There's a debate that training geeks have been having for a while now. Some coaches recommend that you completely rest between sets or circuits. Sit down or even lie down, they say. That way when it's time to do your next set, you'll be able to put more into it and get better results.

The other side of the debate says that you shouldn't totally rest during your rest periods. Instead, they say, walk around between sets or circuits. They say that's "active recovery." Who's right? Let's take a look at the science.

The Study

This study was conducted with 10 female and 5 male CrossFitters with at least 6 months of CrossFit experience. After the initial baseline testing in the first workout, subjects performed the same workout once each week (4 weeks total) with either slow treadmill walking, sitting, or lying down on their backs during the rest periods.

The Workout

  1. Three sets of 10 thrusters followed by two minutes of going as hard as possible on the rowing machine. The CrossFitters rested for one minute between sets, then rested 2.5 minutes before continuing the workout.
  2. Three sets of 8 deadlifts followed by two minutes of going as hard as possible on a spin bike. They rested two minutes between sets 1 and 2, then rested 5 minutes after set 3.

What They Found

Heart rate and VO2 (the amount of oxygen being used by the body) dropped lower during the rest periods while sitting and lying down compared to walking. No big surprise there. The interesting part is they were able to do more total work on the cycle and rower after sitting or lying down compared to when they walked around during rest periods.

What This Means

Let's make this clear: you don't need to sit down on a bench between your sets of bicep curls. But complete rest during really tough sets or circuits involving large musculature and a high level of both anaerobic and aerobic work means that you'll be able to get more work done during the active part of the workout.

If you're going hard during your work periods, then stop walking around and "actively recovering" during your rest periods. Instead, REST. That active recovery is just making your work sets less effective.

Relax as much as you can before you hit it again. If you're going hard enough during your work periods, it's okay to take a breather during your rest periods. Don't make the work periods less effective my doing mindless movements in your rest periods.

Related:  Pros and Cons of CrossFit-Style Training

Related:  The Best Rest Periods for Building Muscle


  1. Ouellette, KA, Brusseau, TA, Davidson, LE, Ford, CN, Hatfield, DL, Shaw, JM, and Eisenman, PA. Comparison of the effects of seated, supine, and walking interset rest strategies on work rate. J Strength Cond Res 30(12): 3396–3404, 2016