One of the most neglected training variables that really must be considered when designing an effective training programs is rest. We seem to focus hard on how many reps and sets we should be doing, as well as how heavy the weights should be, but when was the last time you paid any attention to your rest intervals? If rest receives any less thought than reps, sets, and weight, you are missing a great opportunity to get the most out of your work out. Let’s explore just how crucial this factor is.
Say you have the following exercise: Lunge for 5-8 reps x 5 sets. Great workout, but what is the purpose of this activity? Is it designed to increase strength, muscle mass or muscular endurance?
Answer: There is no way to know because the rest intervals are not shown! It is this timing that determines if we have complete or incomplete recovery between sets, which drastically changes the outcomes of the workout.
Now let me take the same workout and add in the rest intervals that are appropriate for the specific fitness goals they help develop.
Built In Rest Intervals:
(Weightlifters / Powerlifters / Sprinters / Football Players, etc.)
Lunge: 5-8 reps x 5 sets, rest 240 seconds (4 mins) between sets
Hypertrophy (Muscle Mass)
Lunge: 5-8 reps x 5 sets, rest 60 seconds between sets
Lunge: 5-8 reps x 5 sets, rest 30 seconds between sets
Simply put, if you are trying to get stronger, more rest is needed between sets. And if you are aiming for longer overall performance, then shorter rest between sets is key. But let’s dive into the details…
For developing maximum strength, which involves using 80-100% of your 1rep max, you want to rest long enough to allow the nervous system to completely recover. The longer rest intervals enable you to use more weight, thus increasing the intensity of your workout. If your rest intervals are too short (i.e. 30 seconds) in a strength program, then you risk early onset of fatigue and therefore your muscles have not fully recovered, forcing you to drop to a lighter weight. Full recovery allows you to produce the greatest muscular force possible for each set performed, and thus receive the greatest strength gains from your training.
If you are training for muscle size (Bodybuilders / Fitness Buffs / Wrestlers / Sprinters) then your optimal rest period is 30-60 seconds. Another way to look at this is to shoot for a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1. This means that you spend the same amount of time resting as it took you to complete the previous set. Using this rest interval between sets creates high lactate levels in the exercising muscles. This forces the body to improve its ability to withstand the accumulating lactate, thereby improving your ability to sustain moderate, near maximal contractions over a given period. This type of training method has been found to increase human growth hormone levels as well as muscular hypertrophy (growth in size).
HIIT and Endurance
Circuit training, high intensity interval training, supersets and endurance sports incorporate a rest period of typically 30 seconds or less. This type of training takes on a very different form of stress for your body. More specifically, you’ll feel your muscles burn! Due to the shorter rest intervals, strength gains are less than when compared to traditional weight training. However you can expect tremendous improvements to your cardio levels as well as supporting your weight-loss and metabolic capabilities. Not only will your muscles be lean and ready to go, go, go, but so will you!
I have rarely ever seen a fitness magazine or Instagram model address the issue of rest intervals. Don’t make this mistake! Determine your training goals for the body you desire and prescribe the appropriate rest intervals to help you get the most out of your workouts.
To be super strong, then rest is long;
And when building my bod, rest is mod;
But if I want to last, then rest is fast!