- Use a stopwatch for rest intervals
One simple but effective way to improve the effectiveness of your workout is to use a stopwatch.
Two things are true when it comes to rest intervals – people rest too much during hypertrophy work and they don’t rest enough to improve performance in strength and power work.
For the latter, people jam-pack their 3-minute rest between sets of heavy strength work with conditioning work and they’re fatigued for the next set. This isn’t what you want if you’re truly trying to improve the maximum amount of weight you can lift. Take the rest, maybe use some easy filler work like activation or mobility drills that help and not hinder performance. (Don’t do planks between sets of bench press, for example)
On the other end of the spectrum people will get distracted or just find the hypertrophy work too hard and the 60 or 90 second rest becomes four minutes and the metabolic stimulation they were aiming for is blown and they’ve missed the boat. Maybe you need an extra 5 seconds to get your mind right for the last set of 20 of some finisher “pump” work; that’s fine, but doubling the rest period changed the outcome of the set.
Use a timer and stick to your planned rest periods as close as possible.
- Drive intensity through density training
Another way to use a timer to manage the intensity of a lift is for density sessions. Set a timer for 10 minutes, pick 2-3 exercises and loads you can manage 8-12 reps with and go to town, getting as many reps in as possible. Try to beat it the following week and the next after that.
This can be done with a longer duration and more exercises or repeat the 10 minutes with different exercises.
Usually if the goal is to do more work the workout gets longer but this way the workout stays 10 minutes long (or 20) and you can safely cram more work into the allotted time.
A simple bodyweight upper body density workout is chin ups and push ups. Set the 10-minute timer and do as many chin ups as you can while leaving 1-2 in the tank, then drop down for push ups in the same manner. Take whatever rest you need and keep going back and forth totalling all the reps for the workout.
To add in some rest for the upper body you could complete 20 frog pumps between sets, it makes your rest time productive and allows you a few more seconds to recover. Your call.
- Work smarter, not harder
One meaning for this is don’t waste your time with garbage reps. When your performance drops off, or you’ve hit your max for the day, pack it up and move on.
Abide by rest times and don’t add in unnecessary volume that can lead to injury and frying of your nervous system. The more is better motto generally doesn’t hold up long term in the weight room.
Remember the law of diminishing returns. Each subsequent set provides less return. If 4 sets is good it doesn’t mean that 12 is better. You might be able to get away with 5 or even 6 but you need to pay attention to overall volume.
- You might need to work harder…
If you’re not making progress it’s possible that you are doing too much and need to back off. Work smarter, not harder right?
However, in some cases people just aren’t working hard enough. Maybe you’ve taken the mantra to the extreme and you actually do need to work harder.
I’m a fan of using the minimum effective dosage approach, especially when life doesn’t allow for much extra volume but if you’re not even hitting the minimum dosage with reasonable intensity you won’t see much progress.
You don’t need to annihilate yourself every workout; you don’t need to crawl home dripping sweat every time. On the other hand, though, workouts shouldn’t look like the technique videos coaches post online. Making progress requires effort. As Tony Gentilcore would say, lifting weights isn’t supposed to tickle.
If you’ve stalled out for a while then it’s time to take an honest look at your training journal and see if you’ve been trying to get too smart and stopped working hard altogether. (Oh you don’t have a journal? Maybe start there and look back every so often)