The Guide To Training And Recovery At The Gym

Ever wondered if you’re training too much? Getting the balance right between overall training volume/intensity and recovery can be a precarious rope to walk. It’s as if your entire ability to make much-wanted gains is being held in delicate balance.

The reality is, to some degree, you just have a lot more scope that you think. Still, getting the mix right can be instrumental in your muscle growth and training progression.

I’m going to address two points:

  1. Overall training volume and recovery
  2. Intra-workout rest periods

On the first point, let me start by saying most of the time training is going to serve to challenge your body to ‘grow’ and adapt. Growing might be actual physical growth, or expanding levels of fitness, etc. Therefore, by definition, exercise is a stressor on the body that, if abused can start to be detrimental. Your body will go into a form of shutdown and survival mode, where losing fat, building muscle and improving fitness just don’t register on the scale of importance.

We must take into account everything that your body sees as a stressor, and is acting to drain your energy and resources. This includes mentally stressful situations, poor sleep and nutrition. If the overall ‘stress load’ on your system is high, then smashing yourself with training may begin to have a negative effect. This is where listening to your body and knowing when to have adequate rest days applies.

Your individual situation and context will determine this, but most guys should be able to handle 5 sessions with reasonable volume and intensity each week, with 2 rest days. My broad recommendation is 3 gym/resistance sessions, 1 HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session and 1 cardio session to make your 5.

Your rest days can include light incidental activity like walking and yoga, and should definitely include remedial work such as mobility (foam roller/trigger point) and/or remedial massage. Aim for 30-45 minutes at least of these exercises over those 2 days.

Key take homes messages are to assess the demands on you both mentally and physically to better understand your need for recovery and rest days. Always include a light week every 4-8 weeks of lifting, depending on the above context.

Instead of rest periods being determined by selfies or facebook scrolling, we want to educate ourselves depending on the desired outcome. Keep in mind we may have different lengths of time between sets and between exercises. However, the same rules generally apply to both. Below is a simple table to guide you:

Rest Period Guide
Strength – max
Longer; 60-120s between sets
Medium; 45-70s
Strength – endurance
Shorter; 30-60s
Fat loss
Variable, usually shorter to maintain intensity
Fitness – anaerobic*
Longer; variable, but around a 1:3-1:1 work:rest
Fitness – aerobic *
Shorter; variable, but around 3:1-1:1 work:rest
Minimal – lots of work time:little rest

*This will depend on many things, but looking at work time (and effort) compared to rest time. For example you could work anaerobically for 20s with 60s rest at 95% effort, or you could do 20s at 80% with 20s rest. As for aerobic you could do 3mins on/1min off, or 1min/1min dependant on intensity. There is no ideal here; it depends on you and your goals.

**This includes anything around your postural muscles/’core’ that will be needed for long work periods.

Key take homes to note are that the more explosive the exercise the longer the rest, whereas the longer/slower, the shorter the rest – as a general guide. But first and foremost look at your goals, then look at the demands on your energy (and time) and factor these into how you plan your workload and subsequent rest and recovery.

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