Be your own personal trainer #4: rest
Quick breather or long break? PT James King shows you how to optimise rest periods for every training goal
What is it? Rest refers to the time you allow for your body to recover between sets during a workout.
Why is it important? A firm understanding of the science of rest periods will ensure you maximise gains while minimising your risk of injury and/or burnout. How long you rest is a crucial and often overlooked facet of training: the amount you rest between sets should directly correlate to your training goals and level of conditioning.
How can I apply this?
Rest to increase strength 3-5 minutes
Watch pro weightlifters, sprinters and any savvy trainees looking to increase strength and explosive power in the gym and you’ll note they spend far more time resting than lifting. That’s because the energy used by the body to generate force in strength training sessions (low reps; high sets) comes from your ATP-PC system, which utilises the phosphagens in your muscle tissue to produce energy very fast without the presence of oxygen. Your store of these phosphagens is very small and only lasts around 15 seconds; it takes at least three minutes rest to become fully replenished. Due to the high number of sets required to reinforce the neural pathways that allow for maximal strength gains, it is therefore paramount that enough recovery between sets is taken to allow completion of the target sets and reps. Full recovery allows you to bring about the greatest muscular force possible for each set and maximise gains.
King tip: Never rest for any longer than five minutes. Your body temperature will drop, inhibiting performance and increasing your risk of injury.
Rest to bulk-up 45 to 90 seconds
Training correctly to maximise muscle gains (6-12 reps; 3-4 sets) uses energy from your ATP-PC system and your glycolytic system (carbs), with a little energy coming from your aerobic system (fats). Research has found deploying short rest periods best stimulates the production of human growth hormone. The key source of muscle gains, HGH secretion triggers the production of new body tissue by converting fat into muscle mass.
King tip: Note that if you’re coming back from a period off training due to injury, or general laziness, you should start with a longer rest period between sets and gradually bring it down to the optimum level as you approach your peak physical condition.
Rest to build endurance 1:1
To best hone marathon muscles, simply get your ratio right: spend exactly the same amount of time resting as it took you to complete the previous set. This creates high lactate levels in your exercising muscles, forcing your body to enhance its efficiency in buffering the accumulating lactate, and thus improving your body’s ability to sustain muscular contractions over a long period.
King tip: If you’re a beginner, take an extra 30-60 seconds rest after each set and decrease this slowly as you become fitter.
Rest to reduce body fat None
That’s right. None. Circuit workouts are key to blitzing fat in the gym. As soon as you finish your final rep of a set, move on to the next exercise and power through it. Alternating between upper and lower muscle groups will ensure fatigue doesn’t end your workout prematurely. This approach derives energy from the glycolytic and aerobic energy systems, burning carbs and fats while creating a strong afterburn and moderate gains in strength and mass. Another benefit of this approach is that it is time efficient and allows more scope for extra High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions – another key weapon in your battle against blubber.
King tip :Weight loss hit a brick wall? Switch rest times for a week every 4-8 weeks to keep your body guessing and eliminate plateaus.