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The Impact of Rest Periods on Muscle Growth: Debunking the Short Rest Myth

Updated: Jul 17, 2023


When it comes to working out at the gym, many people follow a common approach of doing multiple sets with short rest periods. The belief is that these short breaks, ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, can lead to greater muscle gains. However, recent research suggests that using longer rest periods can actually promote more significant muscle growth. In this blog post, we will delve into the reasons behind this phenomenon and explore the practical implications for your training routine.

The Role of Rest Periods in Muscle Growth:

Contrary to popular belief, shorter rest periods of 1–2 minutes between sets have been found to result in less muscle growth compared to longer rest periods of 3–5 minutes. This discrepancy can be attributed to the impact of central nervous system fatigue at the beginning of each set, which is more pronounced when shorter rest periods are utilised. Let's take a closer look at why this occurs.

Understanding Central Nervous System Fatigue:

Every set performed to failure involves a specific number of stimulating reps, typically around five. These reps occur towards the end of a set and involve high levels of motor unit recruitment, combined with a slow muscle fiber shortening velocity. This recruitment triggers central nervous system fatigue to a certain extent, and the extent of this fatigue can vary depending on the rest period duration.

Effects of Short Rest Periods:

When utilising shorter rest periods, the central nervous system fatigue from the previous set may still be present when starting the next set. This fatigue hinders the achievement of full motor unit recruitment, limiting the stimulation of highly responsive muscle fibers controlled by high-threshold motor units. As a result, the desired muscle-building effect is compromised, as we fail to fully engage the muscle fibers that would provide optimal results.

Practical Implications:

So, what does this mean for your training routine? If your goal is to maximise muscle growth, it is recommended to incorporate longer rest periods between sets. By allowing your central nervous system to recover more fully, you will be able to achieve greater motor unit recruitment and stimulate a higher number of muscle fibers during each set. This, in turn, will lead to more efficient and effective muscle-building workouts.


In conclusion, the belief that short rest periods between sets contribute to superior muscle gains is being debunked by scientific research. Longer rest periods are now recognised as more conducive to muscle growth due to the reduction of central nervous system fatigue. By optimising your rest periods, you can ensure that you achieve the desired results from your workouts, making the most out of your efforts at the gym.

Remember, muscle growth is a complex process influenced by various factors, and rest periods are just one piece of the puzzle.

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