The Case Against Short Rest Times When Lifting
Are short rest periods optimal when training for strength or hypertrophy?
Or is there a case against keeping your rest periods too short?
Here, I want to cover a few considerations as to why it may be beneficial to avoid short rest times.
So let’s start taking a look.
The Old School Approach
When I started in a gym 10 years ago, I often heard the phrases bandied about.
“Don’t rest too long, you want to keep maximum blood in your muscles”.
“Taking too long of rest means your muscles will recover and stop growing”.
“If you’re not sore, you’re not growing”.
Or the White Goodman approach was “you gotta burn it to earn it”.
A Saturday night viewing of ‘Pumping Iron’ would have to wanting to rip the sleeves off all your tops and hit the gym chasing that elusive pump.
The goal then was to crucify yourself so that the muscle group you were training screamed.
And short rest periods were the norm to keep you breaking those muscle fibres down so they grow.
There were also rumours that short rest periods drove hormones that induced muscle growth too.
But I think what they meant by hormones was Winstrol?
But, as time has gone by, we’ve come to better understand that hypertrophy is a result of the volume of resistance training performed.
When training for hypertrophy, your focus is on increasing your strength and work capacity.
Meaning that as you progress, you will see signs of strength increases with the loads you are using while the muscle cells will also be increasing in size along with their capacity for work.
The end results should correlate to an increase in muscle size.
One method for hypertrophy is to use light-to-moderate loads for higher repetitions with shorter rest intervals.
The aim is to train with a high workload that pushes you close to failure (or to failure) in order to put high stress on the muscle fibers.
By doing so, you were maximising muscular fatigue in belief that it was the key driver behind muscle growth.
However, there are 2 factors to consider.
- By focusing primarily on muscular fatigue, it may have a negative effect on total volume in the entire session or subsequent sets.
Say you’re benching 90kg for 3 x 12 reps.
You keep rest periods short but by the second set you only get 10 reps, the third you hit 8.
30 reps total which isn’t so bad.
But if you took a longer rest period between sets and were able to complete the desired 36 reps, you have managed a higher volume in that exercise by 6 reps or a total volume increase of 540kg.
- The optimal way to increasing hypertrophy or strength is a progressive increase in muscular tension and volume over the long term.
So by focusing on fatigue over volume and load used, you sacrifice your volume.
The take away point is – you should favour doing more reps with heavier weights instead of restricting rest times to induce fatigue.
And don’t forget, excessive muscle soreness can inhibit future training sessions meaning you actually negatively impact overall training.
So How Long Should You Rest For?
When looking to gain strength or muscle, we’re looking at stressing muscle fibers.
The best way to cause that is by progressively increasing load and volume over time.
And in order to do so, you want to be able to put the most you can into each set/session.
So how do you ensure you don’t negatively impact your training?
- Rest until you feel recovered enough that you will be able to perform well and hit the desired reps and load on the next set.
- If you feel like you mess on your phone too much between sets or sit about, you can do some active recovery in between OR superset your exercises with opposing muscle groups.
- Maybe time your rest periods and figure out what length of recovery works for you best, one that doesn’t impact your lifts but also means you cut down on the amount of time in the gym.
Now there will be some people who are stuck for time, and that’s cool too.
So look at using supersets to maximise the amount of work done in a set time period.
Use opposing exercises for Upper Body compounds lifts like Bench Press into Bent Over Row, or Overhead Press into Chinups/Pulldowns.
With Lower Body, Squats and Deadlifts are already quite taxing for full body, but personally, I like throwing in loaded carries in between sets of them as a way of filling rest times and keeping things interesting.
Again, nothing is set in stone so try things and see how it feels for you.
But overall, cutting rest periods short is a bad idea if it impacts your total volume or the weight you’re able to lift.
Hope that helps!