Rethink Rest: Build More Muscle and Strength with Extended Breaks

rest break Stop reading bro-science opinion blogs and start paying attention to the facts. Studies show that taking your sets to failure then giving yourself a break of 90 to 120 seconds is the way to go for the greatest gains in size and strength.

Whether it’s shredded or bulky, who doesn’t want to put on more muscle mass? Aren’t we all trying to lift more on the bench or from the floor? Although the ideas of muscle and strength may differ from person to person, there’s no denying that these are the two most universally-cited fitness goals.

All it takes is a quick Internet search, and you’ll find that everyone has their own prescription for how to achieve more muscle mass along with strength. The problem is many of these sites aren’t backed by actual scientific studies. A relatively recent study is saying that your rest breaks may be the key to unlocking more muscle growth and strength gains.

Rest: How Most People Do It Now

For years, the prevalent idea among the bodybuilding and muscle-focused community has been limiting your rest break to no more than sixty seconds. In general, as soon as you finish with your set, you are expected to get prepared for the next set within that amount of time. You’ll even find some articles and blogs that encourage a fifteen to thirty-second rest break.

The idea behind the less-than-60-seconds break is muscle exhaustion. Less time to rest means more exhaustion. More exhaustion results in greater level of muscle hypertrophy. Paired with the right recovery program, and you’re looking at bigger gains in muscle size and strength.

The obvious problem with this idea is that less rest can result in sloppy form, less overall repetitions, and oddly enough, missing the mark on muscle hypertrophy. If you want to exhaust the muscle, you need to work it to exhaustion. With some exceptions, giving your body less than sixty seconds to recover is not the ideal way to achieve muscle fatigue.

What the Study Says About Rest Breaks

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is turning the old way of thinking on its head. Here is how the study was broken down:

Subjects performed four sessions per week of weight training. Each subject performed four sets of squats and four sets of bench press. Each set was taken to complete muscle failure.

Here is the key difference: One group was allowed a thirty-second rest break and the other group was allowed a ninety-second rest break. Researchers found there were drastic differences in a few areas between the two groups:

Repetitions and Overall Volume

The first major difference was the total number of repetitions performed. The subjects taking a shorter rest break failed to perform as many repetitions as the group who rested for ninety seconds. Seems pretty obvious, right? One thing you might not have expected is that the group with the longer rest breaks was also able to lift more overall weight than the other group.

Release of the Anabolic Compound, IL-6

The most important finding for those looking to build muscle and boost strength lies in a compound called IL-6. Researchers have found that IL-6 is responsible for promoting muscle growth, supporting muscle recovery, and increasing glucose uptake, which plays an important role in building muscle.

In this study, it was shown that subjects who took longer rest breaks between sets experienced an overall greater release of IL-6 in the body.

Bigger and Better Results

Not surprisingly, the group that was allowed to have the longer rest breaks were found to have more muscle mass than the other group. Researchers believe that this is due to the fact that the longer rest breaks allowed for more repetitions to be performed, resulting in a greater degree of muscle failure.

Remember that subjects had to lift to muscle failure, meaning they physically could not perform any more repetitions no matter how much they tried. Lifting to failure after a ninety-second break stimulated the hypertrophy response that was needed for subjects to see bigger gains in muscle size and strength.

How You Can Change Your Rest Breaks

You may be wondering how you can take this information and use it to your own advantage. The two factors you’ll want to focus on are your repetitions and your rest breaks. If you are already following your own workout, then you can simply try changing your acute variables to the following:

Sets and Repetitions

  • Complete between 2 to 5 sets – More for compound movements – Less for isolation movements
  • Take every set to complete failure
  • Do NOT sacrifice form (e.g. – swinging your body)

Rest Breaks

  • Make sure you rest between 90 and 120 seconds
  • During that rest time, you can set up for your next set or exercise

Take Your Gains to the Next Level

If you really want to boost the gains you see, it’s important to consider which exercises you are using. Nothing beats the following exercises for size and strength gains:

Separate your workouts into full body or an upper-lower split. Use the acute variables above to ensure you trigger the greatest growth response.

Nutrition and Supplementation

Exercise is only half the battle. If you want to capitalize on your hard work then you need to support your body with adequate nutrition and supplementation. Eating a well-balanced meal of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats every few hours will ensure your muscles have what they need to repair and grow.

Don’t forget the convenience of a protein supplement. Providing you with twenty to thirty grams per serving, a protein shake is the way to go when you need to support your muscle size and strength gains.

What Are Your Thoughts on Longer Rest Breaks?

Do you have any experience using longer rest periods? If so, what benefits did you notice? Did you gain more muscle? Tell us about it on our Facebook.



  1. Fabrício Eduardo Rossi, Jose Gerosa-Neto, Nelo Eidy Zanchi, Jason Cholewa, Fabio Santos Lira. Impact Of Short And Moderate Rest Intervals On The Acute Immunometabolic Response To Exhaustive Strength Exercise. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Impact Factor: 2.08). 09/2015; DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001189.
  2. Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW. Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Nov 20.

Topic: Build Muscle Articles