Learn how to use a heart rate monitor to improve rest between sets during exercise, and make your workouts more efficient — so you can get away with exercising just 2-3 times a week. 🙂
Optimising Rest Between Sets
My Training Frequency
I really enjoy exercising. But, as a father of two relatively young kids, I just don’t have time to spend hours and hours in the gym each week.
When people see what great shape I’m in, they automatically assume I exercise a lot to achieve this physique. What comes as a surprise to most people, is that I only exercise 2 – 3 hours a week. I don’t have time, or need to do any more than that.
Now that doesn’t mean that I sit on my butt the rest of the time. 🙂
I find ways to incorporate activity into my everyday life. That might mean a full day out with the kids at the weekend, with lots of walking; chasing my children around the garden with a game of tag, or playing catch with a ball. I allow a little extra time to walk somewhere, instead of drive. I also try to remember to stand a little more at home, rather than sit.
How Much Rest is Best?
A typical recommendation for rest between sets might be:
|GOAL||REST BETWEEN SETS|
|Strength||2 - 5 minutes|
|Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)||1 - 2 minutes|
|Muscular Endurance (10 - 25 Reps)||30 seconds - 2 minutes|
|Fat Loss — High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)||10 seconds - 5 minutes|
The hypertrophy rest periods are a bit of a grey area, as you can also take zero rest between sets; e.g. supersets, drop sets and giant sets.
So let’s say you would like some muscle growth and strength, so you choose 2 minutes rest. A typical workout might be 10 exercises of 3 sets—that’s 60 minutes spent just resting, not including the time to set up your equipment, time spent performing each set, or the warm up, or cool down…so this can easily extend your workout to 1.5 to 2 hours. I just don’t have that much time to spend exercising!
How to Make Your Rest Periods More Effective
I like to be efficient with my workouts. If you’re training with weights, or doing other resistance based exercise such as Calisthenics, Gymnastics Rings, TRX, or Resistance Bands, your cardio endurance can suffer, if you’re resting a lot between sets.
I don’t have time to do lots of cardio as well…my personal workouts are usually under 60 minutes, including the warm up and a significant time stretching at the end. And I’m only exercising 2 or 3 times a week.
I lift heavy resistance, but I keep my rest between sets to only 30 seconds…so I can pack in more exercise, in less time. But with so little rest, how do I manage to keep my strength up?
My little secret, is that I always do my exercises in a circuit. Lets say you pick 6 exercises and perform them in sequence with 30 seconds rest. By the time you get around to exercise number 1 again, those muscles will have had at least 3 minutes rest from that particular exercise. You’ll then feel strong enough, to go hard on the exercise again.
Whilst I’ve always had great results exercising this way, I’ve often felt that I’m needlessly sitting around after some of the exercises. I find that Muscle Ups or Kettlebell Swings, puff me out a lot more than Calf Raises, or some skill based techniques.
My Bad Experiences with Heart Rate Monitors
I’ve dabbled a couple of times in the past with heart rate monitors during my workout, but it’s always been disappointing.
I previously tried a watch from a leading brand using optical technology, but I found it kept freezing on the same heart rate during my workout, as it failed to continuously measure.
I also tried a Bluetooth chest strap from one of the most well known brands in heart rate monitoring, and again it was such a disappointment—I had a couple of embarrassing situations with some of my Personal Training clients, where this strap continuously failed to connect.
The Beets BLU Wireless Heart Rate Monitor
An updated model has been launched since I reviewed this. Please read about the new Smart Cardio version here.
Beets BLU kindly sent me their Bluetooth Wireless Heart Rate Monitor to review. After my previous experiences with a similar chest strap, I was a little apprehensive of trying it out.
The chest strap is compatible with a variety of apps, but I decided to start with their own app, which is available on both Android and iOS. You can download the iOS BB Utility app from the app store in the USA [here] or the UK [here].
I’ve got an iPhone 4. Unfortunately the software on my phone was too old for the app. That wasn’t too much of a surprise for me, as I’ve been getting that message when I’ve tried to download some other apps recently. On the Beets BLU website it’s compatible with iPhone 4s or Android 4.3, and newer models.
However, I did have an iPad mini, and that downloaded the app fine. As I do resistance-based exercise in my workouts, it’s not a problem to put it on a bench or chair whilst I exercise.
I adjusted the chest strap, then snapped the monitor to the strap, and quickly ran a small amount of water from the tap along the back, to make it conduct better. Then I unsnapped it and put it around my chest.
I fired up the app. It searched for and detected the monitor straight away…off to a good start! 🙂 It then ‘calibrated’ with it—this seemed to take a couple of minutes. It only did this the first time, and was much faster to connect the next time I used it.
After that I could clearly see my heart rate in real time, and also the signal strength—it apparently has a range of 35 feet, but I only had it about 10 feet away during my workout.
I changed the settings on my iPad so that it didn’t automatically shut off the screen, otherwise I couldn’t see my heart rate.
I decided on a specific heart rate for rest periods during my workout (keep reading)—the app didn’t have an alarm for heart rate zones, so if you know of another app I can use then please do drop send me a note in the comment box at the bottom of the post. It would be great if that facility got added to a future update of the app, so I don’t need to have the screen on.
The great news: the strap was very comfortable to wear, and the device continuously monitored me, with no signal disconnections at all.
After my workout, I disconnected the monitor from the strap, to ensure it didn’t drain battery power when I wasn’t using it.
How to use a Heart Rate Monitor in Your Workout
I decided to set my recovery heart rate at 65% of my Maximum Heart Rate, as that put me in the zone for ‘light’ activity. A quick calculation put my target at 115 bpm.
What I found was astonishing. After a set of calf raises, the monitor showed that I needed no rest at all, as my heart rate had actually dropped lower than my target during the set…so I moved immediately to the next exercise. I didn’t feel out of breath, so I started the next exercise with no problems.
Low reps with very heavy resistance had a much shorter heart rate recovery, than higher reps with light resistance.
For a couple of exercises, I was resting up to 1 minute.
As some of the exercises required zero rest—by using the heart rate monitor, I shaved 15 minutes off my workout! I also didn’t feel any more tired than usual, or weaker.
Will I be using a heart rate monitor again to optimise my rest between sets? Definitely. Particularly if I’m in a hurry to get it done.
You can find out more about the heart rate monitor I’m using, and a list of compatible handsets at beetsblu.com
I’d love to hear from you. If you tried using a heart rate monitor in your workout, or if you know of a better app I can use with a heart rate alarm, please leave me a note in the Comments box below.
Thanks, George x
I was gifted a Beets BLU Wireless Heart Rate Monitor by Beets BLU. All views and opinions are my own. For more information about my collaborations, please refer to my DISCLOSURE page on the ABOUT tab. I was not paid to write this post.
George D. Choy
Personal Trainer & Calisthenics Instructor
Gymnacity in Oxted, Surrey, United Kingdom