Do you want to burn fat or build muscle? Let me rephrase that. It actually needs to be broken into two questions: Do you want to burn fat? OR, do you want to build muscle? Chances are you want to do both. Here’s the only problem: It can be pretty hard – almost impossible – to do both at the same time. (at least to the degree that most people want)
To see what I mean just think about how hard it would be to add 20 to 30 pounds of muscle to your frame in a six month period. Sure, someone can add that much body mass in that period of time, but how much of it is really muscle? Assuming the individual isn’t using steroids, it is hardly going to be possible. A good amount of any body weight that people add to their frame (even when adhering to a strict training and diet regimen) is water and fat. The rest is muscle. So, when you hear someone say they added 30 pounds of muscle in a short period of time, well, they are probably misinformed (they haven’t had a body fat test done to back it up). And, when you see a supplement add that suggests a particular protein powder or supplement will add 30 pounds of muscle in one month (or even three months) you can be sure they are lying in order to sell more of that particular product.
Realistically speaking, when you put on weight in an effort to increase muscle mass you are going to add fat. It’s a simple, unavoidable truth. And the best ratio of fat to muscle you can hope for is 2:1. This means that if all things are done perfectly and your body responds incredibly well to the routine you are on you will add one pound of fat for every two pounds of muscle. Typically though, these numbers are more realistic for beginner or intermediate trainees. Once people have been working out for a while, that ratio slips and one pound of fat is gained for every one pound of muscle. So, it gets harder to add muscle without adding fat.
Most people understand the idea that to add a significant amount of muscle mass many people recommend the idea of bulking up, or lifting heavy while increasing caloric intake to add body mass. While some of this new body mass is muscle, much of it (as I just mentioned) is invariably body fat. The idea behind this strategy is to go through a dieting or “cutting” phase to preferentially burn off the added fat while maintaining the new, hard earned muscle. A lot of guys and gals that have been lifting for at least a little while understand this concept. And most bodybuilders swear by it. It’s probably the most common method for adding substantial muscle mass to one’s frame (especially when repeated over time)
I’m not going to go into detail on the pros and cons of bulking or even how to do it. I’ll save that for another post. What I do want to talk about is how you can manipulate rest intervals during your workouts to burn fat or build muscle.
People have a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll try to keep the rest of this post short and to the point.
Less Rest for Less Fat
A lot of people in the know might assume that it is common knowledge, but if you want to burn more fat during a workout you want to rest less between sets. One study found that people training who rested for 30 seconds between sets of bench presses burned 50% more calories than another group that rested for 3 minutes.
More Rest for More Muscle
If, on the other hand, your main goal is to add muscle to your frame, you want to be taking a little bit more rest than you would if you were just trying to burn fat. A recent study out of Kennesaw State University in Georgia confirmed what some people might have already guessed: when you rest more, you increase your body’s recovery ability and it’s ability to build muscle. During the study the researchers had lifters rest for 2.5 minutes between sets, and, during the 10-week time period during which the study was conducted, trainees gained twice the arm size that another group who only rested for 1 minute did. The conclusion, once again, is that to maximize muscle gains rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
Keep in mind that even if you only have one main goal (either burning fat or building muscle) mixing up rest periods occasionally is goood. If you are taking longer rest periods most of the time, challenge your body by cutting your rest periods down to 30 seconds. On the other hand, if you are already skimping on the rest, mix it up by giving your body 2-3 minutes downtime between sets. The end result is your body ends up working harder to work with rest periods that are different from what it is used to. And hard work means you’ll burn more fat and build more muscle.
So next time you’re in the gym, pay attention to how much rest you are taking. You might just find it’s the key to mixing up your workouts and breaking through a plateau – whatever your goals.