The Art of Resting Between Sets

Rest and hydration between set is very important!!! #gym #gettingfit #weigths #goodlife #nopainnogainDuring a strenuous bout of exercise, stopping can be the hardest thing to do. Anyone who has played high school sports is hardwired to “GO, GO, GO!” This mentality is admirable, but it can be detrimental to your fitness goals. While it can become easy to rush through rest periods in the gym, slowing down is crucial to achieving an optimal workout.

Why is rest important?
Cutting your rest too short can result in sloppy lifts and possibly injury; on the other hand, resting too long can make your body stagnant and sluggish throughout the rest of your workout. While you are lifting weights, your body is going through tremendous changes. Intense muscular tension will cause increased blood flow, an elevated heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, and neural fatigue. Following your set, rest is necessary for your body to return to a normal state. You can measure your heart rate and/or blood pressure before your first set to determine where you need to be during the following the set, but this method can be quite cumbersome. Simply timing your rest is a much easier way to determine if you have rested long enough.

How long is long enough?
The intensity and repetition range of your workout determine how long you should rest. If your program is aimed at stability or endurance, your rest periods don’t have to be very long, as your body isn’t experiencing excessive fatigue. Very intense, heavy lifting, however, requires long rest periods. Whether endurance or strength-focused, timing is important, but don’t fee like you have to be a stopwatch-dictator; “ball-parking” your rest periods is fine. If you are listening to music, one way to estimate your rest period is to note where you are in the song when you end one set and keep an eye on the time until it is time to start the next set.

Stability/Endurance Timing
The minimum rest period you should use between your workouts is 30 seconds. If you are a novice weightlifter or engaging in stability/endurance exercises, you should rest 30-60 seconds between sets of 12 or more repetitions. The only exception to this rule is if you are doing super sets. During super sets, you pair two exercises together. Instead of doing Exercise A, rest, Exercise A, rest, Exercise B, rest, Exercise B, you do Exercise A, go straight to Exercise B, and then rest.

Hypertrophy Timing
To develop hypertrophy (the scientific name for muscle growth) your repetitions will be lower, requiring longer rest periods. Hypertrophy gains are best when you lift at a high intensity around 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Developing muscle mass requires dedication and very hard work. At the end of these sets you will be spent, not only wanting, but needing rest. The minimum rest for hypertrophy training should be 45 seconds; I would suggest the upper end of 90 seconds, maybe even 2 minutes, if you are working hard.

Strength Timing
Although you will notice strength gains lifting in the hypertrophy spectrum, the biggest strength gains will come from a lower repetition range. Sets of roughly 4-6 repetitions per set will give you the biggest strength gains. This will require long rest periods; shoot for 3 minutes.

Power Timing
Power is developed from extremely low repetitions of very heavy weights. Whether you are engaging in power lifting (competitive squat, bench press and deadlift) or Olympic lifting (power clean, snatch and clean and jerk), most of your sets will consist of a single repetition. Due to the intensity of power exercises, your sets should not consist of more than 3 repetitions. VERY long rest is needed when lifting in this style; 3-5 minutes per set is normally required.

As mentioned before, don’t go crazy if you are 5 seconds over or under your ideal rest period. The purpose of rest is to let your body restore its energy supplies and reach relative stasis  before starting the next set. The most important aspect of your recovery is letting your nervous system reset. When you’re just beginning to feel that your muscles are ready for another set, your nervous system probably isn’t. If you start lifting before your nervous system is ready, you put yourself at great risk for injury. There’s just one caveat — try not to rest more than 5 minutes between sets.  After about 5 minutes your nervous system loses its “edge” and your lifts could suffer as a result.

Originally posted 2013-09-10 12:18:09.


building strengthIncreasing your strength can be a very long, difficult journey. Many people give up trying to increase their strength, because it can be so challenging. After initial strength gains, plateaus set in and frustration ensues (for further reading, check out Kenny Hager’s great article about busting through stubborn plateaus). Lucky for us, there are certain techniques that can be used to increase strength instantly. While they’re not guaranteed, I’ve personally had success using the following strength-increasing techniques:

  • While holding a bar or dumbbell, crush the bar with an insanely tight grip. Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian trainer and former Soviet Special Forces trainer, teaches the value of this technique in his book “Power to the People.” Pavel explains that when you powerfully flex your fingers around a bar, the surrounding muscles are recruited more heavily than when using a light grip.
  • Begin squats by “spreading the floor.” This is an old school powerlifting technique that helped improve my squat. Spreading the floor begins after you have taken the bar off of the rack but before you begin the lift. Concentrate on planting your feet into the ground and isometrically — without movement — contract your hips as if you could move your feet out to your sides. Also tighten your glutes before beginning the lift to slightly rotate your knee caps to the outside. These movements — abduction and external rotation — are two functions of your glutes. Recruiting your glutes prior to and throughout the lift will protect your knees and allow you to lift heavier weights.
  • Learn to utilize intra-abdominal pressure. Your core is like a big coffee can — the bottom is your pelvic floor, the walls are your core muscles, and the lid is your diaphragm. When you are breathing properly your diaphragm expands downward, causing you stomach to expand. When you are bracing your core and breathing diaphragmatically, the pressure of your breath pushes outward while your muscles resist the pressure. This action causes tremendous pressure throughout your core and stabilizes your spine. Apply this to every exercise and you may see gains while protecting your spine!
  • Sometimes holding your breath is appropriate while lifting weights. When you fully exhale you lose nearly all of your intra-abdominal pressure. During difficult lifts, hold your breath during the eccentric (lengthening phase) and until you reach the sticking point. The sticking point is the most difficult part of the lift, and it will vary from person to person. Believe me, when you reach it, you will know. Once you reach the sticking point let out very small powerful breaths to propel yourself through this difficult phase. Always reserves some of your breath for stabilization purposes though! DO NOT use this technique if you have high blood pressure!
  • Improvement in life can seem near impossible at times. Whether you are trying to increase your patience, pay off debt, or break a bad habit, moving forward in life can be downright frustrating. This frustration appears in nearly every fitness program as well. Hopefully these tips can help you progress through difficult times in your fitness journey.

Sources: Pavel Tsatsouline, Power to the People; Pavel Tsatsouline: “The Evil Russian Speaks: Part 1,” accessed from]; Stuart McGill, Ph.D.; Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

Originally posted 2013-09-09 12:24:01.

Gym Fears and Misconceptions

gym fears and misconceptions crowdedWhile I recently posted an article about the benefits of exercising outdoors, there are many of us who deal with the full effects of all four of the lovely seasons created for us to enjoy. You may live in an area, for example, where you encounter loads of snow, trucks spewing gravel, icy sidewalks, or rainy downpours.  These types of conditions don’t always make it easy to get out for a sunday stroll or a morning bike ride.  Thankfully, gyms and fitness clubs are there to provide convenient and comfortable places to exercise in on a consistent basis, even when there’s a windchill factor of -15 degrees outside.  In addition to comfort, gyms typically offer a full range of free weights and weight machines, which, when used properly, promote lean muscle mass and improved bone density, both tremendous health benefits.  Some gyms even provide extra perks like  groups fitness classes, saunas, or hot tubs.

Yet, working out with a bunch of other people in fitness gear can be uncomfortable and demotivating.  It might be the close quarters. It might be cabin fever. It might be the mirrors that are  scattered around the room, reminding us of the winter weight we have gained.  Maybe we’re embarrassed by our poor workout skills or our awkward attempts at trying to use the weight machines correctly.  

We’re often all too aware of the people around us, watching us, judging us. Whether they’re judging our workout attire, our form, or how much sweat is accumulating during our vigorous workout, we might be under the false assumption that “everyone is watching.” Others-consciousness,  it can keep us from enjoying our workouts or even going to the gym on a regular basis.

The thought process might be “when I get leaner/stronger/tanner/skinnier I will go to the gym to work out.” The thing is, we might never be what our mind sees as “perfect.” Wanting to be “perfect” or “good enough” before stepping into a gym is not only unwise for our health but for our self-esteem as well.

Though I’ve personally never had a weight issue,  I still used to avoid  group fitness classes like the plague. I was afraid that I would look uncoordinated or wimpy using the smallest weights. Every time I told myself I would attend a class, I always made up some lame excuse, when really I was just scared of what other people might think.

If any of this pertains to you, the only thing that stands between you and better health is your way of thinking.  Meditate on and believe the truth: You were perfectly created by a God who does not care what your waist size is, who does not care how much weight you can bench. He loves you just as you are right at this very moment. Going to the gym or heading outside for a run should not be about making yourself perfect (or your own definition of perfect). It should be about changing your overall health so that you feel good and can enjoy all of the activities in your life that you love. Making an effort to get regular exercise is about being a good steward of your body and preventing an array of health issues.  By taking full responsibility for your health, you’ll be able to enjoy an abundant life and be there for your loved ones.

And you know what? Chances are, the only one who is really concerned about your outfit/weight/sweat stains is you.

I finally went to that group fitness class that I was so intimidated by, and of course I LOVED it. There were people of varied shapes and sizes and fitness levels, so I did not stand out like I thought I would. I began attending this class as often as I could and noticed I was growing stronger and having fun doing it. I’ve since moved to a different state, but you can bet that I am looking for a new gym now. I’ve decided not to be intimidated by group fitness classes any more.

You too can make a decision for better health!  Sign up for that gym membership or class that you have been avoiding all of this time. Love yourself and your family enough to start working on your fitness. In no time at all you might even enjoy doing what you once dreaded.  

Originally posted 2013-08-30 09:00:08.

How to Gain and Maintain Motivation to Exercise

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing at SunsetWhen it comes to exercise, psychology is immeasurably important. Motivation is the “it” factor in physical fitness. Your level of motivation will determine if, when, how, and why you exercise. Your source of motivation will also influence how hastily you quit, how doggedly you persist, and how you generally view physical activity. Lack of motivation will drag you down, cause inconsistency, and ultimately discourage your athletic pursuits.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that motivation can be subdivided into two categories:  First, there’s intrinsic motivation, the impulse arising from pure enjoyment or pleasure.  Second, there’s extrinsic motivation, which is based on obtaining some specific result. A person can be influenced by both kinds of motivation simultaneously, or can be pulled more by one than the other. Those who are constantly focused on established goals such as getting a chiseled look, a smaller waist, an impressive time, and so on are more extrinsically motivated, and are thus more likely to abandon exercise when the outcome is achieved. Those who derive pleasure from physical activity itself are more intrinsically motivated, and stand a better chance at developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime.

Increasing Your Motivation

To stay motivated, do some introspection and bolster your motivation. Develop dissatisfaction with negative thinking and superficial goal setting. Brainstorm ideas that will further your commitment to and enjoyment of healthy living. Here are some ideas for strengthening your intrinsic desire to exercise!

  • Make Exercise Enjoyable. As was discussed above, much is made over the end result of exercise, but fitness is more than a result. It’s an experience. Exercise will ultimately bring physical change in the future, but it can also be internally therapeutic in the present. So, craft a routine around fitness activities you enjoy. If you despise a particular exercise, replace it with one you like. Don’t spend every morning on the exercise bike if you have an affinity for swimming. If you like free weights, don’t spend your gym session on machines. Overall, incorporate what you love into your daily routine.
  • Love Your Workout Exercise Environment. You will find exercise much more enjoyable in a pleasant environment. If you are stagnating in a dank garage or basement and the sun is shining outside, take your workout outside. If you detest a treadmill, find a local track and walk outside. If you love the indoors, don’t force yourself to stay outside. Consider joining a local gym. Ultimately, find a fresh, airy, cool place to exercise and be open to switching it up periodically.
  • Modify Your Routine. It’s basically axiomatic to say that “variety is the spice of life.” Applied to exercise, this adage can make your routine more interesting and beneficial. Deviate from customary routine, and try something new. If you love the outdoors, take a day hike, try trail-running, train for a 5k, or go mountain biking. If you like resistance training, experiment with supersets, burnouts, and other methods that lend variety to your routine. 

The forced and regimented nature of “staying in shape” causes many of us to cringe at words like “exercise” or “working-out.”  Regain the enjoyment that came from staying active when you were a kid by making exercise a form of play.  If you love it, you’ll keep doing it.   

Sources: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-16 15:06:13.

Muscle Adaptation and Plateaus: Why Changing Your Workout is Important

overcoming weight lifting strength building plateaus strategiesIf you find yourself stuck in the same routine, losing interest in exercise, and experiencing mediocre training outcomes, consider changing your workout program. Perhaps you religiously perform the same exercise for the same number of sets on the same day, week in and week out.  Maybe you want to increase your muscle endurance, and so you limit yourself to repetitions above twelve. As a creature of habit, you may be enslaved to the sameness, and believe that even minor changes in your regimen will hinder your progress. Whatever the case, it is crucial to understand that more of the same is not always better, and monotony can keep you from making any progress at all. 

The Body’s Response to Exercise

Exercise induces changes in the human body. When you perform resistance exercise, body systems compensate accordingly by changing structurally and functionally.  For example, if you perform incline bench at 135 pounds for 3 sets and 10 repetitions, your pectoral muscles adapt by creating muscle fibers in your upper chest and repairing those already existing.  

New exercises place very specific demands on muscles, forcing them to adapt and compensate.  Changes accelerate when new movements are performed but slow down as muscles adjust. For instance, a routine of three sets of incline bench every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday may bring impressive changes at first, but months without variation will stunt muscle development and growth. Periodic modifications are necessary for muscles to be exposed to new challenges.

Prolonged periods of sameness in one’s exercise program can lead to overtraining, disinterest, and fatigue. As your body changes to adapt to your workout, modify your workout to keep your body challenged.

Ideas for Varying Your Workout

Change should be a constant in your exercise program. Basic movements such as the bench press and squat should always be pillars of your routine, but your body responds most when it is challenged. Here are some ideas for switching things up:

  • Incorporate new exercises into your routine. Keep the basic movements, such as bench press, squats, and pull-ups, as staples. But if you are limiting yourself to one exercise per muscle group, try adding another exercise to your routine. If you exclusively do barbell flat bench for your chest muscle group, try incline bench, decline bench, flat flys, incline flys, or cable crossovers. If you enjoy working your core with set after set of orthodox sit-ups, consider adding planks, crunches, or twists to your regimen. For legs, incorporate back and front squats, leg extensions, forward lunges, and leg curls. Keep the fundamentals, but add one or two other exercises.
  • Add weight to challenge your muscles. This is typically called the principle of overload.* Increasing the weight you lift augments the intensity of your workout, amplifying the stress placed on the muscle. If you have been doing 3 sets of 8 on the flat bench with 135 pounds, try doing the same number of sets and repetitions with 145 pounds.
  • Try supersets. Alternate sets from two exercises from differing muscle groups, and eliminate the rest period between sets. An example would be to do a set of pushups, immediately followed by pull-ups, followed by pushups, and so on.

*Earle, Roger and Baechle, Thomas. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. 2004.

Originally posted 2013-08-06 16:47:48.

Advantages of Training to Muscle Failure

DSC_1092Change and challenge should be pillars of your workout routine. One way to challenge your body is to present it with techniques that go beyond your standard level of comfort, forcing you to expend more effort and your muscles to exert more force than they are accustomed to.   Promoting intensity in this way can stimulate change and adaptation in your body, increasing your levels of muscular and cardiovascular endurance and strength.

Training to muscle failure is one technique that, sparingly used, can bring a challenge to your body. If overused, training to failure can lead to overtraining and fatigue, so it should be used cautiously, infrequently, and with the approval of a doctor. With that said, training to failure can be a catalyst for bolstering your fitness program and reaching new levels of athleticism.

What is “Muscle Failure?”
Muscle failure is a point of exhaustion in a body system, so that a muscle can no longer perform an exercise with appropriate form. Perhaps you have performed eight pull-ups, and you feel that a ninth would not be possible. You go for it, and find that you can successfully pull your body up. You then try to muster the strength for another repetition. On this tenth attempt, your muscles succumb to fatigue about halfway up. They are unable to pull anymore. You might be able to get your body up with sloppy technique, but to do this would tempt injury. You have just experienced muscle failure. Its comes after a number of repetitions are performed continuously without predetermined limitations, until the targeted muscle group is taxed and can no longer execute the movement without sacrificing proper form.

Pushing yourself to muscle failure is not easy or pleasant, because it inevitably brings a degree of temporary discomfort and pain. A focused mind and a mentally tough attitude are necessary. However, exposing your muscles to this kind of challenge can be beneficial. Working a muscle group to complete exhaustion stresses that muscle group to its maximum, and thus brings about an optimal level of growth and development. Simply put, subjecting muscles to at least some discomfort is necessary to bring about optimal results.

Suggestions for Using Muscle Failure in Your Routine
There are a number of ways to incorporate muscle failure into your workout. Here are a few examples of what this might look like:

  • Try to go to failure on your last set of a given exercise. For example, it you have performed 3 sets of 25 sit-ups, attempt as many repetitions as you can safely perform on your 4th set.
  • Lessen the amount of weight you use. If you performed 2 sets of 8 Lat pull-downs at 135 pounds, decrease the weight by 20 pounds and go to failure.
  • Choose only one exercise per session to apply this method. If your chest workout consists of flat bench, incline bench, and cable crossovers, use this method on the last set of crossovers.
  • Avoid this method on exercises where you are in a prone position unless you have a spotter. Examples of this would include any type of bench press or squatting exercise.

Related Products: XMark Olympic Weight Bench System, Body Solid Olympic Plates

References: NSCA’s Essentials of Personal TrainingJournal of Exercise Physiology Online 

Originally posted 2013-08-05 12:49:44.

One Rep Max Weight Lifting Calculator

Calculate your one rep max using the calculator below. This can help you estimate how you are progressing in your training and what you should be able to lift.

one rep max weight lifting calculator



Originally posted 2013-07-12 05:30:58.

Take Your Athletic Performance to the Next Level with Visualization

Mountain bike, lake tahoeWhile it seems paradoxical that in a society filled with so many images our ability to visualize or imagine is suffering, looking at images instead of actively recreating images in the “mind’s eye” is an entire different mental process.  Watching a stream of images on a TV or smart phone actually disrupts the mind’s ability to think or creatively imagine.  The damage audio-video technology has done to our imagination as a culture is truly a tragic affair.

Without a vibrant imagination it’s difficult (if not impossible) to engage in creative goal setting, which is one of the most important skills for achieving success in relationships, business, and athletics.  Visualization is one of those skills that few people practice and even fewer master.  Among those that do use visualization, however, include titans of industry, famous inventors, and world class athletes.  Researchers have been studying psychological visualization for the last 100 years, and the conclusion of their studies is that mentally practicing a physical skill results in significant improvements in that skill compared to physical practice alone.  The complexities of how visualization can improve real skills aren’t exactly known, but it’s thought that the autonomic nervous system responds similarly to both imagination and real life experiences.  Imagination can therefore help reinforce the neuro pathways and reflexes that correspond to the goals one is seeking to achieve.

The key components of visualization are similar whether applied to sports, public speaking, or business, but to make the most of visualization for fitness and athletic performance here are a few key considerations:

  • Remember that visualization takes mental effort.  The brain consumes a lot of energy and imagination takes focus, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have much “mental endurance” at first.  Just as with the physical activities, “practice makes perfect.”
  • The more specific and realistic your visualizations, the more effective they’ll be.  Try and imagine every detail of the environment and movements that relate to the skill you are seeking to improve.  What are your body mechanics?  What does the terrain feel like?  What kind of equipment are you using?  How quickly will the action take place?  At first you might need to start with only a few details, but with practice you’ll be able to add more elements.
  • Set aside at least three times per week for visualization.  Find a place you can focus, relax, and get in a positive space, then fully engage your creative imagination in order to make improvements in your target skill! A visualization session may take anywhere between 5 minutes and a half an hour.

The great thing about using visualization to improve athletic performance is that it can also be done during otherwise wasted time, such as during an airplane flight, a road trip, or a wait at the DMV.  With visualization, what were once mundane activities that ate away at precious training time can become opportunities to make even greater gains!

The take away: set your mind on the specific athletic or fitness goals you want to accomplish, then imagine yourself accomplishing these goals.  If you do so consistently and with detailed imagination, you will see improvement!

References: AASP – Sport Imagery Training, Vanderbilt – Mental Imagery

Originally posted 2013-06-11 02:10:46.

Harness the Power of the Squat!

squatweightsIf you’re not squatting, either your bodyweight or free weights, you should be!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, elderly or young, squats are one of the single most effective workouts for activating the major muscle groups, developing core strength, burning calories, building bone density, and promoting flexibility.  If you’re new to squatting, then start out by squatting your bodyweight for a couple of weeks, doing 3 sets of 20 squats everyday.  Then, depending on your health and fitness level, try squatting with a large staff or an olympic bar without any extra weights on loaded.  If you’re a more advanced weekend warrior or athlete and squats aren’t in your current workout repertoire, then it’s time to add them!  There’s no faster or more effective way to improve your athleticism and strength.

Squats activate the body’s central nervous system and promote a muscle building, restorative state. Squats build the muscles of the buttocks, hips, thighs, trunk, lower back, shoulders, and arms.  They also help strengthen ligaments and tendons in the legs. People often worry about injuring their knees by performing squats, but when performed correctly, squats will actually strengthen the knees and protect them from future injuries.

Free Weight  Squat Technique: 

  • Be sure to use a squat rack that will catch your weights in the event that they are too heavy to lift back up
  • Load the olympic weight bar low on your upper back, with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder width apart
  • With the proper technique there’s no need to use a bar pad
  •  The bar will rest somewhere just above your shoulder blades
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and be sure that the bar is centered and balanced.
  • After un-racking the weight, take a couple step BACKWARDS (dont’ load the weight so that you are walking forward)
  • You’re back will be straight but leaning slightly forward as you squat
  • Go down until your hip joints are just below your knees, then rapidly stand up
  • Look forward
  • Don’t lock your knees

For a great explanation of how to squat, watch the video below by StrongLifts:



Originally posted 2013-06-08 00:42:44.

On Using Weight Lifting Straps

wriststraps2Should you use weight lifting straps for exercises like dead lifts, pull-downs, rows, and pull-ups?  The answer is yes.

Personally,  I wish I would have known about weight lifting straps when I first started lifting.
Weight lifting straps aren’t the wimpy way out and they aren’t cheating.  Straps simply help you target the muscles you are trying to target.  While grip strength is important, the main point of compound exercises like the dead lift isn’t to develop stronger hands, it’s to build strong leg, core, and back muscles.

Using straps will allow you to max out the muscles you’re trying to target.  As you lift heavier weight, your grip strength (forearm muscles) will not be able to outlast the ability of your large muscle groups to perform repetitions with heavy loads.  A weakened grip can cause you to drop weights or compromise form — both can lead to injury.

Straps are especially useful if you workout a lot or participate in a number of different sports.  For example, I enjoy rock climbing, and if I don’t use straps for weight lifting during the week, my grip strength is shot when I’m ready to climb on the weekend. Use straps to preserve your grip strength when you need it.

There are a couple of ways to develop grip strength without going completely strapless:

  • Begin your workout without straps, but use the straps as soon as you feel your grip start to weaken.
  • Target your grip strength with separate exercises, like wrist flexes or roll-ups.

The take away: Use straps for heavy pulling exercises.  They’ll help you lift heavier, get stronger, and stay more active.

Originally posted 2013-03-13 22:24:05.