Do you rest between exercises in the gym? Should you rest between exercises?

If you’re the type of person that either wishes to just get in the gym, get your exercises done and get out, or who believes any time resting is time not working then you might be missing out on a vital part of your workout.

Rest, and be thankful

At some point in your workout there will be a necessity to rest, to give your muscles time to recover or your heart-rate an opportunity to decrease, but it is also essential to understand the value of rest periods, and their relationship to what you’re trying to achieve. So, rest is a little complicated, but with a few simple questions it can become much simpler.

Firstly, these recommendations apply to weight-based workouts, rather than to any cardio exercise undertaken on the treadmill, rower etc.

Now all you need to consider is what your workout is trying to achieve. Are you looking to push your muscles to an endurance level, a method commonly used when people talk of “toning”.

On this type of workout you will probably be working at 15 – 20 repetitions in 3 – 4 sets. Or you may be trying to grow the muscle (“Hypertrophy”), or increase strength or power.

Finally there is the Crossfit type of workout, where a range of exercises are undertaken within a set period of time (20 minutes for example).

Armed with an answer to the “why am I doing this” question the following guidelines may be helpful (nothing is ever simple though, and rest periods may be slightly shorter or longer depending upon fitness levels).

Muscular Endurance (Reps 15-20), Rest Time 30-45 seconds between sets
Muscular Hypertrophy (Reps 6-12), Rest Time 60-120 seconds between sets
Muscular Strength (Reps 3-5), Rest Time 3–5 minutes between sets

Cross-training, rest time minimal between each exercise, rest and recover at the end of the timed session/circuit.

So that’s fine, but what is the actual point of resting?

Well, without getting too scientific, or boring (perish the thought), it’s all about what’s going on inside your body, and helping you achieve you fitness goals.

For muscular endurance you will have hopefully tired your muscles during your 15 repetitions.
These muscles will now look to refuel by using a combination of fat and carbohydrates, particularly accessible if you have not over-exhausted yourself.

This is a common method of losing weight. The short rest period allows just enough time for this process to occur.
It is important to remember that without a rest period the use of fats and carbohydrates as energy will be limited.

To make muscles strong the very low number of reps, and the effort used to move the weight, will have used an energy system called ATP. The body has a small reserve of this energy, about 15 seconds worth, and it takes around 3 minutes to fully replenish it.

Thus there will be a long rest period to allow this to occur. To make muscles grow the body uses a combination of ATP and carbohydrates.

Crucially there is also a growth hormone released that the body produces in greater numbers in a short rest period, hence the slightly shorter rest period than for strength. Crossfit, and similar cross-training workouts try and combine aspects of strength and endurance. The dictate here is to only rest when you need to, and to keep going again as soon as you can.
If the actual rest period fills you with the dread of long, dull minutes there are a few options to consider.
Try stretching the muscles you’ve just used, or are about to use. Think about your technique, are you doing the exercise correctly?

Visualise the exercise (I know this sounds a bit “out-there”, but visualisation does work, honestly). Or, just rest – you’ve earned it.

Author – Ian Blundell