19 Mar Matt’s Training Tip #3: Do I really need to rest for 5 minutes between sets?
Each week, Joe’s Basecamp strength and conditioning coach Matt Reid gives our members tips for building strength and endurance to help them perform at their best and achieve their bucket list goals. This week, Matt discusses the reasons why we rest between sets and also a few ideas of what you can do during your rest periods to get the most out of your training time.
To read Matt’s training tip from last week click here.
As has been a constant theme through these posts, rest periods are another variable we can manipulate so as to provide a more specific stress stimulus to the body. The overarching reason behind rest period length is that different systems within the body take different lengths of time to recover once sufficiently stressed (in both intensity and volume for that system). For simplicity, we will look at it from the perspective of strength training but I will also point out that similar reasoning applies to other types of training as well.
There are two main ways to increase your strength:
- Increase the size/number of muscle fibres
- Increase the neural drive to a muscle
Different rep ranges (and therefore percentage of 1RM) are required to result in improvement of the above. Generally, higher rep sets (to a point) are required to increase the size/number of muscle fibres and lower rep sets required to increase the neural drive to a muscle. What is also worth highlighting, and more important when discussing rest periods, is that different body systems underlie both these mechanisms with the muscular system more involved in the first mechanism and the nervous system with the second, broadly speaking.
These two systems require completely different lengths of time to sufficiently recover to be utilised again. The muscular system usually takes anywhere between 1-3 minutes to recover and the nervous system anywhere between 3-8 minutes for sufficient recovery after applying a stress. If, when targeting one of these specific mechanisms for strength increase; we don’t give it enough time to recover, other systems pick up the slack instead. The most likely scenario is that when trying to increase maximum strength via neural mechanisms, we don’t give the nervous system enough time to recover and therefore the muscular system picks up the slack and becomes the thing we are stressing instead.
Understandably, resting between sets for 5 minutes can seem excessive, especially when your training session only goes for an hour, so what are some things you can do to keep the time productive and get the most out of your session? Research shows that if we perform low level activity between our sets, we prime our system to be more effective in the following set. Therefore, performing low level exercises is your way to keep effectively entertained during rest periods.
Taking this a step further, performing low level exercises that target weaknesses; be it postural, mobility, body parts that aren’t frequently used; will make the most of the rest period and help you get stronger as well. For anyone who has been given corrective exercises by a medical practitioner, those are a great place to start when choosing low level exercises between sets.
Some other examples of low level exercises you can perform between sets that would be effective for most people are:
- Banded Pull Aparts
- Banded Face Pulls
- Banded Wall Walks
- Kettlebell Pullovers
- Banded Cat Cows
- Monster Walks
- Reverse Crunches
It’s best to select lower body low-level exercises when performing your main upper body strength exercises and vice versa. Avoid taking any of these to true fatigue, a bit of stress is fine but to a point of fatigue would take away from your main exercises.