Learn How to Build Muscle

Maximize Muscle Growth: Resting Between Sets

After a hard set of barbell squats, Bobby re-racks the weight. His heart is racing, his legs are shaking and he feels light headed as he takes a big gulp 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, he is going to be back at the squat rack, going for another set.

He paces around, desperate to catch his breath before his next round with the weights.

The alarm goes off.

2 minutes have gone by. The fact is, his legs are still shaking, his heart is pounding, and he’s not ready to go back yet, but the alarm went off so Bobby is determined to follow through. He’s plowing through, in spite of these warning signs in an attempt to build muscle fast.

Bobby hefts the bar off the rack 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. His effort is mediocre, he puts the bar back, and begins to set his watch for another 2 minutes.

Bobby’s really making a huge mistake, just like many aspiring bodybuilders do.

By having a time imposed rest interval in between sets, Bobby is pushing his body to perform at a level that is actually way less than what he could achieve and this is severely limiting his ability to maximize muscle growth.

weight gain blue print

Your muscles grow and get bigger as an adaptive response 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 as much weight as possible for the most number of reps possible within a given rep range, and continually striving to improve on these figures.

You need to use your maximum strength potential for every single set of every single workout you do. If you reduce the amount of weight you can lift, you are reducing your ability to maximize muscle growth. You make this sacrifice when you do not allow your body to get enough time to rest between sets.

Once you get rid of your stopwatch and forget about looking at the clock, you will be able to better maximize muscle growth. Only begin your next set when you can do it with 100% strength potential. A timer won’t do this for you—you need to listen to your body and your instincts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that certain exercises tax the body much more than others and require more rest between them, so it should be obvious that a set rest period is a bunch of bunk.

It’s pretty clear that a tricep press down and a dead lift aren't exactly in the same boat here. Once a heavy set of dead lifts to concentric muscle failure is complete, it’s not unusual for me to rest for at least 5 minutes, if not more than that. But tricep workouts and exercises with press down are obviously not as taxing, so I might only need a rest period of 2.5 minutes to feel fully recovered.

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.

critical bench

critical bench

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