Let me preface my suggestions with a little bit of personal history. I started training with weights when I was 15 years old and I’m now 59 years old. That’s over 44 years of total time. At the peak of my career I placed fifth in my class at the Mr. America as well as sixth in the Mr. Universe competition.

I am by definition a hard gainer with much less genetic potential than most.  After the first 10-15 years of beating myself to death with fast-paced, high rep, high-intensity workouts I begin to learn what it really takes to gain the most size.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that I realize my suggestions may seem somewhat controversial, but I assure you that if you follow this pattern, you will not only succeed now, but you’ll also be laying the groundwork for continued  growth to some degree for many years.

I’m going to divide the following information into two separate blogs (rest between sets and reps per set).

 In this blog I will talk about the rest increments between sets.  As an example let’s take a typical four set exercise. Between your first and second set which are warm-ups the rest time should be between 1 and 2 minutes. Between your heavy sets the rest should be between 3 and 4 min. If you’re rest period between sets are shorter than this you will fatigue because you’re out of oxygen, not because the weight was too heavy. If you fatigue because you’re out of oxygen your body will respond by improving the efficiency of oxygen use, not improving strength and size. This is crucial.

Most of us have been brainwashed to think that we must work hard and fast to get results. That may be the case in some sports, but is not true in bodybuilding or strength training. In order to gain size you have to apply a resistance to the muscle that is not accustomed to while giving the muscle group as well as the system plenty of time to re-oxygenate.

The body’s physiological response to resistance training at the right reps (between six and 10) and rest increments is to create larger muscles. A good rule of thumb to follow this: rest 1 to 2 min. longer than you think you should.

If you don’t believe it just try it. Next time you workout add a minute or two to your rest periods between sets and see if you can handle more weight. We all know that if you can handle more weight you will get bigger and stronger.  

In my next blog I will cover number of reps per set that is ideal for creating size and or strength.

This is a question that has plagued us for years and years. Here’s how this one works. The only reason that you would ever need a rest day in between workout days is because you need to recuperate and rest  enough to be ready for the next workout.

This is where the distinction comes into play. Let’s say you’re a beginner workout person. The first 30 days you are what I call walking around strong or at a  normal strength level. You can’t use enough weight or resistance to cause enough damage or fatigue to require a days rest. Let’s say you can bench press 100 pounds 10 times on day one. Doing 100 pounds 10 times at this point does not require a warm-up because your best shot at your highest weight for 10 repetitions is on your first set. This is your normal walking around strength level.

Now let’s look one year later. At this point you can bench press 300 pounds 10 times. This is an abnormal or unnatural amount of weight to do. At this level of resistance repair requires more resources and the load does more damage to cells, bones, joints and connective tissue than any normal daily physical activity would do. As a result this damage is deep enough to require a day or two or 3 to totally recover and repair. In addition you would never try to do 300 pounds for 10 repetitions without two or three warm-up sets.

The very fact that you have to do warm-up sets indicates that it is not normal for your body to be bench pressing 300 pounds.

There is another more scheduling related reason that alternate days are prescribed. It’s really for convenience. It just seems easier to work out alternate days. That way you have days in between free to follow other pursuits.

There are many exercise activities not resistance related that you can do every day. Some cardio exercise can be done every day as well as any other light conditioning exercises. The key is the resistance amount you’re working with.

As a rule of thumb if you’re training to increase strength and using weights that limit your repetitions to 10 or under and you are somewhat seasoned then probably you would need to rest between workouts a day or more. If you’re doing exercises that involve 15 or more repetitions (what I like to call conditioning) and you move quickly through your workout (1 min. or less between sets) then you probably can do these days in a row.