Rest is one of the most important parts of your fitness! And no, we’re not talking about sleep here, though sleep truly is vital for good muscle repair and post-workout recovery. Instead, we’re talking about the seconds/minutes of rest you take between sets.
When you are engaged in heavy anaerobic exercise, like weightlifting, your body needs a few seconds to recover and send oxygen to the working muscles. The lack of oxygen (hence anaerobic) means there is a lot of lactic acid being produced. A rest period allows your body to get rid of the lactic acid and sent a fresh wave of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles in anticipation of your next set. A little rest set also allows you to take a sip of water and stretch your legs. However, if you want to take full advantage of your rest periods, here’s what you need to know:
The more you move around, the better! Your weightlifting or resistance training has gotten your heartbeat up, which means your body is burning glucose and fatty acids for energy. Keeping your heart rate above 125 BPM will help you to burn around 1,000 calories in a single hour. That’s why it’s so important to keep moving between sets. If you sit or lie down, your heart rate will slow and your calorie burning will decrease. The more you move, the more calories you burn between eat set.
Stretch Antagonistic Muscles
You should NEVER stretch out the muscles you are using, as that could increase the risk of strain or sprain. However, you can and should stretch the antagonistic muscles. For example, if you’re working out your chest (pushing muscle), spend a bit of time stretching out your upper back (pulling muscle). One study found that stretching antagonistic muscles helped to decrease fatigue, improve performance, and increase muscle activity.
Focus on Your Breathing
Your breathing patterns do more than just ensure your body gets oxygen—they also help to control your heart rate and improve your performance. You may be gasping for air after an intense set, but your rest period is the perfect time to focus on controlling your inhale and exhales. Even if you’re exhausted from a heavy set, make sure to regulate your breathing, just like you would while running or cycling. Regulated breath is more efficient at consuming oxygen, which is vital for restoring energy to your muscles.
Mix in Some Cardio
If you’re trying to burn fat, you can throw in a few seconds of cardio after you finish your resistance training set. For example, once you finish that set of bench presses, do 30 to 45 seconds of jumping jacks. After you finish your pull-ups, mix in some jump rope. Mixing cardio between your resistance training sets will help to activate stored fats, encouraging better fat burning. Even light cardio will help to keep your heart rate elevated between sets, allowing you to maintain that 125 BPM. You’ll still need at least 30 seconds of no-activity rest, but mixing in a few seconds of cardio before your pure rest will increase your fat burning.
Don’t Rest Too Long
If you’re trying to build endurance, you shouldn’t rest for more than 30 seconds between sets. If your goal is to build strength, you’ll be lifting VERY heavy weights and thus will need a longer rest—anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. For muscle growth, your rest periods should be anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. Focus on making those rest periods long enough to get your muscles ready for another set without letting your heart rate drop too far.