There are a lot of factors that go into muscle growth, and rest periods are one of them.
Rest periods can be broken down into three categories:
Short rest periods – about 30 seconds
Long rest periods – 2 minutes to 5 minutes
Moderate rest periods – about 60-90 seconds
Short Rest Periods
Tiring your muscles through weight training is key to getting them bigger. By limiting rest periods to about 30 seconds between sets of strength training exercises, you’ll do just that. The drawback of such a short rest period, however, is that you won’t be resting long enough to maintain sufficient strength. If strength can’t be maintained, then the weights that you’ll be able to lift with shorter rest won’t be heavy enough to help your muscles grow.
Long Rest Periods
The primary advantage with long rest periods is that, because they’re long enough to almost fully restore your strength, you can use near maximum weights that result in some monster gains in strength over time. The drawback to long rest periods, however, is that you often don’t tire your muscles enough, which is a draw back if you’re looking to pack on size. However, by increasing strength, you’ll be able to use a much heavier weight, and you’ll be able to access more muscle fibers every time you lift. Your next option? Somewhere between short and long periods.
Moderate Rest Periods
You actually don’t want to fully recover between sets, because building muscle requires tiring them out, but you also want to rest long enough that you can repeatedly use a weight heavy enough to stimulate growth. That’s why moderate rest periods hit the sweet spot of building muscle mass: the weights lifted are still heavy enough to target the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for growth, and the fatigue is sufficient to flip the switch to turn on the mechanisms that result in muscle growth.
Here are a few tips using this information to take your muscle mass up a notch.
If you’ve been training consistently 3 to 6 months:
Assuming you’ve developed good exercise technique with your big exercises (bench press, chinups, shoulder press, squat, deadlift, etc.), focus on getting stronger in the next few months. Your goal is to activate as much muscle as possible at any one time. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps of big exercises with longer rest periods.
If you’ve been training consistently for 6 months to a year:
At this stage in training, your goal to increase your volume of exercise which will help build your muscles. Perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps with longer rest periods. Follow this with 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps with moderate rest periods for the same muscle groups
If you’ve been training consistently for 12 to 18 months:
You’re at the point where you’ll need a stronger stimulus to get big, so you’ll need to focus on either strength or muscle size development.
You should alternate training programs, going from focusing on strength for 4-6 weeks, then on size development for another 4-6 weeks. Perform 3 sets of big exercises, on your strength weeks using big weight you can only lift 1-5 times, and on your size weeks, using weight you can lift 6-12 times.
By: Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S.