Updated 11 May 2016

Pumping iron? Try longer breaks between sets for maximum muscle growth

Study suggests 5-minute rest periods during weight training, at least for novices


Taking longer rests during weight training workouts could maximize muscle growth, a small study suggests. Many experts recommend shorter periods of rest, but that may actually impair muscle growth, according to the researchers at the University of Birmingham in England.

Their study included 16 men who did weight training with either one or five minutes of rest between sets. Muscle samples were collected at zero, four, 24 and 28 hours after exercise and analyzed for what's known as myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS).

Read: Lingering myths about weight training

In the early part of exercise recovery, MPS levels increased 152 percent in the men who took longer rests between sets, compared with 76 percent in those who took shorter breaks. "With short rests of one minute, though the hormonal response is superior, the actual muscle response is blunted.

If you're looking for maximized muscle growth with your training program, a slightly longer interval between sets may provide a better chance of having the muscle response you're looking for," study author Leigh Breen said in a university news release.

People starting weight training programs should rest at least two to three minutes between sets, the researchers suggested. "Over time, they may need to find ways to push beyond the plateau of muscle building that commonly occurs, and so may gradually decrease their rest periods," Breen said.

Read: Weight training Beginner - Weight training for Men

"For experienced lifters, it's possible that they may not experience the same blunted muscle building response to short rest intervals, particularly if they have trained this way for a prolonged period and adapted to this unique metabolic stress. Nonetheless, similar recommendations of two to three minutes between sets should help to ensure maximal muscle growth in well-trained individuals."

The study was published recently in the journal Experimental Physiology.

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