Maximize Muscle Growth: Resting Between Sets

After a hard set of barbell squats, Bobby re-racks the weight. He has shaky legs, a heart that’s racing and he feels lightheaded as he sips from his water bottle. Hitting the “start” button on his watch, he begins a 2 minute countdown.

Bobby learned somewhere that 2 minutes is the ideal time to rest your body between sets at the gym, so he is going to rest exactly for those 2 minutes and get started again. When the alarm goes off after 2 minutes, he’ll be back at the squat rack, pumping out another set.

He is walking around, working to catch his breath and readying his body for its next battle with the weights.

His watch beeps.

Time’s up, Bobby. He doesn’t feel 100% yet—his legs are shaking, his heart pounding—but the alarm went off so his time is up and he needs to get to the next set. He’s plowing through, in spite of these warning signs.

He unracks the bar and squats. He wishes he’d had more time to prepare for this set because honestly, his legs are still burning more than is comfortable. He completes the set with mediocre energy, re-racks the bar, and re-sets the timer on his watch for the obligatory 2 minutes.

Bobby, just like so many other aspiring bodybuilders, is making a huge mistake.

Thanks to the timer, Bobby is forcing his body to go for it at an effort level much below his actual potential and therefore, is sacrificing his chance to maximize muscle growth.

Muscles grow as they adapt to stress. Your body adapts to a certain amount of stress when you lift X amount of weight for Y number of reps. You have to constantly push X and Y to higher levels to maximize muscle growth.

For those who really want to maximize muscle growth, it’s critical to progress in both reps and weight. You need to lift the maximum weight for the greatest amount of reps within a given rep range and push yourself to continually improve from there.

Due to this, every single set of every workout must be performed with the maximum strength that you can muster. You sacrifice your ability to maximize muscle growth by limiting the amount of weight you can lift. And when you do not rest enough between sets, you’re guilty of making this sacrifice.

If you want to maximize muscle growth, stop counting the seconds between sets.

Perform your next only when you can do it with 100% of your strength potential, and not before. A timer won’t do this for you—you need to listen to your body and your instincts.

Having a set rest period really doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider that there are certain exercises that work the body so much more than others and simply need more rest between sets.

You can’t put a dead lift and a tricep press down in the same boat, can you? I'll usually be resting for at least 5 minutes after doing a heavy set of dead lifts to concentric muscle failure, sometimes even longer. Since a set of tricep press downs is obviously not as taxing, I can move onto the next set in just two and a half minutes.

Use your instincts to determine when you can perform your next set with 100% of your strength. Adding this one training technique will have a major effect on your ability to maximize muscle growth.

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