Skip to content

Get the body you want: Respect the rest periods!

The topic of rest periods in the realm of fitness and physical improvement often gets glossed over. I get it, it’s not particularly sexy…….

Not as sexy as performance improvement, getting stronger, making them abs pop! Or, just simply piling weight on the bar! 

But what if I told you that by allocating a little more consideration towards rest periods, you could get sexier?

That’s right, by devoting a little due care and attention to your rest intervals, you can get the body you want faster, simpler and sooner. When we talk training, we think……reps and sets. Exercise selection, load, training frequency and maybe even training duration!

But what about those damn rest intervals?!

Why do they not get a share of the “love”?

It’s fascinating that people (correctly) consider ‘training duration’ – but sadly fail to acknowledge that training duration and rest intervals are so closely related, we may as well call them siblings!

How can you estimate the length of your workout without an accurate vision of your rest periods for each exercise? 

Unless you have powers that the rest of us would love to have you share with us, you probably can’t. Without getting too technical, I’m a big proponent of quality > quantity. In simplistic terms, I believe and support the notion of keeping your workout time-frames within a certain window.

From experience I can attest that workouts exceeding the hour mark are definitely detrimental. Science and research also supports this. Studies have shown and suggest that once you reach the 45 minute mark in your workout (of work sets/excluding the warmup(s)) the stress hormone cortisol is on the rise and testosterone is on the decline.

Some people oppose this, although I can confidently acclaim from experience – even if you aren’t affected negatively from a hormonal standpoint, your drive and general focus will definitely diminish by the hour mark! 

Keep workouts within the 20-45 minute range and strive for quality sets, quality reps and maintain the “zone”

Don’t be this guy!

Hit the gym with a plan that accords with your goals. Work hard, work efficient, work smart and always look to quash last workouts numbers!

Progressive overload is the name of the game here, some basic variables of progressive overload are: 

  • Increased load
  • Increased volume
  • Increased frequency
  • Decreased rest periods

Few people truly appreciate the power of decreasing the rest periods from week to week or workout to workout. Whilst achieving your goal rep count for each set and increasing the weight 5 lbs next workout is a brilliant form of progressive overload, decreasing your rest periods by 15 seconds per workout/week is just as majestic. 

Outlining some key points

How long should my rest periods be?

Well, this is goal specific. Which training effect are you seeking?

Your rest periods should be in alignment with your goal.

I use a recovery stage scheme when designating specific rest periods to movements or exercises. Here is a precise outline of recovery stages and their relation to training effects:

Complete recovery: Complete recovery is needed when training for maximal strength or maximal power. The goal with this form of training is to produce the absolute greatest force output. In order to achieve this, we need complete recovery. Complete recovery occurs after around 3 minutes of recuperation. By this time your central nervous system will have recovered sufficiently to reproduce near-maximal force output.

If you’re training for strength and resting less than 2 minutes per set, you’re doing yourself a major disservice! Sure you’ll be able to complete each set. But guess what? It WILL be at the expense of lightening the load you’re using!

This completely defeats the object of your workout. To summarise, for strength; complete recovery is required and that only occurs when rest periods of 3-5 minutes are used. 

Incomplete recovery: This is necessary for muscle building and fat loss. In order to achieve hypertrophy (muscle growth) – you need a large amount of muscle damage and metabolic stress. The more damage you inflict on the muscles, the more lactic acid you produce – and the more lactic acid you produce, the greater growth hormone release you achieve.

This type of training isn’t about using heavy loads. It is about using between 65 and 85 % of the one rep max and limiting the rest periods whilst maximising the time under tension.

30 – 90 seconds suffices nicely here. 60 seconds is a solid average for hypertrophy and general muscle building. 

Minimal recovery: This recovery duration applies to those with endurance goals. Perhaps athletes involved with endurance influenced sports. Minimal recovery complements fat loss goals wonderfully. It also suits particular muscle groups rather well; such as the calves, forearms and abdominals……….slow twitch muscle groups.

Obviously as you sacrifice your recovery periods, your loads/intensity will need to be reduced with this variant of training. This isn’t an issue though, as our goal here is fat loss, endurance and a large metabolic disturbance – which will translate into greater fat loss!

Loads of 40-65% of the one rep max. Rest periods 10-30 seconds. 

Hopefully that provides a greater outline of the different recovery brackets relevant to the training effect you’re seeking

All too often you’ll see those who rest waaaaayyyyyyy too long between sets, ask them what their trying to do……….and they’ll say: “I wanna get big man!”

I shudder and think……….”if only you knew how valuable some timing apparatus would be!” – it’s these individuals that often find themselves resting too long as a result of lost focus. Lost focus caused by pointless distractions such as Facebook.

On the flipside, you’ll see someone desperately trying to bring their squat, bench or deadlift up. But without respecting the laws of strength building! They’ll be so accustomed to bodybuilding style training, they cannot muster up the discipline necessary to rest sufficiently to recover their neural stores. They’ll think their 60 second rest period is ok, because without it, their beloved “pump” is absent.

Point being; all types of training are DIFFERENT. Identify your goal and apply the relative recovery phases and respect them dearly.  

Lastly, many folks believe they HAVE to do a swarm of cardio in order to get lean or stay lean. Whilst cardio is a great form of exercise and maintaining your conditioning is essential, often times people take cardio to excess!

Excess cardio is catabolicthe enemy of muscle building/preservation.

The reality is this: If you adopt a smart and effective diet strategy in combination with a resistance training routine that adheres to the laws of periodization, YOU WILL LOSE FAT AND GET LEANER! 

In actual fact, increased cardio is most effective for shedding those last few pounds of body fat. The journey from 10% to sub 6% body fat (for example).

Countless respected authorities also endorse this concept. Vince “iron guru” Gironda (who I am currently in the process of reading about and was a man considered “years ahead of his time“) swore the best way to lose fat and increase definition simultaneously was to strive to do the same volume of work, but in less time each workout! He would have his clients use a standard 60 second rest period and gradually reduce it to as little as 20 seconds! While maintaining the load.

Obviously this creates an enormous oxygen demand, which in turn creates maximal lactic acid and muscle damage…….

These are your best friends when it comes to improving your body composition

P.S. In the very near future, I plan to write about my experiences reading all about the life of Vince Gironda. In that post, I will cover all the key principles he supported and share the vast range of theories and teachings the great man offered. 

Keep an eye on that clock, you’ll be glad you did. 

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

Leave a Reply