Are your rest intervals killing your progress?
As a strength and conditioning professional, I’ve written and scanned over thousands of programs.
A number of these are extremely well written, while others are not. The best ones account for volume load and intensity, properly select and order their exercises, and even include detailed notes on the proper execution for each movement.
Some of these programs may go as far as providing an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale for the athlete to fill out pre- and post-workout to better track their training fatigue. All of these details are extremely important, and any coach worth their salt will use these as the pillars of their programming.
That being said, a variable I see coaches and trainees alike commonly neglecting is rest intervals. No program is complete without properly prescribed rest intervals, for a number of reasons.
Proper Rest Intervals
In terms of strength training, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) provides us with a general guideline for how long we should rest between sets of a given exercise. They recommend:
2-5 minutes for strength (think heavy 1-5 rep range)
2-5 minutes for power (1 single effort or multiple efforts 3-5 rep’s explosive)
30 seconds -1.5 minutes for Hypertrophy (8-12 rep range)
30 seconds or less for muscular endurance (15+ reps)
While these may seem somewhat arbitrary, these recommendations reflect our unique physiology and ensure that we have time to adequately recover between bouts for repeated performance.
That being said, the No. 1 issue I see trainees have involves cutting their rest intervals short between strength and power sets.
Two-to-five minutes may seem like a long time to wait between a set, so often times if a trainees hearts are not pumping out of their chests or they are not drenched in sweat, then they feel like they aren’t getting a solid workout.
What ultimately ends up happening, though, is they cut the rest short, rush back into their next set, and do not execute the prescribed number of reps or are forced to drop the load. This is very detrimental, as they are no longer training for strength or power, and instead turning their workout into a conditioning bout.
There is plenty of time to get sweaty and tired, but strength and power training presents its own unique challenges (i.e. mental focus, intensity, coordination, etc.) thus it must be treated with respect.
Force and fuel
When we do a heavy, 3-rep set of squats, we are mainly relying on two things.
First is our neuromuscular system, which is the driving force in recruiting the necessary muscle fibers to produce significant levels of force through synchronization and increased levels of rate coding. While that may seem a bit wordy, understand that it is extremely taxing on the nervous system to execute these movements and it requires a significant amount of time to recuperate.
Second, the fuel with which we use for these movements comes from our phosphagenic (ATP-PC) system. This is an extremely limited source of energy and allows us to perform high intensity explosive bout of training, but takes time to recover, as well, hence the recommended 2-5 minutes. After repeated efforts, our capability to perform such high intensity exercise is diminished, even with adequate recovery periods. Just imagine then how detrimental inadequate rest periods are in place.
There is a time and place to use short rest intervals and train while in a fatigued state, however, training under heavy, multi-joint, compound movements is not it.
Speed and power work require the highest level of technical proficiency and explosion possible, and the last thing we ever want to do is diminish them by adding too much fatigue.
Situations that do require shortened rest periods can include repeated sprinting or maximal aerobic sprint training, which I’ve written about in other articles. In those cases, training through fatigue allows one to increase their maximum oxygen usage and uptake.
What I hope you gain from this article is that not all exercise should be treated the same, every energy system and every movement we decide to train must coincide with the proper training variables.
Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength & conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website http://www.pritchardperformance.com.
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