Defining Stress as Stress and Rest Between Sets

Posted on 03 May 2010 13:40

Semantics. That's what I'm thinking about. Language can be so subtle it's downright frustrating. So frustrating in fact that there comes a point where we just don't want to be bothered by its nuances. We want broad, sweeping definitions. Hence, the origin of such phrases as "that's just semantics", or "you're arguing semantics".

Semantics deals with the MEANING OF LANGUAGE. Many people would argue that disagreements over the definition of a term, i.e. a semantic argument, is beside the point, off the subject, nitpicking…what have you. Well, if you're discussing the weather forecast with your next door neighbor than I'd say semantic arguments are indeed, a waste of time. But if you are the person PRODUCING that forecast, Mr. Meteorologist, I'd say you'd better get your nuances straight.

Perhaps I derived this fondness of semantics, if you could call it that, through studying Latin. It's true, English words tend to have many alternative definitions but at least it is a modern, spoken language. One that is always evolving because we ourselves help to evolve it. Try a DEAD language. A complex dead language. One that you can't even be sure how it was spoken. That is Latin. The meanings of the words depend on context, order…nuance. Each word has many different uses depending on the situation and you can never be sure whether you have translated something correctly. I hear Greek is even tougher.

But I found Latin pretty easy actually…because I love language.

The word semantic comes from the Greek word semantikos, meaning "significant," which comes from semainos meaning "to signify or indicate"…and so on. So with semantics we are concerned with the interpretation of SYMBOLS. Words are symbols.

I was gathering some definitions of stress this morning and I came across the American Institute of Stress website. Where I encountered a little snafu with the language:

"If you were to ask a dozen people to define stress, or explain what causes stress for them, or how stress affects them, you would likely get 12 different answers to each of these requests. The reason for this is that there is no definition of stress that everyone agrees on, what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on others and we all react to stress differently."

Wow. As if language weren't confusing enough. Does that say what I think it says? We can't define stress because we can't agree on what is stressful? I don't think I could find a more perfect example of grappling with semantics.

I think, although I could be wrong, that these are two different things. They are trying to define stress by stressors.

For some people a walk in the park is just a walk in the park. For others it is an invitation to hay fever and an opportunity to deal with a mortal fear of bees. The walk in the park therefore becomes a negative stressor. But it is not stress itself. In other words the bees may cause stress, but they are not themselves stress.

Honeybees on wild Fennel Flowers

image by wolfraven via flickr
Bees stress you out?
Well they may be stressors
but they are not "stress".

Honeybees on wild Fennel Flowers

image by wolfraven via flickr
Bees stress you out? Well they may be stressors but they are not "stress".

So let's get something straight. Your training is not "stress." It is a stressor. That is, it is something with which you must deal and the way you deal with it depends on your resources, attitudes, innate capacities, experience, etc. The idea that we cannot define stress is silly. We know what stress is. It's the degree of stress and its effect we can't always pin down.

The problem in the above quote becomes apparent in the last line: "…what is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on others and we all react to stress differently."

No, our reaction to a a stressor IS the stress. We can also react to different kinds of stress so that the stress itself becomes a stressor.

Knowing that your training is a stressor you can begin to understand how the way it affects you can be changed or moderated.

Rest periods between sets of exercise, for instance, change the stressor. I have read many articles discussing rest periods in a very clinical way depending on goals of the training. And the goals of the training do help determine the appropriate rest periods.

The big factor that is often missing, however, is the recovery. The problem is the misguided notion that you only begin to recover after the workout is over. No, recovery begins immediately and is on-going. The first few seconds after your set you are recovering from that set. How long you rest between sets determines how much recovery between sets, right? So that further determines how "stressful" the training is as well and so how you will recover over the next few days after the workout.

One of the biggest mistakes trainees make is to pick an arbitrary short rest periods based on a "mass gaining" goal or because a chart has told them that number of reps in their sets only requires a certain amount of rest. Say three minutes.

For instance trainees using 5x5 programs or 4x6 often rest only two and a half to three minutes because they have been told that they are doing "strength-mass" training and therefore should keep the rest periods short. Besides the fact that these rest periods are much too short for such training the psychological effect of such curtailed rest between lifting that can be quite intensive further effects the transaction between trainee and training…with the trainee getting the short end of the stick.

Interset rest is a parameter like any other in training and so can be adjusted as a means of progression like anything else. Just as you can add reps you can shorten rest periods. There is no need to start with an arbitrary number based on preconceived notions of the amount of rest needed for a certain goal as such a notion often leads to over-reaching, stagnation, plateau…all the things we wish to avoid. If your goal is strength endurance you do not need to suddenly start using ultra short rest periods between sets. You can simply shorten the rest periods in your training systematically.

Some other articles I have written about rest periods are Ninety Seconds Rest Between Sets and Manipulating Strength Training Rest Periods.

This page created 03 May 2010 13:40
Last updated 20 Jul 2016 22:00

© 2016 by Eric Troy and Ground Up Strength. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.