Are you the sort of person who rushes through a weight-training workout and then is disappointed by the lack of gains? Or do you, like yours truly, amble from machine to machine, taking long gaps between sets to check your phone, gossip with your gym buddy or click a couple of selfies at the gym?
As it turns out, neither is great for your fitness goals. Rest and recovery, an often ignored aspect of training (a bit like stretching, admit it—you've all skipped a few post-training stretch sessions, haven't you?), is as crucial to your fitness goals as nutrition, sleep, proper hydration or stress management. "If you aren't resting enough, you won't build what you want to build," says Karan Sawhney, co-founder at the Tribe, a Mumbai-based virtual wellness studio. What's worse, it could lead to someone putting in a lot of effort and not seeing results, he says, adding that this could result in one giving up or ego lifting and courting injury. "Inadequate rest has big side effects," says Sawhney.
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According to an article published in the American Council of Exercise (ACE), not getting enough rest between sets compromises the quality of your future efforts. It could also increase the risk of developing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—that's the dull ache you feel all over your body the day after a weight training session. "For an individual new to exercise, DOMS creates the perception that exercise is painful, which could provide an excuse for failing to show up for the next class or training session," states the article.
So how long should you rest between sets? It depends a lot on what you want from your workout. Strength training with weights involves compound lifts like the bench press, squat, military press and deadlift. Since these workouts focus on building strength, they are also more intense on the body. "Compound exercises need a long rest period when compared to isolation exercises," says Bala Krishna Reddy Dabbedi, co-founder and director, Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences, Pune. "You will be lifting heavier loads which will force you to do fewer reps," he adds, offering a ballpark figure of 3-5 minutes to recover from a set. If you don't recover properly, the chance of injury is very high, says Sawhney. "Your central nervous system (CNS) needs to recover too."
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Hypertrophy training, aka muscle building, lays emphasis on isolation exercises--like a bicep curl or a calf raise or a tricep extension--along with compound movements. Additionally, you lift moderately heavy weights, 75-80% of your one-rep max, and more reps. "You recover from those much faster," points out Reddy, adding that 45 seconds to a minute or so is enough to recover from these sets. When it comes to muscle endurance, where you use lighter weights or none at all, the rest interval required is even shorter—around 30 seconds or less. "For endurance, your rest needs to be minimal," says Sawhney. He offers the example of a 12-station circuit where one works for 40 seconds and rests for 20. "You want to build stamina here," he says.
And what about weight loss, my own pet goal. Sawhney laughs. "When you want to lose weight, however good your routine is, it is your nutrition that matters," he says, suggesting a mixture of strength training, HIIT and low-intensity cardio. However, the most important thing is this, "You have to be in a calorie deficit," he says.