Research on recovery periods shows that shorter rest intervals within sets, termed intra-set rest periods, are better for muscle strength and power improvements than longer traditional between-set rest periods, suggesting that both health and exercise professionals and enthusiasts reconsider how they use recovery periods.
Intra-set rest periods are breaks within resistance training sets. They usually range from 10 to 120 seconds and are in direct contrast to traditional rest periods between sets that can last up to five minutes. The advantage of the intra-set rest training method is that it allows for minimal muscle recovery during the set. Although the allowed muscle recovery is not complete, the intent of an intra-set rest period is to provide the exerciser with rest and the opportunity to finish the target set and number of repetitions with the original weight versus reducing the weight and/or the number of repetitions. The goal is to coax the muscle to produce greater overall force within a shorter time period resulting in greater strength and power improvements.
What Does the Research Say?
Intra-set rest periods are a current topic of interest among researchers. One study set out to determine if resistance training with intra-set rest breaks produced greater increases in muscle strength and power compared to traditional rest breaks between sets. The researchers examined 22 men ranging in age from 25 to 65 years. Participants were assigned to 12 weeks of resistance training using either traditional, between-set rest breaks or intra-set rest breaks. Strength (one repetition maximum, or 1-RM) on the bench press and squat, and power output (60% 1-RM) on the bench press and squat were measured before the study began and again after four, eight and 12 weeks of resistance training. The results showed that the 60-second intra-set rest breaks resulted in greater strength gains and power output in the bench press and squat than the 120-second traditional between-set rest breaks. These findings are important because they indicate that smaller intra-set rest intervals may be more effective for muscle performance, specifically strength and power improvement than longer between-set rests (Oliver et al., 2013).
Intra-set rest periods, in contrast to typical between-set rest periods, are best suited for individuals with resistance-training experience who are focused on muscle strength and power development. However, that is not to say that intra-set rest periods are not suitable for people with other goals. This technique can also be used as a novel way to modify individual workout sessions for beginning exercisers and those who are short on time. Intra-set rest periods are an effective and time-efficient way to allow recovery during a workout without reducing total training volume and/or intensity. For beginning exercisers, allowing rest without reducing intensity and volume increases the effectiveness of the workout without compromising safety.
Using Intra-set Rest Periods to Modify Common Training Methods
Intra-set rest periods can be used to modify common training methods such as supersets, for example, where two exercises, preferably for the same muscle groups, are done back-to-back in quick succession and block training methods. In contrast to supersets, block training methods consist of multiple sets of one exercise performed back-to-back. Three sets of 10 shoulder presses in a row is one example of a block set. Here are additional examples of each training method using intra-set rest periods:
Supersets: three sets of 10 squats and seated knee extensions each alternated using 10- to 60-second intra-set rest periods
Block training: four sets of 10 squats each using 10- to 60-second intra-set rest periods
The principle of progressive overload states that for workouts to be effective, muscles must continually be overloaded over time or they will adapt and plateau. Intra-set rest periods provide a way to progress workouts and programs safely and effectively. A suggested programming approach is to increase the weight 5–10% and ask the client to start the set. If the client struggles, indicating that the weight is too heavy to complete the set, allow a 10- to a 120-second rest break, preferably staying on the low range of the rest period, and proceed.
Intra-set rest periods are a great way to develop muscle strength and power, modify training sessions, maximize time, and progress workouts and programs. However, they are not a substitute for rest and recovery days, and health and exercise professionals and enthusiasts should continue to follow the standard recommendation of 48 hours rest and recovery following high-intensity resistance training.
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Oliver J.M. et al. (2013). Greater Gains in Strength and Power with Intraset Rest Intervals in Hypertrophic Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27, 11, 3116-3131.