Weighted Ab Exercises: 3 Simple Movements

Weighted Ab Exercises: 3 Simple Movements

When people start their fitness journey, getting well-developed abs is usually one of the main goals. I was no different. Looking back, I used to do a ton of crunches in the hopes of getting ripped abs. But I did all of this without putting enough thought into my nutrition.

Now several years of training and coaching experience later, it has become increasingly clear that the key to getting abs is not the number of crunches you do, but how lean you are. We all have a rectus abdominis (the six-pack shaped muscle) and obliques, you just may not be able to see it yet because of stored body fat. So oftentimes the only thing that’s separating you from your six pack is a good fat loss phase that gets rid of the fat on top of your abdominal muscles.

With that said, abdominal training still has its use. Like any muscle, you can train your abdominal muscles to grow. This can help your abdominal muscles become more apparent and “pop-out” more when you get rid of the stored body fat on top of it.

But something to consider with abdominal training is that you still need progressive overload. You can’t constantly do 20-rep flutter kicks or crunches and expect your abs to continuously grow from this. So to help you more effectively train your abs, in this article I’ll show you 3 simple weighted ab exercises that allow you to consistently overload your abdominal muscles.

Weighted Ab Exercise #1: Ab Pulldown

weighted ab exercises

This exercise trains spinal flexion, which is the main function of your rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is the “six-pack” shaped muscle of your core. The movement of a cable crunch is quite similar to a regular crunch, but then with a better resistance curve.

In this exercise, you want to focus on fully extending and flexing your spine to train your rectus abdominis with a full range of motion. This may sound counterintuitive since we are taught to keep a neutral spine during most exercises. But in this
case, training spinal flexion is desired and also perfectly safe for those with
no pre-existing back issues.

weighted Ab exercises

Focus on bringing your elbows towards your knees during the exercise to effectively flex your spine. In terms of reps and sets, perform 3-4 sets of this exercise with 10-15 reps per set.

Weighted Ab Exercise #2: Wood Chops

weighted ab exercises

This is a great exercise that trains trunk rotation, which helps you develop your obliques. But next to more developed obliques, this is also a great functional exercise. In many strength training programs, the rotational movement pattern gets neglected. Directly training upper body rotation is something that can help you prevent excessive muscle imbalances.

Training rotation is also useful for many sports since you often need to produce force in rotational movement patterns during training or competition.

In terms of performance, set the cable at around chest height and take a big step away from the cable. While keeping your hips mostly stable, rotate your upper body towards the cable machine and come right back to the other side.

weighted ab exercises wood chops

You can also set the cable higher or lower to train rotation in a slightly different way. As with the cable ab pulldown, perform 3-4 sets of the cable wood chop with 10-15 reps.

Weighted Ab Exercise #3: Weighted Planks

weighted ab exercises

Planks are another good example of an exercise many people use to train their abs but do not make consistent progress on. But with the help of a partner, you can quite easily overload the plank by adding a plate on your back.

If you would like to focus less on the rectus abdominis and more on your obliques, you could even do weighted side planks. These are a bit easier to load since you can just place a dumbbell around hips and hold the plank position.

weighted ab exercises

The reason I like doing weighted planks is that it can transfer to better performance in your compound lifts as well. For instance, during a compound exercise like the overhead press, your abs need to resist spine extension, just as in a plank. So becoming stronger at planks can help you become more stable during the performance of a few compound exercises.

With the plank, I would aim for 3-4 sets of around 15-20 seconds. Once you can plank for longer than 20 seconds, it’s time to increase the weight.

When To Perform These Exercises

A simple way to structure these weighted ab exercises is by doing one after each of your training sessions. This will allow you to train your abdominal muscles more frequently, which may help develop them more quickly. So, if you have 3 full-body training sessions in a week, you can add a different weighted ab exercise to the end of each session.

If you would prefer to get a more thorough visual explanation of these 3 weighted ab exercises, you can check the YouTube video I made discussing this same topic:


But that’s all for this article! I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you.

Training Frequency: What is the best workout split?

Training Frequency: What is the best workout split?

In the past two articles, we have looked into training volume and intensity. Based on these articles, we now know that most people should train every muscle group with about 10-20 sets per week in a 5-15 rep range. If you get this right, you will experience significant improvements in muscle growth. But there is one last factor that still needs to be discussed: Training Frequency.

How you distribute your volume and intensity throughout the week is relevant for muscle growth. Say someone trains their chest with about 15 sets per week. Should this person do all these 15 sets in one training day? Or should this volume be distributed over multiple days? (e.g. 8 sets on Monday and 7 sets on Thursday).

In this article, I will go into detail on training frequency for building muscle. After reading this article, you will have a better idea of how you should organize your training to support muscle growth. As always, this article is based on the most recent scientific research and logic.

Training Frequency: The Research

Training frequency essentially refers to how you organize your volume and intensity in a training week. Training frequency is a relevant variable because it impacts how much volume you can handle and recover from.

Some people like to train a muscle group so hard once every week, that they cannot train that muscle group again until the next week. Although this may “feel” effective because you are constantly sore, there are more effective ways to organize your training. It’s generally a good idea to divide the volume you have per muscle group over multiple training days. The research supports this.

Example Study 1:

A 2015 study divided 20 trained male volunteers into two groups. Group 1 trained each muscle group 3x per week with a full-body routine, group 2 trained each muscle 1x per week with a body-part split. Training volume (defined as Reps*Sets*Weight) was matched between groups. After 8 weeks, the full-body training group gained more muscle.

Example Study 2:

A 2016 meta-analysis gathered the data from 10 resistance training studies on training frequency and muscle growth. The researchers found that training each muscle 2-3x per week is more effective than training every muscle group 1x per week.

Example Study 3:

A more recent 2018 meta-analysis gathered the data from 22 resistance training studies on training frequency and strength. In this review, it was found that higher training frequencies also generally translate into greater strength gains.

Better Performance & More Practice

The most likely reason that training each muscle group 2-3x per week is more effective is that it allows you to perform better in your training. Just think about it. Let’s say you train your back with 15 sets in a week. If you perform all of these 15 sets in 1 training day, the second half of your workout will be of lower quality.

Training frequency

The first 8-10 sets or so will fatigue your back for the rest of your training session and your performance will drop. This is different if you divide those 15 sets over 2 or 3 training days. You will be able to maintain a high level of performance on most of your sets since you are more recovered. As you probably know, consistently performing better will eventually lead to better training adaptations.

Higher training frequencies also work well because they allow you to practice your main movements more often. Strength is a skill that requires consistent practice. So if you want to improve a certain exercise, it makes sense to practice that exercise more often in a week. As an example, instead of having 6 sets of bench press in 1 big “chest day”, have 3 sets of bench press divided over 2 upper body days. This allows you to get more high-quality “learning” on the movement you want to improve.

Later in this article, I’ll show more practical examples of high-frequency training.

Training Frequency & Protein Synthesis

There is also another interesting theory for why higher training frequencies are more effective for muscle growth. Muscle growth basically occurs when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. This is known as having a “Positive Protein Balance.”

Training affects the protein balance mainly by boosting muscle protein synthesis up. But the duration at which muscle protein synthesis remains elevated after training is pretty short. Research shows the rate of muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for about 48 hours after training. So the muscles you train stop growing after about 2 days. If we consider this, it does not make sense to train a muscle group just 1x per week.

Now, this does not mean that everyone should train each muscle group every 2 days. You need to be able to recover from your training as well. But this only further supports that training your muscle groups more frequently in a week is a good idea if you currently train them only 1x per week.

High-Frequency In Practice

Now that we know higher training frequencies are beneficial for gaining muscle, let’s look into some splits that fit within high-frequency training. There actually are many different ways you can divide your weekly volume to train each muscle group 2-3x per week. Popular splits that fit within our desired frequencies are:

  • Upper/Lower splits (2x Upper, 2x Lower)
  • Full-Body (3-5 Full-Body Workouts)
  • Push/Pull/Legs (Every Workout 2x)

Training frequency

But these are not black-and-white routines. Remember that there is no 1 “best” training split. As long as you train with enough volume, have the right intensity range, and divide your volume per muscle group into 2-3 sessions/week, you will see great results. So if a certain split fits your preferences and allows you to hit your training targets, then go for it.

To give more examples, you can also combine the workout splits I’ve mentioned earlier:

Training Frequency

As you can see, there are almost endless possibilities, which is good because it allows flexibility. This is why the routines of my clients look quite different on an individual basis. Based on personal preference and how you progress, you can tweak many things in your training so that it suits you better.

But if you are just looking for a simple routine you can put into practice today, you can check out my 3-day full-body routine. In the YouTube video below, I go over the entire routine and walk you through day 1 of the program.



Main Takeaways & Final Words:

  • Training a muscle group 2-3x per week is more effective than 1x per week for muscle and strength gain.
  • When you train a muscle group more frequently, you divide the volume you currently have over more training sessions. Don’t do the same high-volume workouts more frequently.
  • Higher training frequencies allow you to manage fatigue more effectively. This results in better training performance.
  • There are many different splits that allow you to train each muscle 2-3x per week. As long as you hit your volume, intensity, and frequency goals, you can make your choice based on preference.

That’s all for this article and my 3-part blog series on training programming! Now that you have a deeper understanding of volume, intensity, and frequency, I hope you can be more effective in programming your own workouts.

For Extra Help: My Coaching Service

If you still would like professional guidance on how to plan your training (and nutrition), I suggest you read up on my online coaching service. Through this online coaching service, you outsource the “thinking” work that comes with designing your training and nutrition to me. This allows you to fully focus on executing to achieve your fitness goals.

This is a 1-on-1 service in which I design your training and nutrition based on a thorough assessment. I also keep you accountable via text messages, weekly email consults, and monthly Skype calls. If this is something you are interested in, leave your name and email below and I’ll get back to you with the details.


Training Intensity: Best Rep Range For Muscle Growth

Training Intensity: Best Rep Range For Muscle Growth


In the previous blog post, we’ve looked into training volume and muscle growth. The main takeaway was that training every muscle group with about 10-20 sets per week is a good starting point for muscle growth. But as you can imagine, just how many plain “sets” you do is not the only thing that is relevant. The intensity of the sets matters as well.

That’s why in this article, we will look into training intensity. Specifically, two types of intensity:

  • The intensity of load (a.k.a. your rep range)
  • The intensity of effort (how close you train to failure)

At the end of this article, you will have a clear idea of what the most effective rep ranges are for you and how close to failure you should train to gain muscle. Without any further ado, let’s get into it.


Training Intensity: Rep Ranges

If we have to believe the old school bodybuilding magazines, you need to train with an 8-12 rep range. Even though this is a fine rep range for muscle growth, it’s not the only rep range that works. But before we dive into that, let’s look into where the 8-12 rep range stems from.

The Strength-Endurance Continuum

training intensity

The strength-endurance continuum is based on the “Specificity” principle we discussed in part 1 of this “Training Programming” blog series. If you train with low reps and heavy weights, you gain more strength. If you train with high reps and lower weight, your endurance improves more. This makes sense.

Since muscle growth is often seen as something that happens when your muscles can produce more force and handle more volume, the strength-endurance continuum also indicates that moderate rep ranges (e.g. 8-12 reps) work best for muscle growth.

But now that there is more research on rep ranges and muscle growth, it has become increasingly clear that muscle growth is not limited to a narrow rep range like 8-12. In fact, you can maximize muscle growth with a wide spectrum of rep ranges.

Rep Ranges & Muscle Growth Research

In a 2015 study, 18 volunteers were divided into 2 groups. Group 1 trained with the traditional 8-12 rep range to failure, whereas group 2 trained with 25-35 reps to failure (volume was equated by matching the number of sets). Both groups gained a similar amount of muscle after an 8-week training period.

In another study, researchers compared hypertrophy-type training (3 sets of 10 reps, 90 seconds rest between sets) with powerlifting-type training (7 sets of 3 reps, 3 minutes rest between sets) while matching training volume. In this study, volume was defined as Reps*Sets*Weight. Again, similar increases in muscle size were found.

Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence is a 2017 meta-analysis that compiled the data of 21 training studies on rep ranges and muscle growth. The researchers found that muscle growth can occur with a wide variety of rep ranges, as long as volume is matched and the sets are taken close to failure.

So, there is no narrow “hypertrophy rep range.” How much volume you perform per muscle group and how close to failure you take each set is what matters.

Rep Range Recommendations

Now, just because there is no narrow rep range that mechanistically works best for muscle growth, does not mean you can just do whatever in your training and expect the best results. It’s also important to consider fatigue management and what is practical.

If you perform 20+ rep sets close to failure, every set will almost feel like a cardio workout. If you train with <6 reps on each set, every set will be very demanding and you will put quite a bit of stress on your joints.

For this reason, I still recommend my clients to train mostly in moderate rep ranges. I usually program within a 5-15 rep range. This allows you to accumulate volume efficiently. Also, this rep range is quite broad, so you can have repetition variation in your training. Training with both low- and high-rep ranges may be beneficial for muscle growth since this can help preferentially target both type I and type II muscle fibers. The research is still mixed on whether it’s actually possible to specifically target type I and type II fiber growth, but rep variation is still worth a try. If anything, your workouts feel less repetitive.

Training Intensity


Training Intensity: How Close To Failure?

Now that we’ve looked into rep ranges for muscle growth, let’s look into intensity of effort. You don’t have to train to complete failure to gain muscle. But you need to come close to failure.

The closer a repetition is to failure, the more effective that rep usually is for stimulating your muscles. As you come close to muscle fatigue, you recruit more muscle fibers and challenge your muscle’s present capacity more effectively.

There is research showing that beginner trainees tend to train pretty far away from failure. In one study, the participants sometimes left 6+ reps in reserve after each set when they self-selected their weights. This likely is too far from failure to produce meaningful results. So make sure you keep a close eye on whether or not your sets are actually challenging.

Keep 1-3 Reps In The Tank

Training intensity

Now, as mentioned, you don’t have to take each set to complete muscle failure either. Keeping 1-3 reps in reserve at the end of each set is a good aim. This ensures your sets are challenging without impairing your recovery.

Staying just a few reps shy of failure allows you to handle more volume and have better performance over time. A 2017 study shows this quite well. In this study, the participants that trained to failure had slower performance recovery compared to the group of participants that left a few reps in the tank after each set. Basically, you run the risk of not being able to perform optimally on your next training session(s) if you train to failure.

So, the reason I suggest you keep a few reps in the tank at the end of each set is not that I want to make things easier on you. We want to stay a few reps shy of failure so that you can maintain a high intensity in your next training sessions as well.



Main Points

  1. Muscle growth is not limited to a narrow rep range of 8-12 reps. You can gain muscle with a wide spectrum of rep ranges, as long as volume is matched and you train close to failure.
  2. To accumulate volume efficiently, it’s still a good idea to train in mostly moderate rep ranges. I suggest a rep range of 5-15 reps. This allows you to train in a variety of loading zones, which *may* help with targeting type I and type II muscle fibers.
  3. You don’t have to train to failure to gain muscle, but you need to train close to failure. Keeping 1-3 reps in the tank at the end of each set will usually ensure that your sets are challenging enough without impairing your recovery.


Final Words

I hope you enjoyed reading part 2 of this 3-part blog series on training program design! In a few weeks, I’ll post the third and final part. The last article will cover Training Frequency. Training frequency is mostly about how you organize the volume and intensity in your training. Do you do organize your training in a body part split? Full-body or maybe Upper/Lower? More on this soon!

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Training Volume: How many sets per muscle group?

Training Volume: How many sets per muscle group?

The internet is full of “muscle-building” routines you can follow. But all these routines have one major drawback: they are not tailored to your individual training experience, preferences, and lifestyle. To help you design your own training program, I’m launching a 3-part blog series on training program design.

In part 1 of this series (this article), I’ll focus on the most important training variable: Volume. Up to a certain point, how many sets per muscle group you perform in your training determines how much muscle you gain.

But before diving into how much training volume you need, it’s important to get a good grasp of the principles behind muscle growth. So I’ll start by discussing two essential training concepts to lay the groundwork for this 3-part blog series.

Specificity & Overload: Muscle Growth 101

The two basic principles that determine whether your training program is effective are training specificity and overload.

The specificity principle states that the adaptations your body goes through are specific to the training you perform. So if you primarily do endurance training, your body needs to “endure” more, which results in endurance adaptations. If you train primarily with weights, your muscles will become bigger and stronger so that you can handle weight training more efficiently in the future.

Basic stuff you would say. But still, it’s common for people to perform more cardio than strength training while their main goal is muscle and strength development. Taking a good look at whether your training is specific to the goal you want to achieve is key.

Once you’ve got specificity down, you also need to make sure your training is progressive. Because if your training is not progressive, there is no need for your body to adapt. Muscle growth is an adaptation that only occurs if you consistently challenge your muscles beyond their present capacity.

Now, to consistently improve your performance and provide overload, how you design your training program is important. In the context of resistance training for muscle growth, there are 3 main training variables:

  1. Volume

Oftentimes defined as Reps * Sets * Weight per muscle group in a week. A more recent definition given is the total number of “challenging sets” performed per muscle group in a week.

  1. Intensity

The amount of weight you are lifting. Usually expressed by a percentage of your 1-rep max.

  1. Frequency

How often you train every muscle group in a week.

The way you manipulate these training variables dictates how effective your training is for realizing progress, and therefore, muscle growth. But as you can imagine, how much training volume, intensity, and frequency someone needs will differ per individual.

In this article, we’ll focus solely on training volume. I’ll go into the current evidence on training volume and how you can tailor these general recommendations to your individual needs. In parts 2 and 3 of this blog series, I’ll discuss the variables intensity and frequency in more detail and we’ll relate all the variables to each other.

About Training Volume

Training volume

Volume basically refers to the total amount of “work” per muscle group in your training. For simplicity’s sake, let’s take the definition of volume from Baz-Valle et al. 2018:

Volume = The number of challenging sets per muscle group per week

As long as you train in a reasonable rep range (~5-15 reps per set) and train each set close to muscle failure (no more than 3 reps left in reserve), every set has a similar muscle-building effect. So the total number of challenging sets per muscle group in a week is a simple and viable way to define training volume.

Up to a certain point, training volume has a linear relationship with muscle and strength gain. This is logical. Doing 5 sets of bench press in a week will get you better results than doing just 1 set of bench press.

But you can’t keep increasing volume linearly forever and expect greater muscle gains to occur. In fact, there is a point after which muscle growth and strength gain decrease if you keep increasing volume.

This usually happens when you train with more volume than you can recover from. Using a training volume that’s too high for you will leave you chronically fatigued, which causes performance to go down and places you in a suboptimal environment for progress.

This is why training more is not always better.

How Much Volume Do You Need?

Training volume

Research on Training Volume

As mentioned, everyone’s volume requirements are different. For example, experienced lifters generally need more training volume to make progress when compared to novice trainees. But from the scientific literature, there are good general guidelines that we can use as a starting point.

A 2017 meta-analysis led by Dr. Schoenfeld gathered the data from 15 training studies to provide evidence-based recommendations on training volume and muscle growth. Since there is little scientific research on high-volume training, the researchers could only analyze studies that had a volume range of up to 10 sets per muscle group per week.

They found linear increases in muscle growth up to 10+ sets per muscle group per week. This tells us that most people should at the very least aim for 10 sets per muscle/week if they want to maximize muscle growth.

Training Volume

You may now be asking yourself: If 10 sets per muscle group in a week is the minimum, what is the upper limit for volume?

The short, and not so satisfying answer, is we don’t know for sure yet. As stated earlier, not many long-term training studies have been done specifically on high-volume training. There is good research showing that too much volume can harm muscle growth, but the exact point at which volume increases impair muscle growth for the majority of people is unclear.

Volume Recommendations Based on Experience

As described in the “Hierarchy of Evidence” model, if the scientific literature is lacking in one area, we fill these gaps with practical experiences and expert opinions until there’s more research on the topic.

Based on my personal experience coaching a wide variety of people and the expert opinions of researchers in the field, a reasonable volume range seems to be around 10-20 sets per muscle group per week for most people.

Whether you should be on the low- or high-end of this volume range will mostly depend on your training experience and recovery capacity. But in general, I’ve experienced that training volumes higher than 20 sets per week for every muscle group are not needed for the majority of people. I would only consider training volumes of 20+ sets per muscle group per week if you are an advanced trainee that has years of experience with performing high-volume workouts.

Determining Your Volume Needs

When it comes to training volume, the goal is not doing as much volume as possible. You want to do enough volume to support progress. Because remember, the main goal is progressively overloading your muscles, not tiring yourself out in the gym.

So it’s a good idea to be conservative with the amount of volume you do. You can always increase your volume if necessary. But having to dial down the amount of volume you do because your workouts are too fatiguing is a less efficient process.

As a general guideline, check the table below for a good volume starting point based on your training experience. I also use this table to determine a starting volume range for my Premium Online Coaching clients.

training volume

Grey Muscles: These are the main muscle groups that are prime movers in compound exercises

Blue Muscles: These are muscle groups that assist the prime movers in many compound exercises, so they don’t need a ton of extra volume. I use the general guideline of training every small muscle group with about 30-40% of the volume of larger muscle groups.

Red Muscles: The shoulders are an exception since the side deltoids are not targeted effectively in any compound exercises. So for shoulder isolation training, we use about half the volume of large muscle groups.

As you can see, the more you advance in your training, the more volume you generally need to make progress. So your volume needs change over time. This is because the human body is adaptive. To keep making progress, you will continuously have to challenge yourself.

Also, I want to emphasize that the volume figure above is not a “scientific” model or something that’s taken out of a highly controlled volume study. This is based on my coaching experience and interpretation of the current evidence on training volume. And let’s not forget these are starting points. It’s impossible to figure out the right volume range for you without some trial-and-error. So don’t see the specific numbers shown in the table as the be-all and end-all for volume.

When To Increase Volume

If you are training with a certain amount of volume and are not making any progress in your training, it can be worth looking into a volume increase.

But before doing this, it’s a good idea to assess your nutrition and recovery.  If you don’t eat enough to support your training and/or train with more volume than your body can recover from, fatigue catches up to you and you’ll have a hard time performing well in the gym.

Training volume

When it comes to nutrition, you want to at least eat at your maintenance calories (the number of calories you burn on an average day). Being in a calorie deficit is not the optimal environment for strength progress. If you intentionally are in a calorie deficit for fat loss, you generally will have to accept a slower rate of strength progress and increasing volume won’t always help.

Regarding your recovery, consider the basic factors.

If you answered “No” to any of these questions and are not making progress in your training, you may not be recovering well from your workouts. So fix that first.

Once you’ve made sure that your recovery and nutrition are in place, then consider having a volume increase by doing more sets per muscle group in a week.

Specialization Phases

There is some research showing that trained individuals can get away with pretty high-volume ranges and still gain muscle well. In a recent 8-week study, researchers found that increasing volume up to 30+ sets per muscle group in a week can enhance muscle growth in trained individuals. Even though it’s unlikely that this volume range is sustainable in the long run, it still shows promise for high-volume training in specific cases.

One way to potentially apply this piece of information is by making use of “Specialization Phases.” We now know that doing too much volume is harmful because you won’t be able to recover from your training. But if you decide to increase volume on only 1-2 muscle groups, the additional fatigue is minimal. That’s essentially what you’re doing in a specialization phase.

When you “specialize”, you focus on certain muscle groups by training them with more volume than other body parts. As an example, say you want to focus more on growing your arms. In an “Arm Specialization Phase,” you train your biceps and triceps with about 20-30% more volume than other muscle groups. The additional fatigue the arm training produces is minimal if you keep your nutrition and recovery in place.

This can be done with any muscle group you’d like to bring up. So, if you want to experiment with higher volume workouts, specialization phases are generally a good start. But if you consider yourself a novice trainee, it’s a good idea to start with the general volume recommendations on all muscle groups and focus on building your foundation.


Main Points

  1. Up to a certain point, volume has a linear relationship with muscle growth. But too much volume too soon can harm muscle growth. You’ll be too fatigued to perform well in your training if volume is too high.
  2. The “optimal” volume varies widely per individual. But for most people, 10-20 sets per muscle group per week is a good starting point for muscle growth.
  3. Your volume needs change over time. As you get more advanced in your training, you need to gradually build up your volume.
  4. If you want to experiment with high-volume training, start by using specialization phases.

Final Words

So far we’ve covered quite a few topics about training volume and programming in general. In the next few weeks, I’ll continue by discussing the 2 remaining training variables: Frequency & Intensity. (Part 2 is live now)

If you don’t feel like waiting or having to read multiple separate articles, you can also just purchase my eBook: The Art & Science of Muscle Growth.

This eBook discusses training for muscle growth into detail. Next to the 3 training variables, I also discuss training periodization and nutrition for promoting hypertrophy.

To learn more about what my eBook has to offer, click the book image below.

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

Click here to purchase this eBook

Rest Between Sets For Muscle Growth (Science-Based Approach)

Rest Between Sets For Muscle Growth (Science-Based Approach)

There are conflicting opinions when it comes to how long you should rest between sets for muscle growth. Some believe you should rest very little to stimulate growth hormone, whereas others rest longer to maximize performance.

In this article, we’ll discuss the science behind rest intervals. With the use of the available scientific evidence, we’ll look into the effects of different rest times between sets. This will help you make more informed decisions on how long you should rest between sets to maximize muscle growth.

Typical Rest Interval Recommendations

You probably have seen a figure like the one below before on the internet or in an old-school exercise textbook.

Rest between sets for muscle growth

The rest periods for muscular endurance and strength make sense. In line with the principle of training specificity, your muscles need to “endure” more if you have rest intervals of under a minute. So you’ll mostly achieve muscular endurance adaptations if your rest between sets is short.

For strength, the opposite applies. When you rest longer, you are able to train with heavier weights, which then results in strength adaptations that help you produce more force.

Now, when it comes to muscle growth, the typical rest recommendations we see that state you should rest 30-60 seconds are mostly based on outdated theories.

Hormonal Response & Rest Intervals

The idea that short rest periods are beneficial for muscle growth is primarily based on the finding that short rest intervals increase human growth hormone levels (HGH). Since HGH is an anabolic hormone, increasing HGH by having short rest intervals must be beneficial for muscle growth, right?

Well, not really.

First of all. HGH has a weak relationship with muscle growth. HGH is mostly involved in building up connective tissue (tissue that attaches muscle to bone), not so much muscle itself.

Also, temporary increases in anabolic hormones do not increase muscle growth. Even if it’s testosterone. Changes in anabolic hormone levels can only influence muscle growth if these changes occur over the long-term.

Just think about it, cortisol (= stress hormone) and muscle protein breakdown (= breakdown of muscle) also increase after training. But we know this isn’t harmful because it’s not a long-term change, it’s just a temporary spike. The same holds true with temporary spikes in HGH or testosterone, these mean very little.

So just because HGH or any other anabolic hormone is acutely increased after having short rest periods, doesn’t mean this will translate into more muscle growth.

Research on Rest Between Sets

Training volume is the main driver of muscle growth. Volume can be defined as the total of Reps*Sets*Weight you perform per muscle group. Up to a certain point, research consistently shows a positive relationship between volume and muscle growth.

Having short rest intervals directly impairs the amount of volume you can do in a workout. As a simple example, if you rest 45 seconds between each set of your squat, you’ll perform worse than if you rest 2-3 minutes between each set.

rest between sets for muscle growth

So having longer rest between sets allows you to perform more volume in your training. If you consistently can perform more volume, you generally also get better training adaptations. The research supports this.

A 2016 study led by Dr. Schoenfeld randomly assigned 21 trained males to a 1-minute rest between sets (SHORT) and 3-minute rest between sets (LONG) group. After an 8-week training period, the long rest group gained significantly more muscle than the short rest group. Most likely because the long rest group was able to handle more volume in their training.

Another 2009 study had similar findings. In this research, the group that rested 2.5 minutes between sets gained more muscle than the group that rested only 1 minute between sets.  Again, this likely was because the long rest group was able to perform more volume.

Exercise Selection & Rest Intervals

So it’s evident that having longer rest periods is beneficial for muscle growth. But exactly how long you should rest between sets depends on the type of exercises you perform. The goal is to adequately rest so you can perform well again on your next set. On some exercises, you need more rest to recover than others.

Compound exercises like the squat, bench press and overhead press are inherently more fatiguing than isolation exercises like the side delt raise or bicep curls. So it’s a good idea to rest a bit longer between sets when you perform compound movements and a bit shorter during isolation lifts.

A good general rule of thumb is to rest 2-3 minutes between sets on heavy compound exercises and 1-2 minutes on low-stress isolation exercises. For most people, this should be enough to recover properly and hit it hard again when your next set comes up.

Shorten Training Time

A common concern when it comes to resting longer between sets is that the training time increases drastically. If you have only limited time in the gym but would still like to maximize performance, there are a few training tools that can help you. To be specific: Supersets & Rest-Pause Training

Using Supersets

A superset basically refers to alternating between 2 exercises with no rest in between them. If you use exercises that train opposing muscle groups, this can be a great way to save time without negatively affecting your performance.
Rest between sets for muscle growth
A good example is supersetting the barbell bench press with barbell rows. While you train the barbell row, your chest and triceps rest from doing the bench press. While you train the bench press, your back and biceps rest from doing cable rows.
Just make sure the exercises you superset do not train the same muscle groups. If you superset the bench press with cable chest flyes, your performance will take a hit. Also be careful with supersetting “whole-body” exercises like squats, deadlift, and heavy overhead pressing. These exercises by themselves tend to tire you out and shouldn’t be combined.

Rest-Pause Training

The primary reason short rest periods are suboptimal for muscle growth is that they impair training volume. One way you can work around this while still having short rest periods is by performing more sets in your training until you reach your volume goal. This is exactly what rest-pause training allows you to do.

With rest-pause training, you take your first set close to failure, rest for 10-15 seconds and repeat the process until you reach your volume goal.

Rest between sets for muscle growth

For example, you are in a hurry and need to perform 3 sets of 10 reps on cable side delt raises, you can set a volume goal of 30 reps and use rest-pause sets (see picture above) to quickly finish your workout. Recent research shows this is an effective way to accumulate volume for muscle growth.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that a breakdown in form is common when using rest-pause training because of its fatiguing effects. So it’s a good idea to use this training tool with isolation lifts only to minimize the risk of injury.

Conclusion: How Long You Should Rest

If we take all points discussed above into consideration, we reach a simple conclusion about how long you should rest between sets for muscle growth.

Long rest periods are more effective than short rest periods because they allow you to accumulate more volume.

This primarily holds true on heavy compound exercises like the squat, bench press, overhead press etc. On these heavy compound movements, rest ~2-3 minutes between sets. For low-stress isolation exercises like the tricep pushdown and side delt raises, you typically can get away with shorter rest periods of ~1-2 minutes between sets.

Make sure you monitor how well recovered you feel after your rest periods. Feel free to rest slightly longer if you think this will benefit your performance or have shorter rest periods if you tend to recover quickly between your sets.

For times when you are in a hurry and would like to reduce your time in the gym, use training tools like supersets and rest-pause training, as described in the previous paragraph.

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Repeated Bout Effect: Why You No Longer Get Sore

Repeated Bout Effect: Why You No Longer Get Sore

Imagine not training for 2-3 weeks and then getting back into the gym by performing a heavy leg day. You probably already can feel your sore legs cramping up while walking up the stairs.

But now imagine that same leg day after 3 months of consistency in which you were training your legs hard 2 times per week. You probably won’t experience much muscle soreness the day(s) after. This is because of a concept that is known in exercise sciences as the Repeated Bout Effect.

In essence, the repeated bout effect describes how your body gets used to the muscle-damaging response produced by strength training. As a result of the repeated bout effect, you also experience less muscle soreness over time.

If this sounds vague now, no worries. We will dive deeper into the causes of muscle soreness in the next paragraph.

What Causes Muscle Soreness?

When you train with weights, your muscles are under stress. If your muscles are not accustomed to this training stress, they experience more micro-tears than usual. Micro-tears in muscle is often referred to as “muscle-damage.”

A by-product of muscle damage is muscle soreness (a.k.a. DOMS). You typically experience the most muscle soreness after 24-48 hours of “muscle-damaging” exercise.

As mentioned, mostly unaccustomed training tends to result in a high degree of muscle damage. So you’ll experience the most muscle soreness when you get back into exercising after a training break or if you start performing new exercises in your routine.

This especially holds true if some of the exercises you do train your muscles at long lengths or overload the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift. This tends to result in greater degrees of muscle damage as well.

Repeated Bout Effect

Repeated Bout Effect Reduces Soreness

Research repeatedly shows that as you train consistently, your muscles experience less muscle damage. This protective mechanism against muscle damage is the earlier mentioned “repeated bout effect.” Because you experience less muscle damage with consistent training, you also experience less muscle soreness.

This is a perfectly normal training adaptation if we consider that your body is basically a machine of efficiency. The more consistently you do something, the less it impacts you because your body adapts to the activity. This holds true in more aspects than just training. For example, the more consistently you wake up at 6am, the easier it will be to wake up at that time since it becomes your new “normal.”

The exact mechanisms through which the repeated bout effect occurs are not 100% clear yet. But it’s likely related to the connective tissue (tissue that attaches muscle to bone) and nervous system adaptations you achieve when you train consistently. These adaptations help you coordinate muscle contractions better to reduce individual muscle fiber strain and, therefore, reduce muscle damage.

Is The Repeated Bout Effect Bad?

The “no pain, no gain” mentality is pretty popular. Because of this, many people see becoming sore as some kind of “reward” from their training. If they are less sore all of a sudden, some people may think their training is less effective. But muscle soreness is actually a poor indicator of whether you are training effectively for muscle growth.

We should not chase constant soreness if muscle growth is the goal. Far from it, actually, since excessive muscle soreness can impair your performance and hold you back from what’s truly important for muscle growth: Progressive Overload.

Research consistently shows that being sore suppresses training performance. One 2017 study found that a high degree of muscle damage directly interferes with strength performance and reduces joint range of motion. Just think back to the last time you experienced muscle soreness, your muscles probably felt stiffer and you weren’t able to lift as much weight.

So the repeated bout effect is not something that will harm your results. In fact, it can help you get better results since you will be able to handle more intense training once you feel sore less frequently.

Repeated Bout Effect

Conclusion: Focus on Progress, Not Soreness

If you no longer feel sore after every training session, usually, there is nothing to worry about. You likely no longer feel sore because of the repeated bout effect, which is a beneficial training adaptation.

As long as your training is challenging and you are making consistent strength progress, you are still on the right track.

Book Sale

Lastly, I want to finish off by mentioning my eBook that goes into how you can maximize your muscular potential. This book translates the currently available scientific research regarding muscle growth into “Simple English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.

So if you are interested in learning more about how to maximize muscle growth, check out my eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth.”

The Art & Science of Muscle Growth

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