their own needs. The wording to use is “Push until you can’t; rest until you can.”
  • Use a stopwatch and time the circuit for 10 minutes. Remember, there is no structured rest. Trainees take rest according to their own needs.
  • After 10 minutes choose another three exercises and have clients go for another 10 minutes.
  • Repeat a third time with another three exercises for a total of 30 minutes.

During the workout, some exercisers will use lots of short rests, while others will prefer less frequent, longer rests. The trainer’s job is to cue, coach and motivate the clients by reminding them they are in control.

To see the author perform sets as he explains rest-based training, go to these URLs:

For more detailed information, plus full references, please see the complete article, “Rest-Based Training,” in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 9, Issue 5

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Jade Teta

Jade Teta IDEA Author/Presenter

I am a hybrid fitness professional who works as a holistic physician, wellness coach and personal trainer. I am a licensed family physician in Washington State, but work as a health, fitness and fat l...


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  • Seth Perry

    I don't see anything scientifically different between this and having a trainer tell you how long to rest. The "primary goal" is rest? This article told me nothing new...
    Commented May 06, 2011

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