Time, and how you use it, is a crucial factor in determining the outcome of your workout

There are a number of different variables in training that can influence your results. In weight training or running, some of these variables include repetitions, sets, tempo, exercise selection or order and rest periods.

Rest periods refer to the length of rest time between sets and exercises. It is an important but often underestimated and under-used training variable.

Disciplined rest intervals give a trainee structure and purpose and it prevents them from performing 90-minute training sessions by engaging in idle chit-chat at the water fountain.

The golden rule has always been that if you are in the gym for more than an hour, you are making friends, not training.


World renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin was one of the first to acknowledge and manipulate these training variables and the results speak for themselves — he’s designed workouts for Olympic medallists in 17 different sports.

When you perform intense exercise programmes it can cause fatigue due to a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles or by depleting the stored energy in our muscles known as glycogen.

The goal in fat-loss training is to lower the pH of your blood so that your body will release more growth hormone to build muscle and burn fat.

The more fatigued we become in training, our co-ordination in our movement suffers and it reduces the communication of our nervous system to our muscles causing us to react slower. Thus it is important to be able to manipulate rest intervals in training programmes.

The rest intervals need to be prescribed based on your training goal. If it is to increase your maximal strength or speed, which is to get as strong or as fast as possible whilst maintaining your body weight (in a sport like boxing), the rests should be longer, such as three to five minutes.


When your goal is muscle building for fat loss, you should incorporate shorter rest periods of between 30 seconds to three minutes. The length of the rest will dictate the hormonal responses to any given workout. The shorter the rest interval, the greater the hormonal response.

Simply put, if you perform a workout that takes you 75 minutes to complete and I use the same weights and exercises and finish the workout in 50 minutes, we would get two totally different hormonal responses in our bodies and two totally different results.

When repetitions are low — between one and five repetitions of lifting a weight — and the length of interval is long, there is minimal hormonal response but the heavy weight stresses the nervous system.

The nervous system takes five to six times longer to recover than the muscular system.

Kraemer et Al (1987) demonstrated that power-lifters who generally lift very heavy maximal loads had little tolerance to lifting weights with minimal rest intervals. This is in contrast to body-builders who train with minimal rests.

The bigger the range of motion in an exercise — such as a complex exercise involving two joints in a movement like a squat (hip and knee movement) — the greater the rest interval. Also, for the same number of repetitions, dumbbell work requires a greater rest time than barbell work.

Exercises of a highly coordinative nature, such as Olympic ones like power snatches and split jerks, need far longer rest intervals than simple isolation exercises such as bicep curls, especially if you want to avoid injury.

Short rests, the experience level of the trainee and the number of repetitions being performed, are all factors that must be carefully managed if you want to avoid injury.

So when time is of the essence, pairing exercises of opposing muscle groups together will reduce the length of time you spend in the gym.

A simple example would be to alternate exercises for muscles in opposite motor patterns, such as the muscles on the front of your arm, known as biceps, with muscles on the back of your arm, such as triceps.

This allows you to recruit more muscle by allowing you more time to recover to lift heavy weights as opposed to tiring out very quickly by performing the same exercise in a row.
It means you can shorten your rest intervals in between each exercise and it allows you to get more work done in a shorter training session.

The result of a training programme will be dictated by the programme design skills and exercise selection of the coach and its suitability to the trainee. It is the programme design and the trainee’s adherence to training variables such as rest periods that can influence the end results.

It takes discipline and a willingness to be coached. The more limited your training experience, the shorter the rest periods. This is going to increase your psychological anxiety and fatigue as short rest intervals will increase a burning sensation in your muscles that you may not be accustomed to.

Charles Poliquin’s principles have yielded results time and time again. Follow in his footsteps and each day you train, you will take a step nearer to your goals!

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