My grandpa once told me “if you want to make time pass slowly, just hang by your thumbs.” At this moment I’ll explain that my grandpa had a lot of psychotic homespun sayings and a great talent with metaphors that I hope I partially inherited, but I particularly liked this one because it’s hilarious. But the point to take away from it is that the passing of time is a set principle, but our perspective of it can always be altered based on circumstances. Time flies when you’re having fun, and it slows down to a crawl when you hang by your thumbs. I think many of you folks out there are watching time fly by during your rest times, because you’re too busy having fun NOT being miserable to really appreciate just how MUCH time you have in your rest times. Once you stop wasting your rest times and actually getting some work done, you’ll realize how long an hour long workout REALLY is, and how much training you can get done during that time.
"In retrospect, the wait for Game of Thrones seems really fast compared to waiting for this guy to stop spraying me with a hose"
Alright, so first, I already know what people are going to say. “You idiot; it’s a REST time. You’re SUPPOSED to be resting.” Ok shut up for a second. I will grant you that, during rest periods in a training session, you should rest from the movement you just completed, but this doesn’t necessitate achieving a catatonic state gazing into your smartphone swiping right (that’s apparently some sort of thing). You can rest from previous work while still engaging in OTHER work that doesn’t necessarily hinder recovery. This requires a somewhat intelligent approach to training, yes, but most people are so willing to look up every study, article and book on training at this point that I can’t imagine I’m upsetting anyone by suggesting bringing a little intellect into the game.
Yes; you CAN recover WHILE working. Some even theorize that work AIDES in recovery (I need to use italics more, as writing “aides” in all caps became dangerously close to getting offensive). When we perform 1 movement and then perform another movement that is oppositely aligned to the previous, we force blood to flow through the muscles opposite ones previously worked, which some theorize to be incredibly restorative. Even if that were not true, we still understand that fatigue is a LOCALIZED concept as it relates to muscles; not a general one. If you crank out 400 reps of squats, your legs will be obliterated, but your pecs are still fresh and ready for more work.
Looks like they're still waiting too
So if muscular fatigue is localized, what really limits us from engaging in some hardcore, nonstop superset training until death? The answer isn’t going to shock you; conditioning! Muscular fatigue is local, but conditioning is general, and it is our conditioning that is taxed and limits our ability to really have significant output on opposite movements. Once again, going with squats, if you do 40 rep squats, your pecs might be fresh for more work, but most likely you’ll be too busy vomiting up your lungs to be able to put in a solid set of benching.
So how do we approach this situation? Well, regarding the conditioning piece, that answer is obvious; have BETTER conditioning. This is WHY conditioning is so key; it’s a gatekeeper to greater training density, which means effectively more volume, which means more growth. If you work diligently to improve your conditioning, you will be able to accumulate significantly more volume over time, which means greater growth overall. However, what do we do in the meantime? We take something of a training wheels approach to rest time work.
And you thought buying a motorcycle would make you tough
In the era of “all compound movements, all the time”, there have been a lot of little movements that have been overlooked and neglected for years. This is primarily because of dogma, and primarily because, after doing a whole bunch of heavy compounds, trainees found themselves too spent to do anything else. So start working these little movements in during your rest periods. Between sets of squats, benches, presses and deadlifts, start working in pull aparts, face pulls, curls and raises. Don’t work to failure or even close to it; just focus on accumulating volume. A set of 20 pull aparts isn’t much of anything, but done 5 times in a workout while you’re huffing wind from squats becomes 100 reps. Performed everyday is an extra 700 reps a week, or 36,400 reps in a year. Think that doesn’t add up? You’re getting in more work and not compromising your recovery at all.
That’s not all you can do though; you can also use rest times to start setting up your next movement. If you train full body, you can start warming up for bench during your squat worksets, or you can start loading the bar for your next assistance movement while hitting your main movement. You can eliminate wasted time so that your training is more efficient, which in turn allows your training to be more dense and allow for greater volume overall. And again, we do this to accumulate more growth.
And once you have a mastery of your conditioning, you can do BIGGER and heavier movements during your recovery periods. You can do worksets of bench between worksets of deadlifts and STILL recover from both. You can run giantsets of squat, chin and press and be able to give each movement due diligence. You can be in such great shape that you have the ability to push hard while recovering FROM pushing hard, and in turn, you can turn an hour of training into a very brutal and efficient hour of solid training, rather than 6 minutes of training accompanied by 54 minutes of resting.
Ok; maybe take an extra minute to rest from this one
And let’s say that you end up lifting less weight because you are fatigued; who cares? You are STILL getting stronger if you’re training to the same rate of perceived exertion as before. Your body doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it doesn’t NOT adjust to stimulus simply because it weighs less if that stimulus is presented when under a state of fatigue. If this was TRUE, things like pre-exhaust, pyramid sets and dropsets wouldn’t work. And though some eggheads might not understand HOW they work, we have more than enough proof that they do. Let your lifts dip a little knowing full well you are STILL getting bigger and stronger because you’ve changed the degree of fatigue you are training under.
Rest times are an opportunity, and you can choose to exploit it or squander it. Hang by your thumbs in training; spend more time TRAINING in your rest times than you do training during your training times, and see how you turn out.
SPOILER FOR FUTURE ARTICLE: I just finished week 2 of 5/3/1’s “Building the Monolith” which is what inspired this post. People were telling me that the workouts took 1.5-2 hours to complete, and I’ve been knocking them out in less than 60 minutes. I plan to do a full write-up when it’s all done, but if you’re curious about the work during rest periods fleshed out, check out these videos (showing workouts 1, 2, and 3 in order)