When I was 13 years old I got my first job working at a local hardware store in my hometown. Before my first shift, my mom gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day. She said, “Never let your boss find you doing nothing. Even if you take down and put up the same display a hundred times, always be doing something.” This advice served me well with that first job, and is still present in my current work ethic. It has also spilled over into my mindset surrounding workout construction as well.
Never get caught in the gym doing nothing.
With “time” being cited as one of the main reasons for lack of gym adherence, I always am seeking ways to make workouts more efficient. Like I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, lack of time is also used as an excuse by many who do go to the gym, but have areas of weakness. Such as:
- “Why do you lack flexibility?” ….. “I have absolutely no time to stretch or foam roll.”
- “Why do you lack core strength?” ….. “I can barely fit my entire workout in the time I’ve got, without doing abs.”
- “If you want to tone up and burn fat, then why don’t you implement some high intensity cardio to your training?” ….. “By the time I get done with my workout, I’m too exhausted to get on the treadmill, plus I can’t spend all that extra time in the gym.”
These are simplified examples of very common exchanges I have as a fitness professional. There is one aspect of these answers that I very much agree with- the value of time. I’m not advocating individuals to stay in the gym any longer than they already are. If anything, I’d recommend most people spend less time in the gym! But the key is maximizing the minutes you are in the gym.
There is one principle that must be ingrained in your thought process to start maximizing your time spent training- and may seem like a shock at first:
“COMPLETE REST between sets is unnecessary”
Regardless of your training goal, there is always something you can be doing in between sets aside from sitting on your phone or wasting time talking to another gym member- that WILL NOT impact your next set. You are technically “resting” your working muscles, but you’re vastly improving areas of weakness by being active during your rest periods. In between sets you can perform the following, without spending an extra second in the gym!
- Stretch (work on flexibility)
- Ab work (increase core strength)
- Implement a high intensity cardio move (burn fat)
**Just as a reminder, here is what your “rest time” parameters should look like based on your goals:
- Muscle Building: 45-90 s.
- Fat Loss: 30 – 60 s.
- Max Strength: 2- 3 minutes
- Max Power: 3 – 5 minutes
If you don’t necessarily fall into any of these categories, in other words you’re seeking general fitness and overall health, 60 s. of “rest” is usually a great place to start. **
Misnomer Surrounding Rest
In one of my first posts, I talked about the value of active rest on your off days from the gym. Just because you’re not working out that day, doesn’t mean it’s a hall pass to literally do no activity. The same concept applies to intra-workout “rest” as well. There is this misnomer that “rest” can only occur when the body is doing absolutely nothing. I would argue this is only partially true, because your body can totally recover and rejuvenate for the next set while still working on areas of weakness you may have.
What to Do Instead??
Regardless of whether we’re talking about a professional athlete, a fitness model or an average Jane or Joe, there are 3 areas that EVERY person in the gym needs to work on:
- Core Strength & Balance
- High Intensity Cardio
Therefore, after you complete your strength set or superset, you immediately transition into an option from one of the 3 categories listed above- and coincide the length of the activity with your training goal. (For example, if you’re in a hypertrophy [muscle building phase] you’d do a stretch, core exercise, or cardio move for anywhere between 45 and 90 seconds in between sets of your strength exercise.)
In order to determine which category you fall under, the first thing you must do is be brutally honest with yourself with what your biggest weakness is. If you say: “all 3” or you’re utterly confused, I’d start with making flexibility the main priority- because it’s universally the most neglected area of training- and will vastly improve the way your body feels on a daily basis. But if you’ve got a glaring core weakness, or you just can’t get yourself motivated to go on a treadmill after your workout, then pick the option that best suits your needs.
A lot of us may have weaknesses in all 3 categories- which is perfectly okay! This presents a great option as well, which would be: to have specific days designated as “Flexibility focus day” or “Core focus day,” so you switch up your “rest period activity.” This tends to be a great option for body-split days in particular, because doing core work fits in perfectly with lower body work. Whereas, when you’re working upper body, you can truly give your working muscles a rest by working on mobilizing areas such as your hips and hamstrings. As always though, there is no right or wrong answer- find what works best for you!
SAMPLE FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST
- Half Kneeling Adductor Stretch
- Hockey Stretch
- Pigeon w/ T-Spine Extension
- Band Hamstring Stretch w/ Leg Lowering
- Toe Sweeps
SAMPLE CORE EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST
- RKC Plank
- Reverse Crunches
- Swiss Ball Toe Touches
- Swiss Ball Pike to Rollout
SAMPLE BALANCE EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST
- Single Leg Hold
- Single Leg Hold + Down & Up
- Single Leg Hold + Abduction
SAMPLE CARDIO EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST
- BW Step UP
- Explosive Lateral Step Up
- Jumping Jacks/Seal Jacks/Run In Place
- Jump Rope (This is my absolute favorite intra-set cardio, however, it’s very gym dependent- if you don’t have a separate room to jump rope in, I wouldn’t recommend trying it in a crowded gym)
- Treadmill Sprint/Airdyne Bike/Jacobs Ladder etc…is dependent on how close your strength set is to the cardio section of the gym. If you have to go up the stairs, or into an entirely different room completely, this probably isn’t the best option for you.
SAMPLE WORKOUT CONSTRUCTION WITH ACTIVE REST
(This client’s goal is general health so each “rest” exercise would be for about 60 seconds)
1.DB Goblet Squat- 3 x 10, 8, 6
1a. Push-Up w/ Lateral Crawl- 3 x 5 e. side
1b. Band Hamstring Stretch w/ Leg Lowering- 3 x 30 s. each side
2. Incline DB Chest Press- 3 x 12
2a. Incline DB Row- 3 x 12
2b. Reverse Crunches- 3 x 30 s.**
**Most clients are not advanced enough to do a core exercise for 60 seconds without beginning to feel it in places other than their abs- so if you can do an ab exercise for 60 s. great! If not though, it’s perfectly fine, perform as many quality reps as you can, then grab yourself some water, adjust your weight for the next set, and get back to the strength work!
3. DB Push Press
3a. DB Goblet Reverse Lunge
3b. Single Leg Hold w/ Abduction- 3 x 30 s. each side
4. Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown- 3 x 10
4a. Wide Stance Palloff Press- 3 x 6 e. side
4b.Explosive Lateral BW Step Up- 3 x 30 s. each side
* The idea with this move is to have a high tempo with the reps- you want to keep the heart rate elevated, so with QUALITY form, move through the reps at a quicker tempo than usual- the high tempo is what will give you the cardio component.
The whole goal with implementing an exercise as your “rest” is to make the workout more efficient while simultaneously working on a deficiency. You will completely miss the benefit of this style of workout programming if you finish your active rest exercise, then mess around for an additional minute or two. Resist the social media, the text messages, music change, etc. and dive right back into your strength piece and continue with the workout. Aside from adjusting your weight, and grabbing a quick sip of water, get disciplined in not letting anything else distract you from moving through your workout.
One of the main reasons I began implementing active rest moves is because I realized “rest” is the variable that will hijack your training goals completely. If your goal is fat loss/muscle toning, but at times, you’re taking a full 2 or 3-minute break between sets, you’re metabolically shooting yourself in the foot. Most people don’t realize it but they rest far longer than they think they do; because they get wrapped up in a thought, or they talk to another gym member or worse, start scrolling through their phones. By getting a timer out and performing an exercise for a specific amount of time as your “rest,” it forces you to be extremely aware of exactly how much time is being spent between sets.
It’s not comfortable organizing your workout like this- I’ll be the first to admit it. But here’s the thing: while the majority of people are running away from their deficiencies, you’ll be focusing on them on a daily basis. The reality is no one likes to do things they’re not good at it- which is why Flexibility, Core/Balance and Cardio are absolutely thrown to the side during training sessions. Use the method I laid out to hide them within the session, to make them more palatable and less daunting.
Rather than having a treadmill session hanging over your head at the end of the workout, throw the cardio in throughout in lieu of rest. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels knowing you don’t have to stay an extra 10 or 15 minutes to do abs because you just hit core work throughout your entire workout.
In addition to spending less time in the gym, you’re most certainly going to take your results to the absolute next level by eliminating the traditional notion of rest!
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.