The Value of Rest Periods

There is no question that exercise is vital for developing fitness. Exercise is basically a form of stress which, by breaking your body down, triggers a rebuilding process called anabolism. As a result of exercise, the structures and systems of your body become stronger and more efficient so that, the next time you exercise, your body is better able to do the work required of it.

While exercise is the trigger for improved fitness, your body only adapts to exercise during periods of rest and recover between training sessions. For fitness success, you need to consider not just exercise but rest as well.

Different concepts of rest

In exercise, rest means a number of different things: rest between sets of exercises, rest between workouts and rest between periods of hard training. Ignoring any of these forms of rest can result in burnout or, at the very least, slow or minimal fitness progress.

Rest between Sets

Have you ever seen a couple of guys training where, after each set, they stop and chat for five minutes before continuing with their workout? Maybe you’ve seen the gym goer who punctuates every set of their workout with a text message or by updating their facebook page? Chances are, these exercisers will make little or no progress and will look exactly the same this time next year.

For exercise to be effective, it needs to provide overload – in other words, push you slightly beyond your comfort zone. By taking long breaks between sets, these lollygagging exercisers are almost fully recovered from one set to the next which reduces the overall intensity of their workouts. Too little intensity equals next to no stimulus for improved fitness.

It really pays to keep an eye on the clock (and off your phone!) if you want o get the best results possible from your workouts. How long should you rest between sets? It depends on your training goal. Here’s a handy guide of the most commonly accepted rest periods according to your training goal…

  • Muscular Endurance – 13 to 20 repetitions, 30 to 60 seconds rest between sets
  • Hypertrophy (muscle building) – 6 to 12 repetitions, 60 to 120 seconds rest between sets
  • Strength/power – 1 to 5 repetitions, 3 to 5 minutes rest between sets

As you can see, having a chat or texting will probably mean you fail to comply with these rest periods which can all but derail your training progress. Sticking to these periods means that each and every workout you perform will be much more productive.

Rest between Workouts

The period between workouts is when your body goes though the process of growth and repair. This means that training every day is not generally recommended. Even if you perform different exercises on different days, your central nervous system and endocrine (hormonal) systems are involved in each and every workout.

Unless you are an elite athlete, you should make sure you have one or two days per week where you do no demanding exercise and most of us would actually benefit from only working out three to four days per week. If you feel you need to work out more often for weight management purposes, you might actually find that it is your diet that is the problem and not your exercise routine.

Rest between Periods of Training

While you should strive to work harder week to week and month to month to improve your fitness, there usually comes a point where you stop making progress. This is called a plateau and is often caused by sticking with the same exercise routine past it’s “sell by date”. While it is important that you try and work harder from one workout to the next, to keep making progress it is important that every peak of effort is followed by a period of stability and recovery.

This, in sports terms, is called periodization.

Periodization simply means building up in intensity and duration of exercise to reach a high point and then backing off slightly before building up again – a kind of three steps forwards, one step back approach.

Following a periodised approach to exercise should ensure you continue making forward progress for years on end while other exercisers either fall by the wayside or fail to make meaningful fitness improvements.

If you are serious about your training, it’s important to understand how to manipulate all of the concepts of rest to ensure you make progress week after week, month after month and year after year. Combined with great exercises, good programming and excellent nutritional advice, implementing the correct rest strategies means that we can all but guarantee you fitness success!

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  1. shawn b
    • F&P Admin
  2. Tamer Badawi

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