Here’s What The Science Says About How Long You Should Rest Between Sets If You Want To Build Muscle
If you want to know what the latest research says about the optimal amount of rest between sets, then read on. Because, in this article you’ll discover the difference between the bro-science and science-science.
Here’s the key takeaways from the article:
- Gym folklore is outdated bro-science. And the rigid rules around rest intervals have no basis in science.
- Researchers compared 1 minute and 3 minute rest intervals across a number of different exercises. Assessing their impact on strength, size, and endurance.
- Participants taking the longer rest between sets build significantly more muscle and saw improvements in strength.
- If your goal is to build muscle, then incorporating a longer rest between sets will be advantageous.
So, if you want the detail on those points, start reading.
And if you take a slightly longer rest between sets, you might even be able to read the whole thing. And by all accounts, that should be good for the gains.
Rest Between Sets. The Bro-science Folklore
“A Logical Assumption Isn’t Always Correct”
Look up rest intervals on Google and it won’t take long to come across the bro-science view. As with rep ranges, gym folklore separates strength training and building muscle into two entities whose paths should NEVER cross. Like a couple of Ghostbusters trying not to cross the streams of their proton packs for fear of triggering the onset of the apocalypse.
When it comes to strength training, the longer the rest, the better. Your goal is to lift as much mass as possible. So resting 3-5 minutes allows you to recover, psych yourself up, and have your training partner shove smelling salts under your nose, and give you supportive slap around the face.
And when it comes to building muscle, a short rest period means you can fit in more sets, reps, and exercises. Plus, you can get a pump of orgasmic proportions.
It all sounds logical, plausible, and 100% sensible. But is it really as clear cut?
Sadly, the bros didn’t get this one right. Although, don’t take my word for it, let’s dig into the research and get the facts on how long you should rest between sets.
The Research Into The Optimal About Of Rest Between Sets
“Longer IS Better. That’s What She Said…”
Research into the optimal amount of rest between sets is by no means extensive. But there is one well-constructed study offering reliable data on the subject.
21 resistance-trained men participated in an 8 week study, in which they were split into 2 groups:
- Group 1 took 3 minutes rest between sets.
- Group 2 took a 1 minute rest between sets.
All other variables remained a constant.
The study is particularly useful as it looked at a number of different exercises, including bench press, back squat, military press, leg press, leg extensions, wide-grip lat pulldown, and seated cable row. Providing a broad cross-section of muscle groups and exercises types (i.e. compound and isolation).
If time-honoured folklore were to be true, the group taking a 1 minute rest between sets should greater muscle gain.
Over the course of the 8 week study, each participant did 3 total body workouts per week. Already, the bros are recoiling in abject horror about the prospect of a total body workout, but hang in there, this is science.
Each of the 7 exercises were taken to failure with the 8-12 rep range, with weight being added wherever possible to remain within the rep range.
Here’s the headlines from the study (all data taken from full study breakdown)
Overall, the group taking 3 minutes rest between sets built more muscle, got stronger, and increased total training volume
Longer Rest Periods Tended To Show Greater Increases In Muscle Thickness
Increases In 1RM Strength Were Experienced Where Longer Rest Between Sets Was Taken
Longer Rest Periods Showed Greater Increases Muscular Endurance
Those Taking Longer Rest Between Sets Had Increased Total Training Volume
In terms of building muscle, longer rest periods may help you make more gains, regardless of muscle group or exercise type. In theory, the extra rest between sets, may allow for additional recovery, which enables you to push harder and with greater intensity in later sets.
So, in the real world that means you’ll be able to lift more mass in multiple directions. Yay for gains!
You could say bro-science took a bit of a hammering in this study.
Practical Advice For Optimal Rest Between Sets
“Rest More. Lift More. Build More.”
Longer rest periods sound great.
You build more muscle and get stronger, all while sitting on your butt and playing on your phone. But let’s consider what that means for your workouts.
Workouts for the group taking 3 minutes rest between sets were twice as long. So, if time is already a factor for you, this needs to be considered. Ultimately, you’ll need to find a balance. Because if your workout starts taking longer than The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, then there’s something amiss.
And even if you have the time for these epic workouts, it doesn’t mean you should.
So, what’s the answer?
Here’s a few guidelines to follow, which help strike the balance.
- Base your workout around 4-5 main exercises.
- Utilise a mix of 2 & 3 minutes rest between your main working sets.
- If time is an issue, use longer rest periods for priority muscles and exercises.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that only one variable was studied here. So, other training approaches, such as supersets or descending pyramid sets could be used to elicit similar amounts of muscle growth. Ultimately, there’s so many aspects to your training that could be tweaked, it’s almost impossible to cover every possible eventuality.
The Bottom Line On How Long You Should Rest Between Sets
Resting longer between sets helps to build more muscle and increase strength. Where possible, incorporate longer rest intervals, while balancing the practicalities of the approach.
So, the bros got it wrong.
You don’t have to rest for the shortest amount of time possible, to build muscle, make the gains, and get an ungodly pump. A longer rest between sets, is your muscle building friend.
Those precious extra minutes allow you to recover enough so that you can lift more weight and create more muscle activation. And when all is said and done, that’s likely to mean more training volume, which is arguably the main driver of muscle growth.
But there’s practicalities to think about. Training sessions taking a lifetime to get through aren’t fun, nor conceivable for the average person. So the key is to keep your workouts simple and prioritise. Apply a longer rest between sets for those exercises that really matter to you.
Oh, and there’s the enjoyment factor. If resting for longer than 2 minutes feels like the most boring thing on the planet, then don’t do it. After all, adhering to your training plan for the long-term is the key thing here. So, experiment and strike the balance between what’s scientifically optimal and what’s optimal for you as an individual.
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