Q&A: Pause Between Repetitions

Dominique: How long can/should one rest between *reps*? I was doing back squats today (sets of 8), and by rep 5 or so, I had to rest with the bar on my back rack for some time to catch my breath. I think I need to work on my endurance for bracing under heavy load, but it also made me think — how much rest is okay? I was aiming for RPE 7 today and it occurred to me that my RPE would be super different for continuous reps compared to reps with a pause/break/2-3 breaths at the top. Also, my concern with the continuous approach would be that my fatigue from bracing would be the limiting factor, more than leg fatigue, and I’d worry I’m not getting enough stimulus for my legs. But perhaps that’s just a sign I need to work on bracing endurance so that it no longer limits me for continuous reps.

Dominique,

Both performing a set of 10 back squats in a continuous manner and 10 back squats in a rest-breathe type fashion are good exercises. It all depends on the goal of the workout and the constraints you are imposing. What matters most is that you are being consistent with the constraints you choose in a training cycle. If you are doing continuous reps one workout and then rest-breathe reps the next, with very different weights most likely, then it is difficult to compare the two workouts within a training cycle or even the results by the end of a training cycle. This is why logging your workouts is important, as well as including any notes within the workout. I am old fashioned and I use a notebook to track my progress, scribbling in the margins or near the exercise/set any important thoughts so that I can accurately compare workouts and weights.

Applying the above to your scenario, if your goal is to increase the weight you can do for a continuous set of 10 back squats, I would make a note in that workout of the weight that you used and what rep you had to stop at in order to gather yourself to finish the set. The next workout I would make it a goal to try to get at least one more repetition before I had to pause and finish the set. Once I am able to complete those 10 continuous repetitions, then I would increase the weight and attempt a new “record” or perform more sets of 10 continuous reps at that weight to improve my condition.

Regarding fatiguing on the continuous set, it is important that you only brace enough to maintain balance and positions, not so excessively that it is causing undue fatigue to stabilize or catch your breath. In a continuous set of squats, I am breathing throughout the movement rather than holding my breath to create more intra-abdominal pressure. Inhaling on the way down, exhaling on the way up during each repetition. The only time you should be bracing and holding your breath (i.e. Valsalva maneuver or abdominal straining maneuver) is at maximal or near-maximal intensities such as a true 1-2-3RM or the final, most challenging repetitions of a max effort rep out. If a strong brace is being performed for an entire set of 8-10+ repetitions, it can very easily lead to lightheadedness and dizziness during prolonged activity due to rapid changes in blood pressure and stimulation of the vagus nerve.

Lastly, to answer the question whether it is better to perform a set of 10 in a continuous fashion versus 10 with a rest-breathe fashion: it depends on your personal goal and it probably does not matter much. Personally, in all my years lifting and coaching, neither of these constraints seem to produce any significant difference in results. Both will develop strength and hypertrophy so long as the final repetitions or final set of the workout are pushed to the point of near exhaustion (1-3 reps in reserve).

*If you have any more questions related to fitness, please send them to [email protected]*

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