You Need Rest Intervals. Here's Why

Trying to build lean muscle? STACK Expert Chris Hitchko recommends rest intervals and offers a sample program.

Bosu Ball Push-Up

Trying to put on some size this year? Rest intervals may be your answer.

How many times have you been to the gym and found yourself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, doing Bench Presses, Squats, Ab Crunches and Deadlifts—then 30 seconds of Jumping Jacks? That probably hasn't helped you get the results you want.

Coaches and trainers know the value of resting between sets, but many athletes ignore it because they don't understand it. If you had asked 16-year-old me to rest, I'd crack a smile and yell, "No, more is better! No pain no gain!"

Well, I was an idiot back then. Today, I understand the benefits of rest and want to teach you about them as well.

When we lift weights, we release catabolic hormones—such as glucagon, adrenaline and cortisol—that break down certain types of tissue. Other hormones that are restorative are called anabolic hormones (hold your horses; I'll clarify in a second.) I'm going to focus on anabolic hormones.

The main anabolic hormones released during resistance training (not long-duration cardio/aerobics) are testosterone (T), human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Physiologically, your body responds best by releasing these hormones when you engage your larger muscles (legs, chest, and back) and multiple joints (Bench Press over a Chest Fly), and when you do high-intensity workouts (e.g., 4+ sets). T, HGH and IGF reduce the amount of muscles we break down for fuel during and after exercise.

Here is a breakdown of the different types of anabolic hormones released during resistance training:

Insulin Growth-like Factor: Released during use of large muscle groups, multi-joint exercises, high volume and short rest periods (less than 90 seconds).

Human Growth Hormone: Released during multi-joint exercises, high volume (4-10 sets) and short rest periods (less than 90 seconds).

Testosterone: Released during use of large muscles, multi-joint exercises, high intensity (3 - 6 reps), and short & long rest (longer than three minutes).

Why not just circuit train? Granted, circuit training may be sport-specific for certain athletes, but the majority of our sports do not require the body to be constantly moving at maximum speed for longer than 10 to 20 seconds. There are rest periods, even if they are short. In basketball, the ball goes out of bounds or someone gets fouled. Soccer involves a good amount of walking. Wrestling has breaks between points. Even in a football game, a "hurry-up offense" has short breaks to reset the ball.

I'm not saying conditioning is overvalued. I'm just saying resting between sets is imperative for proper hormonal release and maximal force production. If your 5-rep max (85%) on the bench is 225, do you think you would be able to do 5 reps for 5 sets if you were doing interval sets with 30 seconds of jumping? Or what about super sets with Pull-Ups? Nope!

Your muscles need time to recover to produce that same amount of effort—so rest. I'm OK with doing some stretching, but don't waste energy on other exercises.

Now for the fun part. Let's make a workout that will maximally release all of these hormones in a single workout session. Try the following workout template next month to see how it works:

1. Post-activation potentiation. Perform one strength exercise (3-6 reps), rest one minute, then perform a power/explosive exercise (5-10 reps). Rest 3 minutes.
2. Compound set (volume). 4-6 sets with short rest periods (less than 90 seconds).
3. Functionality. 3-5 sets resting 30 seconds.

How this would translate into a chest workout:

  1. Bench Press at 85 percent of your 1RM (5 reps), rest one minute, then perform 10 Plyo Push-Ups with maximal explosion. Add a clap if you want. Rest 3 minutes after the Push-Ups and repeat. 5 sets.
  2. Dumbbell Incline Press at 70-80 percent of your 1RM (8-12 reps) followed immediately by Chest Fly (at 50-70 percent for 12-20 reps). Rest 90 seconds and repeat. 5 sets.
  3. Push-Up variations to fatigue. Perform sets of max rep (until your face falls to the ground) with 30 seconds rest. Each set, try a new style of Push-Up: spider-man, time under tension (3 seconds down, 3 seconds up), feet elevated, stability ball, Bosu ball, etc.

After the workout, eat some carbs and a protein shake. Before you know it, you will be packing on 10 pounds of lean muscle.

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