Saturday, January 9, 2016


Once again I must address this notion that working LESS somehow makes you more hardcore than those who work MORE. Today’s topic: rest times.

I frequent lifting forums these days mainly to acquire fodder for this blog, and this week I was graced with just such an opportunity.  A trainee was wondering why they were so fatigued during their training, and the prevailing wisdom of the internet was that this trainee was not resting enough between sets.  When the idea of improving conditioning was brought up, it was mocked, decried, crucified and stomped upon, because that’s not how you get bigger and stronger. No no, the only way to get stronger is to rest more between sets.

Image result for rip van winkle 
Getting so jacked!

People were actually bragging about how long they rested between sets.  A trainee with a 375lb squat dutifully informed me that he didn’t need to work on his conditioning, and that instead he just needed to rest 8-10 minutes between sets.  This same person informed me that it took him 45 minutes to do 3 sets of 5 on squats.

45 minutes to do 3 sets? Christ almighty, can you imagine how long this person takes to do a real workout? Would they ever even leave the gym?  Oh, but fret not, because the answer is obvious: since you’re resting so long between sets, you just need to do fewer sets in order to maximize recovery and minimize time spent in the gym.  After all, you’re “working hard” during those 3 sets.  Let us also not forget that one needs to mainline 6,000 calories a day to be able to recover from such brutal workouts.

There is a reason this is a meme

Folks, this is the logic of the fat and the weak.  It’s a creative way to make working less seem hardcore through mental gymnastics and sophism.  If you’re resting 8-10 minutes between sets, you’re not “working hard”; you’re out of shape. This is especially true if you’re using paltry poundages.  I realize that a lot of weak folks like to point out that weight on the bar doesn’t matter, only the percentage as it relates to your max does, but that’s clearly insanity.  Dave Tate has constantly pointed out that you can get a beginner to do 10 reps of 80% of their 1rm and they’ll be fine, but if you try to get a 1000lb squatter to do the same, you’re going to have to scrape them up off the floor.

Instead of taking pride in how long you rest, take pride in how LITTLE you need to rest to be able to crank out sets of the same intensity, one after the other.  This is accomplished by actually focusing on your conditioning and working to become *gasp* an athlete.  I know many internet kids like to sit back with their Chuck Taylors on, scarfing down McDoubles and talking about how they ARE athletes because they go to the gym 3 times a week and do Starting Strength, but let’s be honest for a second; no actual athlete trains/eats like that.  Hell, even the powerlifters that these kids THINK they’re being don’t train and eat like that.  The only people acting this way are non-athletes, whose only form of exercise is an INCREDIBLY limited weight training regimen with enough rest between sets to prevent ANY sort of sustained elevated heart rate.

The counter-argument is always about this terrifying fear of “losing gains”.  Can’t do ANY sort of conditioning, because it’s going to negatively impact recovery, sap into nutrition, and ruin progress in the weightroom.  Once again, another creative way to make skipping out on work seem hardcore.  You really want to believe you train SO hard that you couldn’t possibly perform a 15 minute circuit, or a tabata drill, or pull a sled or push a prowler, or go on a WALK?  How is it that some 19 year old kid only squatting 300lbs is pushing their body to the max, while there are Navy SEALS, elite athletes, firefighters, and all sorts of other folks grinding it out day after day? 

These guys are far too hungry, sleep deprived and delirious to worry about overtraining

Contrary to popular belief, you WILL get stronger by training MORE.  It’s so incredibly difficult to overtrain, and yet with all this fear of overtraining, there seems to be minimal concern regarding the epidemic of undertraining.  If you push your body, you’ll force it to make one of two decisions: adapt or break. I assure you, when push comes to shove, it will pick “adapt” far more often than break. And once you start adding in conditioning work, your recovery between sets gets better, which means you can have greater training density when you lift, allowing more volume/more work to be done and more progress to be made.

Or you could do 3 sets in 45 minutes.  I’m sure that’s really effective too.  Sounds hardcore.


  1. What exercises have you found to be useful to you in terms of improving your conditioning?

    How do you like programming them into the routine? For instance, simply pushing a sled until you are tired?

    1. Thanks for the question. Ideally, you'd want something without an eccentric, like sled dragging, prowler pushing, slam ball slams, tire flips, snow shoveling, etc. Since the eccentric tends to be what results in soreness, using something without that component means less interference with your other training.

      That said, I like to train carry medleys primarily. Sandbag, keg, farmer's, yoke, anything along that nature. Pick up something heavy, run it somewhere, run back, pick up another heavy thing, run it somewhere, etc.

      I've also been a fan of 15 minute full body circuits, my go to being 10 KB swings, 5 chins, 5 dips, as many rounds as possible. I also like tabata slam ball slams or clean and press or burpees.

      I just recently got a prowler, and I wish I had bought one decades ago, because it's a fantastic conditioning tool. These days, with my injury, I'm primarily doing arm over arm pulls with it and then slowly pushing it back in place before starting all over again.

      Not a whole lot of programming; I just go until I'm dead.

    2. For the longest time I have avoided conditioning because I always feel like puking my guts out, and I do spend a long time with my deads and squats. I've recently started conditioning work and I still feel like puking my guts out. I guess I'll just have to stick with it.

      Mostly prowler pushing, kettlebell swings at the moment. Thanks for the reply!

    3. No problem man. I find that, when I feel like I'm going to puke, that means I still have a good amount left in me before I ACTUALLY puke, so keep pressing on. And the better you get at it, the harder you'll have to work to get that feeling.

  2. Funny you should post this. Just about a month ago, I read your "Cardio vs Conditioning" article, and decided to finally include some conditioning. Grabbed a Wendler template for prowler sprints, three days per week, takes about 15 minutes. My first session left me sprawled out on a bench, certain I was going to die.

    But now I'm recovering faster between sets, I'm not walking out of the gym in such a zombie-like state of fatigue despite higher training volume and heavier loads, and my resting heart rate has dropped five points. It's been an enormous return on investment for only ~3 hours of effort, cumulative. I look forward to what another year of it will do. So... thanks!

    1. That's awesome man, I'm really happy to hear it. It's amazing what you can do if you're willing to actually work hard and not fall back on the whole "I can't do conditioning because it will ruin my gains" mantra, haha. You're going to be so much further ahead than those who skip out on this sort've training.