Written by justis berg
31 March 2010


Rest 3-5 Minutes Between Sets

            Bodybuilders argue about the ideal rest interval between sets. Some say that short rest periods increase muscle stress that produces greater gains in muscle mass and strength, while others say that longer rest periods allow more intense effort during subsequent sets.

            Brazilian researchers, in a review of literature, found that athletes achieved greater training volumes by resting 3 to 5 minutes between sets when lifting 50-90 percent of a 1-rep maximum. However, shorter rest periods might maximize muscle endurance and trigger hormone changes that increase muscle fitness. Rest between sets influences the efficiency, safety, and effectiveness of a weight-training program. (Sports Medicine, 39: 765-777, 2009)


The Best Powerlifters Have More Muscle Mass

            Powerlifting is a competitive sport that includes the bench press, squat, and deadlift. Powerlifters are highly muscular and have large girths and skeletal dimensions. Justin Keough and colleagues from the Institute of Sport and Recreational Research New Zealand in Auckland found that the most successful powerlifters were the most muscular and had relatively shorter leg lengths. Successful powerlifters also had larger chest girth-to-height ratios.

            They compared 17 stronger with 17 weaker powerlifters competing in South Pacific countries. Muscle hypertrophy appears critical to success in powerlifting, so those athletes should strive to increase muscle mass. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 2256-2265, 2009)


Blood Flow Restriction Does Not Increase Muscle Activation

            Japanese studies found that blood flow restriction during moderate-intensity resistance training increased strength and muscle mass. Researchers speculated that blood flow restriction caused metabolite buildup and decreased oxygen delivery to the muscles, which stimulated muscle hypertrophy. Matthias Wernbom from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found that restricting muscle blood flow during resistive exercise had no effect on muscle activation, but increased post-exercise muscle soreness.

            The test subjects did three sets of knee extensions at 30 percent effort to failure. Occlusion training caused increased muscle pain and was no more effective than regular training, so it should be restricted to highly motivated athletes. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 2389-2395, 2009)


Blood Pressure Decreases Most Following High Set Leg Exercises

            Blood pressure increases during endurance or weight-training exercise, but drops below resting values during recovery. The structure of a weight-training program might be an important factor determining the blood pressure response to exercise, particularly in people with hypertension (high blood pressure). 

            Brazilian scientists found that the greatest post-weight-training decreases in blood pressure occurred following high set leg exercises. They compared post-exercise blood pressure in controls (did no exercise) with men who did 6 sets of 12 reps of biceps curls, 10 sets of 12 reps of biceps curls, 6 sets of 12 reps of knee extensions, or 10 sets of 12 reps of knee extensions.

            Post-exercise systolic blood pressure was lowest in the high set leg exercise group 10 to 40 minutes after exercise. There were no differences between groups in diastolic pressure after exercise. People with high blood pressure should do large muscle exercises for multiple sets to minimize the blood pressure response after exercise. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 2351-2357, 2009)


Age Does Not Affect The Capacity To Increase Muscle Mass and Strength in Young Adults

            Athletes in some sports are considered old and over the hill at 25 years old. In other sports, such as bodybuilding and the throwing events in track and field, the most successful athletes are typically more than 30 years old.

            Joshua Lowndes from the University of Central Florida in Orlando and colleagues found that age had little effect on the capacity to increase muscle mass or strength in young adults (ages 18-39) involved in a 12-week weight-training program. The study examined changes in elbow flexor (biceps) size and strength, following a unilateral (one-arm) training program. Age does not affect the response to resistance exercise during the first four decades of life. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 1915-1920, 2009)


Pre-Exhaustion Decreases Maximum Muscle Activation During Weight Training

            Pre-exhaustion involves performing high-rep single-joint exercises, such as dumbbell flyes, followed by multi-joint exercises, such as bench presses. The theory behind the technique is that pre-exhaustion maximizes muscle activation during the multi-joint exercise.

            Brazilian researchers found that pre-exhausting upper body muscles using dumbbell flyes resulted in excessive fatigue in the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps muscles during the bench press and altered the technique during the lift. Muscles respond best to high levels of muscle tension and time under peak tension. Fatiguing key muscles using isolation exercises decreases the peak load in large muscle groups. Muscle pre-exhaustion is a poor way to maximize gains in a strength-training program. (Journal Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 1933-1940, 2009)


Lifting Intensities Above 60 Percent Max Effort Promote Muscle Protein Synthesis and Prevent Muscle Breakdown

            Weight training has a widespread effect on cell control systems in skeletal muscle. It activates genes important for muscle protein synthesis and growth, alters growth factors that increase strength, and inhibits chemicals that suppress muscle protein synthesis.

            A sophisticated study by Colin Wilborn from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Texas and colleagues found that high-intensity workouts involving either low weight and high reps (four sets of 18-20 reps at 60-65 percent max effort) or higher weight and lower reps (four sets of 8-10 reps at 80-85 percent max effort) triggered increased activation of genes that stimulated protein synthesis and inhibited genes that suppressed muscle cell development. (Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, 23: 2179-2187, 2009)


Rest More Between Sets to Maximize Training Volume

            The intensity of a weight-training workout varies with the number of sets, reps, weight, and rest intervals. Manipulating one factor changes the others. For example, lifters can do more sets and reps if they use lighter weights. Conversely, short rest intervals prevent recovery and decrease the capacity to lift more weight and perform more sets and reps.

            Brazilian researchers found that athletes achieved greater training volumes when they rested 3 minutes between sets, rather than 1 minute during an upper-body workout involving 3 sets of five exercises at a weight equal to 8 reps maximum.

            Training volume is only one measure of the effectiveness of a workout. Short rest periods sometimes cause greater increases in anabolic hormones, which might cause greater training gains. Longer rest intervals (e.g., 5 minutes) might be more appropriate when doing heavy singles or doubles. Judge the effectiveness of programs by gains in muscle mass and strength— not just the training volumes of individual workouts. (Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 8: 388-392, 2009)