Reducing Rest Period between Sets is just as good as Increasing Training Volume as a Muscle Overload tool

There are many ways and factors which you can use and tweak to gain progression when you lift weights. The main purpose of these factors is to gradually increase muscle overload and are simply ways on how one can gradually increase the challenge and difficulty of their lifting sessions therefore providing the body a reason to continually develop as it tries to adapt due to increasingly challenging conditions.

Among all of these factors of overload one could simply have ignored the rest period between sets. In theory decreasing the rest period between sets gradually increases what we call the “density” of the training session which should yield more or less the same gains as do increasing training volume or adjusting any other factor. But nonetheless it is not a very popular way to go about progression and I myself am not a great fan of computing how many minutes exactly I have rested in between sets.

However, the good news is that it IS ACTUALLY a great way to gain muscle after all and one can use it as a temporary training method substitute if he has been on the same routine for quite a long time and simply wants to break the ice or you are just not getting the same results as you used to with your current method.

But first off let us enumerate the most popular ways of increasing overload: increasing training volume, increasing intensity (poundage), increasing intensity of effort (ala HIT, not the former “intensity”), and lastly increasing training density over time by means of adjusting rest periods.

Arnold loved high volume while Mike loved high intensity of effort – both method seemed to have worked out because both lead to overload nonetheless:

workout sets 1 set or 5 sets



Now bellow’s the study that examined the difference between increasing training volume and gradually decreasing the rest period from 2 minutes to 30 seconds over time but using the same volume and training method from the beginning of the study to the end which lasted 8 weeks (note: this study used TRAINED subjects and NOT just random guys who never lifted weights their whole life – which makes the results more dependable):

Comparison between constant and decreasing rest intervals: influence on maximal strength and hypertrophy.

de Souza TP Jr1, Fleck SJ, Simão R, Dubas JP, Pereira B, de Brito Pacheco EM, da Silva AC, de Oliveira PR.


Most resistance training programs use constant rest period lengths between sets and exercises, but some programs use decreasing rest period lengths as training progresses. The aim of this study was to compare the effect on strength and hypertrophy of 8 weeks of resistance training using constant rest intervals (CIs) and decreasing rest intervals (DIs) between sets and exercises. Twenty young men recreationally trained in strength training were randomly assigned to either a CI or DI training group. During the first 2 weeks of training, 3 sets of 10-12 repetition maximum (RM) with 2-minute rest intervals between sets and exercises were performed by both groups. During the next 6 weeks of training, the CI group trained using 2 minutes between sets and exercises (4 sets of 8-10RM), and the DI group trained with DIs (2 minutes decreasing to 30 seconds) as the 6 weeks of training progressed (4 sets of 8-10RM). Total training volume of the bench press and squat were significantly lower for the DI compared to the CI group (bench press 9.4%, squat 13.9%) and weekly training volume of these same exercises was lower in the DI group from weeks 6 to 8 of training. Strength (1RM) in the bench press and squat, knee extensor and flexor isokinetic measures of peak torque, and muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) using magnetic resonance imaging were assessed pretraining and posttraining. No significant differences (p < or = 0.05) were shown between the CI and DI training protocols for CSA (arm 13.8 vs. 14.5%, thigh 16.6 vs. 16.3%), 1RM (bench press 28 vs. 37%, squat 34 vs. 34%), and isokinetic peak torque. In conclusion, the results indicate that a training protocol with DI is just as effective as a CI protocol over short training periods (6 weeks) for increasing maximal strength and muscle CSA; thus, either type of program can be used over a short training period to cause strength and hypertrophy.

The result per this study was that gradually decreasing the rest period between sets was just as good as steadily increasing training volume in producing results.

This means that if you were on the same method for too long (whatever factor you are adjusting gradually) – it would not be a waste of time to slowly and steadily increase your sessions’ density by means of gradually reducing the rest period between your training sets. You can switch to this to your current method for the mean time then you can go back to your favorite overload method. The good thing about this is you don’t need to worry about having to use heavier weights and you will tend to finish your sessions faster. REMEMBER: Less time in the gym = MORE time to recover.

The subjects in this study used a 2 minute rest period for the first couple of weeks and gradually tapered it to 30 seconds by the 8th week. It’s up to you how you will tweak and experiment with how much you will reduce your rest time per week whatever floats your boat and whatever suits you personally; but it might be best to make the decrease more gradual as what the subjects did in the study to give your body ample of time to adapt to the overload.

And till next time, eat your eggs and REST LESS, A-Lifters!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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