“Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel,” wrote Shakespeare in Henry V. “They will eat like wolves and fight like devils.”
Given a choice, I do not think these fierce warriors would have gone to a fast food joint to get their beef. It has been established that the average McDonald’s customer finishes his meal in a little over ten minutes. I wonder if there is an inverse relationship between the quality and the time it takes to consume it? I know that in strength training there is — a kid who rushes from set to set will never get strong.
As a reaction to the fast food trend, Italian food writer Carlo Petrini launched a “slow food” movement to promote leisurely meals to enjoy the company of one’s friends and family and even to taste the food. Perhaps we should do the same in strength and even conditioning?
The 3 Types of Rest Intervals According to Russian Science
Russian sports scientists identified three types of rest intervals within a session (Matveev, 1991):
- Ordinary interval. It provides “relative normalization of the function.” By its end the work capacity approaches the level before the previous exercise bout, to the point where neither the quality nor the quantity suffer.
- Stress interval. “Its duration is so short that the next load [set] is overlaid onto the remaining functional activity of certain systems of the organism caused by the previous load [set]. As a result, the effect of the next load [set] is increased.” This interval is shorter than the ordinary one, obviously. Performance does not have to go down but it comes from a greater effort.
- Stimulation interval is the shortest interval after which the performance increases. Note that this is increase is short term rather than long term (facilitation rather than supercompensation). As fatigue sets in, facilitation stops taking place.
Note that the same given time interval may change with fatigue — from stimulation to ordinary to stress.
In elite weightlifting and powerlifting stress rest intervals are very rare. The only high profile example I can think of is Louie Simmons’ “dynamic effort day.”
A stimulation interval is most common among American powerlifters, especially those following the classic 1980s methodology of Coan & Co. They would think nothing of taking twenty minutes between heavy sets of squats and Soviet research supports this practice in this context. Hippenreiter (quoted in Zimkin, 1975) had his subjects do an all-out set of military presses. Their ability to repeat their performance was still down by 10% on the seventh minute. By twelfth minute the work capacity exceeded the initial value and stayed up until the 25th minute.
It must be stressed that the above timing applies all-out sets; recovery is much quicker in sets stopped far from failure, as is the case in Olympic weightlifting. Ordinary intervals are standard in that sport. “Multiyear research has demonstrated that rest intervals usually range from 2 to 5 minutes. The next set should be performed when the athlete is subjectively ready for it.” (Medvedev, 1969) Other authorities like Vorobyev (1981) were in total agreement.
A number of Russian powerlifters, including the national team, follow a training methodology derived from the Soviet weightlifting one. As expected, they practice ordinary rest periods (although they appear to be stress intervals to Westerners). Consider these recommendations by Sheyko (2008):
80% 1RM x 5 reps/2 sets—2-3min
75% 1RM x 5/5—4-5min
90-95% 1RM x 1-2—5-7min
Any experienced American powerlifter will tell you that the first is nearly impossible and the second is brutal. Not so to Russians, due to their high work capacity developed by their training methodology (a topic for another conversation). For them these are ordinary intervals.
Rest Completely to Achieve Your Potential
In summary, if you are only practicing incomplete recovery between your sets of strength exercises, you will never achieve your potential. Density protocols certainly have their place in hypertrophy training — but they are an equivalent of fast food, to be consumed only occasionally. Most of the time your rest periods should be ordinary (you feel recovered) or stimulating (much longer than whatever your “feelings” are telling you). An example of the former is ladders; of the latter grease-the-groove.
Next time we will talk about the benefits of longer rest periods for “conditioning.” Until then, practice “slow rest” and enjoy your strength gains!