Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Time Between Reps

by Andrew Lewis, SSC | December 07, 2021

pressing next to a clock

A subtle aspect to lifting that is not frequently considered is the optimal time between reps. This is most apparent in the deadlift. A set of 5 deadlifts with 30 seconds between each rep is NOT a set of 5 – it's 5 singles: 5 sets of one produces a fundamentally different strength adaptation than one set of 5 deadlifts. While 30 seconds between reps is far too long, you should not rush and get sloppy. Additionally, you should never bounce your deadlifts – this is a great way to stall your deadlift progress. How much time you should take between reps varies between lifts.

The Press and Bench Press

Time is the enemy in the press and bench press. Every second you spend under the bar is time that you are getting more fatigued, affecting the latter reps of the set. If you find that you are taking 2 or 3 breaths between reps, speed up the set next time, and see if that helps make the set easier. However, you should not be rushing so much that you get sloppy and suffer inefficient and ineffective mechanics. The first priority is correct technique.

The Deadlift

Take the necessary time, but don't dawdle. The start of the deadlift is an unloaded position in which you are bent over with a small amount of knee flexion. As a result, you can get tired in this position. Taking 3 or 4 breaths at the bottom position before starting the next rep can be enticing when the weight gets heavy, but it will only make things worse. A good guideline is to breathe out at the bottom of the rep, then take one big breath, set your back, push the floor away, lock it out, set it down, and breathe. You won't pass out from only taking one breath each rep.

The Squat

The same guideline from the deadlift about taking one breath is good for the squat as well. However, taking more breaths won't make you more tired throughout the set, since in a locked-out position at the top. It will just lose some of the training effect that you intended from a set of 5. Typically, I encourage trainees to take no more than 2 breaths per rep.

The Power Clean and Power Snatch

Like the squat, you still want to get the training effect from a full set that sets of singles does not produce, but the temptation of a long break between reps is rendered even more seductive in the clean and snatch. You have to fix your stance after every rep in the clean and snatch which means you will already be in a stable, standing position for a short period of time. Extending this time is tempting especially while analyzing what you just did and what you need to focus on in the next rep. The advice here is the same as the deadlift: get the setup right, and don't dawdle.

These are helpful guidelines to start with and to think about as you train, but they are not rules. If there is an intelligent reason to take more or less time, then do so. Keep in mind, however, that the training effect is different between a 2-minute set of squats and a 30-second set of squats.   

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