Ratio of Action to Inaction

June 16, 2016

My Workout Streak
The other night, I decided to count how much time I actually exercise versus how much time I spent in rest mode.

I’m currently on week 18 of my starting strength training protocol.
This is probably the longest streak in any type of exercise in my 34 years of life.

I would tell friends and family of my weekly progress.
I just did 4 weeks in a row. I’m now up to 8 weeks. 12 weeks. On and on.

This got me thinking, the idea of 18 weeks sounds bigger than it really is. Because most days during the week, I’m NOT exercising.

Ratio of Action to Inaction in Workouts
First couple months, I experimented with cardio + strength training, about 6 days a week. Right away, my body couldn’t handle this.

Then I switched to only weight lifting, twice a week.
Sundays and Wednesdays.
So technically, I’m only working out 2 of the 7 days per week.
5 days, I’m doing nothing.
29% active days vs 71% inactive.

At the time, this was a herculean feat since I’ve never been able to sustain any momentum when it comes to physical movements. And I had been diagnosed with stage 3 adrenal fatigue and was told not to do any strenuous exercise anyways. I’m also battling other unknown physical ailments that seem to limit my physical vibrancy.

A couple months into the lifting, I added a third day.
Sunday, Wednesday, and now Friday.
So now my ratio is 3/7 days, or 43% active vs 57% inactive days.
I’ve kept that routine up for about two and half months now.

Even that sounds more impressive than it is.
Each day that I work out, I’m only exercising for about 2.5hours out of 24 total hours.
10% active vs 90% inactive.

Even that is more impressive than reality.
For example, this past Sunday I spent about 1.5hrs on 2 exercises.
Squats & overhead press.

(Side Note:
Normally I was doing 3 exercises per workout for 2.5hrs. I cut one lift out for rest and recovery reasons. My body was getting too worn out. And one of the qualities of the Starting Strength Protocol is the long rest periods between sets: take as long as you need for your muscles to be ready to do another full set, whether that’s 2 minutes or 10 minutes.)

Including warmups, that meant I did 8 sets for each, 16 sets total.

I estimated actual lifting activity to be about 30 seconds on average for each set. Some sets are as high as 5 reps and some warmups are as low as 2. Thirty seconds is probably too high an estimate also, but who cares.

So, the whole point of all this is to say that out of 90 minutes that I “worked out” on Sunday, my actual lifting time is only about 8 minutes!

About 9% of the workout is activity and 91% is inactivity.
So when I say I worked out, I really mean to say I did about 24 minutes of activity per 270 minutes of workouts, out of the total available 10,080 minutes per week. Too verbose?

And those 24 minutes really kicked my ass.
It took me all those other rest minutes to get the energy to just do those few minutes of activity. This is also the longest I’ve ever worked out in my life with the biggest results. My muscles keep getting stronger and lifting bigger weight. And I look forward to each workout session, which is a new thing.

Other workout ratios
In the past I’ve worked out with personal trainers.
Essentially that is 90% workout and 10% rest per hour. They don’t earn their pay, in the client’s eyes, unless they put you thru the ringer. No one is going to pay someone to rest 91% of the time.

I’ve done high intensity interval training.
The methods vary but the Mercola Peak HIIT method is 30 seconds on and 90 seconds recovery (though it’s not complete rest) for 12 minutes. 25% active, 75% somewhat inactive.

I’ve done jiu jitsu sessions, mostly active thru the hour session, breaks only while the instructor speaks or waiting your turn to roll around.

I’ve done Tae Bo, P90x, Jilian Michaels dvds, DDP Yoga, and the like, pretty much mostly active and very little inactive. They’re not going to make money by having us rest for 54 minutes of every hour workout.

I’ve done 75 kettlebell swings in a row, ala 4hour body, which is pretty much 90% activity and 10% rest for maybe 15 minutes, though I don’t think there’s any rule on how fast you have to get them done.

The exercise that works best for me so far has been the one with the most amount of inactivity.

Ratio of Action to Inaction in NFL Games
So as I was ruminating on these thoughts so that I could write them for you, I synchronously ran into another article that talks about this theme.

The Wall Street Journal ran a study on the length of activity in an NFL game.

Technically, a football game is supposed to last 60 minutes, four 15 minute quarters.
With breaks, an average game lasts about 3 hours.

Out of that, they found actual activity, where the game was being played, was only about 11 minutes!

This happens because the clock keeps running in the NFL, even while the players are inactive in a huddle, and only stops for some type of timeout. Meanwhile in the NBA, the clock moves only when the players are active.

So, 11 minutes of action.
An average play lasting 4 seconds.
60 minutes of commercials.
75 minutes watching players stand around, before & after plays.
The rest on replays, announcers, shots of crowd, coaches, cheerleaders, etc.

As WSJ puts it, “the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.”
Or 9% active vs 91% inactive.

And this is the most profitable and popular sport in the US. Maybe there is something to this ratio.

11 Minutes of Action – WSJ