Emily yelled at me for the first time the other day. From all the way on the other side of the turf room. While she was in the middle of leading her basic training group. Yell is not really the right word, but she was stern. “No! … No! … I do NOT want to see that again. From now on, I’m the only one who will spot you. That was NOT enough rest between those sets. Now you have to wait for ME if you want to lift!”
I was in the middle of my working sets on bench, and Emily was busy. I didn’t want to interrupt her, but mostly I just didn’t want to wait. I was impatient. Instead I asked Adam to give me a hand off and to spot me. The bar didn’t feel all that heavy on my previous set, and I wanted to get through my lifts a little faster. Turns out Emily was paying more attention to everything that was going on in her gym than I realized, and she knew I had not waited long enough for working sets.
“OK,” I said meekly and then hopped on my phone to text Tim: “Shit! I just got yelled at. Didn’t take a long enough rest.” Tim’s response: “Rest between sets???” Remembering one of the fundamental differences between the way he trains for hypertrophy and the way I am learning to train strength is length of rest time, I replied, “That’s something you know nothing about.”
Emily came over to check in with me and to explain again to a slow learner about the importance of rest between sets when your goal is to build strength. “THIS is about getting stronger,” she said. “It’s about adding more weight to your bar each time, not about adding reps or ‘working legs’. If that was the point you could do anything. This is about building strength. Training the whole body to be stronger. About prepping your body to get your reps on the next set. This is NOT conditioning. This is NOT Crossfit. It is NOT circuits. You need the rest to allow your body and your mind to recover for the next set.”
Tim texted back again teasing, “Wha…rest. Haha?” This time I had a clearer understanding, which makes for better ammo. “You don’t know about rest because you have no discipline! You’re just chasing pump! I’m building strength. HA! Strength is a process.”
Practically speaking, I know that Tim rests. Practically speaking, I know that his training is a process that takes discipline too. His rest just looks a lot different than mine. His rest between sets is minimal, sometimes non-existent, but it’s always there between lift days. He is just as mindful of the importance of rest as Emily is.
Somehow in that moment, this experience reminded me of a conversation I had a few days prior with a guy in my 6am bootcamp. He told me he had been raised in a family that emphasized goals. Once he reached one goal, he was expected to start plugging away at the next; no rest for the weary. As he got older, he started to feel like reaching his goals wasn’t all that satisfying. His wording caught me, “You may be way beyond this already, but I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness recently. I think what was missing for me growing up was that I wasn’t encouraged to celebrate my successes. We were so busy moving with blinders on trying to get to the next goal that we never took time to recognize what we’d done. I think it’s important to do that, even if it’s just a small goal.”
He’s right, of course. We do need to pause, to rest, reflect and be mindful. But he’s also wrong. Clearly my impatience to get to my next working set on bench indicates the degree to which I am not “way beyond this”. I was too busy trying to check bench off my list so I could get to deadlift. Just like the younger version of my boot camp friend, I was so focused on my next goal that I didn’t allow myself time to process the work I had just done. Too impatient to be mindful. I suspect that often I’m not much different outside the gym, but neither is our culture. Americans value hard work. We are encouraged to multi-task, persevere, and work tirelessly to get to the last item on our daily agenda before collapsing into bed so we can do it again the following day. Do that for five days straight, cram as much fun into the weekend as possible, and then repeat. Sprinting through our days with blinders on, forgetting that we are engaged in a process, a long-term project of building and growing ourselves. The rest might look different, but growth doesn’t happen without it. Sometimes it takes as much discipline to carve out a dedicated time to rest as it takes to do the work. Maybe we could all use a loud voice from across the turf room, interrupting our non-sense, reminding us to take time to allow our minds and bodies to recover.