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Your Fitness Training Programme… What Are You Missing? Part 4: Rest Periods & Tempos

Rest Periods

Getting your rest periods right is just as important as the work you put into your sessions. 

Exercise depletes your muscle’s glycogen levels.

If you are hitting the same muscle without giving it a chance to replenish its glycogen stores, you are not only going to be sore and fatigued but not effectively building muscle as they need glycogen to function properly. 

When we think about rest periods, this can be broken down into 2 sections: 

  1. Rest between exercises
  2. Rest between sessions
Rest Between Exercises

There are a few factors that will influence how long you might choose to rest between exercises from how much time you’ve got to complete a session to the reasoning for your session. 

If your goal is strength and power, 2-5 minutes between sets is advised to provide adequate time for your central nervous system to recover from the heavy load and be able to perform well in the next set. 

For hypertrophy, 30-90 seconds of rest between sets is recommended.

For muscular endurance, 30s or less is recommended.

The differing rest periods are based on which energy system the body uses to provide the energy to perform the work. 

The body uses three different energy systems and all are utilised during exercises, however, the amount each contributes depends on the intensity and duration of the exercises. 

If you are short of time or want to intensify your workout without increasing the volume, supersets, tri-sets or giant sets might be a good option. 

Superset = 2 exercises back to back then rest.

Tri-set = 3 exercises back to back then rest.

Giant set = 4+ exercises back to back then rest. 

We utilise supersets and tri-sets predominantly at The Barn, with pairings that mean you are not too fatigued to perform the second exercise to the desired intensity. 

Rest Periods Between Sessions

As mentioned in Part 1 when discussing volume, it is important to allow sufficient rest time between hitting muscle groups hard to allow for recovery and adaptation to occur. 

Have you ever struggled to walk up the stairs the day after a session? 

Or found opening the fridge door felt like hard work? 

This is possibly due to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

People sometimes strive for this feeling, associating a good workout with feeling sore the next day. 

This isn’t necessarily the case! 

Chasing after this feeling can be detrimental to your progress as if you are too sore to perform to your best ability in your next gym session, you are reducing the intensity and therefore impact of your session. 

DOMS is the soreness or aching feeling in the muscles which happens after unfamiliar or unaccustomed intense exercise. 

They are thought to be a sign of muscle damage and inflammation, with eccentric exercise being the biggest cause. 

The eccentric phase of a movement is the lowering part and recruits fewer motor units. 

Therefore, the force generated is distributed over a smaller cross-sectional area of the muscle, resulting in soreness (eccentric tempos are spoken more about below). 

This means whether you are a seasoned pro in the gym or a total beginner, you can suffer from DOMS. 

Making sure you give yourself 24-48 hours between training a specific muscle group is generally a good rule to follow. 

This allows for your muscle’s glycogen levels to replenish and the worst of the soreness to subside before exercising again. 


Tempo refers to the speed of one repetition of an exercise. 

It should be a key part of your workouts and if you or your trainer are not using tempos appropriately, you are missing out on getting the most out of every single rep. 

Time Under Tension (TUT) is all about how long it takes you to perform one exercise consecutively. 

Increasing or changing your TUT will manipulate the impact of the exercise. For example, taking 20s to perform 10 goblet squats compared to 60s to perform 10 changes the result you are getting from doing it. 

Research shows for building muscle, the optimal TUT is between 40-90s to enable a good training stimulus for hypertrophy.  

A slower tempo can reduce using momentum to perform a lift, isolate sticking points and ensure you get the most out of the eccentric phase. 

Having a prescribed tempo can also help to standardise your reps. 

Standardising your reps is incredibly important. 

If you are always lifting at a different speed, to a different depth, in a different way, how can you accurately track progress? 

Sticking to a set tempo for each rep helps you to really slow things down and make sure each rep looks identical, the only thing that should be changing as you progress through a set is the effort required! 

How are Tempos Written?

Tempos are usually written in four numbers – something like 3211 or 5010.

This is not some secret code for trainers, but understandably is confusing if you have never seen it before and do not know what it is referring to! 

First Number: [3]211

This always refers to the lowering phase of the exercise, regardless of where you start the exercise. For example, the lowering phase is the start of a squat, whereas you start a deadlift by lifting up. In the case of a deadlift, this [3] still means a 3s lowering phase. 

Second Number: 3[2]11

This is referring to any pause you should be taking after the lowering phase e.g. whether you are pausing at the bottom position of your squat or not. In this case, you could take a 2s pause. 

Third Number: 32[1]1

This is the ‘lift’ part of your movement, where you are returning back to that start position. 

e.g. on a squat, this is once you’ve reached the bottom position and are standing back up again. With a chest press, this is the part where you are pushing the weight back up towards the sky. This can be the hardest and slowest part of a lift, so the tempo might not be met, but it is dictating the intention of speed. 

Forth Number: 321[1]

This refers to any pauses you should take between the lifting phase. In most cases, this will be 0s or 1s, to ensure there is not lots of break between the reps. 

The tempo of reps is often overlooked and something we as trainers see done incorrectly.

Make sure you are counting a full second for your tempos and not rushing your lifts to get the most out of each rep! 

Need some support with creating the most effective fitness programme for yourself? Click ‘Enquire Now’ to speak to one of our trainers.


If you haven’t already make sure you read Parts 1 to 3 of this blog series to get the most from your training.

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