build more muscle with rest-pause sets

by Jason Stallworth

July 15, 2020

Rest-pause sets are when you perform a set, rest for a short period of time, and perform another set with the same weight.

Sound brutal? It is. And it’s of the best ways to build more muscle size.

Many rest 15-30 seconds between rest-pause sets. However, I’m going to show you multiple ways you can use this method.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:

  • How rest-pause sets work
  • Why rest-pause sets are so effective at increasing muscle size
  • Best times during your workout to do rest-pause
  • Best exercises to use rest-pause sets
  • Different ways you can use this method

Personal Note: This is my absolute favorite muscle-building method to use!
Your muscles are more pumped after doing rest-pause sets and you can really push yourself to that next level during your workouts.

How Do Rest-Pause Sets Work?

Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let’s go over how rest-pause sets work…

  • Perform a set
  • Rest 15-30 seconds
  • Perform another set using the same weight
  • Optional: repeat

In a nutshell, that defines how to do rest-pause sets.

Also, you must understand that you’re only going to get about half of the reps on that rest-pause set (2nd set) that you did initially.

Here’s what you can expect (based on starting with 10 reps):

  • Initial set: 10 reps
  • Rest-pause set: 5-6 reps
  • Additional rest-pause set: 3-4 reps

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Why Rest-Pause Sets Are So Awesome For Packing on Muscle

chest exercises flyes pec dec

Think about how you feel when you perform a regular set of any exercise. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Let’s say you’re doing seated rows, and you hit 8 reps with a moderately heavy weight. You feel your back muscles working hard.

Now, think about how you feel when you push yourself to get another rep or 2. Feels much better, right? You can leave the gym knowing that you had an effective workout…

Rest-pause sets takes that feeling and multiplies time 10!

First of all, the goal, in this case, is building muscle size. So let’s break down how that works…

According to K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S. her article 9 Scientifically Proven Ways to Grow Muscle Fast, on the Spartan website, here are the 2 crucial factors you need regarding training:

  1. Increase training volume
  2. Decrease rest between sets

In addition, you also need to reach a certain level of intensity in your workouts to induce muscle growth. Or to be accurate, ‘damage’ the muscle to the point where it can repair and grow larger in size.

When muscles undergo intense exercise, as from a resistance training bout, there is trauma to the muscle fibers that are referred to as muscle injury or damage in scientific investigations.

This disruption to muscle cell organelles activates satellite cells, which are located on the outside of the muscle fibers between the basal lamina (basement membrane) and the plasma membrane (sarcolemma) of muscle fibers to proliferate to the injury site (Charge and Rudnicki 2004).

In essence, a biological effort to repair or replace damaged muscle fibers begins with the satellite cells fusing together and to the muscle fibers, often leading to increases in muscle fiber cross-sectional area or hypertrophy. 

‘How do muscles grow?’ by Young sub Kwon, M.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., unm.edu

Doing rest-pause sets covers all of these factors that lead to muscle growth.

But there’s another benefit to this method as well. It allows you to continue to train the muscle with a heavier load. This is done by extending the set using the same weight.

Normally when you think of extending a set you’re doing a drop set, which is reducing the amount of weight. Or a superset, which means going to a different exercise.

This is where rest-pause sets are different and perhaps more effective. You remain focused on that one exercise.

And with minimal rest, you challenge your muscles again using the same weight. There’s no reduction.

Best Times In Your Workout To Perform Rest-Pause Sets

Triceps Rope pressdowns finish

Because of the extreme intensity, you may find it best to do your rest-pause sets towards the end of your workout. If you do them in the beginning, you may ‘run out of gas’ early in your workout.

Of course, when you do your rest-pause sets depends on your personal fitness goals. For example, if your goal is to get shredded and you’re not concerned about strength, then heck, you could dive right into doing rest-pause sets.

However, if you’re doing more of a bodybuilding-style workout where part of your goal is to start your workouts with heavier loads, then save this method for later in the workout.

Starting your workouts with ‘straight sets’ with compound exercises are great for building strength and mass. So you may not want to disrupt that. And we’ll talk more about exercises for rest-pause below.

Doing rest-pause sets towards the end of your workout is that icing on the cake. It gives you that extra satisfaction knowing that you put in an honest days’ work in the gym. And you’ll walk away with the assurance that you trained hard enough to grow.

Best Exercises For Rest-Pause Sets

Cable flyes crossovers for ripped chest

Per what we just discussed, you may not want to perform rest-pause sets on heavy, compound exercises. One of the reasons is safety.

When you perform a rest-pause set, you’re more than likely going to train to failure. So if you’re doing an exercise like bench press, overhead press, or squats, when you reach failure, gravity is not going to be your friend.

In short, this can lead to serious injury. It’s one thing to do a grueling set of these exercises. But turning around after just a few seconds and hitting that same weight again on a heavy, compound exercise is probably not the smartest thing.

These are also types of exercises where if you make a wrong move, even slightly, you can really screw something up like your joints or your back.

I know that doesn’t sound ‘hardcore’ but you have to decide whether you want to continue working our or be out of the gym for several weeks because of an injury (that you could have easily prevented).

Rest-pause sets work best for exercises done on machines, cables, and in some cases, dumbbells. Basically, any exercises where if you do reach failure, you’re less prone to injury.

Another reason rest-pause sets are best on these types of exercises is because these exercises isolate your muscles. So you can really hone in on that specific muscle you’re working.

Here are some examples of exercises to use rest-pause sets on for each muscle:

MuscleExercise
ChestPec-dec flyes
ChestCable flyes
ChestAny machine press
BackSeated rows
BackLat pulldowns
BackDumbbell rows
LegsLeg extensions
LegsLeg curls
LegsCalve raises
ShouldersLateral raises (any type)
ShouldersMachine press
ArmsMost all arm exercises

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Different Ways You Can Use Rest-Pause Sets For Maximum Muscle Growth

You may be wondering what’s the best way to use rest-pause sets? How can you get the most out of them?

The cool thing is there are several ways you can use this method. Below are some examples:

  • Do 1 rest-pause set on the final set of your final exercise for that body part. This is the most common method.
  • Same as above, but extend your rest-pause set 2-3 times (ex: do a set, rest 10-20 seconds, do another, and repeat).
  • Do 1 rest-pause set for all sets of your final exercise for that muscle.
  • Do 75’s. This is an awesome technique for building your calves. Choose a weight where you can do about 20 reps and do rest-pause sets until you hit a total of 75 reps!

You can also adjust the rest between your sets. Again, the typical rest time is 15-30 seconds, which that’s a wide range if you think about it.

But you can even decrease that to 7-10 seconds. In fact, 10 seconds is what I often use when performing the ’75’s method’ I mentioned above for calves.

Regardless of how you approach this, it’s almost impossible not to get a good workout using rest-pause sets.

I encourage you to try this technique on your next workout. You’ll thank me (or curse me because you’ll be sore!!).

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,

Jason

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