Rest Periods

Trying to put some size on this year?  Rest periods are your answer. How many times have you been to the gym and found yourself running around like a chicken with your head cut off?  Bench press, squats, ab crunches, deadlifts and then 30 seconds of jumping jacks.  I’d be willing to bet I could name off the most recent trend and you’ve tried it. Tabata training, Crossfit, Yaaaa! More importantly, has it helped you get the results you’re looking for?  Probably not.  Maximal performance can be found in proper rest periods.

Trainers and coaches may have different philosophies, but we can at least agree that the following should be the core exercises for sport specificity:  power exercises, squats, dead-lifts, hip-thrusts, split squats, lunges, presses, pulls and farmer walks.  Additionally, we need proper sleep for maximal repair (8-10 hours a night) and proper implementation of the “See Food Diet”- eat whatever the hell you want!  One variable that I consistently see overlooked in younger athletes is proper resting between sets.  Coaches and trainers know the value, but many athletes ignore this aspect because they don’t understand the value.  Let me explicate.  If you would’ve asked the 16 year old Chris to rest between sets, he’d crack a smile and yell “No, more is better!  No pain no gain!”  Well, I was an idiot back then.  Today, I understand the benefits of rest periods and want to teach you about them as well.

When we lift weights, we release hormones that break certain types of tissue such as glucagon, adrenaline and cortisol -they are referred to as catabolic hormones (1).  Other tissues that build tissue back up are called anabolic hormones (hold your horses I’ll clarify in a second.)  For the sake of this article, I will focus on anabolic hormones.  The main anabolic hormones released during resistance training (not long duration cardio / aerobics) are testosterone (T), human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin growth like factor (IGF).  Physiologically, the body will respond best by maximally releasing these hormones when you engage larger muscles (legs, chest, and back), multiple joints (bench press over a chest fly) and higher intensities (higher volume workouts i.e. 4+ sets).  T, HGH and IGF are all potent muscle builders, cell rejuvenators and anti-catabolic (in laymen’s terms, they reduce the amount of muscles we breakdown for fuel during and after exercise.)

Breakdown of the anabolic hormones released during resistant training:
Insulin Growth Like Factor- 1: Maximally released when large muscle groups, multi-joint exercises, high volume and short rest periods are used (less than 90 seconds)
Human Growth Hormone: Multi-jointed exercises, high volume (4-10 sets) and short rest periods (less than 90 seconds)
Testosterone: Large muscles, multi-jointed exercises, high intensities (3 – 6 reps), short & long rest (longer than 3 minutes rest)

Now the fun part, let’s make a bad-ass workout that will maximally release all of these hormones in one single workout session.  Try the following workout template for the next month to see how it works:
1. Postactivation Potentiation.  Perform one strength exercise (3-6 reps), rest one minute and then perform a power/explosive exercise (5-10 reps) then rest 3 minutes.
2. Compound set (volume) – 4 – 6 sets with short rest periods (less than 90 seconds between sets)
3. Functionality – 3-5 sets resting 30 seconds

How this would translate into a chest workout:
1. Bench Press @ 85% of your 1rm (5 reps), rest one minute and then perform 10 plyo push-ups with maximal explosion – add in a clap if you want.  Rest 3 minutes after the push-ups and then repeat.  5 sets
2. Dumbbell Incline Press 70-80% of your 1rm (8-12 reps) followed immediately by chest fly 50-70% (12-20 reps).  Rest 90 seconds and then repeat.  5 sets
3. Push-up variations to fatigue. Perform sets of max rep (until your face falls into the ground) with 30 seconds rest.  Each set try a new style of push-ups: spider-mans, time under tension (3 seconds down, 3 seconds up), feet elevated, stability ball, bosu ball etc.

One last question Mr. Chris, why not just circuit train?
Granted circuit training may be sport specific for certain athletes, but the majority of our sports do not require the body to be constantly moving at max speed for longer than 10-20 seconds.  There are rest periods, even if they are short.  In basketball, the ball goes out of bounds and/or someone gets a foul.  Soccer involves a good amount of walking.  Wrestling has breaks between points.  Even in a football game a “hurry up offense” has short breaks to reset the ball.  I’m not saying conditioning is overvalued, I’m just saying that resting between sets is imperative for the proper hormonal release and maximal force production.  If your 5 rep max (85%) on the bench is 225, do you think you would be able to 5 reps for 5 sets if you were doing interval sets with 30 seconds of jumping?  Or what about super sets with pull-ups?  Hell no!  Your muscles need time to recover to produce that same amount of effort, so rest.  That means pretty much do nothing!  I’m ok with you doing some stretching or Facebooking you’re future ex-wife, but don’t waste energy on other exercises.  At the very least, save that type of training for a functionality day or cardio based day where you perform all body weighted exercises with cardio inbetween- but that’s just one workout a week.  When we are pushing, pulling, and squatting, save the cardio and active rest periods for another day of training.

In the end, if you follow this template for the next month, you’ll induced an awesome hormonal cocktail consisting of the main anabolic hormones to build and help you perform better.  After the workout, eat some carbs and a protein shake and before you know it, you’ll be packing on 10lbs of lean muscle in no time.

De Glisezinski I, Larruoy D, Bajzova M, et al.  Epinephrine but not norepinephrine is a determinant of exercise-induced lipid mobilization in human subcutaneous adipose tissue. J Physiol Published online before print May 5, 2009, doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.168906.