If you've wondered what circumstances call for "active rest" (taking it easy while still moving) versus "static rest" (stopping completely) between sets, let us clear something up right now; static rest is never the ideal choice.
For that 60- to 90-minute period while you're working out, the only reason you should come to a full and complete stop would be an emergency situation (as in, you're about to pass out).
That said, there's so much more to your rests than simply resting. Just how much should you decrease the intensity? How should you be moving your body? Does it depend on the nature of your workout? We asked Hicham Haouzi, certified personal trainer and Tier 4 Coach at Equinox Columbus Circle to weigh in.
"Resting periods during workouts serve two purposes," Haouzi says. "To get your heart rate down, and to reduce the buildup of blood lactate"—the natural byproduct of exertion that makes your limbs feel like spaghetti and can cause muscle cramps, soreness and joint pain.
Here, four ways to ensure your rests fulfill their duties:
Monitor your heart rate
Rests during workouts train your heart to slow down quickly—an important signifier of your fitness level. Regardless of the nature of the exercise you're doing, recovery periods should get your rate to approximately 65 percent of your heart's max.
Mind the clock
Recovery periods should last anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes, depending on the power of your workout. If you're doing intense cardio intervals that make your ticker pound at 90 percent of its potential, then you might need all 120 seconds to get back to that 65 percent range. Rocking some squats? Then maybe you only need a minute. (Holding dumbbells, too? Bump it up to 90 seconds.) The point: Rests shouldn't be indefinite. Over time you develop a sense for matching active periods with the appropriate recovery.
Weave it in
You know how your group fitness instructor has you take your weights to the rack after all those lunges, or put your mat back when you're done with abs? She's not a neat freak. She's sneaking in some active rest. Build that movement into your rest routine by cycling through a circuit of, say, five to eight different exercises. The 15 to 20 seconds it takes you to get from one station to another is your active rest. "If you do 30 minutes total for your workout, then you get five minutes of active rest without even realizing it," Haouzi says.
Do what feels good
Active rest doesn't have to mean walking (or running in place at the traffic light). Haouzi often has clients stretch any muscles that feel tight, work compressed tissues on a foam roller or do yoga poses that offer relief from whatever resistance work they're focusing on that day. "I'll even put clients' water bottles across the room so they have to walk to get to it," Haouzi says. "It's about staying both physically and mentally engaged while you rest."
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