Right after “Who does she think she is? Where does she get off giving fitness advice?” (Answer: I’m a total nobody! And I try never to give advice. If anything, I live as an example of what not to do.) the criticism I get the most is “It’s hard to trust her experiments since she doesn’t always follow the workouts/diets the way they’re written.” Guilty as charged! And exuberantly so!

My Experiments are woefully unscientific but what I lack in rigor I like to think I make up for in entertainment. After all, have you ever found a workout that calls for sparkly tutus and neon sunglasses? I love to workout and part of the reason for that is because I make the workouts adapt to my life not the other way around. And part of my life happens to be my short attention span. I blame Saved By the Bell. (All your problems solved in 30 minutes or less – and in lacy bike shorts!)

But I can totally understand the (un)scientific frustration and for those of you who are ever bothered by my adapting various workouts to be what I want them to be (condensing Rachel Cosgrove’s 16-week plan into 8 weeks, mixing four separate workouts to come up with the Ballerina Experiment, refusing to ever do a lat pulldown no matter what the workout says), rest assured that the Gym Buddies share your frustration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Are we doing this the real way or the Charlotte way?” Allison’s taken to checking up on some of the workouts I bring in on her phone just to make sure I’m not accidentally-on-purpose making them harder.

Which is why “Step away from the dumbbells Charlotte! It’s not time yet!!” was a common refrain on the weight floor the past two weeks as we’ve started The New Rules of Lifting for Women. Gym Buddy Krista even threatened to tackle me.

“Can’t we just cut it down a little bit?” I’d whine. “They’re soooo long!”

And no, I’m not complaining about how long the workouts are (they’re pretty short actually – 30 minutes or less most days). I’m whining about the rest periods. For some reason Alwyn Cosgrove is insistent on the rest periods between sets and between workouts. He strongly cautions against rushing through from one exercise to the next and instead mandates anywhere from 60 seconds to 115 seconds between every single set.

Do you know how long 115 seconds is? It’s 5 seconds shy of two minutes. Did I mention that’s between every set? It’s making me NUTS. Two minutes is not long enough to get into a really good conversation about potty training and yet it’s far too long to stand there and “heeyyy” at each other. Maybe I should bring in my knitting? Remember, I’m the girl who can’t sit still through an entire movie and those are made to be entertaining!

This has long been an issue for me. Back when we were doing Lindsey’s barf circuits, she instructed us to rest 1 minute between each circuit. Not for this girl! I’d sprint from one station to the next and the Gym Buddies, feeling compelled to keep up with me, would run too. We could finish a 45-minute workout in 30 minutes? Score! “You know,” Krista said once as we panted and tried not puke. “These probably wouldn’t make us barf if you’d take the dang rest.” Suffice it to say, the day I learned about super-setting was the happiest day of my weightlifting life.

But this is probably where the answer to the first question people ask about me comes into play. I’m no fitness expert. Obviously. The only college level exercise class I took was sports psychology (fascinating, by the way!). I have a degree in computer science for pity’s sake. And, you know, Alwyn’s an actual expert with vetted credentials and stuff. So Krista’s right, there’s probably something to this whole waiting business. He wouldn’t have us wait that long just to be contrary would he? Would he??

He doesn’t explain the reasoning behind his prescribed rests in his book so I looked it up. Says Livestrong, “Inadequate time between sets results in decreased performance and possible clinical symptoms such as nausea.” Hmm…there’s that nausea thing again. But I would like to point out that I feel totally ready to go and not in the least nauseous after 30 seconds. Max.

Quoth the American College of Sports Medicine, “the duration of rest period significantly influences the metabolic, hormonal and cardiovascular responses to a short-term bout of resistance exercise.” Okay, but how exactly? My gut says that more is better so if I can handle no rests that would be best metabolically right? (Duly noted: my gut was also what told me double cardio was a good plan, that eating like a squirrel was healthy and that I could pull off a funky mod-Buddhist-monk sheath I found at the thrift store. Fail on all fronts.)

From Livestrong again: “Strength goals require high loads, few repetitions and full recovery periods, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Hypertrophy goals require moderate loads, high volume and short to moderate rest periods. Muscular endurance programs require low intensity, high volume and very short rest between sets. Time between sets is goal-specific and affects overall results.”

Rest periods are goal-specific? Now you’re talking. I don’t care a whit about hypertrophy. Muscle endurance is useful for some things. But do I want to get stronger? Heck to the yes! So that requires… “full recovery periods.” So fine. I need rest. But how much?

Weight Lifting for Dummies advises, “If you’re a beginner, rest about 90 seconds between sets to give your muscles adequate time to recover. As you get in better shape, you need less rest — only about 30 seconds — before your muscles feel ready for another set.” But I’m not a beginner, so what’s up with the 115 seconds?

Long story short, I read a lot of books and a lot of web sites and I just confused myself further. (Although I did learn that apparently a) the US sucks at weight lifting and b) not using proper rests between sets was the reason for our slide into ignominy. The Russians are pretty much professional rest-ers. And they are also the country that invented vodka … coincidence?)

Help me out – are rest periods between sets really that important? Why? And how long? Any of you impatient like me and prefer to make every weight workout into a circuit? Anyone else totally unable to sit still through an entire movie?

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  1. I am a very impatient person. I even found the article to be a bit lengthy, lol. I too like to do circuit training as opposed to 1 lifting exercise at a time. My circuits usually involve compound movements and body weight exercises. When it comes to strictly weightlifting, you have to rest so you can recover for the next set. If your body doesn’t feel compelled to rest, I would think you’re not lifting heavy enough.

  2. It’s a fact that we all have to pay attention to our bodies so for some it’s a 2 min rest and for others their bodies may recover quicker within a minute. This is why I always have my heart rate monitor on with a timer so I know when I ready to go again.

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