We get asked this age old question all the time: How much rest should we get between sets?
If you're in the camp that goes by what feels right, you've done nothing wrong. Perhaps you subscribe to 3-5 minutes that has been handed down by generations of lifters. Or, you simply get back after it when you get tired of trolling Instagram. If you're one of these, you know can do better, join us in destroying mediocrity. Now to the rest of you (@ingob) that claim rest is for the weak, and you live by the mantra I'll rest when I'm dead.
Here at Power Athlete we have declared a war on bullshit in the strength and conditioning world, especially neglecting purposeful training to feel the burn. Just like we cannot haphazardly base our training programs off the latest popular movements on Instagram, the same goes for rest. There must be a purpose!
“The rest pause is actually a training means which is just as important as muscular work, so that it should be employed skillfully” (6).
Did you know the appropriately applying rest times helps drive (or take away!) training effects? Crazy! To identify what rest intervals we want to implement we must use the SAID Principle, one of Power Athlete’s guiding principles presented in the Power Athlete Methodology - Level One online course. For anyone new to Power Athlete or performance based training, this stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (5). Simply put, the training we implement is going to drive a specific adaptation, and it better align with what you are training for!
In this article we are going to use the SAID Principle as our lens to identify what the guidelines are for rest intervals based on the desired specific adaptations and how they affect strength and conditioning.
Proper application = Adaptation
The true application that we are going to examine are rest intervals. We’ve established these intervals have merit, so they cannot be random. An adaptation is a reaction our bodies have in response to a particular training stimulus i.e increases in strength, muscle size, speed, etc (5). Dial in your rest intervals to ensure you are driving the desired adaptation.
The first adaptation that we are going to look at is the development of absolute strength. Absolute strength is the maximum ability of the muscles to exert force concentrically, eccentrically, and isometrically. The rep schemes that are most commonly going to be associated with this are the 1-3 rep ranges, which are associated with driving the adaptation of Central Nervous System efficiency. These rep ranges are going to tap into creatine phosphate system (6). The NSCA states that a rest interval between 2 and 5 minutes is going to be ideal for strength development (2). This will allow for replenishment of the creatine phosphate system. We don’t want to go too soon and take away from the SAID Principle, but we also don’t want to wait too long and cool off.
A big part of this is going to come down to how much time you have for yourself or your athletes. If you have limited time you are just going to make the best out of the situation and get as close to the 3 minutes as you can.
There are two ways to increase the size of a muscle. The first we are going to focus in on is the one you are most likely familiar with, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is structural increase as the result of an increase in the volume of non-contractile sarcoplasmic fluid. The rep ranges associated with this adaptation is 8 -12. Think your classic bodybuilding rep ranges.
A great example of this is the current Power Athlete Metabolic Circuit. This is John’s take on the classic Nebraska Circuits, where an individual has 20 seconds to do 10 repetitions and 60 seconds to rest before the next set or exercise. The development of this program came through Boyd Epley putting Dr. Bill Kraemer through what was called the Survivor Circuit, where an individual had 20 seconds to do 10 repetitions and 10 seconds to rest before the next set or exercise. Kraemer felt like there was something to the circuit. 15 years after researching and tweaking he helped develop the Nebraska circuits (3).
Through Kramers research he found through manipulating exercise selections, order, load, and rest between sets he could affect the neuroendocrine responses and metabolic adaptations. In regards to rest time he found that there was a greater growth hormone release when rest times were at 1 minute compared to 3 minutes (1).
Now the objective of the circuit is to increase muscle mass. However, just creating a larger muscle isn’t enough to increase performance. This is important because when we add more muscle and coordinate that muscle mass via CAT training, explosive lifts, and plyometrics, on the off days we can create a faster more explosive athlete. This is where strength adaptations, and our second type of hypertrophy come into play. The second type is myofibrillar hypertrophy. This is a structural increase in the size and number of myofibrils within the muscle fiber. The rep range associated with this adaptation is 4-7. Since this rep range is on the tail end of the CP system, following similar guidelines to our strength is a good practice.
Lastly, we are going to look at sprinting. We’re talking sprinting here, not your recovery yogs between pull ups and KB swings. Sprint training can be broken down into several different categories. Two of the most effective that we use in Bedrock are volume and intensity sprints. Each is going to drive a specific adaptation, which is going to be heavily driven by the rest interval that is implemented. Another category is called Speed Kills which utilizes four specifically. To learn more about those and this program, head here.
Let’s start with the one that most of you are familiar with: volume sprints. The adaptation being driven here is increasing capillary density. This is important because it allows the athlete to maintain elevated body temperature during training and game day. To drive this adaptation volume sprints have set rest to work intervals progressing from 1:3 to 1:2 to 1:1. These are important because these rest intervals force the athlete to run at an intensity of 75% or lower of their max.
This is crucial because if we enter into an intensity range of 76%-92% we are in no man's land when it comes to sprinting. This intensity does not increase capillary density, nor does it increase top end speed. However, it does tax the Central Nervous System. This causes us to spend valuable recovery resources on something that doesn't contribute to anything. Applying correct rest times is crucial to stay away from this no man's land.
The last form in sprinting are intensity sprints. These are usually overlooked, misapplied, or skipped altogether. The adaptation that is at play here is increasing top end speed. You know how you get faster? By resting! To have improvement in top end speed you have to be operating at an intensity of 92.5% or better, and the only way to do that is to rest until you are fully recovered. Otherwise we dip below into the no man's land and are no longer driving the desired adaptation (4).
proper rest, prudent training
Whether you are working towards getting stronger, jacked, or increasing speed, your guiding light for selecting ideal rest intervals needs to be based off the SAID Principle. John does an incredible job writing the programs to accomplish specific goals. Jacked Street… Bedrock... Field Strong... It’s on you to apply the intended rest times that support the desired adaptations of these programs. One thing to keep in mind is that none of these adaptations exist in a vacuum. As strength and conditioning coaches these adaptations are what will be most apparent to us. However, all of this is going on within the body.
DO NOT detract from your athlete’s performance by failing to take into consideration the role rest intervals play. These rest interval guidelines also take into consideration that you have the time to rest as long as they suggest. However, as we get older and life gets crazier time can be a barrier.
John took this very thing into consideration and built Grindstone around that. No matter the program understand their is a specific adaptation that is trying to be accomplished, and the rest intervals you are applying can help or hinder.
- Arthur, M. (2012, April). The Metabolic Circuit - A Simple and Effective Off-season Strength Program for Cycling POWER Sports: BMX-Track-Mountain/Cyclo-Cross. Performance Cycling Conditioning
- Baechle, Thomas R.,Earle, Roger W.. (Eds.) (2008) Essentials of strength training and conditioning /Champaign, IL : Human Kinetics,
- Epley, B. (2004). The path to athletic power: the model conditioning program for championship performance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Francis, Charlie (2008) Key Concepts: Elite Edition. Structure of Training for Speed. Charliefrancis.com
- Welbourn, J., Summers, L., & McQuilkin, C. (2017). Power athlete methodology: Level one workbook. Austin. Power Athlete, Inc.
- Verkhoshansky, Yuri, and Mel Cunningham Siff. Supertraining. Verkhoshansky, 2009.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and CrossFit Football classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.