One of my favorite winter sports is skiing. I just love getting out into the great outdoors. I especially love being on mountains and breathing in the cold, clean air while working my body thoroughly as I ski down the slopes. Because skiing requires mental concentration, it is, what I call, an effective “mind flush”.
In other words, it doesn’t allow me to think about anything else. I find that participating in skiing takes my mind off things for a while, which charges my batteries for when I get back to Labrada Nutrition. I put a lot of energy into helping others get into the best shape of their lives!
I’ve been accused by my ski companions of trying to “muscle” my skiing too much. That is, I use my legs too much. I guess it’s the bodybuilder in me. Needless to say, by the time I make a run down the mountain, I’m totally out of breath and my quads are totally pumped. At this point, I’m loving life.
But while skiing is a lot of fun, you just can’t keep me out of the gym. It’s just that I love the feeling of training my body and I’m sure that you do, too. We share that same passion for staying in shape and being fit!
My friend, Mike Monetti, joined me for my workouts. Mike is quite a guy. Even though he’s in his 50’s, he has a physique that would rival that of many young men in their 20’s. He stays physically active, skiing or mountain biking several hours per day followed by intense training in the gym. Mike wasn’t always in this great of shape.
Anyhow, Mike and I were working out and he asked me to point out a few things to him so he could improve his workout. I pointed out two common mistakes that most trainees make at one time or another. When these mistakes are corrected (and they are very simple to correct) it usually results in a doubling of the gains that the trainee gets from his workout.
Let’s take a look at these two common pitfalls.
1) One is too much rest in-between sets.
If you rest too long in-between sets, you will not generate sufficient intensity from your workout to stimulate muscle growth. The result is stagnation, i.e., the state in which you simply do not progress.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you don’t rest sufficiently in-between sets, you rapidly exceed your cardiovascular capacity. In other words, you run out of breath and be unable to get an effective workout.
So you see, both extremes (too much rest, or not enough) are bad. What then constitutes a proper in-between-sets rest period?
I use a simple rule of thumb. Some of you who are familiar with my training systems know that I always harp on the fact that you should rest only long enough to catch your breath in-between sets. It should be your primary goal, from the time you begin your workout, until you finish, to fatigue the target muscle group more and more with each successive set.
Obviously, the amount of time it takes you to catch your breath in-between sets is going to be dependent on the exercise you are performing. For instance, if you’ve just completed a set of bicep curls, it may only take you only 45 seconds to a minute to catch your breath. But if you’ve just completed a set of squats using maximum poundage and intensity, you may be breathing like a locomotive for three or four minutes.
So, whenever people ask me, “How long should I rest in-between sets?”, I like to tell them, “Long enough to catch your breath.”
If you are not already working out with this tempo, give it a try. What you’ll notice is that the fatigue levels in your muscles will build up considerably. You’ll also note that your cardiovascular system is taxed a little bit more. Don’t worry if your poundages actually go down. This is common because the intensity is increasing early in the workout, within the first few sets. Hence, the muscle will be tired towards the end of the workout, which will diminish your ability to perform repetitions. Once your body adapts to the pace, you should quickly be able to go back up on the poundages.
2) The other mistake a lot of trainees make is performing the negative portion of their exercises in too rapid a fashion.
The negative (or eccentric) portion of a repetition is that portion of the repetition during which the muscle is lengthening under tension.
In the case of a biceps curl, this would correspond with the part of the exercise during which the weight is being lowered. Look at yourself in the mirror while doing bicep curls, and you’ll notice that your biceps are lengthening as you lower the weight. This is the eccentric part of the repetition. In other words, the muscle is lengthening under tension.
By lowering the weight too quickly, you rob yourself of the most productive portion of the exercise.
Research has proven that the majority of the benefit of weight training is a result of the eccentric portion of the repetitions involved in the training program.
By slowing down and accentuating the eccentric, or lowering portion of each exercise, you can effectively increase intensity. And remember, if the intensity of the workout increases, so should your results.
How fast then should you perform a negative repetition?
As a rule of thumb, take approximately one to two seconds to lift the weight, and two to three seconds to lower it. The weight should always be lowered under control.
Let’s talk about intensity again. Intensity can be defined as the work performed in any given set amount of time. To increase the work then, we can:
a) increase the poundage used on exercise,
b) increase the volume or the number of sets
c) decrease the amount of time it takes us to do the work, or
d) decrease the speed of our repetitions, creating more tension in the muscles.
I left Mike with these thoughts and was delighted to hear from him a few days later when he called and said that he had experienced tremendous soreness from resting less in-between sets and slowing down his repetitions. Soreness is a sure sign that you are training hard enough to create muscle growth.
Next time you workout, try these two things: decrease the rest in-between sets to just long enough to catch your breath and secondly, slow down on the negative portion of each repetition. I think that you’ll notice a dramatic improvement in your results!
Until next time, I am
Your Lean Body Coach™
About the Author
One of the world’s most well-known and celebrated bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 professional bodybuilding titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. He is one of few pro bodybuilders in history to consistently place in the top four at the Mr. Olympia competition (the “Super Bowl” of bodybuilding) for seven consecutive years—a feat he shares with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert.
Lee was also inducted into the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame, is an Internationally known best selling fitness authos and holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. For more about Lee please visit his page here: Lee Labrada’s page.