How Long to Rest Between Sets | Muscle Mass VS Definition


People don’t think enough about the amount of rest needed in between sets. Different amounts of rest are needed for a strength workout vs. a mass building workout.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets

The same goes for the amount of pause in between each rep. Doing non-stop reps affects your muscles in a much different way than pausing a second in between each rep.

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Let’s address how rest affects the outcome of your workouts.

The Principle of “Cumulative Fatigue”

Have you ever heard of cumulative fatigue?

I’m surprised it isn’t addressed more often in the bodybuilding world, because it is crucial to gaining muscle quickly.

I am not into gaining excessive muscle so I do my best to avoid this when working out.

Basically cumulative fatigue is taking short rest periods in between sets, so that the muscle isn’t fully recovered before hitting the next set.

Each set builds upon the previous set.

If the rest periods are too long, then less fatigue occurs.

If your goal is to build a muscle, then you need to fatigue it with a high volume of sets.

Shorter rest periods maximize the fatigue and as a result it creates a great condition for muscle growth to occur.

High Tension NOT High Fatigue for Muscle Definition

Muscle definition is maximized when strength is gained without a corresponding increase in muscle size. Think about that for a second what must occur if you get stronger without getting bigger?

Well, the muscle has to contract harder.

True lasting muscle tone is a result of an efficient nervous system: getting stronger without getting bigger.

An example of this type of muscle tone is an Olympic gymnast.

They need to have very efficient muscles, not large muscles.

Rest Longer in Between Sets to Generate Maximum Tension

Since you are not striving for maximum fatigue while training for tension, you can rest a bit longer in between sets.

When lifting for maximum tension you want your nervous system fully charged up to deliver strong impulses to the target muscle.

Feel free to rest up to 3 minutes in between sets to generate high tension in the muscle.

Note: You probably don’t need to rest a full 3 minutes in between sets.

The first few sets of an exercise, you may just want to rest a minute or two. Just let your nervous system rest a bit to charge up for the next set.

I sometimes rest up to 3 minutes in between my last set or two on a day I’m lifting heavier than normal.

Cumulative Fatigue Occurs In With “Reps” as Well!

A bodybuilder typically does reps in a non-stop fashion. Each rep builds upon the previous rep and fatigues the muscle.

The ideal set for building mass is when a muscle fails around the 6-12 rep range.

Bodybuilders often will do forced reps to fatigue the muscle even further. Another reason bodybuilders like to do continuous reps is that it creates a “pump” in the muscle as well.

The combination of creating a pump and fatiguing the muscle is ideal if building muscle mass is your goal.

Pausing In Between Reps for Maximum Tension

If you pause for a brief moment in between reps, you allow your nervous system to charge back up a bit.

This slight moment of rest allows you to contract the muscle a bit harder for the next rep than if you did a continuous set without rest.

You can almost think of a each rep as a separate entity when training for maximum tension, the reps really aren’t building upon each other like in a typical mass building set.

High Tension Training Feels Different Than Fatigue Training

When I first began doing high tension training, I left the weight room and barely felt like I got a good workout in.

My muscles didn’t feel tired and they weren’t really pumped up.

They actually felt energized to a certain extent. Also, I didn’t get sore the following day, or the day after that.

This type of training feels nothing like what a typical lifting session feels like. The great thing is that you have a ton of energy to “kill it” with cardio.

You will also get stronger at a surprising rate without getting bigger.

Brief High Tension Training & Intense Cardio… a Killer Combo

Since muscle fatigue isn’t part of the equation in high tension training, you don’t have to worry about a high volume of sets and reps.

To be honest, you can work a muscle group well with a 6-10 total sets.

Even with slightly longer rest periods, your workout should be pretty brief. This will give you more time and energy to really burn some calories doing intense cardio.

This additional cardio is going to strip away body fat to reveal the dense and toned muscles created by high tension training.

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For 15 years I've helped fashion models get lean for photoshoots. Use my plan to Lose 5-10 pounds of PURE body fat in 14 days.

This creates a very impressive physique that is extremely defined without being bulky or “puffy” looking.


-Rusty Moore

As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.

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