Want to Design a Killer Workout? Reduce the Rest Times and Burn 37% More Energy During Your Workout!

The squat may be a power exercise, but trust me, it will also help you to "look good naked"!
I guess it would be hilarious to call the simple insight that cutting the time you rest in-between sets during your squats can turn a regular into a killer workout would be news, right? Well, what about some figures to define "killer" as in one minute rest between sets vs. "regular" as in three minutes rest between sets squats, then? That's news, right; and we have to thank Nicholas A. Ratamess and his colleagues from the College of New Jersey for these insights.

I mean, huffing and puffing is one thing, but your subjectively perceived level of exhaustion and the very concrete, objectively measured data on the difference in energy expenditure and the contribution of aerobic (fat) and anaerobic (glucose) energy sources during a workout, as they are presented in the paper at hand, are two different animals.
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Apropos animal, you don't necessarily have to be a similar "animal" as the 22-year old subjects of the study at hand with their ~8-year training experience to perform the tightly controlled experimental workout, the researchers describe as follows:
"After BL [baseline] measures, each subject performed a warm-up consisting of 3 minutes of stationary cycling and 2–3 lightto-moderate sets (40–60% of 1RM) of the bench press and squat. Respiratory masks were temporarily removed from each subject during the warm-up to allow subjects to consume water one last time before initiating the protocols.

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The protocols consisted of performing 5 sets of the bench press and 5 sets of the back squat for up to 10 repetitions using 75% of their predetermined 1RM. The BP group performed the bench press first, whereas the S group performed the back squat first. For all exercises, resistance remained constant while total numbers of repetitions were recorded. Heart rate and oxygen consumption data were collected during the entire protocol. In addition, a linear position transducer (Tendo Sports Machines, Trencin, Slovak Republic) was attached to the bar to measure power and velocity during each completed repetition."
On each of the three occasions the subjects reported to the lap, a different rest interval was used. With 1-, 2-, and 3-minutes of rest in-between sets, the and a standard 2-minute RI was used in between exercises, the study represents more or less what I see trainees do at the gym on a daily basis, as well... ok, the lazy "I just want to be strong"-10-minutes-of-rest-between-sets-fat-ass was not accordingly represented in the study at hand, but let's be honest, how many of the average trainees do actually fall into this category? I mean, if you ask people why they are going to the gym, they will either lie or tell you that they are there to "look better naked".

"Looking good naked" is a valid training goal, folks - so admit to it!

For most people sculpting their body may be only one of the reasons, but in the end, it usually comes down to this and "health" or "fitness", when you're getting honest answers from gym users.
Figure 2: The amount of energy the trainees expended on bench presses and squats was significantly higher with the 1-min rest periods (17% and 36%, for squats; 8% and 18% for bench presses; data based on Ratamess. 2014)
Against that background, the insight that short rest periods lead to significant increases in energy expenditure is highly relevant (Note: The energy expenditure was calculated by multiplying the total VO2 for the session x 5.05kcal/L). Losing fat is after all number one on the "looking good naked" priority list of most trainees and in spite of the fact that you won't lose any fat without dieting, the 36% higher energy expenditure of the 1min vs. 3min rest time workout could make the difference between ordinary and outstanding fat loss results... in spite of the increase in the respiratory exchange ratio, an indicator of an increased anaerobic contribution to the energy expenditure, by the way!
And what about building muscle? There is insufficient data to draw a firm conclusion, but based on the few hardly comparable studies we have suggest that shorter rest times in the 1-2 minute realm are also associated with a more pronounced growth stimulus (Willardson. 2006; de Salles. 2009) and have either no or a hardly significant, yet positive effect on muscle growth (Ahtianen. 2005; Willardson. 2008). Resting for more than 2 minutes between sets does therefore make sense only if you are training for strength.
Short rest times + 6 Simple Rules of Reasonable Weight Loss = Succes!
Unfortunately, the myth that "burning fat" during exercise was in any way relevant to your weight / fat loss success is as die hard as it is stupid and flawed.

Especially for the leaner folks out there, "burning fat" is absolutely irrelevant. In fact, the whole HIIT research appears to suggest that short intense, highly glycolytic exercise regimen are more suitable to shed body fat for athletic individuals than arduous multiple-hour workouts in the non-existing (!) "fat burning zone".

The reason I still recommend LISS as a preferable type of cardio training for the advanced trainee with three to four resistance training sessions per week is that all the "high intensity stuff" (don't neglect your strength workouts!) is going to overtax the sympathetic nervous system. The classic light-intensity steady state (LISS) work, on the other hand, offers a welcome parasympathetic stimulus to balance all the intense explosive training you're doing at the gym.
Never train to burn fat! I know this article could create the impression that it would be worth going to the gym to "burn fat", but in the end, the main determinant of fat loss is your diet. If the latter ain't in check, all the training is not going to help. So, you better think of your workouts as the tool to control the fat / muscle loss ratio on a diet.
Bottom line: If "looking good naked" is your goal and "losing fat" among your top priorities, the results of the study at hand clearly support the longstanding wisdom that cutting back on your rest times will give you the edge.

You got to be careful, though, without cutting back on your energy intake and following the 6-simple rules of reasonable weight loss, you are not going to be very successful. No matter, if you rest for 1, 2, 3 or 20 minutes - diet and exercise, exercise and diet: If you want to look good naked, the two are simply the front and back of a single coin - you cannot separate them.
  • Ahtianen, Juha P., et al. "Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 19.3 (2005): 572-582.
  • de Salles, Belmiro Freitas, et al. "Rest interval between sets in strength training." Sports Medicine 39.9 (2009): 765-777.
  • Ratamess, Nicolas A., et al. "Acute Oxygen Uptake and Resistance Exercise Performance Using Different Rest Interval Lengths: The Influence of Maximal Aerobic Capacity and Exercise Sequence." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28.7 (2014):1875–1888.
  • Willardson, Jeffrey M. "A brief review: factors affecting the length of the rest interval between resistance exercise sets." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 20.4 (2006): 978-984. 
  • Willardson, Jeffrey M., and Lee N. Burkett. "The effect of different rest intervals between sets on volume components and strength gains." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 22.1 (2008): 146-152.
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