A common technique used to make a workout more difficult is to create a rest position which is in it self a stressor, like the dreaded crossfit work out bottom to bottom tabata squats, where in between rounds of squatting you have to stay at the bottom position(actually middleway down) of a squat.
Like many potential powerful and useful protocols this one is often abused simple for its capacity to exhaust an athlete and make them sore. That feeling of exhaustion is far too often the signal for people that makes them thing they have had a good workout or that tells a coach they are doing their job.
Harder doesn’t mean better, but we shouldn’t through the baby out with the bath water either. Practices of standing and “resting” in difficult positions have been part of many physical practices, the traditionals stances of martial arts or Yoga being a particularly apt example.
In martial arts generally the goal of these is not to exhaust the muscles and increase the capacity to generate or hold tension but infact to help the body to attain the ability to maintain a strong structural position with minimal effort to relax and release any unnecessary tension, the goal is not get stronger in the muscles but to get improve by learning to use only the necessary musculature with the bare minimum of tension needed to hold the position. To become more efficient.
Athleticism is a balance between tension and relaxation, we generate force by tensing our muscles but our efficiency in force production depends on the ability to relax the muscles that don’t need to be working and to allow the natural elasticity of our muscles and the work of momentum to do as much as possible this is makes an athlete not just strong but explosive, efficient and endurant in movement.
As we covered the need to train not just the highest intensity but also to train to become efficient in lower intensity movements, to make the simple effortless.
Basic posture and balance work provides a powerful means to achieve this efficiency and couples well with higher intensity effort.
There is scale here from very low intensity resting to relatively difficult “resting” positions. Of course the more taxing the resting position the less intense the subsequent effort must be.
The most common resting posture people take between high intensity jumping, running, lift, or sparring are walking around, sitting or if something was very metabolically taxing laying on their back.
Working on kneeling, straddle and pike sits on the ground and ass to grass squats can all be relatively relaxed ways to rest between efforts while developing the capacity to relax through a broader range of postures. Craig Mallet recently offered some interesting thoughts about basic resting capacities here.
Balancing while standing or squatting is another low intensity but valuable rest period activity.
Finally we can practice stance work as seen in traditional martial arts in between efforts this again should be paired with relatively lower intensity efforts.
A recent example from my training, during my 3×5 course runs between runs I would spend one minute squatting on a tree branch, working facing parallel to the branch and perpendicular I also chose in this case to do this some twenty feet up in a tree which of course I would not recommend to a novice.
In this case the muscular effort level was relatively low and this was good because the courses were somewhat intense, however focusing on balance and breathing while at height worked on quieting my nervous system any random muscle firing would off balance w, this helps with stability on all sort of landings by increasing the bodies understanding of the balance point while on a limb and letting go of all the movement noise that interferes with the ideal position. Each limb I balanced on also offered slightly different resting positions adding movement variability while being at height gave me a chance to practice letting go of the nervous jitters and tension that can accompany moving at height. It ended up being very meditative and beautiful session
For inspiration today check out the shaolin monks who employ allot of stance and postural work. Here you can see some of that plus the incredible overall movement capacity they develop.