The Relation Between Rest Interval Mode and Duration in Sprint Training

A new study found when it comes to recovery mode and duration, the interaction between the two is what matters most in optimizing sprint performance.

Sprinting is the key to field sports like football, hockey, and soccer. Plays are won or lost based on a player’s ability to execute a sprint faster than his opponent. So naturally, sprint training is an important topic in coaching. If we can figure out the best way to train sprints, then perhaps we can perform better on the field and ultimately win more games.

A group of researchers tackled this problem in the latest issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. They asked, “What is the best way to rest between sprints during training to ensure maximum performance?” Some studies have shown that passive rest, or not moving during rest periods, is superior. Others have shown that active rest, which is when an athlete maintains motion at a very slow and easy rate, is superior. The research team devised a study to test whether the length of the rest interval affected the best way to rest.

The researchers recruited ten male recreational athletes to study. The men were generally in their mid- to late twenties and had spent about seven years in their respective sports. The men were asked to perform a thirty-second sprint on a stationary bike. The researchers tested four different conditions:

  • 45 seconds rest with passive recovery
  • 45 seconds rest with active recovery
  • 180 seconds rest with passive recovery
  • 180 seconds rest with active recovery

The results were surprising. The researchers found that the optimal mode of recovery (active or passive) depends on the length of the rest interval. In the case of 45-second rest intervals, passive recovery was the winner. The sprinters maintained higher peak power, especially in the early sprints, with passive rest. In the case of 180-second rest intervals, active recovery was the winner. In this case, the cyclists stayed on the bicycle and kept moving the pedals at a slow pace. This paid off with higher power outputs, especially during the later sprints.

Why this difference? Well, we don’t know exactly. The researchers theorized that active recovery may interfere with the first stage of phosphocreatine regeneration. This would explain why passive recovery was beneficial for short rest intervals. Active recovery does a better job of removing cellular waste products like hydrogen ions. This is primarily accomplished through greater blood flow caused by the motion of active recovery. The sum total of this effect provided an advantage for active recovery during the longer, 180-second rest intervals.

So next time you’re designing a program that involves sprint training, consider whether active or passive recovery is optimal. Better performance in training means better performance on the field, so it could be the difference between making a big play or chalking up a loss.


1. James Brown and Mark Glaister. The Interactive Effects of Recovery Mode and Duration on Subsequent Repeated Sprint Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. March 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 3 – p 651–660. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a1fe28

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