I'll never forget it, I was in the biggest and most impressive gym I had ever been in. The kind of gym I'd seen in american football videos in colleges like Alabama, Penn State and big teams like the Dallas Cowboys. It had 6 different types of bench presses, every plate loaded machine I'd ever seen, dumbbells all the way up to 100+kg and a full sized boxing ring with an Olympic sized pool next door. I was in Brisbane and I was injured and while my team were training on the nearby pitch I was on my own doing "rehab". My rehab basically involved me giving every weight, machine and gadget a go. I went in at 12.45 and came out about 15.35 and the lady at the desk said that I must have being working hard and a hardened looking surfer guy behind her slightly growled and said "hardly working smart though ! "
He turned out to be a really nice guy and he had a background in Aussie Rules and Rugby League and had trained lots of elite teams and university level athletes. He basically gave me some advice or a "kick up the backside." He asked me what I was doing and it worked out that I had spent the guts of 25 mins doing about 2-3 mins of lifting on one exercise and he explained sometimes he only got 25 mins a day with an entire squad of players and did I think I was special? I stupidly attempted to answer the question not realising it was rhetorical and he gave me a quick breakdown of the fundamentals.
As the years went by I got more exposure to structured strength and conditioning programmes, top class facilities and top coaches and I was shocked at how different it was from the copy and paste internet programmes I had been working on when I was younger. Bar the atmosphere and energy the biggest thing I noticed was how quick and constant everything went, whistles, beeps, coaches roaring just seemed to be non-stop and I couldn't believe how much work we were squeezing into 25-35 min sessions when on paper I thought it would take me 90 mins.
As a coach now whenever I train with friends and they ask me to do sessions with them, the sheer shock at the perceived lack of rest they are getting is always an underlying theme and a slight source of amusement for me.
Lets be honest in most gyms if an iPhone weighed 100 Kgs we would be a nation of pretty strongmen and strongwomen unfortunately modern technology has moved on and they are only getting lighter. Multitasking between sets is all fine and good but if an Instagram post, YouTube video or whatsapp group sends you down a rabbit hole of further clicks and distractions you need to wise up to how long you're dragging out you're sessions and more importantly how much work your actually getting done?
There are many guidelines on rest periods between exercises some simple some advanced such as auto-regulation, internal cues and external cues. For the sake of simplicity I will briefly touch two areas, both involve resistance training and are often the biggest areas for letting time slips through your fingertips.
Strength Training (Getting Stronger)
As you can see from rest periods here there is a large variance from 2-5 mins, the biggest indicator here is to see where you fall on the spectrum in terms of the load and the rep range. So for example if your 1 rep max = 100kgs and you lift 55 kg for 5 reps and take 3 mins+ rest ...you are taking too much rest. So for example if you are a beginner you will fall toward the lower end of the rest spectrum and more importantly if you are not lifting anywhere near the 70%+ percentile you do not require that much rest, same applies to intermediate and advanced.
The important take away here is to determine if you are actually training strength to the corresponding load you are using and then making the judgement call as to whether the rest time is sufficient or simply too much.
Hypertrophy (Building Muscle)
Hypertrophy or muscle building love's volume and tension. Fatigue in your muscles and stress cannot be a reality if you are lifting a comfortable weight with huge rest periods. Generally with hypertrophy the greater your training age i.e how long you have trained the more rest you will need because the loads you are using will be significantly higher creating more stress than that of beginner. Also taking into account the exercises so for example a barbell front squat will require a little more rest than a lateral dumbbell raise.
Just a little honesty goes a long way with hypertrophy exercises too much rest will remove the stimulus to grow. For example 4 x 10-12 bicep curls for a beginner lifter rest periods should be be fairly minimal 30-60 secs on average and 2 mins plus is over kill, but you would be surprised how often on small accessory exercises people can take excess of 3 mins+.
If your new to resistance training or want something foolproof. Try this very simple method whatever your hypertrophy exercises is and however many sets you are doing go every 90 seconds on the second. eg. Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 x 12 go every 90 secs that should take exactly 6 mins to lift 48 reps, and depending on your speed of contraction should average out to about 2 mins, 30 secs of actually work and 3 mins, 30 secs of total rest.
Be strict and see if you find it more of challenge, more of a stimulus and more rewarding.
Muscle Accountability..... Don't get lost in the detail
Don't get lost in the detail, it is more important to drive home that a little honesty goes a long, long way. Whatever your goals, sitting on the side of the road and watching the world go by won't get you there any quicker. Be accountable !
Look at your exercises selections, the load you are lifting, the rest you are taking and ask yourself whether it is adequate or inadequate with what you want to get out your session. Be honest and make the changes necessary .
If you have been training for a long time and you feel like you haven't really moved on , take a look at how much work you are actually doing and see if you really need all that rest. Holding yourself accountable , giving yourself the adequate rest periods not excessive ones will make you're sessions more challenging, more productive and ultimately more rewarding.
So don't rest on your laurels and especially not on the bench....