Take a look around a busy gym and you’ll notice that most people use their rest periods to check their phones. However, if you follow the advice below, you can make use of what is otherwise a period of dead gym time.
1. Go for a record
After every set, record the reps that you completed and the weight that you lifted. “It’s good for accountability,” says trainer Ashton Turner, founder of Evolve353 (opens in new tab). “It will help to show whether or not you’re progressing. Some people do the same workouts every week, but if you do that you’re unlikely to have the success you’re looking for. I get all our members to write down what they do - particularly for the big lifts such as the squat, deadlift and big pressing exercises.”
2. Stretch yourself
“A lot of people think stretching will only improve mobility, having no effect on muscle size, but that’s not the case,” says skeletal muscle expert Dr Jacob Wilson. “In a study at the University of Tampa, we made subjects stretch between sets instead of resting. One example is dumbbell flyes, where they would hold the muscles at the widest point of the rep to get a big stretch on their pecs. We found that it increased skeletal muscle mass drastically.” For best results, do it between your final two sets.
3. Get activated
“If you’re doing a deadlift I might get you to do clam drills between sets to activate the glutes,” says Turner. “It looks a bit like a Jane Fonda move but it works – the trick is to do things that activate rather than fatigue your muscles.” To do the clam, lie on your side with your knees bent. Raise your top knee, then lower it without letting your hips rock back and forth. Do six to eight reps, then swap sides.
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4. Time to mobilise
“I see rest periods as an opportunity to get in all the extra work that you need to do, such as mobility drills,” says Turner. “If someone is struggling to get depth in a squat, I would give them a stretch between sets.” With your back to a wall, lower into a lunge, using the wall to raise your lower leg off the floor and bring your back heel as close to your backside as possible.
5. Do a pre-lift list
Using simple perparation and visualisation techniques can help you lift heavier weight with better technique. “I recommend going through a checklist before you lift,” says Turner. “If you’re doing a deadlift that means thinking about foot position, the angle of your spine, recruiting the lats and bracing your core.” And while you’re thinking about your cues, visualise yourself performing the lift with perfect form.
6. Ignore your phone
Your rest period should not be a chance to check out your social feeds. “Checking your phone between sets takes away the intensity of a session,” says Turner. “You may be supposed to rest for 60 seconds, but if you go on Facebook and start watching a cat video you’ll end up resting for too long and not getting all the session’s work done. I always encourage people to focus on the workout.”
Joe Warner worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach, from 2008 to 2013, then returned as editor of Men’s Fitness UK from 2016 to 2019.
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