How Much Rest To Build Lean Mass? By Dr Mike T Nelson

How Much Rest To Build Lean Mass? By Dr Mike T Nelson

Stop me if you have heard this one:

“Yo bro, if you are training to get bigger muscles you need to cut your rest period super short.”

You can put your hand down now.  Is that really true though?

Even if your goal is fat loss, hypertrophy is great since it helps to add (and keep muscle).  Think of muscle as my buddy Carl Lanore says as “metabolic currency” and it is related to your metabolic rate.  More muscle = better metabolic rate = faster progress.  The muscle building (hypertrophy) process is also quite slow. Ladies, you don’t have to worry that if you look at a weight you will gain 20 lbs of muscle over night.

There are plenty of skinny eel shaped dude brahs killing themselves in the gym and they still don’t look much bigger in a few months.  Muscle hypertrophy is good but how long do you need to rest between sets to see the best results?  Here is a hint, you probably need to rest LONGER between sets.

What?  You may be thinking that I scrambled my neurons at the Living Color concert the other night (which was freaking amazing by the way).  Nope, it is true – you need to rest MORE between sets in the gym, even if your goal is to add some muscle.  I hear it now…”cool story bro, but where is your data?”  So glad you asked.

As it turns out my buddy Dr Brad Bro-en-feld (Schoenfeld) and colleagues just released a study that looked at this very thing.  They took 21 young resistance-trained men and randomly assigned to either a group that performed a resistance training program with 1-minute rest intervals (SHORT) or a group that employed 3-minute rest intervals (LONG).  During this time they kept all the other parameters the same over an 8 week period. The participants did 3 total body sessions a week with 3 sets for 8 -12 reps, aka pretty standard dude brah hypertrophy training ya’all.

What Did They Find?

Based on my yammering above, you guessed right that the long (3 minute rest) period group saw better hypertrophy.  This jives with my pet theory that the QUALITY of work done matters. More rest between sets = a higher quality of work done.  In the full study (you know, those things that you should read for all the details and stuff), showed that the volume between the 2 groups was a bit different.

“Total aggregate load volume over the 8 weeks was greater on an absolute basis for LONG compared to SHORT (51385 ± 9420 vs 44755 ± 12166 kg, respectively): these results were not significantly different between the groups (p = 0.18), but the observed power for this analysis was only 0.26.”   (Schoenfeld, BJ 2015)

In English

While they did show a difference in volume (work done), the results were not statistically different.   Thus if you believe stats, they are no different.  It should be pointed out that their study was underpowered to look at volume differences, thus if you believe stats there could be a difference if they had more people in the study.  To me, this is good evidence that volume is most likely the main driver.  Resting longer allowed slightly more work (volume) to be done while still staying in the rep range.  As a bonus, the LONG rest group saw a greater increase in strength too! Boo ya!

“Longer rest periods can allow for the completion of a higher number of repetitions and the maintenance of a higher training intensity and volume, and thus may allow for greater muscle activation per set.” (Schoenfeld, BJ 2015)

While that statement was not in universal agreement with all the research, it is more data that you should rest longer between sets.

Here is an interview we did with Brad, it’s also available in iTunes and Stitcher.

Practical Application

The next time you hit up the gym to do some hypertrophy work and make your metabolic deposit, rest a bit longer between sets shooting for around 2 – 3 minutes.

  • Mike T Nelson, MSME, CSCS, PhD

Reference (read it and weep short rest people)

Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Pope, Zachary K.; Benik, Franklin M.; Hester, Garrett M.; Sellers, John; Nooner, Josh L.; Schnaiter, Jessica A.; Bond-Williams, Katherine E.; Carter, Adrian S.; Ross, Corbin L.; Just, Brandon L.; Henselmans, Menno; Krieger, James W. “Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: Post Acceptance: November 20, 2015 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272