Rest Times and Their Usefulness

Every well constructed lifting program all have one thing in common: delegated rest times. Rest times are incorporated to facilitate different training results. A solid program will have a correlation between rest times and the type of strength being trained for. For example, if you're lifting in the "relative strength" phase where you're hitting heavy 3 rep squats, you're going to have a longer rest. The longer rest is needed for better recovery; the nervous system needs a break to maintain its high level of performance.

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There are a few key takeaways when thinking about rest and recognizing its usefulness. A lot of folks in the gym will sit and talk in-between sets and not control their rest, these are usually those without a goal in mind or tracked numbers. Every rest period has a goal, whether it be hit consistent strength numbers or create a fatigue while still moving the appropriate weight. Here's how you should interpret and use rest to your advantage...

  1. Rest period lengths and their usefulness
    • Higher rest periods - 2 minutes+ - their use comes when you're lifting in the relative strength category performing compound movements. Also, if you're performing any form of PAP/contrast training, (the rest after the PAP/contrast movements in reference here) a longer rest is needed for nervous system recovery.
      • Examples - squats, deadlifts, bench/overhead pressing, Olympic lifts, etc usually will require more rest. These recruit more muscles than most lifts and are the lifts most often performed in the relative strength category.
    • Medium rest periods - 60-90 seconds - their use comes when training in the hypertrophy and endurance categories; aka when strength, endurance and muscle size are being trained for. You'll usually see these when you perform accessory lifts (lifts that complement the first compound movement). The 60-90 seconds allow enough rest to maintain a degree of strength, but should create some form of fatigue to facilitate growth.
      • Examples - dips, incline dumbbell presses, chin-ups, GHD, etc...movements that don't tax the system as heavily as compounds and usually have higher rep ranges.
        • Exception: when compounds are performed at higher reps/less weight (ex: 8 rep back squat) sometimes rest times may be in the 90ish second category-this is often used for beginners.
    • Shorter rest periods - 10-60 seconds - you'll usually see these used when performing training circuits, agonist/antagonist training or various forms of PAP/contrast methods. When circuit training you're doing multiple movements quickly after another, typically full body. Circuits are often used for fat loss and strength adaptation, high level of work within a short amount of time. Agonist and antagonist are opposing muscles, ex: a press then a pulling movement. PAP/contrast are when you train the same muscles quickly after one another, their use is to overload muscles by varied intensities.
      • Examples - circuit (hex deadlift, dumbbell row, GHD, incline dumbbell press, dumbbell curl all performed 45 seconds after one another), PAP/contrast performing a 3-RM back squat with 10 second rest then doing 6 reps of vertical jump.
  2. Be honest - when there's a rest time written in a program try to follow the delegated time. These times are made to facilitate different forms of growth, if you're constantly taking off or adding time then you're changing your true numbers.
  3. True numbers/progress - rest periods can help ensure you're recording more accurate progress. Like stated above having loose rest periods can influence how much weight you're actually able to move at that given time for the asked rep range.

Whether your goal is fat loss, strength gain or muscle gain rest periods are an easy variable to manipulate for results. Rest periods should always correlate with the lift and the reps, without these two factors strategic rest periods will not be as effective.