Time and Place for Everything, Rest is Key!


by: Samuel Jenkins

Resistance training or working out with weights may conjure up images of nonstop effort and sweat. This can be true, but a proper training session and program should also look to rest your body and help optimize the actual work done. This will help ensure proper technique, safety, and continued progress overtime. Rest comes in many forms and can be anything from pausing to catch your breath to taking a few days off so your body can recover.

Are you training for walking/running/swimming or to lift weights? Depending on your goals, the amount of rest you give yourself will vary dramatically. If training in a continuous manner, walking/swimming, it is okay to go nonstop at 50-80% of your maximum heart rate as long as your body feels okay. Just remember pacing and comfort are key. It is possible to train every day using a continuous method, but don’t ever push yourself too hard on any given day, this way, you allow your body to recover properly. Short rest durations (30-90 seconds between sets) may be used if you are short on time, this will typically takes the form of lighter weights, or even body weight.  In this instance, a higher repetition count such as 8-12 is a good rule to go by. If you are trying to train for strength/power/muscle size, the more weight will mean less repetitions, think 3-5 repetitions. So the more weight lifted or the quicker the movement the more rest you will need (2-5 minutes of rest between sets). These are good rules of thumb for just one session, but rest on a longer scale should be considered as well. If you have trained extremely hard for a day or had a stressful day at work, it also may be best to build in a couple of days to let your body recover properly.

stress You may feel like the world around you has lead you to believe we must absolutely destroy our body for it to be considered exercise. The fact of the matter is, if you are already stressed out or living off of just a couple of hours of sleep, it may be best for you to just rest for a couple of days. The world we live in today can be very stressful, and stress in its many forms robs us of our energy. This means that if you train on an abnormally stressful day, you are working with half of the fuel you would normally have in your tank. This is not to mention chronic, long-term, stress which can slowly decrease your well-being over time and lead to overtraining.

Training with little rest may also seem like a recipe for quicker fat loss because of the increase in heart rate and immediate calorie expenditure. However, this can be self-defeating, especially if you have had previous experience with weight training. Bigger muscles force your body to burn through more calories at rest, because the relative amount of energy burned within a single workout session is small in comparison to the amount of calories needed to burn 1 pound of fat. One 30 minute workout of nonstop action using circuit training will only amount to 500 calories burned (Walking at a brisk pace for 1 hour, 3.5 mph, or running for 25-30 minutes at 5 mph will burn about 500 calories too), while to lose a pound of fat you need to burn 3500 calories. So for you to lose just 1 pound of fat, you would need to do the same circuit session 7 times or walk/run the equivalent of that.


Now this may leave you feeling daunted and overwhelmed, but there is a way around it. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? The turtle went slow and steady and the rabbit shot out of the gates, but the turtle ultimately won the race. The same concept is true of your body! If you slowly but surely build a strong foundation of muscle within your body, you will ultimately burn more calories throughout the day than any single bout of exercise could possibly give you. According to a study done looking into metabolic rates of major organs and tissue, 1 pound of muscle burns approximately 6 calories per hour, while 1 pound of fat burns about 2-4 calories. By itself this isn’t a huge expenditure of calories, but over the course of one day, one month, or one year, this extra pound of muscle can make a difference. You can combine this with light physical activity on your rest days. Or you can incorporate an active recovery into your training sessions, which should be in the form of less intense exercise such as a standing instead of sitting, a slow walk, or lifting with light to no weight. With rest and recovery as a key ingredient, we can create a recipe for a more enjoyable workout experience that will make you feel better and will lead to a progressively healthier lifestyle. Let’s build off small positive successes which can ultimately need to profound positive change.

Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Health Studies department