Rest periods between sets would be one of the most neglected aspects of training and program design. The whole training affect can be changed depending on how long you rest, so I think it is an important part of training that you should pay more attention to. The length of the rest period affects the recovery between sets and the hormonal responses to a training session.
The basic principle is, lower the reps and the higher the load, the longer the rest. Higher reps and lighter load, you need less rest.
In general, when training for maximal strength (1-5 reps at 85% or more) longer rest periods are warranted to allow time for the central nervous system to recover. Typically, larger muscle mass is being used in strength phases and the exercises tend to require more coordination such as when performing cleans or snatches. Two to four minutes is the general recommendation but there are many factors that can influence this as well. The strength of the athlete being one. For example, I have heard of world class powerlifters and strongman competitors resting a minimum of 8 minutes between sets, and some recommend even more. For most of us 2-4 minutes will be fine. This should allow enough time to prevent fatigue and allow you to perform repeated efforts at a high intensity. You should get stronger each set (up to a point) when training for maximal strength. If you aren’t experiencing this in your sessions, maybe your rest period is too short. On the other hand, if you are waiting too long, you may not see the benefits either as the post-tetanic facilitation effect might be lost, basically your nervous system may calm down too much before performing the next set.
For hypertrophy and body composition, the rest periods are shorter. You are looking to create more metabolic demands with this type of training, compared to strength training where a large emphasis is on the nervous system. Shorter rest periods, when using multi-joint movements, will also create more lactic acid, which has been said to increase growth hormone. This will lead to more fat loss over time. Kraemer and his colleagues determined that the highest growth hormone, beta-endorphin, and cortisol concentrations were observed when 10RM multiple sets (3 sets) of exercises were performed separated by a short (1-minute) rest. Testosterone was responsive to both higher intensities (5RM with 3 min rest) and also lower intensities with a shorter rest (10RM with 1 min rest).
There are many factors at play but the takeaway is to pay attention to your rest periods and match them to your goal.
When training for pure speed or power, then full recovery should be allowed between sets. This type of training is about quality, not quantity. Often, these sessions turn into speed endurance type workouts simply because there isn't enough rest given between sets.
Another problem area I see is with hypertrophy and body comp training. If you rest too long, results will be minimized. As the workout starts to get hard, people want to extend their rest periods more and more. It is important to stick to them to get the training response you are after. Resting too long in this case will change the adaptations that will take place.
Strength training isn’t impacted as much because you have more leeway and most people rest too long as it is.
Below is a post from one of our clients, Reece, who came to see us for some help with his nutrition plan.
Reece Body Comp Before and After 12 Weeks
"Before: 105.2kg, 17.9% body fat, 86.5kg lean muscle mass
After: 96.2kg, 10.6% body fat, 86kg lean mass
Signed up with @totalhealthperformance to assist me with my nutrition and my results are beyond what I could imagine, even after my training going from 6 days to barely any 2 weeks in, we still reached the goal of 10%bf.
Thanks to Nathan i’m leaner than I’ve ever been and my lowest weight since I was 13 years old. Signed up again for a nutrition/training program and can’t wait to see what I can achieve with THP this time. #goals#nomoreheavyweight#newweightclass"
As Reece mentions in his post, he went from grappling 6 days a week to barely training at all due to the lock down. By being disciplined with his nutrition, he was still able to lose 9kg, 7.3% body fat, and only lost 0.5kg of lean muscle. These are very good results.
What it really highlights to me is the importance of having a proper nutrition plan in place. I see way too many people doing a lot of training sessions that they would not otherwise have to do if they just prioritised their nutrition. It is like the old saying “you can’t out train a bad diet”, but in a lot of cases I see they kind of do. A lot of athletes remain in decent shape despite a pretty poor diet but only because they do so much more work than they need to be doing to maintain that level of body composition and conditioning. If they were to prioritise their nutrition, like Reece has here, they would have more time and energy to dedicate to other things like technical skills, strength, recovery, or just have more time to be able to do things they enjoy in general.
The other thing Reece’s results show, is the importance of discipline and adherence to the plan. He even had a buck’s party in Melbourne during this time, and he still managed to stay on track enough to get the results he was after. It doesn’t matter what advice I give, if Reece didn’t implement the advice given, he would not get the results. The perfect plan not implemented is worthless. This is the biggest problem I face. It is whether or not the client really wants to change or just likes the idea of it. Too many people say they want this or that but then don’t ever implement the things needed to achieve their goals. They may for a week but they get lazy and decide to stay as they were. I can want them to be successful as all I want but if the individual doesn’t want to implement any advice, there is nothing I can do about it.
Obviously, I try many different tactics to try and get them to make some small changes and hopefully get them to develop some new habits, but the simple fact is, people either really want to change or they don’t. This will show in their actions. I am not a psychologist and don’t want to be so it is not enjoyable for me trying to convince people to make changes in their life. It doesn’t really matter to me. If you want help, I’ll help, but if you don’t do the things that need to be done, I’m useless.
Someone like Reece is a pleasure to work with. It makes me happy to see him get the results for his hard work and dedication. I look forward to seeing further results from him in the coming weeks, and when the restrictions from this virus are lifted, watching him compete.
Training is hard for everyone. It is relative to your level of preparedness.
For example, in rugby league we have front runners and slob’s way at the back of the pack. The blokes at the back of the pack will sook all day when there is a conditioning session planned. When one of the more conditioned guys says “yeah it sucks” and just shrugs it off, the slobs will normally say “well it is ok for you because you are fit”.
They have no clue. The blokes at the front of the pack hurt just as much, if not MORE than they do at the back of the pack. The reason is the players leading the way at the front actually make the set target times, beat them in fact, and strive to beat their own bests day in and day out. This is very painful to do and takes a lot of mental toughness to push hard for every day. The bloke at the back of the pack doesn’t make the set target times and for a lot of them, they just cruise at a comfortable pace they have determined for themselves accepting that they just aren’t fit. They quit. They just do the absolute minimal required and don’t try to improve because they fear getting uncomfortable.
Now, some blokes at the back of the pack do try. These are the guys that end up getting towards the front through a lot of hard work and effort. The thing everyone who was once at the back of the pack (like myself) and works their way to the front realises is that the amount of pain you go through from the days at the back to the front, are no different. The amount of effort remains the same. You just run faster, lift more weight, jump higher, jump further, whatever the task may be, you just do it better, which makes it harder.
There is no end. You have to work hard all the time. Sure, you can get to an average fitness level and just maintain it. That isn’t that hard once you stop trying to improve. But if you are trying to be the absolute best you can be, the pain never really ends. You just get used to it and learn to enjoy the challenge.
So, if you are a slob and you are continuously at the back of the pack. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get to work. No one wants to hear you cry about it, especially when they see you aren’t giving it a proper crack because you’re too piss ant to get uncomfortable and have a real go. There is nothing more pathetic than the bloke who says he wants to achieve it all but does the minimum to get by. Then sits up the pub for the rest of his life telling stories of what could have been. On the other hand, if you bust yourself, giving a real effort from deep within yourself and don’t quite get there, you will still be respected and you can look at yourself in the mirror knowing you just weren’t good enough. You can have peace of mind. There will be no “what if” or “I could have”.
This is a simple tip. Don’t talk in the gym. It will distract you and make you lose focus. If you want to make gains in the gym you have to concentrate on what you are doing. People who talk about rubbish in between sets don’t make the same gains as those that stay focused on what they are doing. They don’t train with enough intensity. Their technique tends to be inconsistent and they can’t hit the loads that are optimal to them making progress.
Talking to your coach about technical ques or load selection is fine, along with the odd bit of encouragement to a training partner, but that should be it. You have to have laser like focus. The more quality reps and quality sets you have in your training sessions, the better the results will be.
This is why I never have any music on when I train or when I coach. I want to focus on what I am doing. I don’t want to be distracted by anything. Whilst music may be a source of motivation for some people, I don’t need it. And for most people I find it isn’t missed once they are training correctly anyway. They get immersed in what they are doing. I coach a lot of young people too, it is hard enough to keep them focused on their technique and give them appropriate ques they can respond to as it is, let alone if I threw on some music that they could carry on with as well.
Another thing is no phones. Leave it in your car or at the front door. Nothing will ruin your training like having your phone with you. That is a huge distraction for a lot of people. You can check all your social media bullshit after your session, this is the real world. Training is one of the only times people can’t lie to themselves. You either lifted the weight or you didn’t. You won or you lost. You had a dig or you dogged it. In the social world you can make everything seem perfect. In the gym, or on the field, you have to actually do it. So, forget the phone.
In a group or team environment you have to keep it business like. It doesn’t take much for people to get off track in a group and waste an entire session. I would see it all the time at footy training. This is why I would stick to myself. I’d tend to get in early so it wasn’t as busy, do my work, and get out and do some extra skill work on the field.
On a side note, I hear a lot of people talk about The Last Dance at the moment, saying how great it is. I enjoy it too. The thing I notice though is that people are missing the point. Jordan is who is because of his mentality, because of hard work. He was ruthless. He had high standards and would make everyone come up to his level, no matter the cost. He was obsessed. He had laser like focus on his goals. He didn’t waste a day or take a session off. He was intense.
If you want to be great at something and you don’t have that attitude, forget it. So, enjoy the documentary but maybe think about what you are going to actually do to improve yourself instead of just nodding say “yeah that’s it”. You don’t know what it is, you have probably never busted yourself for a week, let alone a decade or two.
If we learn from those lessons, some of us may be a chance of achieving our goals. But we have to be honest with ourselves. Get to work, focus, and don’t talk shit while you train.
If you aren't getting enough quality sleep each night, the chances of you having optimal hormonal levels are quite low. Lack of sleep can decrease thyroid, testosterone, and growth hormone.
Poor sleep for just one week can lower testosterone by 10-15%. This was sleeping 5 hours per night in young healthy men. I know a lot of people who are running off 5-6 hours of sleep and wonder why they aren't able to build mass or gain as much strength as they like. Something as simple as sleep is more than likely the issue.
If you throw in alcohol along with lack of sleep, which a lot of people do on Friday and Saturday nights and you will see enormous impacts on your hormonal levels. You will not perform well in the gym or at training for your sport come Monday and chances of injury are much higher.
You will never maximize your results with less than optimal testosterone levels. You have to get your lifestyle in order.
I have harped on about the importance of sleep a lot but it is because without it, you are missing out on huge performance gains. Instead of arguing over whether you should take 5g of creatine pre-workout, during, or post, you would be much better off prioritizing your sleep. But people love to look for excuses instead of just doing what is required. It is simple but takes discipline. Get all the basic things in place and do them consistently for 10 years.
One of my favourite specialty bars to use is the safety squat bar. It is a good bar to use if someone has a shoulder injury or poor mobility in the shoulders, as you hold the handles in front of you, making it more comfortable than a regular straight bar.
I also find safety bar squats really strengthen the legs and lower back. The camber pulls you forward, so you really have to fit to stay upright throughout the squat. It really forces you to brace hard and stay tight throughout the lift.
Another thing is that you really have to drive hard out of the bottom of the squat. It improves your leg drive and you can really feel your hamstring, glutes, and lower back.
Whilst it is a different movement and technique to performing squats with a regular straight bar, I really feel that there is great carry over from the strength you gain in the muscles used in the safety bar squat and the tension that you learn to create by using this bar.
For each of my cycles of squats I use different specialty bars early on in my training phases and work my way back to regular bar squats at the end. It has been working well as it is helping develop strength in different muscle groups and at different parts in the range of motion. When I do return to regular squats, I feel like I am in much more control of the bar path then I would be otherwise.
In the video above I am using our Watson Safety Squat Bar which is in my opinion the most solid on the market. I get 175kg for 5 reps, which for me is a good lift.
Taking a nap seems to be a very natural thing to want to do. With our current lifestyles, with work, school, and other commitments, we tend to just keep pushing through and never actually stop. The corona virus lock down has given me much more time than I normally have and every day around 12pm-1pm I feel the need to lie down and rest. With time on my hands, I have been. I don’t even really nap for long. It could be 5 minutes up to 30 minutes, but I have noticed just lying down and closing my eyes for a small amount of time refreshes me enough to be more productive in the afternoon than if I just push through.
This is not new information. The Romans napped, countries in the Mediterranean napped, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton napped, bodybuilders have talked about naps and them helping muscle growth for many years, but it is something I have consistently been able to do for a couple of weeks now and I think it is definitely something we should all try to incorporate in some way once our lives return back to being crazy busy again.
The most important thing to remember though is that a nap can’t replace night time sleep. You have to sleep well of a night. There is no compromise.
Athletes need between 8-10 hours of sleep a night but not many of them are getting that amount. Simply by getting more sleep you can enhance your performance by 2-5% from some estimates.
Dr Marc Bubbs highlights some good stats on the negative impacts lack of sleep can have in his book Peak. Lack of sleep reduces your ability to tolerate pain, lowering it by 10%. If you don’t get 8 hours of sleep a night you are 1.7 times more likely to get injured than some who does get 8 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep also increases the chance of you getting sick. Less than 7 hours of sleep and you are 3 times more likely to get sick than someone sleeping 7 hours, if you sleep less than 6 hours then it was 4.5 times as likely you would get sick.
Plus, lack of sleep can increase body fat levels, lower your testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone levels, can increase insulin and cortisol levels, lead to poor memory, and increase inflammation, so that is why quality sleep is a non-negotiable.
Naps are used as a bit of an energy boost, a reset, or to help ADD to your daily sleep time. Not replace it.
The time you wake up of a morning will determine when the best time to take a nap is for you. There is a lot of science that goes into this which take into account all the stages of sleep, but there are some good general recommendations that are simple to follow. The simplest is when you feel like taking a nap naturally. That is generally between 1 and 3pm for most of us. If you wake up at 5am then it will be closer to 1pm whereas if you wake up later at say 8am, it would be around 2.30pm for example.
You can also time your nap so that you wake up with a more creative mindset or prioritise your memory.
A full sleep cycle last 90 minutes. Many experts suggest that a 90-minute nap is the perfect amount time as you go through a full sleep cycle. If you are an athlete, using a longer nap like this on rest days can really help your recovery.
If you feel groggy when you wake up then you could be waking up in the middle of slow wave sleep, so you may just have to adjust the duration of your nap. Taking a shorter 20-30 minute nap should work well for this.
If you can’t sleep during the day, don’t worry about it. Just lay down, close your eyes, and relax for 20-30 minutes. It will still be of benefit.
Personally, by recovering properly, my strength is improving at a much faster rate then when living my normal routine. Try napping for a few weeks and see how you progress.