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Timing your rest periods

Royal Marines watch

If you train with a partner, then chances are your rest periods are their working periods. As long as you’re doing roughly the same rep ranges and failure protocols (rest/pause, dropsets etc) then these should be pretty even and consistent. Ideally, if their set takes around 30-40seconds, yours will be about the same and hence the rests and lifts are even; making for a pretty solid session. The problem comes if you or your training partner use the gym three times a week as a catch up, not just a training session. While you’re doing your set, your training partner starts a story, you finish your set and they are still going! They stall starting their set as they are still conveying the mishaps of today’s office board meeting. Before you know it, once they’ve finally got under the bar and completed a set, you’ve had over 2mins rest. Great if you’re simply doing a strength routine. Not so good if you’re on GVT with strict 1min rests.

The answer, and something I do whether training alone, or training with a partner is to put a clock on it. I’m a control freak. Either it’s in my upbringing or the Royal Marines had an even bigger impact than we all thought. That control goes hand in hand with my training. I know there are multiple variables to me improving my fitness and physique, so if there are any I can affect then why not do so. Prior to the Marines I was a scientist; I completed a degree in Molecular Genetics, a large part of which involved Biochemistry. Like any experiment: control the variables, manipulate one and see the results. I approach my training in a similar way:

  1. I know the rep ranges I want to hit/that I want to hit failure.
  2. I know the exercises I want to use to affect specific muscles.
  3. I know the energy systems I wish to hit with specific styles of training/rep ranges
  4. I know the protocols I wish to use to work beyond failure (or not if working for volume like GVT)
  5. I know the tempo I wish to work to for strength or hypertrophy or power

For me, timing my rest periods is just another part of this. If you are going to go to the bother of going to the gym, following a training programme, aiming for certain reps and sets with specific weights you try to progress etc, then why wouldn’t you time your rest periods? If you are trying to lift 80kg on an exercise but have varying rest from 30seconds to 3mins between sets, this will vastly change how you recover and whether you can do it (and how many reps you can do) for sets 2, 3 and beyond. At least by timing your rest periods and making a note of it, you know what you need to change (science again, one variable) next time to progress the session. You could add weight. You could try for more reps. You could add another set. You could add a rest/pause to the last set… or you could reduce rest time.

For me, using a smart phone or stopwatch on my wristwatch is as important as selecting the right weight. Yes, some people still arbitrarily pick a weight from the rack and just lift it until they don’t want to or fail etc. But we all know that in the long run that won’t get the results they want. They are just going through the motions. To get real results your training needs planning, consistency, progression, failure and variation. To get real results you need to pay attention to the details of weight selection, exercise selection and as we have now established, rest times.

Sean Lerwill - Author

Sean is an former-Royal Marines Commando Officer & Physical Training Instructor. He has been published as a writer five times, has a BSc in Molecular Genetics and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. He is also a Maximuscle ambassador.

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