What Rest Periods To Use When Strength Training


Rest periods at first glance probably seem like the most simple part of a strength training programme and for some people new to training may even seem irrelevant. In fact, rest periods are an important variable in your training and can be manipulated to change the effect of sessions, if you know how to use them.

Is all rest the same?

We can put rest into two main categories; complete and incomplete. Both of these can then be broken down into two further categories.

In simple terms, complete recovery is long enough in duration to allow us to repeat the same exercise again at very close to the same effort.

Incomplete recovery is intentionally shorter, meaning we carry some fatigue from each exercise or set into the subsequent one.

If we sit or even lie down between efforts it could be described as ‘full’ rest whereas if we were to walk, or even perform another easier movement between efforts we are using ‘active’ recovery.

When would we use complete rest periods?

Most commonly you’ll see high level strength training being performed with complete rest periods. If the goal is to be able to complete enough hard work at the right intensity, you need to be as recovered as possible (within the parameters of your session) between each work set.

When would you use incomplete rest periods?

If the aim of the programme is to improve recovery, or build general fitness, weights would be relatively lower as well as a less important variable. You’d want to take a bit of tiredness into each subsequent set or exercise to make them even harder. Smart programming matters here so you don’t increase your risk of injury!

We can use anywhere from 10 seconds to 60 seconds as incomplete rest periods, depending on how hard we intend to make the second set or exercise.

Strength endurance programmes may be the best place to use this kind of short rest period as weights are light, risk in minimal and effort needs to be high!

How do you know if your rest period is long enough?

If you’re lifting a weight you find heavy (in other words you can’t complete more than six repetitions of the movement) you could require from two minutes all the way up to five minutes to be able to repeat the effort. The heavier the load, the more rest required.

Resting two minutes between sets is a good starting point but if you’re unable to repeat close to the same effort again you may want to extend it next time.

Doesn’t this mean you’ll be sat down most of the session?

Not always, no. Some sessions are designed to build strength and they will have a larger component of rest. It is essential to the development of strength and power that you’re able to do enough of the right work. Rest too little and you’ll tire out too early, stifling the effects of the programme. This is more likely to be full rest.

We can also change how we design a training session to make use of this rest time. For example, you could do an upper body exercise while resting the lower body. Or perform a mobility drill in between heavy exercises. These are examples of active recovery methods.

Why does it take so long to recover?

When we strength train, we are stressing both our physical body and our brain’s ability to control it. The physical systems like energy and blood flow are pretty quick and efficient but it’s the brain and central nervous system that really takes the time to recover.

The chemicals we require to exert 100% effort are not quickly replaced. It can take as much as eight minutes in some cases to be able to repeat a heavy exercise. For the sake of training not lasting all day however, we can recover enough to do what we need in around two minutes most times.

If you have any strength training related questions where the answers may be helpful for others, get in touch and we’ll do our best to address them all.

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