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Should You Take Short or Long Rest Between Sets to Maximize Muscle Growth? Recent Studies Reveal…

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Short rest periods or long breaks – which strategy is right for your workout goals? 

The duration of your rest between sets has a surprising impact on your fitness results. Learn the pros and cons of both long and short rest times, so you can customize your workouts for maximum strength gains or muscle growth. 

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We’ll also bust some common myths around rest periods and give you insider tips on how to supercharge your routine.

Why Rest Times Matter

Resting between sets allows muscles to recover and rebuild energy stores, primarily ATP, which is vital for high-intensity training. 

Shorter rests can increase the intensity of a workout by keeping the heart rate elevated, but may not allow enough recovery for maximal strength efforts. 

Conversely, longer rests enable more substantial recovery, which is critical when training for strength and power.

Long Rest Times

For heavy lifting and strength-focused workouts, resting three to five minutes between sets can be beneficial. 

This duration allows muscles to recover sufficiently to perform another heavy set with proper form and reduced risk of injury. However, the downside includes longer workouts and potential distractions, which can diminish workout intensity. 

Setting a strict rest timer can help maintain focus and efficiency during sessions.

Short Rest Times

Shorter rest periods, typically between 30 and 90 seconds, are favored in hypertrophy training, where the goal is muscle growth and endurance rather than maximal strength. 

These rest intervals keep the muscles under longer tension and can enhance muscle size and tone. However, the limitation is the inability to lift heavier weights, which might restrict strength development. 

Recent studies suggest that very short rest periods may not be as effective as once thought, with slightly longer rests providing better muscle growth outcomes.

Optimal Rest Times Based on Exercise Type

The type of exercise significantly influences the ideal rest period:

  • Compound lifts like squats and deadlifts require longer rest periods (three to five minutes) due to the large muscle groups involved and the intensity of the exercise.
  • Isolation exercises like bicep curls or tricep extensions benefit from shorter rest periods (30 seconds to two minutes), enhancing endurance and muscle pump.

Practical Tips for Managing Rest Times

Utilizing a timer can help manage rest periods effectively, ensuring they are neither too long nor too short. 

For those new to the gym, starting with recommended rest times and adjusting based on personal response and fitness level is advised. 

It’s also beneficial to remain flexible, as different days may require different rest periods based on energy levels and overall health.

What About Supersets

Supersets involve performing two exercises back-to-back with no rest between them. This technique is highly efficient, allowing you to increase workout intensity and volume while saving time. Supersets can be categorized mainly into two types: those that target the same muscle group (compound sets) and those that target opposing muscle groups (antagonistic sets).

Benefits of Supersets

  1. Increased Intensity: By reducing downtime, supersets keep your heart rate elevated, enhancing both strength and cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Time Efficiency: You can complete more exercises within a shorter period, making supersets ideal for busy schedules.
  3. Enhanced Muscle Growth and Endurance: Alternating between opposing muscle groups allows one muscle group to rest while the other works, leading to better endurance and potentially increased muscle size.

When to Use Supersets

  • Strength and Hypertrophy: For those focusing on muscle size, supersets can be effective, especially when pairing exercises that target opposing muscle groups. For example, combining a bench press (chest) with a row (back) allows each muscle group to perform optimally with minimal rest.
  • Endurance Training: Supersets are excellent for endurance training by continuously engaging different muscle groups, enhancing muscle stamina and resilience.

Practical Application

A typical superset session might involve performing a set of pull-ups immediately followed by a set of push-ups. This not only saves time but also ensures that while the back muscles rest during push-ups, the chest muscles are actively engaged, and vice versa. This method can significantly cut down total workout time while maintaining high intensity.

Considerations for Supersets

  • Rest Between Supersets: While individual sets within a superset don’t have a break, it’s crucial to rest between different supersets. Typically, a rest period of one to two minutes is recommended to maintain performance without excessive fatigue.
  • Exercise Selection: Choose exercises that either complement each other by targeting different muscle groups or the same group to maximize fatigue. For example, a squat paired with a leg extension targets the same muscle group from different angles, intensifying the workout.

Common Questions and Myths about Rest Periods

Many gym-goers wonder if they can rest too long or too little. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, the key is to listen to your body. Rest until you feel ready to perform the next set with proper form and intensity. Overly long rests might lead to a loss of workout momentum, whereas too short rests may not allow sufficient muscle recovery, leading to fatigue and decreased performance.

Conclusion

Tailoring rest periods during workouts is an art that balances science with personal intuition. By understanding the role of rest in recovery and performance, and adjusting rest times to suit specific exercises and goals, individuals can optimize their workouts for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Experimenting with different rest durations can help find the perfect balance that aligns with one’s fitness objectives, ultimately leading to better health and performance gains.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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