Checking the socials might seem like a good way to kill time between sets but research suggests otherwise. A recent study looked at whether using your smartphone during a workout affected the amount of weight you are able to lift. The researchers came to an interesting conclusion that might make you reconsider keeping your phone with you during a gym session. Read below if you want to learn more about mental fatigue and how social media use can affect exercise performance.
The Social Media Between Sets Study
A study done by Petrus Gantois and others tested whether checking social media in between sets affected the amount of weight research participants were able to lift. They got sixteen adults to do three sets of back squats until failure with three minutes of rest. The study subjects performed this workout once while watching a documentary during their rest periods and again using social media during the break instead. They were asked to rate their levels of perceived effort and the amount of weight they were able to lift was also measured. Interestingly, the subjects lifted 15% less weight when using social media during the rest and they rated their levels of exertion much higher. The researchers concluded this was due to mental fatigue and suggest that using your phone during rest periods can negatively impact exercise output.
Is This Supported By Other Research?
Other research also supports the idea that mentally fatiguing yourself before an exercise can negatively impact performance. This study found that participants who performed a cognitively demanding task in between sets of explosive jumping exercises were not able to complete as much volume compared to when they completely rested. Not only was their physical performance inhibited, they also perceived the workout to be much harder. Another meta-analysis done in 2023 concluded that being mentally fatigued significantly impairs the number of reps you’re able to do during a workout. Although what we consider to be a mentally difficult activity will vary from person to person, most experts are in agreement that we shouldn’t be challenging the brain in between sets of physical exercises if we want to perform optimally. Cognitive tasks are taxing on both the mind and body.
Why Mental Fatigue Affects Strength
The brain might not be a muscle but it still burns calories. Doing mental tasks requires energy and your body only has a limited supply. If you are spending more time thinking and less time lifting, your energy will get diverted away from the muscles and head straight for the brain. This is one possible explanation for why using Instagram between sets can negatively affect your physical strength. Another reason you might not be able to lift as heavy is because checking the socials shifts your attention away from the task at hand. Completing a heavy set of squats requires you to focus intently on form. If your brain is scattered and busy thinking about what’s on Instagram, you’re not dedicating full attention to technique. Our best performance occurs when we are in a state of flow. Minimising the number of distractions during your workout is one of the best ways to guarantee optimal performance.
What You Should Do In Between Sets
Instead of reaching for the phone during your rest period, leave it in your pocket or even better, your locker. Make sure to give yourself adequate time to recover. Two to five minutes between sets is ideal if lifting heavy is your goal. A shorter period of 30 to 90 seconds is perfect if you’re focused more on muscle building and hypertrophy. Although it might seem boring initially, take a seat and a sip of water. Control your breathing and resist the urge to check the socials. Think instead about how you did on the previous set and what you need to focus on for the next one. You might think that checking Instagram or Tik Tok is a mindless activity but research shows it over-stimulates your brain and bombards you with information. You may be oblivious to the serious mental fatigue that being on social media can actually inflict.
Don’t get us wrong, social media is an incredibly useful technological development but checking it during a workout is not a productive use of time. If you’re serious about lifting heavy and putting on muscle, leave the phone at home or use it for music purposes only. It might take a lot of initial willpower to break the habit of checking your phone at the gym but eventually it does get easier. Learn to sit with yourself in those breaks between sets and your strength will soar dramatically.
Written by Lauren Carruthers.