Why resting makes you bigger, faster and stronger.
It’s been months.
You’ve been busting your ass day in and day out trying to put on some size.
Gains came initially, but now you hit a plateau.
Not only are you not putting on size any more, but your strength gains seem to have puttered out too.
What’s going on??
Well, if you’re a motivated gym rat, chances are you’re not a huge fan of rest.
Rest is actually where muscle growth happens. Fact!
So, if you want to grow, you’re going to have to get familiar with it.
Here’s what we are going to cover in this article:
1. Why rest is crucial to muscle growth
- How rest helps muscles grow
2. The three times rest is needed to grow muscle
- Between sets
- Between workouts
Here come the goods!
Why Rest is Crucial to Muscle Growth
Rest is where anabolism happens.
Anabolism; anab-o-lism (Via Marriam-Webster Dictionary)
The constructive part of metabolism concerned especially with macromolecular synthesis.
Exercise is where catabolism happens.
Catabolism; Ca-tab-o-lism (Via Marriam-Webster Dictionary)
Degradative metabolism involving the release of energy and resulting in the breakdown of complex materials (such as proteins or lipids) within the organism.
Let me break down what all that science mumbo jumbo is saying.
When you rest, and your body is in an anabolic state, a “constructive”, building state you are doing macromolecular synthesis.
And that means your adding muscle. Or fat. Depending on what happened prior.
When you are exercising, and your body is in a catabolic state, a “destructive” state, you are breaking down proteins and fat.
Of course, your muscles are made of protein. Exercise IS literally breaking down your muscle proteins and causing micro tears within your muscles.
This sounds really bad!
Yes, but it’s a really good thing….
That is…If you want to build bigger muscles.
Now, when you rest, your body goes to work repairing the damage and assuring you will be better prepared the next time this same threat comes.
In this case, the threat is weights.
Your body wisely increases the size of the muscles and strengthens the neural connections to your muscles.
Viola! You have bigger muscles that can take on bigger weights!
But if you’re not resting enough…..
This repairing and building process can’t happen and your gains stop.
There are Three Very Important Rest Times
Between Sets;Between Workouts; Sleep;
Let’s look at each one.
1. Rest Between Sets
When I refer to rest between sets, I am talking about the rest time between each set in your workout.
If you do a lot of supersets or circuit training, the rest between your sets will be after several different exercises. Whereas most of us will be after just one or two exercises.
If you’re doing circuit training, you probably wouldn’t have an interest in this article; as your either a female, not trying to put on muscle, or your just old and doing boring workouts.
There has long been controversy on what type of rest periods are best between sets for things like;
Muscle Growth (hypertrophy), strength, power, endurance and so on.
Well I don’t know about you, but I’m most concerned with hypertrophy.
Strength and power follow up as close seconds.
So, what does science say about this?
This 2018 study found that short rest intervals between sets will actually lead to better gains in hypertrophy (muscle growth), whereas, longer rest periods were correlated to better strength gains (1).
Seems like the old body builder vs power lifter battle was right all these years.
And to further support that;
Did you know shorter rest periods cause a greater release of growth hormone (2).
Hence, why the shorter rest periods may be most beneficial for muscular growth.
This 2018 Study found that a 3-minute rest period was best for power output with big movements like the clean & jerk. The study found longer rest periods improved technical lifting performance, perceived fatigue and power output (3).
Wow. 3-minutes seems like a long time to creepily stare at people in the mirror between sets. Right?
Well I guess all I’ve done is present facts.
I would like to help you too.
So, what is the proper rest period for you between sets?
That depends on your goal and your phase of training.
Generally, here are some good guidelines to follow:
- HypertrophyRest: 60-120 seconds between sets
- PowerRest: 2-5 minutes between sets
- Strength Rest: 3-5 minutes between sets
- EnduranceRest: 30-90 seconds between sets
- CuttingRest: 30-60 seconds between sets
2. Rest Between Workouts
There is a TON of variation here.
This is highly dependent on your exercise routine.
If you’re doing a split routine of some sort (most serious lifters are), then you can have shorter rest times between workouts.
If you’re doing a full body routine….Well….You’re dumb. And your intervals between workouts need to be larger.
That is if your goal is building bigger muscles.
If you’re working on your bikini bod or just trying to stay alive, then absolutely do a full body routine!
If you work your chest today, really hard; you can work your back tomorrow, really hard.
And your legs the next and arms the next.
However, if you work your triceps today, really hard….
Then chest is out for tomorrow. Likely, so are shoulders.
Program design and your rest intervals between workouts need to align.
A good workout routine will allow your muscles to be fully recovered before you work them again.
This time interval will vary person to person depending on a few factors;
Experience, intensity, phase of program, etc…
And a few things we don’t think of so often that directly affect our workouts and recovery….
Other life stressors, sleep the prior night, nutrition and so on….
If your trying to put on size and or make strength or power gains;
Allow at least 3-4 days between working the same muscle group.
Subjectively, there should be no “soreness” remaining in the muscle and you should be able to put the muscle through its full range of motion without any stiffness.
There are always exceptions;
Like some crazy exercise plan that may have you do chest two days in a row to recruit muscle fibers that don’t get used as often….
But, for the most part, 3-4 days between should serve you well.
Major Side note:
Tracking your rest, or lack thereof, can be an extremely useful tool for programming your workouts.
Most high-level athletes these days are probably tracking their bio-metrics regularly.
And I would put big money that most program based on their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and don’t just push through regardless of how their body is doing.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a “readiness” indicator.
Nerdy science warning……
What is HRV?
A measure of the beat-to-beat variance in your heart rate. The significance of this is, this measure tells us about your autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. Your ANS controls everything that happens automatically in your body, think: heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, hormone regulation, brain functions and so on.
Your ANS has two main parts, sympathetic & parasympathetic. Sympathetic is your “stress & reacting” side, also known as “fight or flight” side. The parasympathetic is your “relax & recovery” side.
If your ANS is out of wack and your heavily on the sympathetic side; you will have a LOW HRV and you will not be ready for intense activity.
If your ANS is in good balance, you will have a HIGH HRV and you will be ready to get as intense as needed.
HRV will show athletes if they are over-training, how conditioned they are and even predict & help athletic performance (4).
This objective measure is shockingly in line with your subjective feelings.
On days you feel like crap, your HRV is typically low, on days you feel like you can take on anything, your HRV is typically high.
So, how do you measure your HRV?
There are lots of ways!
You can have your doctor do it….Aint Nobody Got Time for That!
The iPhone/Watch is one easily accessible way to most of us.
Some Heart Rate Monitors can do it
Devices that measure our metrics all day, like the Oura Ring.
Of course, there are more ways too.
Bottom line to all of this;
Don’t just stick to your plan. If you want to feel AND perform your best, let your body guide you. Using HRV is a well-proven method to assuring you’re ready for action!
Sleep is the most important thing you can do to ensure you grow big.
It is during sleep that you have the highest levels of growth hormone.
During slow wave sleep (the deeper stages) is the time that humans have the absolute highest amounts of growth hormone present (5).
Another interesting fact from our old friend science;
Sleep deprivation (even a few hours) will lead to increased sugar cravings (and overall poor nutrition choices), weight gain (in the form of fat), loss of lean muscle tissue and lack of desire to exercise (or move in general) (6).
What is the right amount of sleep you ask?
Well, that’s different for every person,
But, in general, most of us will have sufficient sleep around 6-10 hours.
Quality over Quantity
Just because you were in bed for 8 hours, doesn’t mean you had quality sleep that entire time.
A monitor as simple as an app or watch that tracks sleep can help here.
If you are having a lot of movement during your sleep, it likely means you’re having some sort of bigger issue and should have a sleep study done.
This usually correlates to people who wake up after a full night of “sleep” and still feel tired.
Or require lots of stimulants (coffee, cola, energy drinks, etc.) all day to keep going.
THIS WILL AFFECT YOUR GYM PERFORMANCE.
Not only will your workouts be sluggish, but growth will halt too.
Your bedroom performance may be affected too!!
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is far more common in sleep deprived males.
This 2017 study shows not only is erectile dysfunction higher in sleep deprived men, but as is depression levels,
And, to make things worse….
Testosterone levels drop with lack of sleep too (7).
How to get higher quality sleep?
Improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to all those things from the start of the day through the night that can help improve sleep.
Here Are List of Things I Use With Patients That May Improve Sleep
1. Sleep Routine
Having consistent sleep/wake times will help your hormone regulation and your body will find sleep more naturally. And stay asleep better.
Doing things around the same time every night to signal sleep is coming will help with melatonin release and the achievement of sleep onset.
I recommend; Start about two hours prior to bed, dim the lights in your house, change into something comfortable, brush your teeth and do something relaxing that does not involve a screen!
The temperature of your house should be slightly cooler at night to help your body cool down, achieve and maintain sleep.
3. Lights – Day & Night
Invest in black out curtains. You want your room as dark as possible. There should be no night lights, flashing lights from thermostats, etc. If there is a light on something, cover it.
Any light source, even small will disrupt deep sleep.
Limit all sources of noise. If possible, have absolute silence. If you live in a city, then get a sound machine so the noise is consistent.
Coffee should be stopped by 2pm at the latest.
Food should cease within two hours of sleep.
Drink water all day but stop within an hour of bed to limit bladder wakening’s.
Exercise should be done no closer than 3 hours from bed time to limit after effects of workouts that may leave you lying in bed, too pumped up to sleep.
All in all,
What I am asking you to do is the easiest and hardest thing…..
Also known as, REST!
It is very difficult as a committed exerciser to take a rest day or to break your routine.
Just do it!
Your body will thank you and grow as a result.
1. Effects of rest intervals and training loads on metabolic stress and muscle hypertrophy. Fink J, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2018 Mar;38(2):261-268. doi: 10.1111/cpf.12409. Epub 2016 Dec 28.
2. Effects of very short rest periods on hormonal responses to resistance exercise in men. Rahimi R, Qaderi M, Faraji H, Boroujerdi SS. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jul;24(7):1851-9
3. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77
4. Effect of 2- vs. 3-Minute Interrepetition Rest Period on Maximal Clean Technique and Performance. Ammar A, Riemann BL, Abdelkarim O, Driss T, Hökelmann A.J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Aug 21.
5. Heart rate variability in athletes. Aubert AE, Seps B, Beckers F. Sports Med. 2003;33(12):889-919. Review.
6. Physiology of growth hormone secretion during sleep. Van Cauter E, Plat L. J Pediatr. 1996 May;128(5 Pt 2):S32-7.
7. The interaction between erectile dysfunction complaints and depression in men: a cross-sectional study about sleep, hormones and quality of life. Soterio-Pires JH, Hirotsu C, Kim LJ, Bittencourt L, Tufik S, Andersen ML. Int J Impot Res. 2017 Mar;29(2):70-75. doi: 10.1038/ijir.2016.49. Epub 2016 Dec 1.