Strength training rest periods

The following was posted by Christian Thibaudeau on his T-Mag forum in response to a poster who questioned CT’s stance on incomplete rest periods. Any thoughts?

if one trains at a lesser intensity by resting more between sets or lifting less weight, he/she will be fresh enough for higher volume, and that will be a good variation of training variables and provide additional stimulus, nerve-wise

First mistake … increasing rest between sets DOES NOT decrease intensity as you state. It decreases density.

Second mistake… even if one rest longer between sets and that he is less fatigued so it’s possible to do more set, the micro-trauma can be too great.

i.e. Your body has a limited adaptation energy (since you seem to like to quote peoples, look up Supertraining by Siff, Adaptations to Sport Training by Viru or Organization of training by Verkhoshansky for an explanation of the “current adaptation reserves”). So if you do too much work, or place too much stimulus on your body you might not be able to recover fast enough.

Yes, taking longer between sets can help you lift more weight (and that’s a benefit) however studies have shown that increasing the density of training leads to greater gains.

What I don’t like about your question is that you seem to quote something you heard without really understanding anything about the training processes (or even the quote you use itself!).

You say that taking longer rest periods will help create a greater stimulus “nerve-wise” (when I read that part of your post I immediately was reminded of my favorite expression: “Complexity is the language of the simple minds”). I agree that using heavier loads will lead to a greater CNS stimulation. However understand that producing maximal effort under sub-optimal conditions (not being 100% recovered) actually leads to a very powerful training effect: the nervous system actually has to work extra hard to keep producing the required amount of force. As a result it will need to innervate muscles fibers that may be of a higher threshold and that would not have to be recruited under normal conditions. Why do you think that the Westside guys (strongest group of powerlifters in the world) use very short rest intervals when training for power? And I can attest that Bulgarian olympic lifters actually take VERY little rest between sets, even between heavy attempts. A training session for them least 30-60 minutes and includes 2-3 exercises, which gives them 10-30 minutes per exercise and they normally do 6-10 sets… do you think that it’s possible for them to rest for 5 minutes between sets?

Taking longer rest periods is good for specific skill work. In other words, when you are practicing a certain movement with the aim of mastering it fully. Why? Because when training for a skill you want to develop a specific motor pattern. If you are fully recovered before every “set” (even if the term “set” is not really adequate for skill practice) you will recruit the same motor units over and over, making them all the more efficient at the particular skill. However the problem with this as it related to strength training is that it neglects a good proportion of motor units. A motor unit that is not fatigued is not being trained (check out your “pal” Zatsiorsky for more on that subject).

So by taking a lot of rest between sets you are favoring a certain group of motor units which receive a lot of stimulation, but the rest of the fibers are actually undertrained! If you train with shorter rest intervals, an amount of time that allows you to be rested enough to maintain the current level of effort without fully recovering, your nervous system is forced to recruit more different motor units with every set.

So training for “synaptic facilitation” (to quote your “pal” Tsatsouline) is good if you want to be efficient at a certain exercise/movement. But it’s actually not optimal if what you want is overall muscle strength. When you become extremely efficient in a movement you use less and less motor units to accomplish the task at hand, which leads to less and less general strength gains. You become stronger at a specific exercise, but this performance improvement is not readily transferable to other exercises. Modern olympic lifters are “specialists”: they only train on the competition exercises and a few assistance drills (squats, front squats) that is so that they can be as efficient as possible in their competition exercises. That’s fine for olympic lifters because improvement in performance is directly correlated to their technical efficiency.

However for an athlete who doesn’t do any lifting exercises in competition the important things are to strengthen groups of muscles, improve energy systems and increase neural drive. NOT increase a lift for the sake of it.

Bottom line, if you want to gain overall strength and power (transferable) and not only efficiency in a certain exercise (not readily transferable) training while only recovering 85-95% between sets is better than fully recovering.

Wow, very interesting. I have generally always rested until I’m ‘fully’ recovered between sets when weight training, usually around 3 minutes. Perhaps I should look at decreasing this interval at least during accumulation and perhaps during early max strength cycles. Thoughts?

Charlie…It would be nice if you could share your insight on this one.

I have always found 3 minutes rest too long. Lately I have been waiting only about 90-120 seconds between sets depending on intensity. Otherwise I dont feel as strong or explosive. It is strange and sort of backwards from pure speedwork (running) perspective but it appears to be the case with me. When I perform speedwork 2-3 minutes rest is the minimum amount I can take between reps

Does anyone know what studies back up the density theory? Has CT mentioned them anywhere. I’d imagine that would be very hard to prove.

I don´t know if Charles Staley references his sources in his writings about escalating density training, but he uses increased density to maximize results - i.e. performing more work in the same period of time (length of workout or sets). I believe he has written about this on testosterone´s site. Check out t-mag´s past issues or Staley´s website.

I have experimented recently with 1min rest periods with heavy singles in the 85% area. This is much shorter rest periods than I normally use, and it hit my CNS like a ton of bricks - I overeached pretty quickly with 2 weeks :slight_smile:

Normally longer rest periods of >3mins are used in strength training with heavy weights to allow recovery of the nueral system rather than just the muscular energy systems between sets. So you have to consider that as well.

Developing strength compared to demonstrating strength.

But he did say something along the lines of neural effiency. If your average then keep the rest periods down, since you won’t be recruiting as much of your fibers as a more neurally effecient person - ie elite athlete :slight_smile:

Yes, taking longer between sets can help you lift more weight (and that’s a benefit) however studies have shown that increasing the density of training leads to greater gains.

Show me ten peer reviewed research artilces that show this…christ we are still researching single vs multiple sets, nevermind specific rest periods with hyper specific intensities.

Heavy weight training will recruit reserves in time…I know survival fiber proponants are into fatigue sets, but simple programs with long rest periods have helped some strong athletes. Watching Dave Tate train was interesting since his rest periods were rather short…perhaps the sled dragging gave him some work capacity to do this. Yet, he was not going near his maximal numbers.

actually I remeber reading studies where then 3min resters gained more strength than the 2min resters? I’m sure I have somewhere

I think it depends on your training % and objectives. Obviously speed sets at 60% can use short rest periods.
But it’s not something I would use with say weights in the 90% area, if you had a set goal to do 5 singles for example - where neural firing and co-ordination is the objective.

I bring this to the top for peoples perusual.

It is interesting to read.

Rest is a very important factor, but then again how about training hard…then a go at it harder again!

Usually I take longer rests when I’m training for strength, and shorter rests when I’m training for bodybuilding. I have nothing to back this up with except that for my body, it works, and that’s what it’s all about.

What is the definition of gains? Are we talking size here? What level of athlete?
The higher the athlete level, the more the benefit- and need- for longer recoveries and, of course, lower rep numbers to promote higher weights/bigger stimulus.
Conversely, the lower the athlete potential (read BB mag customers in general), the faster such a strategy would backfire, causing overtraining, so for the common man, perhaps it is a sound strategy.
That said, what is the duration of the lifting phase in which all this occurs??

Charlie, I think everyone can benefit from longer recoveries. When I first started weightlifting at 12.5-13 I was bodybuilding for a month and switched over to PL’ing and increased my recovery from about 1 min to 3, and I noticed a huge improvement. So to say only trained athletes can benefit is unfair :wink: