Anyone who works out knows that what we get out of any training depends on what we put in. This includes the kinds of exercises, the number of sets and repetitions we do, and the number of times a week we train. These are the usual data points on which we base our progress. However, there is one element that tends to be overlooked: rest periods. Who would think that these are important too, right? So here are the reasons why we should be considering this thing that involves us doing absolutely nothing.
The concept of rest periods and its importance
Rest periods are something we hardly give a thought to. Most of the time, we treat them as nothing more than the opportunity to catch our breath before the next round of exertion. However, the implications of rest on exercise is more far-reaching than we think. The first and most obvious would be athletic performance. Fail to get sufficient rest between sets and the quality of your next set will likely drop. This decrease in quality also dampens the overall training effect, meaning that favourable physical adaptation won’t occur as readily.
Secondly, excessively long rest periods can result in insufficient metabolic stress. For those interested in gaining muscle, it should be noted that hypertrophy is controlled by three mechanisms: mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage. Many make the mistake of resting for too long, thinking that more rest = better performance = better results. However, doing so makes things “too easy” for the body, in the sense where it doesn’t feel the need to exert itself past the point of comfort. Muscle growth is about making the body think that it needs more muscle, by subjecting it to an environment designed to convince it.
Ryan, head coach Orange Theory Fitness, says, “Besides planning your rest times between sets, also be sure to plan for adequate recovery time between workouts. Overtraining seven days a week can cause you to plateau early, and after a focused 10-12 weeks of training, schedule yourself a week of rest, or a deload week before jumping in to your next phase of training.”
Why training density matters
Even if you’re not aspiring to become a professional bodybuilder, there is plenty to learn from them when it comes to carving out an enviable physique. One such thing is the training density, defined as the amount of work done within a specific time frame. Greater training density means greater metabolic stress and muscle damage, setting the stage for adaptation. One of the simplest ways to achieve this is by decreasing your rest periods for a given exercise. By taking shorter breaks in between sets, you reduce the total amount of time spent on a specific exercise. Divide the total amount of work performed against this smaller value and you receive a greater density measurement.
How to tailor your rest periods to your goals
While there certainly is a case to be made for shorter rest periods, that doesn’t mean that it should be adopted wholesale. Depending on your training goals, longer rest periods might actually be more suitable. If you’re looking to develop maximum strength (which has a stronger neural component), then taking a break for 3 to 5 minutes or so will certainly be more beneficial. The same goes for exercises that are more technique-driven or explosive in nature (e.g. Olympic lifts, plyometrics).
For goals that are more metabolically-driven, shorter rest periods may prove to be more advantageous due to its effects on the body’s production of growth hormone and free testosterone. This is one of the reasons why interval training works so well for improving athletic conditioning and fat-loss. In such instances, rest periods typically fall under 2 minutes.
Paretto’s Principle dictates that it is usually the things that you don’t do that have a greater effect on your net results. So don’t be surprised if a small adjustment to your rest periods results in an appreciable improvement.