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Active Rest Between Exercises Can Make a BIG Difference

By Marc Perry / February 20, 2016

There’s a way to make your workouts more productive without changing the actual exercises, reps, or sets. You will notice an increase in strength and stamina, decrease in joint pain and stiffness, stress relief, and you will feel lighter and younger. To top it off, your workout will not require any extra time. You can receive all these benefits simply through active rest between exercises.

A quick note, I plan on adding a lot more videos in the upcoming months, so you need to get used to my funny facial expressions like above. Unfortunately it’s not possible to control the Youtube thumbnail picture until I become a Youtube “partner”, which may not happen for a while. I have a couple viral video ideas, so we’ll see. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

What is Active Rest?

Active rest means that during your workout, instead of sitting on a bench to rest, you are doing one of three things: (1) stretching, (2) hydrating, (3) fine tuning form. Active rest is sometimes referred to as active recovery, which is like going for a swim the day after a tough workout. In the context of this article, active rest means you are improving your body and recovering during the workout, not just after.

Active Rest Tip #1: Stretching

This is the main activity I recommend when you are not exercising during a workout. The vast majority of guys have very poor flexibility with tight hamstrings, locked hips, the list goes on. Sure, benching a lot of weight is great, but if you can’t reach down and touch your toes, how will your body respond as you age? The body will become stiffer, tighter, lower back problems start creeping up. It’s definitely not pretty.

Simply by stretching in between your strength training exercises, you can probably squeeze in 10-20 minutes of stretching during your workout. So now you get all the benefits that come along with stretching, but you don’t have to stretch after the workout, which I know for me almost never happens.

A few quick stretching tips:

1) Stretch Targeted Muscles – Try stretching the muscles that you are targeting as you exercise, which will help them recover. If you are doing a set of bench, right after, stretch your chest muscle to help recovery. A stretched muscle can be 10-20% stronger than a tight muscle, and stretching will help decrease soreness the next day.

2) Stretch Tightest Muscles – Most guys have very tight hamstrings and hips. There is some debate as to how much you should stretch, but in my mind, you just can’t stretch your tight muscles enough. Over time, your flexibility will improve dramatically and you will feel younger and more energetic.

3) Relax – As you are stretching, relax and take deep breaths. Your life is busy and hectic enough as it is, so stretching is your time to relax and improve how your body feels. Additionally, this helps your heart rate come down so you can go hard for another set.

Active Rest Tip #2: Hydrating

Most reputable organizations suggest drinking about 1/2 to 1 cup of water per 15-20 minutes of exercise. Of course, this is just a guideline and really depends on how large you are, the intensity of the workout, and how much you water you have lost through perspiration.

Top athletes will weigh themselves before a workout, then after to get a sense of how much water they have to drink to become properly hydrated. The answer is usually A LOT of water.

Ideally you should bring a water bottle with you to the gym. If you aspire to be a muscle head, then you can bring a full gallon jug of water with you to the gym. I personally prefer just walking over to the water fountain, which helps break up the workout a bit.

Active Rest Tip #3: Fine Tuning Form

I’m working on biceps curl form to the right, but generally working on form for a exercises is a good use of your time. Even if you are a seasoned lifter, the chances are likely your form can be improved on most exercises. As you are benching, are you keeping your shoulders back? During squats, are you hinging your hips enough?

Consider watching your exercise form in the mirror to better understand the movement dynamics and feel the muscle working as you are lifting. This heightens your sense of kinesthetic awareness (where your body is in space and time) and of course will help improve muscle recruitment with better form.

Active rest is a simple concept that will help improve your body and optimize your time working out.


  • Mary says:

    I have been stretching at the end of my workouts. The concept of stretching in between workout exercises makes good sense. Great video presentation. Looking forward to more videos.

  • Joe says:

    I must admit that I'm guilty of sitting in-between sets. I'll definitely try and incorporate these techniques into my routine. Thanks!

  • Cookie K says:

    Great video with good advice. I will incorporate your tips in my workout. Thanks, it is always so nice to see you. You look wonderful.

  • Curt Bizelli says:

    A lot of great tips here, Thanks.

  • Tatianna says:

    Stretching is great as an active rest, very good advice. I usually drink a 2 to 3 cups of iced water during and after exercises.

    • Marc Perry says:

      @Tatianna - Thanks for the comment. Much appreciated!

  • JD says:


    Have you read the book The first 20 minutes? It seems to indicate that stretching is not necessary. Your thoughts?


    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @JD - Haven't read the book, but very familiar with the concept of static vs. dynamic stretching. The idea is static stretching (or stretching in one place without moving) can weaken a muscle before exercise. So static stretching is not ideal before exercise, but some top strength coaches actually do it before dynamic stretching. After and during a workout, static stretching can help restore mobility. If I have a client who hasn't exercised in a few months and that client has limited flexibility, you better believe we're going to be doing a lot of static stretching during and after the workout in addition to foam rolling. My goal is to get a client mobile as soon as possible while increasing cardio capacity. If I can do those two things, we'll have great workouts. For more info, check out these articles Dynamic Stretching Routine: Best Full Body Warm Up + Static Stretching Exercises.

  • Richard Haynes PTA/CPT says:

    This is excellent advice that everyone needs to follow. Stretching is something I advise my patients to work on consistently when either weight training or working on the physical rehabilitation. The lack of stretching and keeping their muscles and joints flexible have caused numerous injuries and lack of full muscle development.