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Rest is Best for Workouts

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

[For the purpose of this article we are focusing on strength-training. We will cover cardio rest intervals in the future.]

Good workouts are made up of several things, but do you want to know what the secret sauce is? Rest and recovery periods. Make time for them every time you train.

Research shows that resting between sets gives your body the recovery time needed to perform even better during the remainder of your workout. Resting between sets can help you reach your muscle- and strength-building goals more efficiently.

An adequate rest interval is anywhere between one and three minutes. (I often suggest resting up to 1 minute between exercises and up to 3 minutes between sets of exercises in a strength-training program.) How long you choose to rest will depend on how strenuously you are lifting and how you feel after performing each exercise and set.

You might feel recovered enough to continue your workout after a minute, but what if you need a full three minutes? Take it! Research indicates that longer rest will not negate any of the effects of your exercise. In fact, rest periods that last on the longer side may allow you to lift more weight overall.

If you aren't sure how to determine how long to rest, here are a couple of methods that trainers and instructors use with clients that you can adapt for your own use:

  • Talk test. You'll know you've had sufficient rest if you can speak comfortably in sentences before continuing your workout.

  • Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale. Rate how hard you're working from 0 (no exertion) to 10 (maximum effort - couldn't possibly do one more rep). During a typical strength workout, you should aim to be working around a 6 or 7. Your rest time should allow you to maintain this level of exertion throughout your workout.

Use these methods to monitor your intensity by thinking to yourself: Could I say more than a word if I was asked right now? or On a scale of 1 to 10, where am I?

[NOTE: Rest at any point during a workout when you feel you're not performing an exercise properly or when you need to catch your breath. Modify your movement, reps or weights to safely continue. If you are working out with a trainer or in a class, don't be afraid to step away and rest, and ask for any modifications you need.]

Now, let's talk about sufficient rest in a gym setting. Some of your fellow gym-goers may not be as supportive of your rest breaks if they're waiting on you to finish with a piece of equipment. These situations can feel intimidating, but shouldn't prevent you from resting. If someone is pressuring you to give up equipment you are using, you can:

  • offer to let that person know when you're done.

  • offer to let them work in with you so they can get a set in while you rest.

  • visit the gym at a less busy time of day so you can feel free to take your time.

After all, you pay to the same gym fees and are just as entitled to use the equipment as any other member.

In exercise, as in life, taking a rest can be difficult and even feel unproductive - at a busy gym, it can even be intimidating. But when you continually work without taking a break, it's not long before you're completely burnt out. By incorporating rest periods, you're decreasing risk of injury, you'll feel better and you'll come back even stronger!


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