Tell me is this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been training in the gym for a while, you made some nice gains and now your progress has stalled. You’re doing all the compound lifts – squats, deadlifts, bench press, chins, etc. – but you just can’t seem to get any stronger, or any bigger.
The answer might not be your exercise selection or rep scheme, but something a lot simpler that you may have overlooked… rest periods.
A new study investigated the effects of long rest periods (i.e. 3-minutes) versus short (i.e. 1-minue) during resistance training. Twenty-one young men who were regular lifters trained three times per week, 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for seven exercises per session, over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers tested muscular strength, endurance, and thickness before and after the study. The results were eye opening.
The group that rested the had to take “long” rest periods had significantly greater gains in muscular strength (i.e. 1-RM squat and bench press), as well as significantly greater muscle thickness in the legs (and a trend for upper body improvements).(1) It may not surprise many trainers that taking longer rest periods helps with your maximal strength performance, but the fact that it can also increase muscle thickness makes it a great “rest” strategy for athletes or anyone trying to add more lean muscle and size to their frame.
A lot of lifters can get caught up in the burn and build-up of lactic acid as a measure of training success, and therefore shy away from longer rest periods. This study suggests the longer rest periods you take, the greater loads you can lift, which then translates into greater hypertrophy gains.
How can you make this practical during your training session (so it doesn’t take you 2 hours to train every session)? Your best bet is to superset opposing body parts, or upper and lower body, to maximize your time. For example, you could alternate chest and back exercises, or alternate between a compound leg exercise and upper body push or pull movement.
You might be wondering if your work capacity will be impaired by the longer rest periods? Great question and one the researchers investigated. They found muscular endurance was equal between the two groups, so taking 3-minute rest periods didn’t reduce the work capacity of the lifters compared to their 1-minute counterparts. This goes against a lot of popular thinking, as a 1-minute rest interval has to be the most common prescribed in gyms across the country.
If you’re struggling to get bigger or stronger (or both), and feel like you’re doing all the right things in the gym, the answer overcoming your plateau may be simpler than you think. This groundbreaking new research suggests adding 3-minute rest periods to your compound lifts to ramp up strength and hypertrophy gains. (Just think of how much down time you’ll have for mobility work!)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
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