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Strength Training Rest Intervals for Distance Runners
By Rick Morris
If you've done running interval training on the track you are already familiar with the concept of rest intervals. Those brief periods of inactivity provide your muscles with just enough rest and recovery to perform your next work repeat. Strength training rest intervals follow the same logic. While rest intervals are most commonly associated with multiple set training they are also used with the single set training that will mostly likely dominate your distance running strength training routine. Just as you take a rest interval between sets of the same exercise you take a recovery period between single sets of different exercises.
Your interval training rest intervals can range from just a few seconds to several minutes depending upon the workout you are performing, your current level of fitness and where you are chronologically in your training program. Determining your rest intervals for strength training is a less complicated procedure simply because there are less choices. Your strength training rest intervals will either be short, less than one minute; or long, more than one minute. So which way is best for distance running strength training? Do you need short or long rest intervals between strength training sets or exercises?
It would be nice is the answer were simple, but like most training questions there is some conflicting data. There has been a large number of studies on the subject of strength training rest intervals and for the most part they all agree that longer rest intervals are best for some strength training goals while shorter rest intervals are best for others. Which is best for you? It depends upon your goal. Nearly every study supports the fact that longer rest intervals are best for building strength while shorter rest intervals are the superior method for improving muscular endurance.
A group in Brazil conducted a review of the available research data on strength training rest intervals. They concluded that "resting 3 - 5 minutes between sets produced greater increases in absolute strength, due to higher intensities and volumes of training." They went on to say "Training with short rest intervals ( 20 seconds to 1 minute) resulted in higher repetition velocities during repeated sub maximal muscle actions and also greater total torque during a high intensity cycle test. Both of these findings indirectly demonstrated the benefits of utilizing short rest intervals for gains in muscular endurance."
What does that mean for you as a distance runner? Basically it says that long rest intervals will improve your strength but shorter rest intervals will increase your power, endurance and your ability to maintain power over time. It looks like short rest intervals wins the argument when it comes to strength training for distance runners.
Another study actually looked at the effect of strength training rest intervals directly on runners. These researchers found that "5 weeks of training with short rest periods results in greater improvements in repeated sprint ability than the same training with long rest periods."
Science says that short rest intervals are best for distance runners but I always like to look at the common sense side of things. Does it make sense that short strength training rest intervals are best for distance runners? I think it does. Running is made up of continuous high intensity muscle contractions with no recovery. It just makes sense that your strength training program should try to match the same routine.
For most distance runners the best technique is to use short rest intervals to improve your power, endurance and running performance . If you need to improve your absolute strength, lengthen your rest intervals to between 3 and 5 minutes between sets or exercises. For distance running strength improvements you really don't need to time your rest intervals. The exact time isn't critical. Just move quickly from exercise to exercise and keep your rest intervals at less than one minute.
Rest interval between sets in strength training, Sports Med 2009;39(9):765-77
Effects of rest interval during high repetition resistance training on strength, aerobic fitness and repeated sprint ability, J Sports Sci, 2007 Apr 25(6):619-28
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