Longer Rest Periods Stimulate More Protein Synthesis
By: Robbie Durand
For decades, bodybuilders have been told to rest less than a minute between sets for maximal muscle growth. Some trainers have recommended less than 30 seconds for maximal muscle growth. Most of the recommendations came from the fact that shorter rest periods result in greater increases in GH and testosterone levels, but this may be all smoke and mirrors.
Back in 2005, researchers compared short and long rest periods for three months, and much to the shock of the researchers, there was no difference in muscle growth. The researchers stated, “However, both 3-month training periods performed with either the longer or, the shorter rest periods between the sets resulted in similar gains in muscle mass and strength. No changes were observed in basal hormone concentrations of GH or testosterone were noted during the entire 6-month experimental training period. The study indicated that the length of the recovery times between the sets (2 vs. 5 minutes) did not have an influence on the magnitude of acute hormonal and strength responses or long-term training adaptations in muscle strength and mass in previously strength-trained men.”
Does More Rest Mean More Muscle Strength?
Some researchers have even stated that longer rest periods are more productive for muscle growth. More rest allows you to either lift more weight for the same number of repetitions or the same weight for more repetitions. There is more favorable research to suggest that longer rest periods are favorable for increasing muscle strength. Some of the more recent studies indicate that 3-minute rest periods are the optimal rest periods to maintain strength while performing resistance exercise with multi-joint exercises, but little is known about how much rest is optimal for single joint exercises.
In the study, sixteen trained men completed four visits for 1, 2, 3, and 5-minute rest intervals between five consecutive sets. The researchers found increased total bench press repetitions completed with 2, 3 and 5-minutes versus 1-minute rest between sets. Declines in performance (relative to the first set) were observed starting as early as the second for the shorter 1-minute and only in the fifth set for all of the other rest conditions (2, 3 and 5-minute). This research suggests that when performing multi-joint exercises, around 3 minutes of rest between sets are needed.
What about if you’re performing a single joint exercise, such as a machine flye, do you still need three-minute rest periods between sets?
Researchers examined different rest intervals on the performance of single and multi-joint exercises with near maximal loads. Fifteen trained men performed eight sessions (two exercises x four different rest intervals), each consisting of five sets with a 3-RM load. The exercises tested were:
-the machine chest fly (MCF) for the single joint exercise and the
– barbell bench press (BP) for the multi-joint exercise
Each protocol was tested with 1, 2, 3 and 5-minutes of rest between sets. At the end of the study, results indicate that when implementing a 3-RM load for the machine chest fly and bench press, a 1-minute rest interval between sets led to a significant reduction in the total repetitions completed over five consecutive sets. The researchers observed that significantly more reps were completed for the 2 minute, 3 minutes, and 5-minute conditions compared to the 1-minute condition when using the machine chest fly. The researchers observed that significantly more reps were completed for the 3 minute and the 5-minute conditions compared to the 1-minute condition when using the bench press. They also noted that significantly more reps were completed for the 5 minute than the 2-minute condition. In conclusion, to maintain the best consistency in repetition performance, rest intervals of 2 minutes between sets are sufficient for the single joint exercises and 3 to 5-minutes for the multi-joint exercises. Thus, it appears that longer acute recovery time is needed for a multi-joint (core) exercise like the bench press versus a single-joint (assistance) exercise like the machine chest flye.
Short Rest Periods May Blunt Anabolic Responses
The newest research published in Experimental Physiology, reports that using short rest periods does not stimulate optimal anabolic responses. In the study, researchers examined the acute muscle anabolic response to resistance exercise performed with short or long inter-set rest intervals. 16 males completed four sets of leg press and leg extension exercise at 75% of 1RM to momentary muscular failure, followed by ingestion of 25 g of whey protein. Resistance training sets were interspersed by 1 min or 5 min of passive rest. Muscle biopsies were obtained at rest, 0, 4, 24 and 28 hours post-exercise. At the end of the study, resistance exercise with short (1 Minute) inter-set rest duration reduced muscle protein synthesis during the early post-exercise recovery period compared with longer (5 Minute) rest duration. The 5 minute rest period resulted in a 152% increase in muscle protein synthesis, versus 76% increase in those with short rest intervals (1 minute).
Dr. Leigh Breen, from the University of Birmingham, explained, “With short rests of one minute, though the hormonal response is superior, the actual muscle response is blunted. If you’re looking for maximised muscle growth with your training programme, a slightly longer interval between sets may provide a better chance of having the muscle response you’re looking for.”The team recommends that novices starting out on weight training programs should take sufficient rest, of at least 2-3 minutes, between weight lifting sets.
James McKendry, Alberto Pérez-López, Michael McLeod, Dan Luo, R. Dent, Benoit Smeuninx, Jinglei Yu, Angela. E. Taylor, Andrew Philp, Leigh Breen. Short inter-set rest blunts resistance exercise-induced increases in myofibrillar protein synthesis and intracellular signaling in young males. Experimental Physiology, 2016;
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