By Chris Beardsley
Chris Beardsley (Google Scholar, ResearchGate) graduated from Durham University with a Masters Degree in 2001. He since contributed to the fields of sports science and sports medicine by working alongside researchers from Team GB boxing, the School of Sport and Recreation at Auckland University of Technology, the Faculty of Sport at the University of Ljubljana, the Department of Sport at Staffordshire University, and the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.
Not so long ago, Brad Schoenfeld changed how most people viewed rest periods for hypertrophy.
His important training study showed that 3-minute rests were better than 1-minute rests for muscle growth. These results may have been observed because of the greater training volumes that could be performed when using longer rests.
So if the benefit of longer rest periods is linked to training volume, what can we learn about this from other research?
Firstly, we can see that the reductions in training volume that occur with shorter rest periods may be more marked when using multi-joint exercise, compared to when using single-joint exercise.
So if your workout is focused entirely on compound movements, then rest periods could be more important.
Secondly, we can see that reductions in training volume happen mainly between 1 and 2 minute rest periods. The difference between 2 and 3 minutes is much smaller, except when the number of sets is high (5+) per exercise.
So if you tend only to do 3 or 4 sets per exercise, then you can probably get away with 2 minute rests. But if you are doing more than that, may want to extend that rest to 3 minutes.
And finally, it is very interesting that recreational lifters seem to auto-regulate to just under 2 minute rest periods, and that auto-regulated rest period does not produce different volumes from a fixed 2-minute rest, over 3 sets.
So if your workouts involve 3 or 4 sets of several exercises, and you are training mainly for hypertrophy in order to look good, then you probably don’t need to time your rest period.
So how does this tie together?
In summary, rest period duration is probably something to consider only for advanced lifters.
We can see from the research that recreational lifters will have a natural tendency to use a rest period that is similar to 2 minutes. And this auto-regulated rest period will lead to the same volumes as longer rest periods, at least over 3 – 4 sets. So there seems little need to set a rest period, as that is just another factor to worry about.
On the other hand, advanced lifters who are doing 5+ sets per exercise may want to keep an eye on the clock to avoid reducing training volume in later sets, especially when using compound movements.