Rest is For the Weak.
At least, that seems to be the popular way of thinking in fitness today.
There are TONS of popular “programs” to choose from today that offer “intense” and brutal workouts sure to leave an exerciser a sweaty clump on the floor.
If they’re lucky.
Rest and recovery in between sets is crucial for optimal performance and injury prevention. Rest goes way beyond just catching your breath so you can brutalize yourself again.
Depending on your goal, the proper rest time is allowing you to train a specific ENERGY SYSTEM.
Why is this important?
First, most sports demand energy PRIMARILY from specific energy systems.
Football takes from very fast and medium energy systems that supply explosive energy, but take longer to refuel. Training this energy system requires much more rest to recover completely.
Marathon running on the opposite end supplies MOST of its energy through the slowest energy system, which refuels very quickly. Training this energy system requires less rest in between sets, sub maximal loads, and generally longer sets.
So training with these energy systems in mind requires an understanding of what energy system you want to IMPROVE, and how much rest it requires to make those improvements. The energy system you’re attempting to improve should be in line with your sport (or daily tasks) so improvements in the gym transfer to improvements on the field (or life in general).
An example:
An athlete performing an explosive hang clean for a 5 rep max would require approximately a 2.5 to 3 minute rest to recover for the next set (for optimal training of that explosive energy system).
Without that rest, the next problem in line arises, that of RECRUITMENT…
Faulty recruitment of muscle can happen when you’ve exhausted your prime movers to the point where they CANNOT produce force anymore. This is not a matter of willpower, it WILL happen at some point.
An example:
An athlete is performing a push press with a challenging load. After 5-8 reps, the large powerful prime movers are tapped, and begin to produce sub maximal force. For the remainder of the set, muscles that ARE NOT made for this lift increasingly take over. Further, coordination becomes impaired as the neurological component starts to fatigue. This leads to this same faulty recruitment pattern in the sporting environment of the athlete (because they trained the body to do it that way). They’ve actually trained their body to default to bad movement patterns.
But bad performance is actually the least of the worries for that athlete.
It may not happen right then, but if this continues and bad day for the lifter (in the form of injury) is all but ensured.
A BASIC guide to lifting for a specific goal:
A load that an exerciser can lift for 3-5 reps.
A rest time of 2 minutes.
5 total sets
A load that an exerciser can lift for 2-3 reps.
A rest time of 3 minutes.
5 total sets.
A load that an exerciser can lift for 9-12 reps.
A rest time of 45 seconds.
4 total sets.
For strength ENDURANCE
A load that an exerciser can lift for 15-20 reps.
A rest time of 30 seconds.
3 total sets.
This is a basic discussion of rest intervals and energy system training. For more details, contact Emerge Fitness at
It’s Your Turn. Emerge.
Matt Pirtle MA CSCS