Rest Pause Training vs Straight Sets (Which Is Better?)

When it comes to planning your training session there are literally 1,000s of protocols and principles that you need to consider based on your goals, availability of equipment, training experience and a range of other factors. 

Once you go beyond the realms of a beginner and start to hit some training plateaus then you’ll start to look into more advanced training techniques to either help you to continue to put on muscle, increase strength and ultimately keep breaking through plateaus. 

One of these techniques is rest pause training. 

Rest pause training vs straight sets? Rest pause training (unlike conventional straight sets) is an intensity building technique that involves selecting a weight that you lift until you hit technical failure followed by a short break of 10-30 seconds and then continuing to this pattern until you get to a predetermined number of reps.

Rest pause style training is not to be confused with simply reducing rest periods between a set like in a traditional progressive overload style (popularized by Vince Gironda) but is about increasing training density and intensity of your set. 

Rest Pause Training vs Straight Sets

Industry leading experts and coaches are constantly testing new methods to enhance muscle growth and strength. One of the most highly regarded methods that has reached the masses in recent years is rest pause training. 

Whether you are training primarily with a focus on absolute strength or whether you want to maximally stimulate muscle growth the training pattern always remains very similar and this is the method of performing straight sets. 

What Is a Conventional Straight Set

Conventional straight sets are where the majority of people will start with in the beginning of their training cycle. It’s also where the majority will continue with only breaking the pattern to add a few advanced techniques in over time. 

Straight sets involve performing the same number of sets and reps for an exercise with the same rest period in between sets.

Whether you are training for strength (3-5 sets x 1-5 reps) or hypertrophy (3-5 sets x 8-12 reps) you will perform a set number of sets and reps with a constant rest period.

This is what is known as a straight set and is what most will be familiar with even if you don’t refer to them like this. There are no fancy techniques or periodisation methods, you simply follow this training method. 

While it might seem simple there is of course a reason so many do it and that is because it works to track your progress and improve over time. It’s a structure that anyone can follow and doesn’t over complicate anything which most of the time is what will yield 90% of your results. 

Even for those that don’t track reps you will still see that you program and exercise to be X number of sets and therefore still comply with this framework for a workout. 

What Is a Rest Pause Set

Rest pause training takes the same methodology of a straight set however looks to increase the training density (number of reps in a set period of time) and intensity (% of your 1 rep max) of an exercise. 

A typical rest pause set will take a fixed rep number based on a percentage of your 1 rep max (80% x 8 reps) and the double the rep range. Therefore instead of a set now being 8 reps it will be 16 reps. 

This is something that of course isn’t possible to achieve considering your max it 8 reps and this is where the short rest periods are utilized in order to increase the training density. After 8 reps you will rest between 10-30 seconds depending on your training level and then perform as many reps as you can before your next break. You’ll continue in this manner until you hit all 16 reps. 

A set could therefore look like this:

Barbell Bench Press (80% of 1 rep max x 8 reps) for 16 reps. 

Set 1 – 8 reps (8 reps total)

  • Rest 10 seconds

Set 2 – 4 reps (12 reps total)

  • Rest 10 seconds

Set 3 – 2 reps (14 reps total)

  • Rest 10 seconds

Set 4 – 1 rep (15 reps total)

  • Rest 10 seconds

Set 5 – 1 rep (16 reps total)

With this training technique you will reduce your reps each ‘set’ (these a mini sets with the 16 rep target being the overall set) as you won’t be able to recover fully on such short rest periods but will continue to keep motor recruitment high and fatigue a range of muscle fibres that would otherwise not be activated with longer rest periods.  

Rest pause therefore allows you to use a heavier load to perform more reps than you would otherwise be able to. 

It’s also not to be confused with all out strength training where you perform low reps with an extended rest period in between each set. With rest pause the idea is to keep the rest as short as possible in order to keep motor recruitment high.

Example of Rest Pause Training vs Straight Sets

As you can see the key difference between rest pause training and conventional straight sets is the amount of work performed within a set period of time. 

The best comparison to show this is the example above, with rest pause training the rest period between 8 reps and 16 reps is 40 seconds. If we also assume that each rep follows a tempo of 1020 (1 second to press the weight, 0 pause, 2 seconds to lower the weight and 0 pause) then the 16 reps will take 48 seconds. Total set time is therefore 1 minute and 28 seconds. 

With a conventional straight set using the same rep tempo you will take 24 seconds to perform 8 reps, typically rest 1 minute and then another 24 seconds to perform the next 8 reps meaning that you’ve taken 1 minute and 48 seconds to complete 16 reps. 

The difference may only be 20 seconds however the motor recruitment for the rest pause is substantially higher and you will fatigue a greater range of muscle fibres as a result so not only have you performed the reps in less time but also with a higher motor unit recruitment. 

Does Rest Pause Training Work

When it comes to the question of whether rest pause training works or not it very much depends on your goal. What I will say is that if you are short for time on a day to day basis and need to get a workout in as quickly as possible (without rushing it) then this is a no brainer. 

You’ll see strength and size increases in line with performing standard straight sets however you’ll be able to do it in a significantly reduced period of time.

The reason I say the benefits are in line with straight sets is because rest pause training has not been shown to significantly increase strength or muscle size in comparison to performing straight sets only. 

The studies show [1] that strength and muscular adaptations after 6 weeks or performing rest pause style training compared with 6 weeks of traditional multiple sets show that there were no significant difference in strength increase or muscle growth between the two methods. 

[1} RT performed with the rest-pause method resulted in similar gains in muscle strength as traditional multiple-set training. However, the rest-pause method resulted in greater gains in localized muscular endurance and hypertrophy for the thigh musculature.

The only significant difference that was shown as demonstrated by this study is that the rest pause method of training resulted in slightly more hypertrophy for the thighs. 

Progress is of course progress and any additional benefit you can get from a certain training method should be considered a success, when it comes to rest pause training however it’s fair to say that it certainly does work as a training principle but the main benefit is a time saving rather than unbelievable strength and muscle advancements!

References

  1. Prestes, Jonato, et al. “Strength And Muscular Adaptations Following 6 Weeks Of Rest-pause Versus Traditional Multiple-Sets Resistance Training In Trained Subjects.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Apr. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28617715.

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