Suppose you are beginning a new workout program or have changed your routine. In that case, it can be difficult to determine if the intensity of the exercise is high enough for efficient fat burning and conditioning but not so high as to cause injury or burnout.
While there are many ways to evaluate how much effort you’re putting in during exercise, here’s one simple way that will help make sure you challenge yourself each time while avoiding injury:
Count The Reps
Although all forms of training use repetitions (reps) as their unit of work measurement, counting reps may be the best way to ensure that your body is working sufficiently hard during every set. This approach allows us to adjust our intensity throughout the workout to achieve the desired effect. To accomplish this goal, two factors must be adjusted during exercise:
1) The number of reps per set – Increasing or decreasing the amount of work performed in each set lets us regulate how much effort our body is expending on a particular exercise. This degree of control helps us avoid working too hard and risking injury and determine if that “extra rep” in each set may benefit future performance and strength gain.
2) The rest period between sets – Adjusting the time between sets also allows us to regulate how hard we’re working at any given moment during the workout without changing anything else about our routine. It’s ideal for those who find it difficult to constantly adjust the number of reps per set. If only one thing can be adjusted, use the rest period between sets over the number of reps per set for this reason.
This kind of dynamic control is possible because we can adjust more than one factor in a workout at any given time during exercise while still using the same exercise or routine (e.g., bench pressing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
Doing so helps maintain our interest and keeps us coming back to each session to form habits and progress rather than burn out and fill our free time with other endeavors.
The Rest Period
All forms of training involve an active period where repetitions are performed followed by a rest period where no work is being done. In training terminology, the active period is referred to as the “workout.” The rest period between sets is called a “set.”
The length of rest periods in most strength or resistance training protocols will vary depending on what type of program you’re using. Typically we’ll rest for just enough time so that our heart rate returns to near-normal levels and our breathing has slowed down before initiating another set.
The exact number of seconds or minutes we should rest depends on a lot of factors such as:
1) Which body parts are being trained (e.g., chest vs. back) – Muscles used with heavier loads and multiple joint movements require longer periods of recovery than muscles worked individually with lighter loads.
2) Which exercises are being used (e.g., bench press vs. spot reduction) – Our heart rate and respiratory rate will vary depending on the type of exercise performed, so some exercises will naturally require longer rest periods than others.
3) How often a muscle group is trained in a week or month (e.g., 3x/week chest workout) – The more frequently we train a particular muscle, the less exertion it will require to achieve fatigue and permit adequate recovery before our next session.