How to Maximize Muscle Growth using Rest Periods

Ever since Arnold was pumping iron until the late 2000s bodybuilders and coaches believed that short rest periods maximize muscle growth.

At the time, researchers were convinced that the spike of growth hormone and testosterone produced by lifting weights were the main causes of muscle growth. As a result most training programs were designed around this belief.

Compound movements, 10-12 reps per set and short rest periods.

This is what creates the largest spikes in hormones so this was believed to be the ideal formula for gaining size. Almost everyone used and preached that type of training. Even research as recent as 2006 recommended rest times of 30-60 seconds for the goal of muscle growth.

But that turned out to be wrong. We now know that full rest periods (2-4 minutes between sets) are actually superior for both strength and muscle growth.

Why short rest periods don’t maximize muscle growth

Growth hormone. It makes you think of getting bigger right?

Well apparently, growth hormone is released in response to stress, such as strength training but it doesn’t cause muscle growth. Even when taken at supra-physiological levels by bodybuilders, it still doesn’t produce hypertrophy. This is the main reason the hormone hypothesis was dropped. People used to restrict rest time for the purpose of increasing growth hormone but if it doesn’t produce muscle growth then what’s the point?

The spike in testosterone after training was also believed to be causative of muscle hypertrophy. There’s no denying that high doses of testosterone leads to muscle growth. Hell, steroids build muscle even without training.

But slightly raising testosterone for a few hours by lifting weights doesn’t even compare to taking steroids. Research has shown that manipulating hormones in the natural, physiological range only has a small effect on muscle growth. Naturally, you can’t raise hormones enough to make a difference. You need testosterone at supra-physiological levels.

Short rest periods for Muscle Damage and Metabolic Fatigue

rest periods muscle damage

If you’re familiar with the recent research on muscle growth you know there are three primary ways to stimulate hypertrophy through training:

  1. Progressive tension overload
    Lifting heavier and heavier weights over time
  2. Muscle damage
    Creating microtears in the muscle fibers which neccesitate repair
  3. Metabolic fatigue
    Pushing muscles to their metabolic limit (when you feel the burn)

Out of the three, the most important one is progressive overload – getting stronger – lifting heavier weights over time or performing more reps.

It is true that short rest periods increase muscle damage and metabolic fatigue. But if that comes at the expense of making slower strength gains you are actually training suboptimally. You are compromising the primary driver of growth.

It is well established that using very short rest intervals can reduce the number of repetitions that can be performed on subsequent sets [17]. Thus, if you restrict rest periods for the purpose of increasing metabolic fatigue to the point where you perform less total repetitions, or have to use lighter loads on subsequent sets, you are essentially “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Meaning, you have sacrificed total volume for metabolic fatigue.  – Eric Helms

You want to start each set well recovered so that you can lift at your maximum potential.

How long to rest between sets

  • For compound movements (bench press, rows, squats, etc) – rest 2-3 minutes between sets. Sometimes when you’re feeling really beat up you can take 4 minutes of rest
  • For accessory movements (curls, extensions, machine exercises, etc) – rest 1-2 minutes between sets

Some people will say 4 minutes of rest between sets is much too long to be optimal.

The fact of the matter is no study has ever shown long rest periods to affect muscle growth. All the studies either showed no difference between groups or actually showed longer rest periods to be superior. For example in a recent study conducted by Dr Brad Schoenfeld, the group that rested 3 minutes between sets gained more muscle mass and strength compared to those resting just 1 minute.

The Value of Rest Pause training

But short rest periods do have a place in a good training program. Rest-pause training, intervals, supersets, circuit training they are all useful in certain situations.

Rest-Pause training is particularly effective. In the Superhero Bulking Program, Greg explains it like this:

One of the primary reasons why lifting heavy and taking long rest periods is the most effective way to  build muscle is because it results in a high level of muscle fiber recruitment. So if you’re lifting at your absolute 5-8-rep max, you’re likely using a near maximum amount of your muscle fibers for each and every rep.

When you’re training with lighter weights and performing higher reps, you only come close to full muscle fiber recruitment on those last really tough reps. Therefore you have to do several sets with a lightweight to trigger adequate muscle gains. For example, if you did 5 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest then you’ve done 50 reps total, but probably only 15 of those reps really counted. Fortunately for us, there’s a loophole to get full muscle fiber recruitment with lightweight pump training. The answer my friend is rest pause training.

The premise of rest pause training is simple. You want to pick a weight you can do for 12-15 reps before hitting complete muscle failure. This is your activation set. During the last few really tough reps of the movement, you’ll start to use maximum muscle fiber recruitment. It’s only when you’re using the maximum number of muscle fibers, that you’re able to trigger the most amount of muscle growth. After you finish your activation set, you’ll maintain this state for up to 20-30 seconds or so. Meaning that if you
take a short 15-20 second break and then pump out a few more reps, you’ll still be using maximum muscle fiber recruitment. If you do 4 of these mini sets, you’ll be getting the same benefit as if you did 5 full sets, but with much less work and in much less time. This allows you to get rid of all of the unessential and train with greater and more focused intensity.

For the muscle groups that can’t be trained effectively with heavy weights taking very short rest periods can simulate heavy training. Greg and I use this style of training for lateral and rear delts and sometimes for arms. But Børge Fagerli who invented this training system, explains how you can use it for compound movements as well.

Conclusion

  • Full rest periods (2-3 minutes) are superior for strength and muscle gains because they allow you to accumulate more heavy volume (you don’t lose reps because of fatigue).
  • Short rest periods (1-2 minutes) can be used for accessory movements because smaller muscle groups recover faster (you don’t lose reps because of fatigue).
  • Very short rest periods can be used in some training styles such as Rest-Pause Training (you still accumulate efficient volume this way).

Before we wrap up I want to give a huge shout-out to Eric Helms. This post is based on the chapter on rest periods from his book the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid. I highly recommend you check it out.


Kinobody Greek God ProgramThe Greek God Program

This is the training program I used to build my physique. It’s based around building strength on a few key exercises that will give you the look of a Hollywood actor.

Because you use Reverse Pyramid Training on compound movements you take long rest periods of 2-3 minutes between sets. This allows you go in every set almost fully recovered.

Learn more about the program here

 

24 Comments

  1. Alex on April 26, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Great job, as usual. Thank you, Radu! Keep up the good work!

    • Radu Antoniu on April 30, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      You’re welcome Alex!

  2. Harsh on April 26, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Radu amazing videos, I love your YouTube channel. You are a great person who has taught me a lot about fitness. I wish you good luck and I know you will become one of the best fitness youtubers out there. Even better than kinobody 😉

    • Radu Antoniu on April 30, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Thank you Harsh !

  3. John on April 28, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Hey Radu, I’m after loosing 20 kilo already and put on a good amount of size, I’m 73 kilo, (I know you normally say lbs but I’m from Ireland and we use kilo 🙂 ) I was wondering does the aggressive fat loss program have a pdf? Or can you only get it deliverd ? Thanks and love the videos 🙂

    • Radu Antoniu on April 30, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Hey John!
      That’s great!

      Yes, the AFL is in PDF format. You don’t have to wait for anything in the mail 😀

      Thanks for your support!

  4. Zak on May 12, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Dear Radu thanks for making your knowledge accessible. Your YT videos are the ones I watch in full, mainly because the first video I watched was on intermittent fasting and it really struck a chord as I was already doing this from instinct, also your presenting skills and the way you edit are very watchable, ok enough caressing your ego :). From your programs and correct me if I’m wrong-i notice that the lifting days is the classic Mon/Wed/Fri with rest days in between my question is, do you think lifting 5 days a week and only resting on weekends is a bad idea? I’ve taken on board the long rest period of 2-4 minutes and now I just feel like lifting everyday. Thanks in lieu, keep inspiring! Zak

  5. Kevin Pereira on June 15, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Radu, I can’t take rest periods that long because I don’t like to hog the machines, since my gym is tiny.

  6. Khan on June 22, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Hey Radu,
    I discovered your channel few days ago and I absolutely love it.
    At the moment I am trying to cut fat
    I was 127kg and in about one and half year i lost about 20 kilos.
    right now i am at 108kg
    I feel like I have reached plateau and to top it i got a knee injury and unable to do cardio
    (although i am able to walk)
    I am currently doing upper body exercise. Will it be enough?
    Can i workout 7 days a week?
    i saw your video of Calorie deficit and it opened my eyes
    thank you once again
    love from india

    • Ådne on July 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm

      If you wanted to, you could potentially not exercice at all and still lose weight. The only thing that matters in terms of weight loss is staying in a calorie deficit over time. If you are eating 500 kcal less than you burn you will lose about 0.5 kg a week since 3500 kcal = ~0.5 kg.

      The thing to note though is that not working out will also lead to some muscle loss even if you eat enough protein. So the only way to not lose muscle is to work out while you are losing fat. I only work out 3 days a week and have actually been gaining muscle and strength while still losing weight.

      I am not Radu, but I hope this helps.

  7. Anon on July 16, 2016 at 4:42 am

    Hey Radu,

    I’ve been following you for quite a while now and I am really grateful to your work. Over the past 2 weeks of intermittent fasting I have lost 2.5 kilos (=5.5 pounds). I am 6′ 5″ and I weight 86 kilos, I am at a point where I need to both gain muscle mass and cut as well. For the best results do you think I should cut further and continue gymming and put on lean muscle as Greg suggest or do you think I should keep at 12-14% body fat and gain muscle there instead of at 10-12%?

  8. AlexStefan on September 22, 2016 at 8:37 am

    false…8-12 reps and 60-90sec it s better for bigg muscle..Brandon Carter said that 🙂 and i trained 1000 of people..if you get stronger doesn t mean that you build a lot of muscle fast..in fact MMA fighters they stay the same weight but they get stronger..or skinny guys on the gym wich lift veary heavy and they still skinny..how can explain that?

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