Friday, August 5, 2016


Rest times are yet another hotly debated topic in the world of lifting that I honestly feel are fundamentally misunderstood by the general populace.  This of course is not alarming, as pretty much everything is misunderstood when it comes to training.  Its right up there with rep ranges and their effect along with the notion of a “hypertrophy routine” vs a “strength routine”.  As is typically the case, I believe that people are misunderstanding the effect for the cause, and in doing so are actually retarding their progression in their attempt to manipulate rest times for their own benefit.  Let’s explore.

Image result for ferdinand magellan
I mean, what's the worse that could happen?

The currently en vogue believe is that your rest times determine the outcome of your training.  Super short rest times (30 seconds) are more beneficial for conditioning, short to moderate rest times (30-90 seconds) for hypertrophy and long rest times (3+minutes) are for strength.  Yes, this looks just like the rep range nonsense.  Instead of thinking that it is choosing how long we rest that affects our progress, let’s instead analyze this as though it is our progress that affects how long we rest.
Think about Mariusz Pudzianowski for a second (if you’re like me, this wasn’t difficult, as you were probably already thinking of him.  Maybe even a little too often).  Of the many qualities he possessed, probably the most noteworthy was his conditioning.  Dude was an animal, and seemed absolutely tireless in his efforts.  While other strongman would be sucking down oxygen from tanks after the truck pull, he’d be partying with the spectators and yelling Polish into the camera. 

Image result for mariusz pudzianowski dancing with the stars
This photo was taken 4 seconds after the fingal fingers event in 2005
Now, ask yourself; does a man like this require long rest periods in his training?  Even with heavy weights, did Mariusz need 5+ minutes to recover?  Or was he ready to go in 2 minutes?  Well hell, if he could recover in 2 minutes where other people took 5, how much more work could he get done in a workout?
Is the lightbulb going off?  If you’re resting 5 minutes between every set, and let’s say that each set lasts 30 second, that means, in an hour, you’re going to be able to accomplish 10ish sets.  If you’re resting only 2 minutes between sets, this means you’ll be able to get in over twice as many sets.   And hey, what is that thing that’s really important for hypertrophy?  It’s volume, right?  Well hell, seems like short rest periods allow for more volume in a workout, which is a surefire way to get some more hypertrophy. 

Image result for spinal tap 11 

So why are long rest periods associated with strength?  Reference the many discussions I’ve had on the difference between building strength and peaking it.  When we build strength, our volume is high, and when we peak it, volume tapers off while the intensity rises.  When you are resting for long periods of time, you by default reduce the volume (assuming training for the same amount of time as previously with the higher volume bloc).  This forces peaking to occur, regardless of intent.  You have reduced the volume, which prevents the building of strength and only allows for the peaking of strength to be possible.
This is why prescriptions to artificially increase rest periods to facilitate recovery are ridiculous.  An athlete failing to recover between sets does not need to reduce their workload; they need to increase their conditioning!  Their recovery is failing, so recovery needs to be addressed.  Failure to address recovery in turn means failure to continue to grow, as the only available avenue at this point is peaking rather than building.

Image result for back to the future peeping tom
Peeking can have dangerous consequences
An alternatively proposed solution is to simply reduce the load to make it so that one can recover quicker between sets, but again, this is not addressing the fundamental issue at hand here, which is recovery.  Volume is not simply the number of total reps performed but the amount of total poundage moved.  If I can squat 500lbs for 5 reps with a 5 minute rest per set, reducing the workload to 300lbs for 5 reps with 2 minutes rest per set would mean that, in the case of the former, in one hour of training I would move 25000 vs 30000 in the case of the latter.  However, what if that lifter instead brought up their recover to the point that they could instead squat 500lbs for 5 reps every 2 minutes?  Instead of trying to manipulate the weight to fit the rest period, try to manipulate your ability to recover WITHIN the rest period.
The sheer act of resting 1-3 minutes between sets is not enough to facilitate growth; it’s what we do WITH those shorter rest periods that matter.  Less rest means more time to work within our allotted training window.  If you only have an hour to train, and it takes you 6 minutes to recover from a set of squats because your conditioning is shot, you’re simply not going to get a whole lot of volume in the workout.  This is doubly so if you’re so hardcore that you think anything above 5 reps is cardio, because it means that, along with very few worksets in your workout, you’re performing too few reps to accumulate any sort of decent amount of volume.  On the flipside though, if you’re diligently employing short rest periods to get in more volume but you still have crappy conditioning, you’re STILL not going to get in a lot of volume, because despite the fact that you’re getting in an absurd amount of total reps, your poundage will be minimal.  You need to be able to recover well with HEAVY weights to get the sort of volume that promotes growth.  Your 2 solutions here are to either train longer or improve your conditioning so that your training density is greater.

So what is the solution?  The obvious of course is to improve your conditioning (as I have bemoaned throughout my writing here).  Additionally, embrace the super/giant set in your training.  Don’t waste your rest periods; do SOMETHING to accumulate some volume.  Chase all of your upperbody work with a set of rows, curls, or band pull aparts.  Perform your ab work in between your squats.  Warm-up for one exercise in between your worksets for another.  ALWAYS be moving in your training.  The text messages can wait, you can swipe right later (right?  Left?  I am barely aware of what a Tinder is), the silent judging of the other gym patrons can happen another day, finding the perfect song on your MP3 player will be put on hold, just keep moving and accumulating volume.  Eventually you will reach a point where you can perform 90% efforts within 2-3 minutes of each other, and your ability to accumulate volume will become legendary, yet you’ll STILL have time outside of training to have a social life because you aren’t in the gym for 4 hours.

Image result for texting in the gym
I suppose you could always save the texting for during the workout

Or you could take an hour to do 15 reps.  I’m sure that works well too.


  1. Great post. I really enjoying following your weekly stuff and can't agree more on the need to be better conditioned. I've been going on runs regularly for the first time in a few years along with playing in a rec soccer league once a week. I've noticed that I'm able to recover from pretty heavy squat sets faster than I was before. Just the ability to get my heart rate back down more quickly makes a big difference.

    1. Much appreciated dude. That's awesome to hear about how well your conditioning is carrying over. It's amazing how much time and energy is spent trying to convince us NOT to be in shape and awesome. It's one of those things that you "know" instinctively, and have to be "taught" is incorrect, before you re-learn it all over again. Being in great physical shape is ALWAYS going to help one be stronger, and in general it's always better to be in better shape than not. Getting out there and moving can solve SO many problems to so many trainees are finding ridiculous solutions for.

    2. Agreed. I understand the reasoning why some people avoid anything related to cardio when trying to get bigger and stronger, but unless you're competing at some elite level I would much rather be able to walk up a flight of stairs without needing a couple minutes to recover.

    3. You got it. Plus, if Kaz could be the World's Strongest Man and be in incredible shape AND one of the greatest powerlifters to ever walk the earth, then there is no excuse. Kazlieness is next to godliness.

  2. I know i have mentioned this several times but i have recently been doing calisthenics by going from one exercise to the next. I went from cutting out sets due to lack of time to cutting out sets from lack of ability to breathe. If I ever get access to barbells, I think I will give barbell complexes a try over my standard idea of exercise, rest, exercise, rest, next ezercise, etc

    I don't know if its correct to say that i eliminated rest times, but am thinking maybe more correct to say "active rest", because the muscles are resting while i do other exercises.