How To Pass Time Between Sets

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Spend an hour at the gym and you’ll likely come across at least one type of gym jerk during your workout. Some jerks don’t re-rack their weights, others don’t wipe down equipment, and the worst kind of jerk takes up the only squat rack in your gym to curl for an hour.

Responding to a recent post of ours, one commenter also pointed out what he considers to be another type of gym jerk: The lifter sitting on a piece of equipment and “futzing around” on their phone. While it’s easy to assume they’re a jerk, a simple explanation is that they’re resting and trying to kill a little time. (Hopefully, they’ve allowed you to work in; if not, then yes, they’re a total jerk.)

But what exactly do you do to pass time between sets? Well, there’s no single, right answer and it depends on how long your break is. If it’s a short rest, refilling your water bottle or jotting down your lift in a journal might suffice. Or you could just stare into space, but chances are that if you’ve come here, you want your rest to feel a little more productive or entertaining.

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Gym etiquette is a delicate art, and not many people get it right. 'Hogging equipment' and 'taking a rest break' can seem very similar, so it's important to know what's what, and how to deal with it. Today we’ll tackle a tough question about what to do when somebody is using the equipment you want, and seemingly wasting their (and your) time.

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For longer breaks, I personally defer to Reddit. On r/Fitness, weekly “Moronic Monday”, “Rant Wednesday” and “Gym Story Saturday” threads are full of Redditors’ complaints and questions about lifting programs and general gym etiquette. (There’s also the daily Simple Questions thread at the top of the subreddit each day.)

Even if you don’t find any applicable or valuable advice, at the very least, you’ll find amusing stories that won’t feel like a distraction as you focus on your next set.

If you’re concerned or otherwise curious about your form, it might kill time to record your lifts and use your rest period to watch the video (and try and correct your form for the next set, if needed). Our health editor, Beth, usually spends time editing videos of her lifts during her rests.

“Nobody wants to see 30 seconds of setup, not my coach or friends and it’s annoying if every thumbnail is just an empty bar and/or my thumb,” she said. That, combined with writing down your lifts in a journal or phone, will likely help pass the time.

As some users suggest on a Reddit thread, you might also use the time to stretch, find the right playlist or even pick up a new hobby or skill, such as learning a new language via an app. Or you might circuit train to minimise the amount of rest between sets altogether.

(On another note, both Beth and I seem to agree that answering work emails or doing anything work-related is generally a bad idea.)

And if you are going to be on your phone, just don’t let it distract you to the point that you end up hanging around the squat rack for 10 minutes just to look at memes. Stay focused, and if someone asks, let them work in.


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