USRPT-Integrated Workout – Specificity of Rest

Photo by Christopher Rattray

By Ronald Hehn, Concordia College Head Coach

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 6.  TODAY, I’m back with another workout that integrates Ultra Short Race Pace Training into the workout as well as focusing on how to respond to various levels of rest.


Performance – Repetition completed at race-pace (i.e. the split of a goal time); Execution of a skill

Best Average – Fastest time to complete a repetition that an athlete is able to maintain while consistently provided with 20 seconds of rest.

MissPerformance is slower than Best Average. After 3 repetitions are missed, the set concludes.

MadePerformance is equal or faster than Best Average. After 20 repetitions are made, the set concludes and Best Average must be decreased.

Add-If-Missed – If a repetition is missed, the athlete must add the amount of seconds exceeding the Best Average to the total interval.

Subtract-If-Made – If a repetition is made, the athlete must subtract the amount of time less than the Best Average from the total interval.

Variable Interval – Duration of Performance (variable) + Duration of Rest (controlled) = Total Interval (variable)

Fixed Interval – Duration of Performance (variable) + Duration of Rest (variable) = Total Interval (controlled)

Incubation – Intentional distraction from performance promotes improvement of future performances.

*In a group setting, use greater increments to adjust the total interval (e.g. add or subtract 5 seconds) in order to accommodate a large number of athletes. In a private setting, the workout must be conducted as specifically as possible.*

**All intervals provided on the workout are approximate. Base your total interval on your own performances.**


Performances may fluctuate based on various physiological and cognitive factors. Duration of rest must be consistent and controlled because the duration of performance is often inconsistent and uncontrolled. An athlete must learn to respond to consistent rest with improved performances.

In order for cognitive acquisition and physiological improvement of performances, an athlete must learn specific skills under specific conditions. For example, a race lacks a period of rest. Cognitive and physiological adaptations such as elevated blood-lactate and muscle-glycogen depletion may occur during prolonged periods of rest which are neither conducive to learning nor performance. It is important to monitor rest during workouts in order to teach performance skills under specific conditions.

Fixed intervals of traditional workouts (e.g. 10×100 @ 1:30) associate faster performances with more rest and slower performances with less rest. As a result, the durations of both performance and rest are variable. During a race, however, an athlete consistently lacks rest. The athlete must learn to control performance regardless of duration of rest; inconsistent durations of rest may disrupt skill acquisition. Therefore, acquisition of performance skills are acquired best in a controlled and consistent environment.

The concept of contextual interference suggests that skills are learned via repetition and retained via variation. Initially, an athlete is sensitive to associations developed via controlled repetition. The variable interval controls the duration of rest following each repetition regardless of the outcome of performance. An athlete can specifically focus on the duration of performance rather than the duration of rest. Thus, the athlete learns skills via controlled durations of rest and retains skills via variable total intervals

In order to provide consistent rest the athlete must Subtract-If-Made if the performance is faster than the Best Average. An athlete must rest exactly 20 seconds following each repetition. Therefore, if an athlete’s Best Average is 15 seconds yet performs a repetition in 13 seconds, the total interval must be reduced by 2 seconds. The resulting total interval is 33 seconds rather than 35 seconds. If the athlete is able to successfully perform 13-second repetitions for 20 repetitions the Best Average must be adjusted to 12 seconds and the total interval to 32 seconds. The identification of an appropriate Best Average and total interval may require a few trials (don’t underestimate yourself!)

Conversely, an athlete must Add-If-Missed if the performance is slower than the Best Average. If an athlete’s Best Average is 15 seconds yet performs a repetition in 17 seconds, the total interval must be increased by 2 seconds. An athlete that is unable to maintain consistent performances must begin the incubation component following 3 total missed repetitions. An athlete must make note of the number of successful repetitions made.

Incubation components provide opportunities to “clear the mind” and improve general fitness. Incubation promotes interpersonal connection and mental distraction from the solitude and focus associated with performance. For this reason, components of incubation may involve a social aspect such as kicking with a kickboard.

The cycle of performance and incubation prepares the athlete for specific demands of a competitive event. An athlete must develop the self-efficacy to control improvement of performance regardless of duration of rest. Distraction from a highly-focused performance allows for recovery, improvement, and expansion. Incubation is essential to the acquisition of recovery skills that are necessary to improve performance.


  1. avatar
    Christian Hanselmann

    So I’ve been curious about USRPT for some time (I’m sure I’m not the only one), and was pleased to watch Michael (spelling?) Andrew swim so well at Nationals. After reading this article, my question is where does the number 20 come from? I just wonder how Dr. Rushall or the coach arrived at that specific rest interval.

    • avatar
      Ronald Hehn


      Excellent inquiry. The 20-second rule comes from the physiological phenomenon of lactate production. Lactate production occurs under anaerobic conditions; that is, when the body is consuming more oxygen than it can take in. Lactate causes the body to become acidic, inhibiting muscular activity. Following an anaerobic effort, lactate production occurs during the period of rest; during the effort, very little lactate is produced. After approximately 20 seconds of rest (certainly, this varies per individual) lactate production is very significant. Consequently, if you don’t allow an athlete to rest more than 20 seconds, you can maintain low lactate levels while maintaining race pace repetitions. In a competition setting, this is why it’s important for athletes to begin warm-down as soon as possible following races during a competition. The longer you rest, the more lactate is produced. 20 seconds just happens to be a significant threshold, according to Doc Rushall.

      USRPT is effective because it doesn’t deplete glycogen stores and it keeps lactate levels low. This is why USRPT workouts don’t require much of a warm-down. Often, athletes are forced to perform during workouts under high-lactate conditions (think: 30×50 @ 1:30 best effort = VERY HIGH lactate production). Performing under high-lactate conditions is applicable for multi-event-per-session athletes, but does not necessarily simulate the physiological conditions of a single race.

      Specificity (i.e. race simulation) is the name-of-the-game when it comes to USRPT. Keeping lactate levels low during a set is essential to properly simulating actual race conditions.

      I hope this answers your question. Please let me know if you need further clarification. Thank you for the feedback!