How to train faster Less time, maximum return

Scroll this

Building muscle mass is something you have to take the time to do, no matter how busy your life is. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the gym every day. In fact, by training smart(er), you can significantly shorten your training time, without compromising the result. We discuss six methods to make quick gains.


To understand the methods properly, you need to be familiar with a number of concepts.

Muscle failure
Muscle failure is when you can’t do a decent rep anymore. It is the point where you exert maximum effort. This effort is also called the relative intensity.

Effective reps
Effective (or stimulative) reps are roughly five reps in a set just before the point of muscle failure. These repetitions are the heaviest and provide the most growth stimulus and therefore muscle growth.

Reps In Reserve (RIR)
Reps In Reserve, or RIR for short, is the number of reps in a set that will keep you away from muscle failure. 2 RIR, for example, means that you stop the set when you could do two more repetitions. In other words, you keep two reps in the tank.

As a rule, it is recommended to train with 1-3 RIR and not to complete muscle failure, certainly not with compound movements. This is because training to muscle failure involves a disproportionate amount of fatigue. Because of the latter, you can do less high-quality sets, so that on balance you create less effective repetitions.

Rest time
Rest time stands for the rest between two sets. As a rule, it is recommended to use 1-2 minutes of rest for isolating exercises and 3-5 minutes for compound exercises.

Volume in bodybuilding terms is the number of sets per muscle group per week.


High Intensity Training (HIT, not to be confused with HIIT) means that you train all your sets to complete muscle failure, but do much fewer sets than normal. In other words: a high relative intensity and a low volume. Instead of training several sets with 1-3 RIR, you train only one or a few sets until muscle failure (0 RIR).

The big advantage of HIT is that you have to do far fewer sets. Assuming 1-3 RIR, an average natural should do 10 to 20 sets per muscle group per week. Assuming 0 RIR, you can do 5 to 10 at most.

In a HIT program you train your whole body three or even ‘only’ twice a week – for example on Monday, possibly Wednesday and on Friday. So it’s a full body routine. By intensively training your body in two or three short training sessions, the body receives a maximum growth stimulus and sufficient time to recover.

HIT also has drawbacks. For example, in some exercises it is undesirable (and often impossible) to train until muscle failure, for example with barbell squats and deadlifts. In addition, muscle growth with HIT is probably a bit slower than training with reps in reserve. This is because you do much fewer sets and therefore on balance create less effective repetitions. HIT is therefore a training method for busy (or lazy?) people who want to get the best return from training as little as possible.


Rest-pause training means that you train until or near muscle failure, pause for about ten seconds and then do a few more repetitions with the same weight, again until or near muscle failure.

The ‘secret’ of rest-pause training lies in phosphocreatine. This is a chemical compound that can be produced by the muscle at lightning speed, within seconds. This phosphate in the muscle immediately provides energy for contraction and at the same time carries away lactic acid, the waste material that a few seconds ago ensured that you could not continue training at the same intensity (with the same weight). Of course the muscle is still tired and soon there will be so much lactic acid again that you can’t go any further. But then you were able to squeeze out a few extra reps!

You can apply rest-pause training in different ways, but the principle is always the same:

1. You do an ‘activation set’, in which you continue training until or near muscle failure.
2. You rest very briefly, five to fifteen seconds at most. Do not rest too long (> 15 seconds), because then it quickly becomes a ‘normal’ rest.
3. You do a ‘mini set’, from as many repetitions as possible to (almost) muscle failure again. You will usually be able to do two to four additional reps.
4. You repeat 2 and 3, until you can no longer complete the ‘mini set’ from 3, or until you have done a desired number of repetitions.

The big advantage of rest-pause sets is that you create many effective repetitions in a short time, because you skip the non- or less effective repetitions. On balance, you may have done as many effective reps with one rest-pause series as with three regular sets. Rest-pause sets are a time-saving training method, and research suggests it’s just as effective as doing traditional sets (but not more effective).

The disadvantage of rest-pause sets is that you cannot apply them very well to (large) compound exercises with free weights, such as the barbell squat, deadlift and bench press. After all, these exercises require a good set-up. Rest-pause is therefore best for isolation exercises, such as biceps curls, and machine exercises, such as machine chest presses and machine rows.

Rest-pause training is especially useful when you’re more advanced, especially if you need more volume for certain muscle groups but don’t have the time or inclination to do many extra sets. Keep in mind that training to complete muscle failure causes a lot of extra fatigue. If you do a lot of rest-pause sets, do them with 1-2 RIR.


Also with drop sets you say goodbye to your traditional rest periods. The method works like this:

1. You do a regular set, in which you train until or near muscle failure.
2. You reduce the weight by 10-20%.
3. You immediately do the next set (so no rest), in which you continue training until or near muscle failure.
4. You repeat 2 and 3 until you have reached the desired number of sets, for example five.

Studies from 2017  and 2018 show that drop sets (5 sets with 10% weight reduction each time) are just as effective as regular sets (3 sets to failure with 90 seconds rest between sets). However, individuals using drop sets completed each training session in less than a third of the time as the traditional training group!

Dropsets are especially suitable for mechanical exercises, where you only have to insert a pin to lower the weight.

Don’t train every set of your dropset series to complete muscle failure, but only the last one, for example. Use the other 1-2 RIR.


The 3/7 method has been popularized by a 2019 study. The training protocol of the 3/7 research group looked like this:

set 1: 3 reps, 15 second rest
set 2: 4 reps, 15 second rest
set 3: 5 reps, 15 second rest
set 4: 6 reps, 15 second rest
set 5: 7 reps to complete the set

Then rest for two and a half minutes and do the series again.

The traditional research group trained with 8 sets of 6 repetitions with 2.5 minutes of rest between sets (8×6).

What turned out? The 3/7 group achieved almost twice as much muscle gains as the 8×6 group. In addition, the 3/7 group completed all their training sessions in less than half the time compared to the traditional group. So win-win. It should be noted that this is only one study, which does not alter the fact that it is a promising method.

The 3/7 method likely results in more metabolic stress, the researchers explain, while the mechanical tension is approximately equal in both protocols.

In the 3/7 method you do all sets with the same load. That is about 70 percent of the weight with which you can just do one rep. Usually that is the weight with which you can do 12 reps if you train a set to muscle failure. The first few sets should be very easy. But by the time you get to the sets of 6 and 7 reps, it should be really hard. And you should fail toward the end — or at least get really close to it.

The 3/7 method is also best used for isolating and/or machine exercises.


With a superset you do two different exercises directly or almost immediately after each other, without rest. For example:

barbell bench press
barbell row
2 minute rest
barbell bench press
barbell row
2 minute rest
barbell bench press
barbell row

It is obvious that you save time with this: you essentially get half of your normal rest times from your training. But do you also build muscle mass just as quickly with supersets as with regular sets? It depends.

In the example you do two exercises for two opposing muscle groups (chest and back). Opposing supersets (also called agonist-antagonist supersets) train the flexor and stretcher or the pushing and pulling muscle group. According to coach Eric Helms, a superset of two opposing muscle groups can increase training performance in the second set. Several studies suggest this, although it is unclear exactly what mechanism underlies this. According to that research, there is no reduction in performance in that second set of the superset, so you take the time advantage anyway, says Helms.

If you do supersets of the same muscle groups in succession, for example bench press followed by chest flyes, this will be at the expense of the quality (read: the mechanical tension) of that second set. It is true that you build up more metabolic stress, but that training mechanism is secondary to mechanical tension for muscle growth. If muscle growth is your main goal, then it’s better to only use agonist-antagonist supersets, or supersets for two muscle groups that have nothing to do with each other, for example chest and calves.


With paired sets you make a small circuit, of two or more exercises, with just enough rest between those exercises to be able to perform optimally. In contrast to supersets, you do build in rest breaks. Nevertheless, you still save time. For example:

barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell row
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press
1 minute rest
barbell bench press

From research shows that agonist-antagonist paired sets (as our example) even have a beneficial effect on performance. So that is an extra gain in addition to the time gain, as we have already seen with agonist-antagonist supersets.


In this article, we discussed six ways to significantly reduce your training time without compromising your gains. Some methods may even be better for your gains, though more research is needed to validate that.

The nice thing is that you can also combine methods with each other. How about a rest-pause set of biceps curls, superset with a drop set of triceps extensions? That way you go through your training like a rocket and make the most of every minute to build muscle.

Nevertheless, apply these methods with caution. In most cases, stay away from muscle failure (except with HIT of course) and only do rest-pause sets, drop sets and the 3/7 method for isolating and/or machine exercises.

In general, we recommend that you do not use the methods mentioned until you are more advanced and need more training volume. As a beginner you can still make maximum progress with relatively little volume, so there is normally no reason to use special techniques. Or you really have to deal with a lack of time, but often it is not so much time, but commitment that is lacking. Also remember that with traditional training it is easier to keep track of your progress and thus apply progressive overload.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *