I've always thought that the term "active rest" sounds like an oxymoron.
To me, it's analogous to "jumbo shrimp" or "seriously funny" (both of which I regularly say). If I was new to exercise prescription or fitness in general, I'd be curious as to why any rest period would need to be "active." So, this week, I'll explain why active rest should be part of any efficient workout, and I will offer up an exercise that incorporates this technique as a central theme.
Active rest is a technique that allows one to rest one part of the body while exercising another. It's that simple. Most people leverage the benefits of active rest into each workout without realizing it.
For example, one might perform a pushup until their arms and shoulders fatigue. Once that happens, they go walk on a treadmill until their upper body feels recovered. At that point, the individual performs another set of pushups. This is a very simple example of active rest.
Or, the person could choose to perform the first set of pushups until fatigue sets in, then just sit until they are ready for another set. This is not active rest — it's just rest.
So, the difference lies in what one chooses to do while fatigued muscles recover. Whatever the choice, if the body is moving, that is active rest.
I am a fan of this technique because it makes me more efficient with my time. If I can rest one part of the body while I work another part, then my caloric burn increases and I finish my workout faster. These days, it seems as though time is the most valuable commodity, so I'm serious about creating efficiencies whenever possible.
The key to incorporating active rest is to understand which muscle groups are involved in the primary exercise so you can minimize their activity during the rest period.
This week's exercise is a good example as the Combo Triceps Press features two movements that involve the triceps muscle group, with an active rest period that minimizes triceps involvement.
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1. Select a pair of medium-weight dumbbells and lie on your back on an exercise bench.
2. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms over your chest.
3. Slowly lower the dumbbells by bending your elbows to 90 degrees. Once you reach that point, slowly extend the arms back to the starting position. This is the primary movement.
4. For the active rest period, you want to slowly lower the dumbbells toward the underarms until they are at chest level.
5. Press the dumbbells back up until both arms are straight.
6. Continue alternating the triceps extension with the close grip bench press for six repetitions of each movement. Perform two sets.
Some might argue that the triceps are too involved in the secondary exercise (the close grip press) for this to be considered active rest. Once the exercise is performed, however, it's easy to recognize the reduction in triceps effort. I think it is a great exercise for those looking to challenge the upper body with a cool combo move. Let's crush it!
Matt Parrott is glad to hear from readers. Send him questions or share a story about your pandemic workouts at