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“Rest Time between Sets”: Does it matter? Only if you want to gain muscle

Back in the early 2000s, I had a coworker who was doing the ‘Body for Life’ program. He religiously adhered to the program for a good six months and managed to track his fat loss and muscle gains with impressive precision. He ate his prescribed six meals per day that would each barely satisfy a bird. As a result, almost twenty pounds of ‘beer-guzzling produced’ blubber came off his body. And in the twelve-week period, he was even able to gain some muscle – a whopping one pound of it; hardly something to write home about or utilize for sustained motivation.

Being in proximity to his weight training workouts, I could see the problem from a muscle building standpoint. He did his ‘Body for life’ bodybuilding workouts during lunch in a gym at the facility where we worked.   The problem: Our lunch period was only thirty minutes long. That’s strange. On a cold morning, I’ve taken up to twenty minutes just to warm up my body for a workout. This guy was doing his entire “muscle building” workout in thirty? I’m suspicious of even that one pound of purportedly gained muscle; water retention can play tricks within a window of several pounds.

Rest time between sets
'Rest time between sets' is as important as the sets themselves if you want 'natural bodybuilding' to produce optimal results for you.

“Rest Time between Sets”: The reason ‘Body for Life’ didn’t create miracles for my former coworker

Just recently, I wrote an article on how to ‘get big arms’ by avoiding “three big mistakes.” Before dispensing with some insights I’ve gained over the years, I looked to see what’s currently being said on the topic. What I found were workouts by authors who subscribe to the notion that training time should be short – that ‘rest time between sets’ should be a minute or less – that you should “get in and out of the gym quickly.”

By contrast, here’s what I’ve discovered over the years: If your rest time between sets is kept too short – you’ll get really good at working your cardiovascular system while depriving yourself of shapely, strong, powerful, calorie-burning, confidence-building muscle mass that could be proudly plastered to your frame. I’ve been there and done that – years ago. My short rest time between sets got the admiring glances of those in the gym that recognize and acknowledge hard work when they see it. However, it got me little in the way of admiring glances for gained muscle because it hardly produced any of those kinds of gains.

My ‘Body for Life’ coworker was obviously taking short rest time between sets in order to perform a “workout” in thirty minutes. And it’s no wonder to me that he lost motivation for that program within months and went back to smoking, eating, and drinking too much as his whopping one pound of muscle vanished within subsequent fat gains.

“Rest Time between Sets”: The bottom line

For years, I performed weight training workouts in which my rest time between sets was limited to exactly one minute. This produced some pretty grueling workouts, especially when doing deep squats in this manner. I did not, however, develop an appreciable amount of muscle from training this way. In fact, I didn’t gain much of anything except the occasional kudos from some fellow gym members that sounded something like this:

“Wow… good job… you’re really working out hard.”

Okay… I guess someone who wants that kind of recognition some cardiovascular endurance gains should have at it. But I wanted a more muscularly shapely appearance to my physique. Getting this requires adequately working the body’s ATP-CP System, which is the only way to stimulate fast-twitch muscle fiber growth. And it’s these fast-twitch fibers that hold the most potential for augmentation.

If you are training your muscles for sport’s endurance, then by all means, take a short rest time between sets. But if your objective is hardbody success ,then add some rippling muscle to your body by taking longer rest intervals between your weight-lifting sets. I recommend about a 10 to 1 ratio between rest time and set time. That means if it takes you twenty seconds to finish a set of six to ten reps – you should take about three and a half minutes of rest time between sets.

Less time spent in the gym? I’m hardly ever there. But it’s not (nor ever will be) due to getting my workout “done” within a thirty minute lunch period. That would likely earn me one measly pound of muscle as my meridian prize of muscle building. I’d prefer to continue building an amount that turns my body into a calorie-burning machine.



Hello Protein Shakes,

I've arrived at the 10 to 1 rest-between-sets time to 'sets time' from study of Charles Poliquin's material and my own experience experimenting with the workouts of both my clients and myself. My experience has shown me that the white fast-twitch muscle fibers need maximum stimulation for muscle growth. This is best done by avoiding nervous system exhaustion prior to being able to maximally stimulate those fibers.

I agree with you about development of the trainee being important to all training design decisions. Especially with regard to recuperation days between workouts.

Thank you for stopping by.


Protein Shakes

Where have you had this information from that you need 1-10 rest and is the person after more size or more strength? also what size is the person in question because the amount of muscle the person carries is important to the amount of rest needed. Cheers


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This is perfect! I know now the reason why I'm not gaining enough muscle and what's the problem in the way that I do it. Thanks for the post, I was able to analyze myself.

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