Workout Routine

Maximize Muscle Growth: Resting Between Sets

After a hard set of barbell squats, Bobby re-racks the weight. He has wobbly legs, a heart that’s racing, and is lightheaded as he drinks some water. Hitting the “start” button on his watch, he begins a 2 minute countdown.

Bobby read somewhere that if you give your body 2 minutes to rest between sets, you’re good, so he’s planning on timing the count perfectly. The moment the watch beeps after 2 minutes, he’ll be back in the squat rack, doing another set.

He walks around, working to catch his breath to get ready for the next battle with the loaded bar.

His watch beeps.

It’s been 2 minutes. He doesn’t feel 100% yet—his legs are shaking, his heart pounding—but the alarm went off so his time is up and he needs to get to the next set. He will not wait to perform his next set, no matter what his body is saying.

Unracking the weight, he squats down. It would have been better, he thinks, to have had more time to get ready because his legs still burn something fierce. This set is performed mediocre effort; he puts the bar back and reaches for that timer to give himself another 2 minutes of rest.

Bobby is making a critical mistake in his workout, just like so many other new lifters.

Thanks to the timer, Bobby is forcing his body to go for it at an effort level much below his actual potential and therefore, is sacrificing his chance to Maximize Muscle Growth.

Your muscles grow in response to the stress you place on them. When you push yourself to lift X amount of weight for Y number of reps, your body will adapt to the stress this causes. To maximize muscle growth you have to continuously increase X and Y.

For those who really want to maximize muscle growth, it’s critical to progress in both reps and weight. You need to be lifting as much weight as you possibly can for the most reps that you can possibly achieve (within a given rep range) and work from there to get even better.

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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. And when you do not rest enough between sets, you’re guilty of making this sacrifice.

To maximize muscle growth, toss away your timer and ignore the clock.

Perform your next only when you can do it with 100% of your strength potential, and not before. A timer won’t do this for you—you need to listen to your body and your instincts.

Having a set rest period really doesn’t make sense, especially when you consider that there are certain exercises that work the body so much more than others and simply need more rest between sets.

A dead lift and a tricep press down clearly are not in the same ballpark. I’ll usually rest for at least 5 minutes after a heavy set of dead lifts to failure, sometimes even more. If I’m working on a set of tricep press downs, I might only need a rest period of 2.5 minutes to feel fully recovered because they are obviously not as taxing.

You need to listen to your instincts, not a timer, to determine when you can best perform your next set at 100% of your strength. Adding this one training technique will have a major effect on your ability to maximize muscle growth.

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