Amy Ashmore PhD talks you through how to design your rest and recovery periods.
Research on rest and recovery periods shows that shorter rest intervals within sets, termed intra-set rest periods, are better for muscle strength and power improvements than longer, traditional between-set rest periods, suggesting that both fitness professionals and enthusiasts reconsider how they use recovery periods.
Intra-set rest periods are defined as breaks taken within resistance training sets. They usually range from 10 to 120 seconds and are taken after every two to three repetitions, for example. Intra-set rest breaks are in direct contrast to traditional rest periods between sets that can last up to five minutes. The advantage of the intra-set rest training method is that it allows for minimal muscle recovery during the set. Although the allowed muscle recovery is not complete, an intra-set rest period intends to provide the exerciser with rest, and the opportunity to finish the target set and the number of repetitions with the original weight versus reducing the weight and/or the number of repetitions. The goal is to coax the muscle to produce greater overall force within a shorter time, resulting in greater strength and power improvements.
One study1 set out to determine if resistance training with intra-set rest breaks produced greater increases in muscle strength and power compared to traditional rest breaks between sets. The researchers examined 22 men ranging in age from 25 to 65 years. Participants were assigned to 12 weeks of resistance training using either traditional, between-set rest breaks or intra-set rest breaks. Strength (one repetition maximum) on the bench press and squat, and power output (60% one-repetition maximum) on the bench press and squat, were measured before the study began and again after four, eight and 12 weeks of resistance training. The results showed that the 60-second intra-set rest breaks resulted in greater strength gains and power output in the bench press and squat than the 120-secondtraditional between-set rest breaks. These findings are important because they indicate that smaller intra-set rest intervals are more effective for muscle performance, specifically strength and power improvement, than longer between-set rests.
Research has continued over the past decade into the benefits of intra-set rest. Merrigan2 set out to determine how shorter and more frequent rest periods during the knee extension exercise affect peak torque, oxygen levels in the muscle and rate of perceived exertion. Utilising 11 men with resistance training experience, the study examined two test conditions: 1) 40 repetitions done over four sets of 10 each with 95 seconds of rest between each set, and 2) Sets of two repetitions with 15 seconds of rest between each. The results showed that shorter and more frequent rest periods (group 2) maintained greater peak torque or total work during eccentric exercise, increased oxygen utilisation at the muscle and decreased the perceived effort.
Intra-set rest periods, in contrast to typical between-set rest periods, are best suited for clients with resistance training experience and who have goals that include muscle strength and power development. However, that is not to say that intra-set rest periods cannot be used with other clients. Think of intra-set rest breaks as a novel way to modify individual workout sessions for beginning clients and clients who are short on time. Intra-set rest periods are an effective and time-efficient way to allow recovery during a workout without reducing total training volume and/or intensity. For beginning clients, allowing rest without reducing intensity and volume increases the effectiveness of the workout without compromising exercise mechanics and safety.
Intra-set rest periods can be used to modify common training methods like supersets, where two exercises, preferably for the same muscle groups, are done back-to-back in quick succession. In contrast to supersets, block training methods are multiple sets of one exercise done one after the other. An example of a block set is three sets of 10 shoulder presses in a row. Sample workouts using intra-set rest periods are shown below:
- Supersets: three sets of 10 squats and seated knee extensions, each alternated using 10- to 60-second intra-set rest periods.
- Block training: four sets of 10 squats, each using 10- to 60-second intra-set rest periods.
In addition to the benefit of rest, intra-set rest periods also adhere to the principle of progressive overload, which states that for workouts to be effective, muscles must continually be overloaded over time or they will adapt and plateau. Intra-set rest periods provide a way to progress workouts and programmes safely and effectively. A suggested programming approach utilising progressive overload is to increase the weight by 5-10% and ask the client to start the set. If the client struggles, indicating that the weight is too heavy to complete the set, allow a 10-120-second rest break, preferably staying on the low range of the rest period, and proceed.
Intra-set rest periods are a great way to develop muscle strength and power, modify training sessions, maximise time and progress workouts and programmes. However, they are not a substitute for rest and recovery days, and fitness professionals and enthusiasts should continue to follow the standard recommendation of 48 hours of rest and recovery following moderate- to high-intensity workouts.
Amy has recently created a new course for FitPro – so you can take your knowledge further. Check out ‘Rest and Recovery – How to maximise fitness results using strategic rest intervals’ now.
Amy Ashmore holds a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Timing Resistance Training (Human Kinetics, 2020), dozens of articles, blogs, and training and continuing education programs recognized by National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Board of Certification (BOC), and all State Boards of Physical Therapy. Amy is former Sports Sciences faculty at Florida State University and the former Program Director for Sports Sciences at the American Military University. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- Oliver JM, Jagim AR, Sanchez AC, Mardock MA, Kelly KA, Meredith HJ, Smith GL, Greenwood M, Parker JL, Riechman SE, Fluckey JD, Crouse SF, and Kreider RB (2013), Greater gains in strength and power with intraset rest intervals in hypertrophic training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(11): 3,116-3,131.
- Merrigan JJ, Jones MT, Padecky J, Malecek J, Omcirk D, Scott BR, Tufano JJ (2020), Impact of rest-redistribution on fatigue during maximal eccentric knee extensions, Journal of Human Kinetics, 74: 205-214.