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Rest between Sets

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January 20, 2012 by peakcentre

Ed McNeely

Rest between sets is one of the most important variables in a strength training program. The rest between sets allows your body the time to replenish the energy it uses during the set and plays a role in determining the nature of the training effect. The amount of rest that is taken depends upon the duration of work in the strength training session and your training objectives and can vary from 0-7 minutes between sets or exercises.

Training for Strength

 Rest periods for developing maximal strength and power are quite long, usually 3-10 minutes. Strength training with heavy weight and low reps uses predominantly the anaerobic alactic energy system. The alactic energy system relies on the energy stored in the muscles. Energy is stored in the form of ATP and CP. These two compounds, known as the phosphagens, are available for immediate use. The stored supply of these compounds is relatively small, they can provide energy for about 10-15 seconds of all out strength training effort.  Once all the stored energy is used up the body requires about 3 minutes to fully replace the phosphagens. If the next set is started before the phosphagens are fully restored the muscles will be forced to use the anaerobic lactic energy system. This will result in a build up of lactic acid.

 Lactic acid is partially responsible for the burning sensation in the muscles. It also contributes to feelings of heaviness and fatigue. A build up of lactic acid may inhibit the quantity and quality of work performed resulting in fewer strength gains.

 Training for Size

 It is quite common for bodybuilders to take short rest periods between sets, particularly during pre contest preparation. This is doe for a variety of reasons; depletion of carbohydrate stores, keep metabolism high and burn more calories, and stimulate muscle growth.

 As we already discussed short rest periods will result in an accumulation of lactic acid. There is some evidence that strength training sessions that result in high lactic acid levels also cause the body to naturally release more growth hormone, one of the hormones responsible for increasing muscle size. Rest periods in bodybuilding programs are typically 30 seconds to two minutes in duration.

 Training for Sports Performance

 The rest periods between sets for athletes vary depending on the time of the year. They will initially be quite long, 3-5 minutes during the off season and preseason when strength and power are the main training goals. During the season the rest period should simulate the rest periods that they have in their competitions. For instance if you are a thrower in track and field and have several minutes between throws you should take several minutes between your sets. If you are a football player and have 30 seconds between plays you should limit the rest time between your sets to about 30 seconds. A wrestler who is constantly working for a whole match may use circuit training in season so that they can continuously move from exercise to exercise. Adjusting the rest period between sets to your sport will help you develop the appropriate energy systems and recovery ability between bouts of work.

 Table 1. Rest periods

Work Type Rest between sets Rest between exercises Purpose
Maximum Strength 5-10 minutes 5-10 min ATP-CP recovery
Maximum Power 3-5 minutes 3-5 min ATP-CP recovery
Muscle Mass 0:30-2:00 None Stimulate GH release
Sports Training 0- several minutes 0-several minutes Simulate sport demands

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