In a piece of research carried out by Villanuev MG, et. al., a comparison in strength training was made between 60-second and 4-minute breaks between sets. The group of men who took 60-second breaks between sets were of an average age of 65.6 years, ± 3.4 years. The group of men who took 4-minute breaks between sets were of an average age of 70.3 years, ± 4.9 years. All men trained for four weeks following a uniform program of exercise (three times a week) and only after that initial period of time, they were divided into their groups, and continued to train for another eight weeks. The only difference between the two modified programs was the time of rest between the sets.
All participants were noted to have increased their non-fat body mass, their upper and lower body strength, general body strength, and a decreased level of fat tissue. In men from the 60-second break between sets group, there was a higher increase in their non-fat body mass, a higher increase in their bench press power, a higher increase in leg press power, a higher increase in the pulldown exercise, and a higher increase in strength during the climbing of stairs.
Before you run off to the gym, however, I have serious doubts about this research. Young people, and those with strength training experience, will react differently to any type of training. This was confirmed by Schoenfield BJ; 21 men who had experience in strength training (between the ages of 18-35) were randomly assigned to groups of “short rests” (a one-minute break between sets), and “long rests” (three minutes.) For eight weeks, the men followed the same exercise program for strength training, which contained 3 sets of 8-12 repeats of 7 different strength exercises.
Results focusing on muscle hypertrophy
The increase (measured by looking at the transverse cut of the muscle) in the group of three-minute breaks in their muscle flexor group of the elbow (e.g., the bicep) was noted at 5.4%, and in the one-minute break group it was noted at 2.8% (a statistically large difference). The increase in the triceps in the three-minute break group was at 7%, and in the one-minute break group at a mere 0.5% (a statistically insignificant difference.) The increase in the quadriceps femoris muscle in the three-minute break group was 13.3%, and 6.9% in the one-minute break group. No differences were noted between in the increase of the vastus lateralis muscle.
Results focusing on the increase in strength and muscle resistance
Strength in the sit up exercise in the three-minute break group increased by 15.2%, whereas in the one-minute break group, it increased by 7.6%. Strength in bench pressing in the three-minute break group increased by 12.7%, and in the one-minute break group, it increased by 4.1%. Muscle resistance in bench pressing (weight equal to 50% of the maximum) increased by 23.2% in the three-minute break group, and by 13% in the one-minute break group.
To me, the Schoenfeld BJ research is more reliable, as it was carried out on younger men who were experienced in strength training. Too often, research based on older people, and people without exercise experience lead to erroneous conclusions. Consequently, for muscle hypertrophy, longer rest breaks (120-150 seconds between sets) are better than those of 45-60 second length. For strength building, breaks of even up to 3-4 minutes between sets are effective.
“How long were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rest breaks? Check Arnold Schwarzenegger – how did the bodybuilding champion train and what did he eat!”
- Villanueva MG “Short rest interval lengths between sets optimally enhance body composition and performance with 8 weeks of strength resistance training in older men” https//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25294666″
- Schoenfeld BJ1 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. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Nov 20. “Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men