Cutting recovery to a minute or less may impair the processes that trigger muscles to grow

Taking more rest between sets of weightlifting can promote muscle growth, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham who have published a study in the journal Experimental Psychology.

Conventional belief is that the shorter the rest period, the better when it comes to weight training. But Dr Leigh Breen and her team found that cutting recovery to a minute or less may actually impair the processes that trigger muscles to grow.

In their study, the Birmingham scientists recruited 16 men who performed a resistance session with either one or five minutes of rest between sets. Muscles biopsies were taken at four stages during the 28 hours following their workout with the researchers analysing myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) and intercellular signals, signs of growth.

Results showed that the increase in MPS from resting levels in the group who took a longer recovery was double that of those who took short rest intervals.

“With short rests of one minute, though the hormonal response is superior, the actual muscle response is blunter,” Dr Breen says.

“If you are 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 are looking for.”

Although the men in the study were inexperienced lifters, Dr Breen says the principles apply to those who have been using weights for a while.

“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 long period and adapted to this metabolic stress,” she says.

“Nonetheless, similar recommendations of 2-3 minutes between sets should ensure maximal muscle growth in well-trained individuals.”

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