My friend Mike Monetti occasionally joins me for my workouts. Mike is quite a guy. Even though he’s in his 50s, he has a physique that would rival those of many young men in their 20s. He stays physically active, skiing or mountain biking several hours per day followed by intense training in the gym. Even so, Mike wasn’t always in such great of shape.
Mike and I were working out recently, and he asked me to point out a few things that could help him improve his workout. I cited two common mistakes that most trainees make at one time or another. When they are corrected (and they are very simple to correct), it usually results in a doubling of the gains that the trainee was previously making.
The first of these common pitfalls is taking too much rest between sets. If you rest too long between sets, you will not generate sufficient intensity from your workout to stimulate muscle growth. The result is stagnation; i.e., a state in which you simply do not progress.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you don’t rest sufficiently between sets, you will rapidly exceed your cardiovascular capacity. Basically, you’ll run out of breath and will be unable to get an effective workout.
So you see, both extremes—too much rest or not enough—are bad. What, then, is the right about of between-sets rest?
I use a simple rule of thumb, which those who are familiar with my training systems will know: You should rest only long enough to catch your breath between sets. It should be your primary goal—from the time you begin your workout until you finish—to fatigue the target muscle group more and more with each successive set.
Obviously, the amount of time it takes you to catch your breath between sets is going to depend on the exercise you are performing. For instance, if you’ve just completed a set of biceps curls, it may take you only 45 seconds to a minute to catch your breath, but if you’ve just completed a set of squats using maximum poundage and intensity, you may be breathing like a locomotive for three or four minutes.
If you’re not already working out at this tempo, give it a try. You’ll notice that the fatigue in your muscles will build up considerably. You’ll also note that your cardiovascular system is taxed a little bit more. Don’t worry if your poundages actually go down. The intensity is increasing early in the workout, within the first few sets, so the muscle will be tired toward the end of your workout, which will diminish your ability to perform repetitions. Once your body adapts to the pace, you should quickly be able to go back up on your poundages.
The other mistake a lot of trainees make is performing the negative portions of their reps too quickly. The negative, or eccentric, portion of a repetition occurs when the muscle is lengthening under tension.
In the case of a biceps curl, that would correspond to when the weight is being lowered. Look at yourself in the mirror while doing curls, and you’ll notice that your biceps are lengthening as you lower the weight. This is the eccentric part of the repetition.
Research has proven that the majority of the benefit of weight training comes as a result of the eccentric portion of the rep. By lowering the weight too quickly, you rob yourself of the most productive part of the exercise.
By slowing down and accentuating the eccentric portion of each rep of every exercise, you can effectively increase intensity—and your results.
How slowly should you perform a negative repetition? As a rule of thumb, take approximately one to two seconds to lift the weight, and two to three seconds to lower it. The weight should always be lowered under control.
Let’s talk about intensity again. Intensity can be defined as the work performed in any given amount of time. To increase the work, we can 1) increase the poundage, 2) increase the volume, or the number of sets and/or reps, 3) decrease the amount of time it takes us to do the work or 4) decrease the rep speed, creating more tension in the muscles.
I left Mike with those thoughts and was delighted to hear from him a few days later, when he called to say that he had experienced tremendous soreness from resting less between sets and slowing down his repetitions. Soreness is a sure sign that you are training hard enough to create muscle growth.
Next time you work out, try decreasing your rest between sets to just long enough to catch your breath and slowing down on the negative portion of each repetition. I think that you’ll notice a dramatic improvement in your results!
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