Rest periods

I keep on meaning to create a post with this timing  information in:

These are estimates of how long a set of reps takes, followed by the ideal rest periods between sets.

The chances are that 1-5 reps  takes  0-20 seconds , with 1-2 reps needing 300 to 240 seconds rest  and 3-5 reps needing 240-180 seconds to recover

If you are doing 6-8 reps, the chances are it takes 20-40 seconds and you need rest of 180-120 seconds between sets.

If you are doing 9-12 reps the chances are it takes 40-70 seconds and you need to leave 120-90 seconds

If you do 13-20+ reps, chances are it takes 50-120 seconds and your rest period could be 90-10 seconds.

Rest periods can really support or screw your training

Is Crossfit really random?

As the CrossFit website will tell you ” CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity”
People are so impressed with how fun and effective Crossfit workouts (WODs) are, that they often forget to see the whole prescription. This often expresses itself in conversations about programming, where some insist that to be “crossfit”  A crossfit programme should be totally varied and random. This is an understandable misinterpretation as in the crossfit journal ( October 2004 page 6) Greg Glassman wrote:

“ the WOD is responsible for quite a bit of confusion about the crossfit method. Crossfit is a strength and conditioning system built on constantly varied, if not, randomized functional movements executed at high intensity . The WOD is but one example of Crossfit programming.”

Like most crossfitters I quickly jumped to the conclusion that Crossfit, as a strength and conditioning regime was all about variety. After all, that’s what the website did. It varied.

All the time.

Surely I thought, you deadlift 11111, on one day, then Fran the next, then a 5k run, then rest day, then onto infinite variation. I clearly remembered this paragraph “Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy”

Voila. End of debate!

However, I worried me, that I found among all the “constantly varied“ statements Greg’s description of a regular class at the original crossfit facility. Indeed the days before my certification in 2005 Id witnessed this format

“One of our favourite workout patterns is to warm up, and then perform three to five sets of 3 to 5 reps of a fundamental lift at a moderately comfortable pace, followed by a 10 minute circuit of gymnastics elements at a blistering pace, and finally finish with 2 to 10 minutes of high intensity metabolic conditioning. There is nothing sacred here” ( CFJ October 2002 page 9)

So, I thought, they are regularly practicing and training gymnastics and the major lifts, then doing wods.

This backed up my subsequent clinical experience. Those who did regular muscle up work, got muscle ups, bigger squatters squatted well, the x gymnasts popped up into handstands.

People who limited their Crossfit to a wod, or a series of Wod’s struggled.

Then I re-read the “100 words. The statement that summarises the crossfit prescription To be honest. I actually read the 100 words properly for the 1st time . To help you understand my revelation, Ive added some “Ands” and some numbers ( my views are in the brackets)

Here is the prescription:

1) Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.

(Ok! Not everyone does, but yep TICK)


2) Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch.

(Er, ok, not randomise, but training and practise like you’d find in an oly club. Ok, I can do that. Tick)


3) Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds.

( wow, er regular practise and training too. Like any sport, regular practice and training. OK)


4) Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.

(ok.that too wow)


5) Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense.

(Oh I get it!!! Once you have done your regular training, do workouts that combine what you know! That makes sense)


6) Regularly learn and play new sports.

( if I had time, but yes, I get it)

Many think that crossfit is about total variety in every aspect of training. It is never the less clear that “creativity” occurs in the workouts, not in the regular practice and training .

This model is totally familiar to any team or combat sports person. As a fighter, I trained and worked for perfection in moves and combinations. I had medicine balls dropped on my abs with tedious regularity. I worked the heavy bag. A LOT. But every session had a WOD . In that sport it was a sparring sessions: here the unknown and unknowable “punched me in the face!’. A LOT.

So, structured practice, plus a random WOD.

But the question frequently comes up . In these wods, are there targets or is it just random?

“If you are doing the workout of the day, you are training for these ( the benchmark) wods” . (CFJ Sept 2003 page 4) Back then, the benchmarks were the 6 sisters Angie, Barbara Chelsea, Diane Elizabeth and Fran. In short, Crossfit quickly decided that, in preparing for the unknown, It was as well to target success in benchmark workouts. After all, “Success with high rep calisthenic movements won’t come to be without regular practice. Not all of that practice need be a max rep, but it needs to be regular.” (CFJ April 2003 page 3) Incidentally the warm up is the perfect place for that practice”. (CFJ April 2003 page 3)

But, its too often asserted that “its gotta be random. Its crossfit innit”

Not according to the crossfire level 1 trainer guide. At page 51 it clearly says that “What your programme needs is not to become routine”. Bear in mind that at the time Crossfit began, all that was available at most “leisure centres” was basic bodybuilding and jogging routines. Equally, when discussing variation, Crossfit says that no two, 3 day cycles are the same: so if you spot that back squats and the lunge comes up a few times in a week. It’s not lack of variance, You need to assess what comes before and after the move.

So whats the take home messages

1) Everything you have read and heard about crossfits variation, randomness, excitement, brilliance, is true, but probably written with mainly the WODS in mind. If you simply did Crossfit Wods, it would give you excellent fitness. But thats only part of the 100 word prescription

2) Better Crossfiters looks to the 100 word prescription: it makes you regularly train and practise weightlifting, gymnastics and cardio, then also, mixes those elements up for a workout.

3) Don’t let anyone kid you that regular practise in Olympic lifting, squats or gymnastics, somehow isn’t Crossfit.

It’s right there. Read the 100 words

Relative intensity

The programmes I discuss here have many objectives, one of which  is to  help you find your strength head – shorthand for developing your strength knowledge. In this article we visit the basic language of weightlifting and how it relates to the concept of relative intensity.

When it comes to using weight; in simple terms, people think this: lift the heaviest weight you can, that’s your 1 rep max; then based on that you can lift 90% of it 3 times (3reps), 85% of it 5 times, 75% 10 times. If you do 3 rounds of 3 reps, that’s 3 sets.

So weight lifting is a mix of percentages, sets and reps, all based on a one rep max. Simples!

This is a great place to start, but to develop your strength head,  you need to develop your knowledge and insights into the strength game.

Some time ago, Zatsiorsky pointed out there are two types of  one rep maxes you can have: a competition 1 rep max, and a training 1 rep max.

A) A competition max is  where you get hyped up and get a PB  and scream a lot.

B) A training 1 rep max


However, often people skip the full definition of a 1 rep training max.

A maximum training weight  is the heaviest  weight you can lift  without substantial  emotional stress.

Damn. No screaming.

For athletes, the difference between the two is great. The example Zatsiorsky cites is that for athletes who lift  200 kg during a competition, a 180kg is typically above their maximum training weight. As a possible indicator, if your heart rate increases before your lift, that’s a sign of emotional engagement. Weightlifting is meant to stress your body, not your mind.

That’s the job of your partner and employer.

In short, if you screamed it up – it’s too heavy to use as a basis for regular training.

So, if you are calculating reps and sets using a 1 rep max, please, please use the right one; otherwise you’ll break. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon… If you want to properly test your 1 rep max, book a PT session with one of the training team.

If you have been lifting regularly for a while, you have probably begun to review strength literature and you are probably aware that lifting 80% of your 1 rep max provokes strength gain.

So, when lifting sets of 5, you’d probably like to put 80% of your 1 rep max on the bar. Everyone does that, but think about what it is you’d are actually be doing.

Let’s forget weightlifting for a moment, and talk about bricks. Imagine you are a labourer on a building site. Lets say we run a test to see how many bricks you can move in a day. For argument’s sake, let’s  say you can move 1000.

Normally in training we wouldn’t want to move the 1000, we would do 800 ( 80%) but many people want to set 5 reps of that. So there you are, lifting 5 x 800 =4000.

If you tried to do that in a day, you’d probably die.

Back to the weight room. So you can lift 100kg calmly as your 1 rep max. You’ve been told if you lift 80% and over of this figure, you are strength training. So, to keep the maths easy, if you lift 80kg, you are strength training. But do you lift that 80% five times?

As you see from my poor labourer example, the first 800 was probably easy, but the next 800, isn’t easy, the 3rd 800 is getting you to breaking point.

In short, 80% lifted multiple times, isn’t perceived by the body as 80%. It sees it as much, much heavier because of the volume. The bricklayer, is of course a silly example – but try and get the message rather than be sidetracked in the endurance aspect of the example.

In simple terms, because you are lifting in sets of multiple reps, a load of 67% of your 1 rep max lifted 5 times has a relative intensity of 79%. It feels like 79%, your body thinks it’s 79%. It is 79%

Putting 76% of you 1 rep max on your bar for 5, has the effect of being 88%.

70% feels like  =82%,

73% feels like  =  85%.

80% on the bar for 5, is like lifting 91%.

Relative intensity is the simple observation that volume, load and rest effects how your body feels and adapts to weight.

Coach Robb Rogers gives a fuller description here:

Remember your muscles are dumb, they don’t know or care about percentages. They just know what feels heavy.

According to Mike Tuchscherer; “The body responds to things like the force of the muscle’s contraction, how long the contraction lasts, and how many contractions there were. A percentage isn’t necessarily a precise way to describe this, as different lifters will perform differently.”

In take-home terms, if today you went to CrossFit London or CrossFit SE11, and during the strength session, you only got to 68% of your (proper) 1 rep Training max for 5; you actually hit the 80% in relative intensity. That’s the 80% you need to nudge your strength along.

For now, in our general programme, we are not obsessing about percentages; but those who do know their lifts, I hope will be grateful for this insight. For the rest of you, simply work to a set of 5 that you can comfortably lift, bearing in mind these RPE (rates of perceived exertion) as guidance.

On a scale from 1 to 10:

9: Heavy Effort. Could have done one more rep.
8: Could have done two or three more reps, but glad you didn’t have to.
7: Bar speed is “snappy” if maximal force is applied
6: Bar speed is “snappy” with moderate effort

After a while, I suspect a “five” you can do in class will be at an RPE between 7 and 8.

Once you bedded this concept of relative intensity into your head, you can look forward to many years of safe, effective lifting.

More insights coming soon.

Grateful thanks to Coach Chet Morjaria @  Strength Education and to Coach Anthony Waller @ CrossFit London for the numerous corrections  and observations they supplied