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Understanding the Difference Between Breaks and Rest In a Workout

Are you knowingly or unknowingly sneaking in breaks or extra rest periods during your workouts? Find out the difference between taking a break and resting and why it’s going to hurt you in the long run.

Suppose you are a long time CFC’er and you’ve been enrolled in the program for a while now. You’ve done well in the program but you feel like you might have hit a plateau and you are thinking that you can’t do any better with this program.

All of a sudden your trainer says something like: “Keep tension on that muscle” looking right at you! In your head, you think, I am… I’m doing great over here… but you aren’t! Without even realizing it, you’ve been taking little breaks after every 10th repetition.

Sure, you aren’t resting and that is why you think you are doing great, but your trainer caught you taking a break and called you out on it. Don’t fret, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.

Rest – Defined

Rest is the time you spend recovering between sets. Rest is a scheduled break in between sets or exercises. Rest allows the muscles to recover from the prior exercise as well as get ready for the next one. CFC trainers specify the rest period for optimal results and it may vary based on the type and duration of the exercises we are doing.

Breaks – Defined

Breaks are the instances where you stop doing the exercise, no matter how brief, and this allows the muscle(s) to recover or stop the burning sensation! These breaks are not planned or ‘authorized’ by your trainer.

As an example: during a set of 10 burpies, you might take #7 off but continue onto 10 after a few seconds. Another example is during a chest press, you might drop your elbows to your sides holding the bands in place therefor taking the tension off the pecs and allowing them to briefly recover before finishing the rest of the set.

Now that we understand the difference between a break and a rest, let’s talk about what to pay attention to and why too many breaks or too much rest is a bad thing. Whenever tension is released from the muscle, it instantly begins to recover. No matter how short the break is, the muscle will instantly begin the recovery process. The initial process is to clear out lactic acid. Lactic acid is what causes the burning sensation in the muscle. The build up of lactic acid is a good thing to a certain point and very often you can decide how much of a good thing this is.

You can choose to quit, or you can choose to continue to build up more acid by pushing through the burn. The benefit of doing so is the point of exercise! In order to gain strength and endurance, the muscle needs to be put in an ‘uncomfortable’ stressful situation by introducing a stimulus. The stimulus is introducing high reps or higher weight than what that muscle(s) is typically introduced to. When this situation occurs, the muscle grows in order to overcome that stimulus.

Defining growth a little bit more – the muscle will become more toned (endurance to do more reps) or become stronger by lifting more resistance.

Issues with resting occur when the rest period is too long, or too short. By keeping some lactic acid in the muscle you feel the burn longer and therefore build up your tolerance to the burn and end up being able to do more the next time you do that particular exercise. When you do not rest long enough, you may not flush out enough lactic acid and therefore your body can’t keep going because it can’t flush out the acid fast enough to keep going. If you build up too much acid, your body has no choice but to stop doing whatever it is it is doing. This is sort of your body’s safety mechanism which will not allow you to overdo it.

Pay attention to your rest period by focusing on:

  • Starting as soon as your trainer tells you to, not 5-10 seconds afterwards! In addition, during a timed event, don’t stop at 3, 2, or 1 when you know the countdown ends at 0! Squeeze that extra rep or two in before the end of that set!
  • Breaks – In your head, you might not be able to continue the exercise, but if you focus on it, you just might. The point is, push yourself. Typically, the trainers are not going to ask more of you than is possible (sometimes we do, but then we have more leniency towards your form and the breaks you take). If you do NEED a break, take it, but make it short and get back to it as quickly as possible. Then remember where you took that break because chance are we will be doing that exercise again in the future and you’ll want to push past that break point.

Breaks come in all sorts of forms: (and clients know all of them because you practice them all the time!).  The best way to take a break is listed first, with the worst way to take a break listed last:

  • Skipping a rep (or two) – here, you might hold the correct position (or not), but just skip a rep or two. An example might be during pushup; you hold the up position instead of going down like your trainer wants you to. The good point is that you are still engaged in the exercise using most of the muscles we want you to use. However, skipping that rep is something you want to get better at next time!
  • Breaking form or taking tension off of the muscle – An example of this is sticking your butt in the air during a plank, or allowing your shoulders to lurch forward during a row (instead of keeping a slight bend in the elbow and shoulder blades pinched together). Taking tension off the muscles being used is sometimes necessary but the less you do it the better. However, the good side of this form or a break is that it’s likely still working other muscles of that particular exercise.
  • Stepping away – this is where you totally avoid the execution of the exercise. For example: instead of dropping to your knees during a pushup, you just drop to the floor and lay there!

If you haven’t been sore in a while or feel like you have hit a plateau, try to pay closer attention to your breaks and rest intervals. Changing the habits associated with these may help you change your exercise experience! Tips for Maximizing Results:

  • Ask your trainer to help you identify your breaks
  • Take the minimum break necessary to gain the max benefit
  • Remember that releasing all of the tension off of a muscle during an exercise stalls your progress. Ask your trainer what the recommend rest position might look like for any given exercise
  • Push all the way through your timed sets. Don’t quit at the end, instead, push harder at the end
  • Be ready to go when the rest period is over and hit it as hard as you can when that timer starts up again!
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