Illustration of a sweating man with flaming shoulders doing the overhead press.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Build Muscle?

Recently, research has been coming out showing that long rest periods between sets are best for building muscle. When you rest for longer, your muscles recover more of their strength, allowing you to lift more weight in subsequent sets. Lifting more weight means more mechanical tension and, thus, better strength gains. Because of this, most powerlifters rest for 2–5 minutes between sets.

A decade ago, short rest times were thought to be better for building muscle. Bodybuilders would rest just 30–60 seconds between sets, keeping their workouts short, their heart rates high, and revelling in their muscle pumps. They built tremendous amounts of muscle.

Both approaches can be ideal for building muscle. The trick is to build your program in a way that takes advantage of both styles of training.

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Illustration of a man doing a heavy partial back squat

How Range of Motion Affects Muscle Growth

There are three conflicting ideas about how the range of motion we use while lifting weights affects our muscle growth:

  • The first idea is that lifting with a larger range of motion means doing more work, which will then stimulate more muscle growth.
  • The second idea is that keeping constant tension on our muscles throughout the set gives a better muscle pump and thus stimulates more muscle growth.
  • The third idea is that doing heavy partials can strengthen our tendons and bones, allowing us to build more muscle in the longer term.

All three of these ideas seem to be true. For maximal muscle growth, we probably want to use a smart mix of at least the first two, and perhaps even the third.

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Diagram of moment arms in the barbell curl lifting weights.

How Resistance Curves Affect Muscle Growth

If we want to make our muscles bigger, we need to challenge them enough to provoke an adaptation. How much our muscles are challenged depends on our leverage. By adjusting our leverage over the weights, we can change which muscles are being worked, how hard they’re being worked, and how hard they’re being worked relative to one another.

For example, by changing our leverage while squatting, we could:

  • Lift heavier weights and engage more muscle mass.
  • Emphasize either quad growth, glute growth, back growth, or aim for equal stimulation of all three muscle groups.
  • Make the lift hard at one specific part of the lift, stimulating a smaller amount of muscle growth, or hard throughout the entire lift, stimulating a larger amount of muscle growth.

By understanding and min-maxing our leverage, we can improve how much muscle we build and how much strength we gain while lifting weights.

What’s kind of neat is that the word leverage has two separate meanings:

  1. Leverage: the exertion of force by means of a lever or an object used in the manner of a lever.
  2. Leverage: use (something) to maximum advantage.

Let’s talk about the first so that we can do the second.

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Illustration of a man flexing his biceps

Chin-Ups Versus Curls for Biceps Growth

On the one hand, chin-ups are the bigger compound lift, they allow us to load our biceps far heavier, and they use a larger overall range of motion. On the other hand, biceps curls are lighter, yes, but they’re limited purely by the strength of our biceps. And even though curls have a smaller range of motion overall, the range of motion for our biceps is quite a bit larger. Which lift winds up being best for biceps growth?

Then we need to consider that our muscles grow best when they’re challenged in a stretched position (meta-analysis). So the next thing to compare is the strength curve of both chin-ups and biceps curls. How challenging are they at different parts of the range of motion?

Finally, what’s the best way to min-max both chin-ups and biceps curls for even better biceps growth? What variations and grip positions should we be using? What rep ranges should we be lifting in? What should our training volume be?

In this article, we’ll compare the chin-up against the curl for biceps growth, and then talk about how to build a biceps bulking routine around them.

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Illustration of a man sleeping.

How Does Sleep Affect Muscle Growth & Fat Loss?

Sleep is the foundation of a good muscle-building and fat-loss routine. It gives us the drive to challenge ourselves in the gym, the appetite to eat a big muscle-building diet, and the willpower to implement new habits. But for the sake of giving sleep the credit it deserves, let’s put aside that it improves our willpower, motivation, compliance, exertion, and all of the other (super important) secondary benefits. Here’s how sleep can directly increase muscle growth and fat loss (study):

  • More testosterone: getting enough sleep boosts our circulating levels of testosterone, improving our ability to gain muscle quickly and leanly.
  • More insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1): getting enough sleep will also raise our IGF-1 levels, allowing us to better recruit satellite cells into our muscle fibres, which is critical for overcoming size and strength plateaus.
  • Less cortisol: getting enough sleep reduces chronic cortisol levels, reducing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle growth.
  • Less Inflammation: getting better sleep reduces chronic inflammation, speeding up muscle repair, reducing our risk of injury, and improving our general health.
  • Better nutrient partitioning: getting enough sleep makes our bodies prefer getting stored energy from fat instead of muscle, allowing for leaner muscle gains.
  • More muscle growth. As we’ll cover in the introduction, optimizing our sleep has been shown to increase gains in lean mass by around 30% (while simultaneously reducing fat gain).

Given how powerful sleep is for building muscle and losing fat, it pays to approach our bedtime routines with the same fervour that we approach our workout routines and diets. If we give sleep a high priority in our lives, it won’t just improve our body composition, it will improve everything.

Here’s how to improve your sleep for faster and leaner muscle growth.

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Illustration of a man with disproportionately small arms relative to his chest and back muscles

Should You Double Down on Strengths Or Bring Up Weaknesses?

In this article, let’s talk about the philosophy you should adopt while choosing your lift variations and accessories. Should you run lift with your strengths and focus on what you’re best at? Or should you address your weaknesses so that you can build a more balanced and versatile physique?

What’s interesting is that the answer changes depending on your goals. Doubling down on strengths will make you stronger, bringing up weaknesses will make you look better, and a mix of both approaches tends to be best for general health.

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Illustration of a man doing a sumo deadlift (outlift)

The Deadlift Hypertrophy Guide

The deadlift strengthens us from our forearms down to our calves. In fact, it’s such a good indicator of overall strength that it’s the only lift in both powerlifting and strongman competitions.

For stimulating muscle growth, the deadlift is more controversial. Most casual gymgoers skip it. Many bodybuilders do, too. And it’s easy to see why. Deadlifts are hard to learn, challenging to do, and difficult to recover from. But if you do them, they’re worth it.

If you want a bigger, stronger, and better-looking body, there’s no better lift than the deadlift. It stimulates the most overall muscle growth, it develops full-body strength, and it thickens some of our most impressive muscles.

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Illustration of the different types of barbells.

The Barbell Buyer’s Guide (for Bodybuilding & Hypertrophy Training)

While writing our guide on how to build a barbell home gym, I dove way too deep into researching barbells. Which companies make the best barbells, which coatings do the best job of preventing rust, which type of knurling is best, and so on. Perhaps more importantly, there are several different types of barbell, all of which look fairly similar, but all of which are designed for different styles of lifting:

  • Olympic weightlifting barbells are smooth, thin, and springy, designed to be tossed and dropped. This makes them great for Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, but a poor choice for building muscle and gaining strength.
  • Strength training “power” barbells are rough, hard, and thick, designed for heavy and methodical lifting.
  • Multipurpose barbells are a mix of the two. They’re smooth and springy enough to catch on our shoulders but have enough grip and stiffness to use for strength training.

Most people assume that multipurpose barbells are designed for general strength training and bodybuilding, but that’s actually not the case. They’re designed for powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting—for programs like Starting Strength, which includes both the low-bar back squat (a powerlifting lift) and the power clean (an Olympic lift). It’s a barbell designed for two very specialized types of lifting.

If we’re lifting weights to gain muscle size and strength, or to improve our health and appearance, then we aren’t going to be doing Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting. And if we aren’t doing either of those styles of lifting, we sure don’t need a barbell designed for both.

So what type of barbell should we buy?

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