Greetings, AP brothers! It’s been quite a lengthy journey in workout program-building concepts so far – I’ve never written anything like a guide to working out, so I’m a little surprised myself about how much information I end up posting each time. But the thorough nature of this American Partisan Operator’s workout guide is necessary in order to build the foundation of good fitness programming skills. Again, I appreciate everyone who has hung in there to work their way through these long posts. I’m super-fired up to help increase the capabilities of my fellow American Partisan Operators, so you’re truly getting the sum total of my fitness experience and knowledge in key areas!
Below is a list of American Partisan Workout Fundamentals we’ve already covered:
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #1: Full-Body Workouts
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #2: “PUSH-PULL-LEGS + CORE-GRIP-NECK”
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #3: The Integrated Workout Formula
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #4: Proper Selection of Quality Strength Training Exercises
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #5: Exercise Circuits
- American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #6: Progressive Overload
We’re almost done with the technical Workout Fundamentals that deal with the structure and content of your workouts. Today, we’ll be covering American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, Concept #7: Proper Rest Periods, which is the last of the technical Workout Fundamentals, and has multiple aspects to it requiring consideration.
The remaining American Partisan Workout Fundamentals, which will be covered soon in upcoming posts, deal with the non-technical elements that make for an excellent workout.
Alright! Let’s get busy.
AMERICAN PARTISAN WORKOUT FUNDAMENTALS, CONCEPT #7:
**** PROPER REST PERIODS ****
In order to realize good gains in performance, of course it’s essential to be willing to work out hard each time you exercise. The flip side of that willingness to work out hard is that you also have to be willing to rest at appropriate times, whether between exercises within a workout, or between workouts. A lot of trainees get really fired up, especially when just starting out with an awesome new workout in hand, and they end up neglecting the critical component of resting adequately. Resting is truly no less important than working out hard, because without rest and replenishment of energy, you’ll end up with decreased results over time, and beyond that, you’ll end up either burning out, getting injured, or both (been there, done that – it’s a very LOW place to be, and is to be avoided at all costs!) Therefore, you have a true obligation to your own well-being to slot defined rest periods into your workout regimen in order to get the most out of it, and in order to take proper care of your precious health.
When it comes to proper rest periods to use in your exercise program, there are three general types of rest periods to consider, as I’ll detail throughout this post.
- Inter-Set Rest Periods for Strength Training
- Inter-Burst Rest Periods for Conditioning Training
- Inter-Workout Rest Periods for Health and Proper Recovery
Inter-Set Rest Periods for Strength Training
The first general type of rest period is the Inter-Set Rest Period, which applies specifically to Strength Training Exercise, and is the amount of time you rest between sets of the same exercise (this is an important concept to grasp) within the Strength Training phase of a workout. You can imagine that, in order to be suitably strong for the next high intensity (= heavy) set of the same exercise, or even to be suitably strong for the upcoming set of a different (yet demanding) exercise in your Exercise Circuit (whichever it may be), some rest is vital to be able to perform well.
Over the years, my rest period has evolved to a length of 5 – 6 minutes of rest between sets of the same exercise so, for example, I’ll perform a heavy set of Overhead Barbell Presses; wait 5 – 6 minutes, and then do the next set. Note well, though, that what I’m NOT doing after finishing the set of Overhead Barbell Presses is idling for 5 – 6 whole minutes. In addition to making me go crazy in lengthy anticipation of the next heavy working set, I’d also be cooling down during that wait due to the inactivity – not good. That’s where the efficiency-boosting benefit of Exercise Circuits come in: while I may be resting a lengthy 5 – 6 minutes between sets of Overhead Barbell Presses, there are plenty of other non-conflicting Primary Movements (in the “Pull” and “Leg” categories), as well as Secondary Movements (almost any of the Core-Grip-Neck movements, depending on what other Primary Movements your Exercise Circuit includes) that I can perform in that 5- to 6-minute window. Performing a full array of non-conflicting exercises in the Exercise Circuit will keep me warmed up and productive too. Are you starting to see how this all fits together?
Let’s “circle back” (LOL) to the our example Strength Training Circuits:
- Strength Training Exercise Circuit Example 1: Barbell Back Squats (Legs – Front); rest for 90 seconds –> Flat Barbell Bench Press (Horizontal Push); go immediately to next exercise –> Chin-Ups (Vertical Pull); wait 30 seconds –> Front Neck Bridge for 60 seconds (Neck); rest for 2.5 minutes, and repeat the Strength Training Exercise Circuit three more times, starting with the Barbell Back Squats
- Strength Training Exercise Circuit Example 2: Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press (Vertical Push); rest for 90 seconds –> Bent-Over Barbell Row (Horizontal Pull); go immediately to next exercise –> Sit-Ups (Core – abdominals); rest for 60 seconds –> Back Neck Bridge for Reps (Neck); rest for 2 minutes, and repeat the Strength Training Exercise Circuit three more times, starting with the Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press
Note in these examples the non-overlapping nature of the Strength Training Exercise Circuit component exercises, as well as the total rest achieved between sets of the same movement: roughly 5 – 6 minutes.
As a relevant tangent, after having spent nearly 26 years of observing the action in various gyms, it occurs to me that many lifters do indeed idle between working sets of the same exercise and do nothing in between. At the same time, these lifters typically use considerably shorter rest periods than 5 – 6 minutes. Oftentimes, other lifters whom I speak with are pretty surprised by the generous length of my 5 – 6 minute rest cycles, particularly when they rest between 1.5 – 3 minutes between sets. Typically, fitness magazines will also recommend rest periods of a similar length (1 – 3 minutes); the 5 – 6 minute rest cycle is pretty much unheard of. At the same time, not many people really do high-intensity Exercise Circuits or Full-Body Workouts from what I’ve seen – most are following some type of bodybuilding format of working out, which doesn’t make room for Exercise Circuits along lines I suggest.
Again, I’m not passing judgment on what anyone else does. I’ve seen plenty of heavy-hitting and jacked dudes lifting serious loads in the gym, and they use shorter rest periods than I do. Back when I first started working out with weights, I used to rest for the more traditional 1 – 3 minutes, but I always found that after the first working set, follow-up working set performance would pretty much crater unless I used light weight or reduced the weight used. Once I started extending the rest period to the 5+ minute range (but never longer than 6 minutes) and filling in the rest time with other Circuit elements, my performance in all lifts when up substantially.
When it comes to Inter-Set Rest Periods for Strength Training, the main point is that you simply MUST rest in order to achieve a recovery level that is sufficient to aggressively perform the next set or next exercise. One of the many failings I’ve noticed by most trainees in the gym is that they don’t rest enough between lifts. I’ve seen dudes rest as little as 1.5 – 2 minutes between sets, and that only “works” for them because they’re usually not lifting heavy loads. If you’re properly Strength Training and thus working with heavy loading, you absolutely must rest sufficiently or your performance after the first set is going to suffer a lot.
Inter-Burst Rest Periods for Strength Endurance / Conditioning Training
Strength Endurance / Conditioning Training is a different creature than Strength Training in that the goal is to do “bursts” of physical movement at peak output effectively while basically gasping for air. As such, the burst-style nature of Conditioning Training necessitates short rest periods between exercise bursts in order to create the breathlessness that is critical to proper Conditioning Training. For example, doing 10 rounds of 50 Yard Sprints with 30 seconds between rounds. When doing Conditioning Training using Exercise Circuits, sticking Circuit exercises back-to-back in a relentless sequence with no rest between exercises and little rest between rounds of that Circuit is the way to go (see examples below of Conditioning Training Exercise Circuits, taken from my previous post). And so, when engaged in Conditioning Training, rest periods should typically occur between bursts of Conditioning Training; we’ll call this the Inter-Burst Rest Period (this is my own term). Back to the examples:
Conditioning Training Exercise Circuit Example 1: Side Straddle Hops (aka Jumping Jacks) for 60 seconds; go immediately to next exercise –> Push-Ups for 60 seconds; go immediately to next exercise –> Alternating Toe Touches; go immediately to next exercise –> Light Barbell Curls for 60 seconds; rest for 1 minute, and repeat Conditioning Training Exercise Circuit two more times, starting with Side Straddle Hops for 60 seconds
Conditioning Training Exercise Circuit Example 2: Run 1/4 Mile (on treadmill or track); go immediately to next exercise –> Lying Knee Raises for 90 seconds; go immediately to next exercise –> Handstand Against Wall for 60 seconds; go immediately to next exercise –> Chin-Ups for 60 seconds; go immediately to next exercise –> Dumbbell Side Bends for 60 seconds; rest for 2 minutes, and repeat Conditioning Training Exercise Circuit two more times, starting with a 1/4-Mile Run
For best Conditioning results, Inter-Burst Rest Periods should be sufficient to permit for a just-adequate recovery of breath and a lowering of your heart rate (both of which will be very high after completing a burst or Conditioning Circuit). Again, remember good ol’ Vegetius: “What can a soldier do who charges when out of breath?” Don’t short change yourself and ruin performance by rushing into the next Conditioning burst or Circuit without adequate rest; Inter-Burst Rest Periods of up to 3 minutes may be appropriate (or less if your state of conditioning is already very good). And, of course, don’t rest too long between burst of Conditioning Training, or you’ll lose the whole point of the exercise.
Inter-Workout Rest Periods for Health and Recovery
Finally, there is the rest you’ll require between workouts, which I call the Inter-Workout Rest Period. There are a several different systems requiring rest that the American Partisan Operator needs to take into account when understanding the proper interval for Inter-Workout Rest Periods, and they are:
Connective tissue recovery (joints; ligaments; tendons)
Neurological recovery (the nerves that fire the muscles you’re exercising)
The body’s “engines of movement”, the muscles, require several days to be ready for action again. Muscular recovery involves the process of the body physically repairing the muscles after the breakdown they experience by a hard workout, especially where maximal and sub-maximal loading are used. The muscles need to replenish their store of local energy, as well as get back to an intact state after what is known as the “micro-tearing” that occurs with intense contractions – this is what causes the “soreness” experienced after a hard workout. As the conventional wisdom here goes, you’re breaking the muscle down to rebuild it better and stronger; resting sufficiently between workouts accomplishes this.
Working out vigorously also puts a very severe demand on your connective tissue structures (joints; tendons; ligaments), and because these structures are not as well-supplied with blood as the muscles are, they recover significantly more slowly than the muscles. Your muscles will be ready for action again well before your connective tissue structures are, and this absolutely must be respected or you’ll pay dearly with more (potentially permanent) injuries this way. Trust me, I know.
Beyond muscular and connective tissue recovery, the APO also needs to consider neurological recovery. A hard workout is mechanically powered by muscular contraction by way of moving joints, which are held together by tendons and ligaments. However, the nervous system, which is the body’s electrical power source that activates the muscles into aggressive action, gets very taxed by a hard workout too; this is particularly true when maximal and sub-maximal loading of weight is involved. Like the connective tissue recovery, which is slower than muscular recovery, neurological recovery also takes longer than the muscles as well, and should not be overlooked. As such, working out without proper neurological recovery will lead to a considerably reduced performance for your workout; loads lifted will feel heavier, and you’ll feel bushed much faster when doing intense Conditioning Training of any kind whenever lacking neurological recovery between workouts.
Finally, there is also a vital need for psychological recovery between workouts. Getting fired up and belting out a hardcore, result-producing workout psychologically takes a lot out of the APO too. It’s important to give yourself enough time to “get hungry” again between workouts, so that you can be as aggressive as possible at the appointed hour (of the workout). Waiting enough time between intense workouts will thus help prevent you from getting jaded and burning out on a mental and spiritual level.
The Bottom Line: How Long Should You Rest Between Workouts for Good Recovery?
Before answering this critical question, please remember that these posts on the American Partisan Workout Fundamentals have been oriented towards a 2x per week Full-Body Workout arrangement , using the APO Integrated Workout Formula provided in Concept #3. There are other viable workout arrangements as well that may necessitate an adaptation of the Fundamentals, but not surprisingly, the Fundamentals will always apply in some way to a GOOD workout (Fundamentals are Fundamentals, right?) The more experience and seasoning the APO gets with exercise, the easier it will be to further customize your workout while keeping with the Fundamentals!
And now, for the big answer! The need for rest varies somewhat depending on the muscle and the type of workout you’re doing; for example, small muscles recover faster than large muscles, and high intensity lifting takes longer to recover from than low- to medium-intensity lifting, etc. Nevertheless, generally speaking, when it comes to proper rest periods between Strength Training workouts, a nice, neat, and easy rule of thumb that I’ve used for pretty much my whole workout career is to work each muscular system 1x per week in a particular direction of movement, and rest for a week.
More specifically, you should work your vertical Push and Pull 1x each per week, and your horizontal Push and Pull 1x each per week; rest for a week between workouts of these Primary Movement Categories. Same for Legs: work the front of the legs 1x per week, and the back of the leg 1x per week as well, on separate days; rest for 1 week between workouts.
Secondary Movement Categories are usually worked once a week in particular directions of movement (for example, Neck front and Neck rear – see more below), but may be worked 2x a week in some cases. For now and when just starting out, 1x per week for Secondary Movement Categories in specific directions works well.
The heavy bolding above is to emphasize this Fundamental Workout Concept. Here’s a simple example of how the Inter-Workout Rest Period might look in a sample workout program:
Mondays: Front of Leg (Quadriceps) / Horizontal Push (Chest) / Vertical Pull (Upper Back – Sides) / Sit-Ups (Core – Top) / Grip Exercises (Finger and Wrist Flexors) / Neck Front (Neck Flexors)
Thursdays: Back of Leg (Hamstring) / Vertical Push (Shoulders) / Horizontal Pull (Upper Back – Middle) / Leg Lifts (Core – Bottom) / Wrist Exercises (Wrist Extensors) / Neck Rear and Sides (Neck Extensors and Side Muscles)
As you can see from the example, every important area of relevant physical movement – i.e., the Primary and Secondary Movement Categories are fully covered once per week in the Monday and Thursday Full-Body Workouts. In this way, each associated muscle group (shown in italics in the parentheses) is worked once per week, and is then given its proper week-long recovery period between workouts. Of course, use of some smaller auxiliary muscles will overlap between the two workouts; for example, the triceps muscles that straighten out the elbow will be used rigorously in both Vertical and Horizontal Push exercises, and that’s normal and just fine. But as far as the major muscle groups, they get their proper rest periods. Therefore, resting for one week between a workout of each of the muscle systems covers all the bases of recovery (muscular; connective tissue; neurological; psychological).
Having your workouts fall on the same days each week basically assures that you’ve satisfied your body’s integrated rest needs. But don’t worry if, say, you have to push the workout day back or forward by a day every now and then. Try to stick to the 1-week rest window between workouts as indicated here, but if you deviate by a day or at most two in either direction, it can work in a pinch – the body is pretty forgiving, and what’s the worst that can happen? Your workout may not be at peak for that deviated workout day, but at least you’ve done your part by working out and giving your best, which is the most important consideration in the immediate sense.
One final word about Inter-Workout Rest Periods: when it comes to the limited, intense nature of the good Strength Training, rest is absolutely critical, since you’re not just waiting until the fast-recovering muscular system is ready for work again. You’re allowing for an integrated recovery of all systems of the body that are heavily involved in your exercise efforts. Conversely, you don’t want to rest too much between workouts, since the body deconditions very rapidly, and the process of deconditioning happens faster and faster as we age. Onset of strength loss occurs within around 10 days or so of no activity, which is not long at all. However, the motivated American Partisan Operator is likelier to be under-rested than he is over-rested, so do not short change yourself on rest between workouts!
That’s it for today! The next posts on American Partisan Workout Fundamentals will get into the psychological and spiritual aspects of the workout, which are as critical as the technical aspects! Thanks for reading.