This is a question that naturally comes up very often: how long should I rest between sets for in order to build muscle at the fastest rate possible? If you’re a beginner, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research may provide some clues:
In this study, researchers hypothesized the longer rest periods between sets (2-3) minutes may lead to greater muscle growth than the shorter rest periods, which for various reasons (growth hormone and testosterone output, for instance) are often prescribed to bodybuilders.
That longer rest periods usually lead to greater strength gains has been known for a long time, but many have argued that since shorter rest periods often lead to greater pumps and are known to lead to acutely lead to greater outputs of anabolic hormones, keeping the rest between sets to a minute or less is ideal. Obviously, professional bodybuilders – most of whom are what we could term “pharmaceutically enhanced” – shouldn’t need to worry too much about endocrine responses to training anyway, but many of these also tend to keep rest periods short, under the assumption that doing so is more effective.
- Longer rest periods between sets build muscle twice as fast!
The study had untrained, novice weight trainees follow a ten week weight training program. The study participants were divided into two groups, where one group rested for only one minute between sets, and the other group for 2.5 minutes.
The subjects arm sizes were measured before and after the ten week program. And the differences were certainly significant: while the group who had rested for only one minute between sets increased their arm size by an average of 5% in the ten weeks, the guys who took a longer rest were able to boast a 12% increase in arm size. That’s a huge difference, and worth taking note of – at least if you’re just starting out lifting weights.
While we often prescribe a muscle building program that makes use of short rest periods for conditioning purposes, we do recommend that you take slightly longer breaks between sets if you want to build muscle at the fastest rate possible. And that goes for maximal strength increases as well. A little variety here and there never hurts though; resting times between larger, compound exercises should generally be a little longer, as should exercises that train large muscle groups – recovering from a heavy set of squats does take longer than recovering from a set of concentration curls, after all!