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What about MORE rest?

Do you really have to go pedal to the metal and take as little rest as possible in order to see gains? Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – resting a little on the longer side. 

Rest periods have their beauty, it’s just often not appreciated. Like the ‘uglier’ sister whose other sisters dress sexy and flaunt what they have; she however, keeps covered up. One day though, she too puts on a sexy dress for the first time and…….wouldn’t you know………..she has admirers everywhere!

Guys kick themselves for not realising her qualities sooner. They were there all the time! Using this entertaining analogy, we can compare reps, sets, exercise selection and weight as the ‘prettier’ sisters and rest periods as the ‘plain Jane’, ‘non-glossy’ sister.  All are equal, but the outsider doesn’t know it, yet.

( – “WHOA! When did you become hot?!”

The real beauty of rest periods and rest period management – 

In simplistic terms, tracking or having an idea of how long you’re resting between sets and exercises just standardizes things. It keeps you honest. You have a legitimate means of comparison. If you’ve been squatting 100 kg for 5 reps and resting a strict 2 minutes prior to your ‘money’ set, and then you find you can do 6 or 7, you’ve progressed! Simple.

(Related – Get the body you want: Respect the rest periods!)

Going by “feel” can be acceptable – usually with very advanced trainees/lifters as these guys really do, or should, know their bodies. For those unsure, “knowing your body” is merely having an in-built recovery gauge – an honest one. The more advanced you are, the more automatic it becomes to know when they’re ready for another set, yet they haven’t rested so long they’re now cold.

This is hard to teach and beginners have no business considering it. “Adequate rest” can easily become laziness without experience. Interestingly, beginners actually require less rest than advanced folk.


I’ll spare you science and studies here. Beginners have less ‘neural efficiency’; less ability to recruit muscle fibres and less overall strength. So a ‘max effort’ (in relative terms) takes far less out of them as opposed to someone with a high level of neural efficiency. As I said, it’s all relative.

Another means of illustrating this would be world class powerlifters and their training cycles. These guys only ‘peak’ at particular times of the year, hence their training is often branded “peaking cycles”. Many of the strongest deadlifters in the world only go for a maximum effort (weight-wise) every so many months. The untrained couch potato with eleven inch arms and a deadlift max of 225 lbs (not judging) can hypothetically surpass his max each week – linear progression at it’s finest.

( – Andy Bolton, one of the world’s best deadlifters maxes out every so many months. No more frequent than that. 

Sprinting is similar. I remember reading somewhere that for an elite level sprinter to set a new personal best, he would need at least 10 days before he could repeat the feat, let alone surpass it. I can’t remember the source sadly, but it makes complete sense. The intensity is so high that the volume is automatically forced down so low.

Making it simple – 

Too many training programs roll out arbitrary numbers where reps and set protocols are concerned. It’s all about the pump. Volume volume volume baby! You’ll see things like: ‘Pull ups, 3 x 10, 60 secs rest.’ Who do you know that can execute TEXTBOOK pull ups for 3 x 10 with 60 seconds rest?! If you find this mystical creature, e-mail me and I’ll feature them. But I want video footage, OK?

We’re confusing volume and quality volume; there’s a difference. This goes beyond the issue of technique and form. Even with adequate technique on exercises in place, there’s still a discrepancy between volume and quality volume. That difference is……..


How hard are you working? How much are you lifting? Let’s use my favourite exercise and aforementioned movement as our example, the pull up. What would be a better workout, or shall we say ‘stimulator of the back muscles’, one where we take 5 minutes of rest between sets and end up with total numbers like: 10, 8, 7 – all with quality technique? Or one where we take 60 seconds to keep the bodybuilding gods happy, and end up with: 10, 5, 3 – purely as there wasn’t enough recovery?

‘Numero uno’ is the answer – 25 total quality reps versus 18.

The holy grail of exercises, the pull up.

Short rest periods aren’t evil – 

Obviously, resting huge amounts of time equates to either a very long workout or getting much less done in a respectable time frame. If conditioning is your goal, short rest periods are still the ticket. You just need to be aware that below a certain intensity bracket, you’re burning energy instead of stimulating muscle growth. It all depends on the goal you have.

Take circuit training, or circuit classes. How about you go to a circuit class for 6 weeks, one where you alternate between movements with minimal rest and you do the said movement for a time bracket. Take note of the weights you use for 6 weeks and see if you can use more for another 6 week stint. You’ll find you won’t be able to increase at all, and if you do, it will be minimal and only on certain movements. Because of the sheer volume and accumulated fatigue, the intensity just cannot be high. It’s the opposite of our sprinting analogy earlier in the article.

So where does this leave us?

Don’t let anybody tell you that rest periods of 3 minutes or more are useless. They most certainly aren’t. If you need more rest in order to hit certain numbers, take it! Beyond a particular level, you’ll find it becomes very challenging to add weight to exercises (even more so for isolation movements) when you’re doing straight sets and resting 1-2 minutes tops. Slash the reigns and permit yourself free to take a little longer. If it results in more reps or more weight used, you’re winning.

Much of this is, as always, quite individual. I am far from a ‘reps guy’, in that I have a poor ratio between my 10 rep max and one rep max. My one rep max is MUCH higher than it should be based on my 10 rep max. You may be the opposite. I’ve found that for heavy compound movements, the difference between 2 minutes and 3 minutes rest is night and day. When I started trying 3 minutes, my numbers sky-rocketed.

(Related – Pearls of wisdom: 5×5 workouts (stronglifts etc))

And at the end of the day, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, your numbers are all that really matters. More quality work = more progress. More progress = more potential GAINZZ!

What’s your ballpark for rest intervals? What time bracket do you thrive in and for what movements? 

Let me know below! 

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.

5 thoughts on “What about MORE rest? Leave a comment

  1. The untrained couch potato with eleven inch arms and a deadlift max of 225 lbs (not judging) can hypothetically surpass his max each week – linear progression at it’s finest.

    Okey-dokey, let’s talk about this. Last week, I injured my lower right lumbar region pulling a 250 lbs (113.398 kg) barbell off the floor to do deadlifts. I’m also 61 years old and have been doing whatever you want to call “strength training” (as opposed to a “bodybuilding” style of lifting) for 3 to 6 months. I get all of my information about how to do any of this from the Internet and a few library books. I’ve got to start somewhere and chances are, I’ll never reach a level of strength and performance comparable to someone half my age who does the same type of lifting.

    As far as rest goes, depending on what I’m doing, I shoot for between 1 to 2 minutes between sets, but when doing heavy deadlifts for example, that rest period might stretch to 2 1/2 or almost 3 minutes. Also, the further into my workout I get, the more fatigued I feel in general, so after squats, bench press, deadlifts, even doing pull ups seems harder and it takes longer for me to recover.

    At this point in my workout, I’m shooting for about 2 minutes between sets, but after 120 seconds elapse, if I still feel too drained, I talk my ego into waiting a little longer.

    I normally lift Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but after last week’s injury, I’ve limited myself to two lifting sessions a week instead of three. I’ve also forced myself to use much lighter weights, and in one case, used dumbbells (for standing rows) instead of a barbell to go easier on my back. It’s given me the opportunity to do more sets and more reps per set and interestingly enough, my DOMS are more pronounced than when I lift fewer reps/sets using heavier weights. I also don’t seem to need as much rest betweens sets (in most cases), but still, by the end of an hour, I’m dripping with sweat, so something’s happening.

    My point is that, regardless of which expert or system you subscribe to, at the end of the day, you have to pay attention to how you feel and make weight and rest adjustments accordingly. While I admire and am inspired by people like 70-year-old bodybuilder Sam “Sonny” Bryant Jr, I probably will never be him since, among other things, generics may be more on his side than they are on mine.

    • Hi James,

      Sorry to hear about your injury. What you’ve just described is a prime example of ‘auto-regulation’, tailoring your workout to your current situation. If you feel you need that little extra rest to hit your usual/target numbers, do so. Just don’t push your luck.

      RE soreness: That’s to be expected. More reps and sets will equal more muscle damage and metabolic stress. The sweating will be because your taxing your cardiovascular system more this way than you would be with your previous training style.

      So, are you finding you’re more of a ‘reps guy’ than an ‘intensity guy’? I’m the opposite.

      Some of the world’s most successful strength athletes use auto regulation principles, so following suit definitely won’t cause any harm!

      That Sam Bryant guy sure has one hell of a physique and I bet he has great genetics, more than that though…….I bet he uses one or two substances on the side as well.

      • Actually, I’d like to be more of an intensity guy than a reps guy, but right now, I’m working around my tender lower back.

        As far as sweating goes, I do that no matter what. Going heavier for few reps seems to stress my cardiovascular system as much as lifting lighter and increasing the reps. It’s one way I can tell I’m generating substantial effort in a workout.

  2. I completely agree that rest is necessary.

    I’m a currently a short sprinter training for the Olympics. We have periods of training called “cycles”. So our training ramps up to a high point before we test them out. For example, we have 3 weeks “on”, and then the fourth week will be a rest/recovery week. At the same time, we max out on the track and in the weight room about twice a year.

    Once meets start, we adjust depending on that schedule. Since essentially we’re running all out at every meet (which can be as often as every week starting in late January), the rest of the training week changes to compensate for that.

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