One of the most controversial topics in the workout universe is how long to rest between lifts.
The important point here is that the amount of rest that you need during the workout is subjective to each person. This all depends on the fitness of the individual, the intensity of the workout, and overall goals of the lifter. And the best way to find out the optimal amount of rest that you should be getting will be based on experience and experimentation.
- Instead of timing rest periods, focus on subjective clues.
- Gauging rest intervals is a learned skill.Experienced lifters develop this skill.
- Do your next set only when you’re ready. In other words, go when you know you can perform with equal or greater intensity of the previous set.
- Rest periods are dictated by various internal cues. And they can vary among individuals. Experienced lifters, for example, need longer rest periods.
- Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted actually counts. Example: rest periods.
A Better Way
When following any program written by someone else, it’s vital that you focus on internal clues – your own personal subjective feedback.
These cues are far more important to your progress than are any arbitrary external cues assigned to you by someone who doesn’t even know you and has never seen you train.
So how do you gauge rest times between sets or complexes for physique enhancement?
Gauge Biofeedback, Like a Boss
The best approach is to gauge internal biofeedback cues that are unique to you and where you’re at with your current workout program and conditioning level.
This means understanding subjective feedback within the workout itself and not relying on being “dictated to” by objective criterion like the clock. Gauging rest intervals is a lot different than timing them.
Pure strength training requires complete recovery between sets. Many coaches recommend up to five minutes between work sets.
But when they say this they mean “more or less” five minutes to complete recovery. It’s a gauge, not a dictation. It was never meant to mean that if you do your next set at 4:45 then you haven’t rested enough and have violated the program.
Yet this is the kind of nonsensical interpretation people are making by getting so wrapped up in details. Details like these are meant to provide guidance, not prescription.
Kevin Weiss, two-time raw world powerlifting champion, says that he rests long enough to change the weights during warm-ups, and “as long as it takes” during work sets… and maybe a little longer than that for deadlifts.
There’s no clock in his home-gym dungeon. And he doesn’t sit there looking at his watch or smart phone wondering if he should do his next set. He gauges his performance readiness, and then he does his next set when he can do it with equal or greater intensity.
This is a subjective internal cue that’s developed with experience. And it’s something the clock can never measure for you.
The One and Only Indicator
Sufficient time should be taken between sets to have recovered from the previous set and with a subjective determination of performance readiness for your next set.
The harder the set, and the deeper the oxygen debt from it (especially if you’re training with complexes), the longer the rest interval should typically be, especially when training for physique development.
You undertake your next set only when you know you can perform it with equal or greater intensity of the previous set. That is your indicator, not the clock.
The “Gurus” Have Got It Wrong
To reiterate, working within complete or incomplete recovery should be dictated by subjective internal cues – oxygen debt, degree of muscle exhaustion, and subjective interpretation of “readiness to perform again.”
These things have nothing to do with external cues like timing your rest by the clock. Utter nonsense.
Relevance to Work Capacity
The closer an athlete gets to optimum and maximum work capacity, the more exhausting that work is going to be – rep to rep, set to set, day to day. This has a huge influence on rest times.
Here’s a real-world example:
Two lifters are doing dumbbell rows at the gym. One is a more experienced lifter and the other is working with the typical (read: not very good) personal trainer.
When the trainer’s client is finished with his set, he continues the conversation they were having before the set. He’s not out of breath. He’s standing up straight like nothing had happened.
Conversely, when the experienced lifter finishes his set of the exact same exercise, he feels he’s going to lose a lung and has to sit down for a good minute before even contemplating his next set.
You see, the trainer’s client was nowhere even close to working at optimum work capacity, let alone maximum work capacity. The veteran lifter was working at maximum work capacity. His recovery needs are far greater.
So to tell them both they should rest for 90 seconds after the set is over completely negates the subjective experience of training that should go into assessing rest times. Again, utterly ridiculous!