You have to lift weights to build muscle. However, there are many aspects of training that dictate if you build muscle faster or slower such as sets, reps, and weight load. But one aspect most people forget to consider is the resting period between sets.

Recently, the first-ever meta-analysis on the impact of different rest times between sets on muscle hypertrophy has shed new light on this topic, providing valuable insights for anyone looking to maximize their muscle growth.

Muscle hypertrophy, the process of muscle growth, is a complex physiological phenomenon. When you lift weights, your body sends countless electrical signals to your muscle tissues, recruiting hundreds of thousands of muscle fibres. This cascade of events includes calcium release, ATP breakdown, the power stroke, and force generation. During this process, energy systems are depleted, and metabolites and fluid accumulate in the muscles. Once you stop and rest, your body begins to recover and prepare for the next set.

But how long should this rest period be? This question has puzzled researchers and athletes alike for decades and that is what we are about to find out in the paragraphs below. The information used for this article was based on a video shared by House of Hypertrophy.

New Study Suggests Best Resting Period for Muscle Growth

To fully comprehend the scope of the recent meta-analysis, we must go back to the 1990s. In 1990, a significant study was published showing that shorter rest intervals between sets could temporarily increase anabolic hormone levels, such as growth hormone. This led many to believe that shorter rest periods would enhance muscle growth. Notably, legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended a minute or less of rest between sets in his training.

However, the paradigm began to shift in the late 2000s. A 2009 study found that in untrained men, resting 2.5 minutes between sets led to greater arm and thigh growth than resting for just one minute, despite higher hormone levels with shorter rest. Subsequent studies in 2010 and 2011 found similar results, challenging the belief that shorter rest intervals were superior for muscle hypertrophy.

Note: for a full list of scientific articles taken into consideration for the conclusions of this article, click here.

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The 2014 Review and Paradigm Shift

By 2014, a comprehensive review noted that no study had conclusively demonstrated greater muscle growth with shorter rest periods. This was further supported by a 2016 study, which found that muscle growth was significantly better with three-minute rest intervals compared to one-minute rests.

The Recent Meta-Analysis

The recent meta-analysis represents a significant milestone in understanding the impact of rest intervals on muscle hypertrophy. Meta-analyses are powerful tools in scientific research as they combine the results of numerous studies on the same topic, providing a more comprehensive view of the evidence. This particular meta-analysis synthesized findings from various studies, including those from the 1990s through the 2010s, to evaluate the effects of different rest times between sets on muscle growth.

The researchers categorized rest times into two primary groups: shorter rest intervals (defined as 60 seconds or less) and longer rest intervals (defined as more than 60 seconds). The results indicated that longer rest intervals generally resulted in better muscle hypertrophy outcomes for both the arms and thighs. This finding aligns with earlier studies, such as the 2009 study that found greater arm and thigh growth with 2.5 minutes of rest compared to one minute.

Moreover, the meta-analysis divided rest intervals into four categories to provide a more nuanced understanding. Interestingly, the intermediate rest time (around 90 seconds) showed the greatest effect on muscle hypertrophy. However, it’s important to note the 95% credible intervals were widest for this rest time, indicating a high degree of variability. Credible intervals represent the range within which the true effect likely lies, given the observed data. The substantial overlap in credible intervals across all rest times suggests that while intermediate rest times may appear optimal, the benefits of different rest intervals are not significantly distinct from each other.

Additionally, the meta-analysis employed a network meta-analysis approach, which allows comparisons between multiple rest times even if direct comparisons in individual studies were not available. This approach revealed uncertainty about the definitive benefits of resting for durations longer than intermediate rest times, highlighting the need for further research with more consistent and well-designed studies.

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Practical Recommendations

Given the insights from the meta-analysis, several practical recommendations can be derived for those seeking to optimize their muscle hypertrophy:

  1. Prioritize Longer Rest Intervals: The evidence suggests that longer rest intervals tend to be more beneficial for muscle growth than shorter rest periods. Specifically, resting for more than 60 seconds, and potentially around 90 seconds, may enhance hypertrophy, especially for compound exercises that engage larger muscle groups.
  2. Adjust Rest Intervals Based on Exercise Type: While longer rest periods may be advantageous for compound exercises like squats and bench presses, isolation exercises such as bicep curls or tricep extensions might allow for shorter rest intervals without compromising muscle growth.
  3. Listen to Your Body: The meta-analysis emphasizes that rest intervals should not be rigidly fixed. Instead, athletes should rest as long as they feel necessary to recover adequately. This individualized approach ensures that each set is performed with maximum effort, optimizing the stimulus for muscle growth.
  4. Utilize Antagonistic Supersets: For those concerned about the length of their workouts due to longer rest periods, incorporating antagonistic supersets can be an effective strategy. This involves alternating exercises that target opposing muscle groups (e.g., biceps and triceps), allowing one muscle group to rest while the other is working, thereby saving time without reducing the overall rest period for each muscle group.
  5. Focus on Training to Failure: Regardless of the rest interval, it is crucial to train close to muscle failure. This means performing sets until it is difficult to complete another repetition with good form. Training to failure maximizes muscle fiber recruitment and the overall hypertrophic response.

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The Role of Hormonal Responses

The evidence suggests that temporary increases in anabolic hormones, like testosterone and growth hormone, likely play a minimal role in muscle hypertrophy. The focus should be on training close to failure, regardless of the rest period used.

The recent meta-analysis on rest intervals and muscle hypertrophy has provided valuable insights that challenge some traditional views on optimal rest times. The evidence suggests that longer rest intervals generally lead to better muscle growth compared to shorter rest periods, with intermediate durations (around 90 seconds) potentially being particularly effective. However, the wide credible intervals and overlapping results indicate that rest intervals are not the sole determinant of hypertrophy.

Practical recommendations based on these findings include prioritizing longer rest intervals, adjusting rest times according to the type of exercise, listening to individual recovery needs, using antagonistic supersets to save time, and focusing on training to failure. By incorporating these strategies, athletes and fitness enthusiasts can better tailor their training regimens to maximize muscle hypertrophy and overall performance.

In conclusion, while rest intervals play a crucial role in muscle growth, they are just one piece of the puzzle. A comprehensive approach that considers various factors, including exercise selection, training intensity, and individual recovery needs, is essential for optimizing hypertrophy. The recent meta-analysis underscores the importance of personalized and evidence-based training strategies in achieving the best possible results in muscle growth and fitness.

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