During 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.


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