Most people ignore the importance of rest periods during their workouts, but this method lets you take the rest you need and benefit from intense exercise

In most training programs you complete an exercise, move on to another, and at some point, have a specified rest period. But there's another way of doing it that can improve the quality of your workout and the benefits you get from it.

Instead of taking structured rest breaks during your workout, with the rest-based method you take a break whenever you feel you need it and rest as long as it takes to continue on with your training session.

The key for this to work is intensity. You need to be working fairly hard during the exercise portion of the workout to justify taking a break. You stop the exercise when you can't complete another rep or your form gets ugly.

Why the Rest-based Method Works

By allowing yourself to take breaks when you need them, you're listening to your body. The exercise portion provides the stimulus it needs to get fit and the rest period provides the recovery you need to maintain good form and effort. It's also very liberating mentally knowing that you can take a break at any point you wish; you'll be able to push harder during the exercise.

Numerous studies have shown that exercise intensity and quality is as important as quantity. A recent study showed that just two and a half minutes of intense exercise increased daily caloric expenditure by 200 calories. In this study the participants did take structured breaks but the point is, intensity matters. 

How to Do a Rest-based Circuit

Following a rest-based program is easy. Simply have an outline of exercises, sets and reps and the order in which you want to do them. Then go through the program, taking breaks whenever you really need them. These can be at the end of a set or in the middle of a set, it doesn't matter. When you feel recovered, return to the workout and continue on.

Here's an example of a rest-based circuit. This circuit will include three exercises done back to back so you'll complete all the reps for one exercise then move on to the next one and repeat this cycle three times.

  1. Squats - 3 sets of 10 reps
  2. Pushups - 3 sets of 10 reps
  3. Single arm rows - 3 sets of 10 reps per side

Choose a weight that is challenging but that will allow you to complete 10 repetitions of the exercise. Your goal is to complete this circuit three times but you're free to take a break whenever you feel you need it. If you go through the first two exercises and need a break, go for it. Take as long a rest as you need. Or maybe you need to stop halfway through the pushups. That's okay too. Take a break, then when you're ready, finish the 10 pushups and move on. 

Just remember to keep the intensity high during the exercise; use enough weight to make it challenging. Women seem to be especially timid to use heavier weights for fear of "bulking" up. You won't, trust me.

Enjoy your rest-based workout. Your body will thank you for it.