As a novice lifter I have had to overcome a significant amount of roadblocks in my first few years.


Whether it was changing gyms, getting a new coach, being exposed to numerous lifting philosophies or keeping training consistent while traveling there have been countless roadblocks for me as a new lifter.

No matter what was thrown at me, I kicked it in the face due to some serious determination and hunger for strength gainzzzz.

Along with determination, I attribute a large amount of my lifting success to incredible coaches I have had.

In fact, if you read my article about the importance of getting a coach you understand my affinity for learning and being coached.


I thrive when coaches tell me to “point my toes” in gymnastics, to “get deeper” in my squat, to “drive through my heals” in the deadlift and  to “set up higher” when I flip.

The one correction I can’t seem to make and the one cue I hear repeatedly from coaches is “Garrett, slow down!”

And that’s it:

My biggest, recurring roadblock has been learning to take ample rest.

As a former cardio queen I suck at resting.

And while I fully understand that various types of energy systems (alactic, lactic, aerobic) require specific types of rest, I struggle to take enough time resting between lifts.

Read on to see how there is much truth to this statement. (hint: if you rush through lifts as a powerlifter your work isn't done because since you rushed, you left weigh off the bar that should have been on there!)

Read on to see how there is much truth to this statement. (hint: if you rush through lifts as a powerlifter your work isn’t done because since you rushed, you left weigh off the bar that should have been on there!)

I want to just go, go, go and keep going, you know?

However, if my goal is to get stronger in the sport of powerlifting I need to rest more, period.

Maybe you have a similar issue?

Maybe you hadn’t thought about rest periods when lifting.

This article will help you understand how to rest depending on what type of lifting you are doing.

We will cover how to construct your rest periods when training for strength, hypertrophy (bigger muscle size), or conditioning (aerobic exercise).


Exercise rest periods: everything you need to know.

1. Maximal strength training

What does maximal strength training mean?

It means doing explosive work for few repetitions.

Three to six reps is the general range for training maximal strength.

The goal is to use as much explosive force and power as possible. You should feel like you are you are lifting the heaviest thing you can handle.

Some people who train this way are powerlifters, football players or sprinters of some type.

Maximal strength training uses your alactic system (which is powered by creatine phosphate, ATP stores).

This energy system provides energy for the first 10 to 12 seconds of intense work before it is depleted and your lactic system kicks in.

If you are doing incredibly hard exercise for 10-12 seconds, you are using this energy system.

How do you rest?


This energy system requires three to five minutes of rest for complete phosphagen recovery.

And this is why I stink at rest periods.

Three to five minutes is basically an entire song!

Waiting this long between has been the biggest change for me as a new lifter.

When you consider my past cardio bunny days, (and if you too are someone who regularly  does cardio like running or cycling) 10-12 seconds of work seems like a very short amount of time to be followed by  three to five minutes of rest.


Resting for three to five minutes has been the hardest thing for me to get used to in maximal strength training.

When I first started lifting, I wanted to put the deadlift bar down, jog to the pull-up bar and do a set, skip back the the deadlift bar and crush five more reps and then bang out some push ups.

I didn’t get it. I thought resting longer meant I was out of shape or lazy.



Not the case.

Here’s an analogy that might help demonstrate why resting really is important for maximal strength:

Let’s say you have a headache so you take two Advil pills at 1 p.m.

You wouldn’t take two more at 1:30 p.m. right?

Your body isn’t ready for more Advil; adding more to your system 30 minutes later will not get rid of the headache any faster.

Your body can’t handle more and more won’t help; it might in fact hurt you.

But in four to six hours if the headache remains you will take more because the effect of the medicine will have worn off and now you can take more.


In the same vein, when it comes to maximal effort and maximal strength your alactic system needs to fully recover before you can produce maximal effort again.

Doing multiple sets of maximal effort lifts leads to new strength gains.

Doing more reps closer together or back-to-back will not make you stronger or better.

But maybe you don’t feel tired?

If you have a strong aerobic base (like me) you might not feel tired or winded. Or you might feel winded briefly and then feel totally fine heart rate wise.

However, in order to lift the same amount of weight or even increase the weight to perform another set you *need* to take the three to five minutes.

Heavy lifts take a huge toll on your body neurologically and, out of breath or not, without the ample rest you will inhibit your ability to lift that maximal load again.

After the deadlifts above (which take 12 seconds to complete), I needed to take the flu five minutes in order to do it again.

Leading up to the lifts in the video I had done two other sets of three repetitions at 215 and needed the three to five minutes of rest before hitting 225 in the third set of three.

The truth is, if you can do the same load again in less than three to five minutes rest time, it is not to say that you are stronger than everyone else, it means that you could be using much more weight than the load with which you are training.

If your ultimate goals is to get stronger, lift as heavy as possible and take ample rest.

I always play mental games with myself. For instance, when I bench, I tell myself I am pushing a burning piece of wood off of me to save  myself. When I need to rest I tell myself it's time for a coffee break :)

I always play mental games with myself. For instance, when I bench, I tell myself I am pushing a burning piece of wood off of me to save myself. When I need to rest I tell myself it’s time for a coffee break 🙂

Due to my poor resting abilities I have come up with several strategies to push myself to rest longer.

How to rest during a strength workout:

  • let one full song play (expert tip: make sure it’s a song you don’t LOVE. It it gets you pumped you’ll wanna lift to it).
  • make an instagram or Facebook post and wait for a few likes before you go again
  • chat with your lifting friends
  • watch another person do their lifts
  • get more chalk, check your email and drink water

It has taken me about a year to truly realize the importance and benefits of taking more rest time. When you are lifting very heavy weight it is a lot on your body.

Rest three to five minutes before you go again and you will uncover your true strength.

2. Hypertrophy and/or endurance

Training for hypertrophy is a fancy way to say that you are someone lifting weights to get bigger muscles.

You want to get as close to maximal effort as possible for longer than 10 seconds of work time.

This means building muscular endurance as well.

Working sets, whether you’re running a sprint or you are performing 12 heavy overhead presses,  are anywhere from 15 to 90 seconds in duration.

When lifting for hypertrophy you are in the 8 to 12 repetition range.

 The lactic anaerobic system powers these 15- 90 second work sets.


If you are sprinting for 60 seconds in my Barry’s Bootcamp class you are using this lactic anaerobic system.

You are trying to go as fast as you can near maximal effort for as long as possible without oxygen.

If you are doing high volume pull-ups you are using this anaerobic system. It’s a system that kicks in when the alactic system is spent but you aren’t using oxygen to do your work.

How do you rest?

When it comes to this type of training you need to take 30 to 60 seconds of rest.

This is my perfect case scenario.

I have enough time to chat briefly with someone or check my phone in between sets.

If I am doing a lifting circuit I have enough time to make my way to another piece of equipment if needed.

If I am on the Woodway at Barry’s, I can slow down the treadmill, walk for about 20 seconds and then start it up again for the second sprint.

The goal is to try and take the same amount of rest as you worked.

Sprint 30, rest 30.

Or, goblet squats for 60 seconds, rest 60 seconds.

Don’t worry about being perfect. For instance, if your 12 reps took you about 40 seconds to complete, taking one minute of rest isn’t the end of the world.


Ways to rest for hypertrophy:

  • get a sip of water
  • don’t walk too far from where you are lifting
  • towel off
  • get chalk quickly if you need it
  • check your phone briefly
  • make sure you at least take 30 seconds

Remember, doing it faster doesn’t make it better.

Being able to complete all the reps with good form makes you better.

3. Conditioning

Cardio comes in many forms. So long as your heart rate is up and you are breathing during exercise, you are doing cardio.

And while some people like to jog for cardio, others like to break up the work into various sets.

Ironically, conditioning is the most comfortable form of training for me. It’s what I know.

I use the word “comfortable” but I mean to say “familiar.” Conditioning is not comfortable but is cardiovascular exercise involving short rest periods that keep me moving which is how I have trained most of my years exercising.

You can do bodyweight exercises like jumping jacks, high knees, jumping rope and mountain climbers,  or you can also incorporate weights into you conditioning.

Don't get me wrong: while Ido strive to take more rest, I never quite get #crossfit tired. I don't have to  pass out. I just take time in between sets talking with friends, checking my phone or listening to music.

It is easier for em to want to take rest when conditioning because the work itself *feels* harder.

An example circuit of conditioning with weights or added resistance could look like this:

  • sled push
  • kettlebell swings
  • heavy farmer carries
  • goblet squats with speed focus
  • med ball slams

How long should you rest?

The answer is; it depends.

In most cases an equal work to rest ratio is recommended.

For instance, you could complete the circuit above doing each exercise for 30 seconds and resting for 30.

Sometimes people have a hard time figuring out how to make conditioning harder each week, how to measure it and how to see progress because the goal (if you are using weights) isn’t necessarily to go up in weight. It’s heart rate based.


To push yourself each week, begin by writing down your conditioning circuits and completing the same conditioning program (or programs) every week for three to four weeks.

In the third week of doing the program(s) the rest periods might start to feel easier; “easier” as in you feel ready to go again when you still have rest time remaining.

For example, if you were doing 30 seconds of ball slams followed by 30 seconds of rest and after resting 20 seconds you felt ready and able to complete 30 more seconds of ball slams you are making progress.

ball slams

So how do you challenge yourself when the goal is not to go up and use the heaviest weight?

1) Keep track of your reps per 30 seconds and try and beat your record each week.

2) Try and maintain the same number of repetitions per exercise each round you complete during the session. In example, if you do 20 kettlebell swings in 30 seconds, try to do 20 swings swings in the second, third and fourth rounds, etc.

3) Try to rest slightly less after three weeks. In example, try resting 25 seconds of rest per 30 seconds of work. Do not change it drastically. The ratios should stay close to equal.

4) Increase the weight slightly; pick a heavier weight which does not inhibit you from doing the same amount of reps you were doing in the first week. In example, increasing kettlebell size and still doing 20 swings.

Measurable progress is always the goal.


The goal of the rest periods during conditioning is to simply recover and find more breath so you can get right back into it for another round.

After four to five weeks you could change your work periods to 20 seconds, 40 seconds or 60 seconds for example and adjust rest periods accordingly.

Wrapping Up

To see measurable changes in your body, taking the appropriate rest in distinct types of training is key.

When you want to get measurably stronger, the idea is that the working weight or load is heavy enough that you cannot lift it again in only 30 seconds rest time.

If I completed four sets of six (4×6) deadlifts and only rested 20-30 seconds in between sets, I definitely could have handled more weight.


When it comes to hypertrophy training, you want to spend as much time under tension as possible.

For instance, if you want a bigger booty, doing sets of 12 hip thrusts with little rest between sets means you may not be thrusting the heaviest thing possible, but you will be keeping tension on the glutes for a considerable amount of time and with a challenging load to get more volume completed.

When it comes to conditioning with weights the goal is cardio with strength mixed in. Conditioning is aerobic exercise.

You want to set work and rest periods in conditioning to challenge your heart rate during the work set.

The rest is taken to recoup just enough before you go right back into it. Therefore, during the majority of the time you are doing your conditioning (say 20-40 minutes) your heart rate is elevated.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment below or email me with questions!




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