A recent study investigated some intriguing questions: “What length of rest interval gives the best performance in the bench press? Does this change between men and women? Does it change between very strong men and weaker men?”
Rest intervals of 1, 2, and 3 minutes were tested. The study prescribed 75% of a particpant’s one rep max done in 3 sets of 10 reps. And while I have no evidence, I’m sure the study was conducted on Mondays, because bench press is always done on Mondays. Okay, I kid, back to real science now.
The results showed that with the given weight and rep scheme, women outperformed men at all rest intervals. This supports the anecdotal evidence from strength coach Mark Rippetoe and others that women can generally perform more reps than men at any given percentage of one rep max. Is something really fundamentally different about the female body that confers this advantage? We’re left to speculate.
Increasing the rest interval from 1 minute to 2 minutes gave much more marginal benefit than the increase from 2 minutes to 3 minutes. As you might expect, the 3 minute rest interval still yielded the best overall performance. But the increase was so small compared to the 2 minute rest interval that we’re left to question whether 3 minute rest intervals are an efficient use of training time. Particularly, women showed only a tiny benefit by waiting that extra minute before getting back under the bar.
The study also found that stronger men could perform fewer reps than weaker men at 75% one rep max. This isn’t surprising given the neuromuscular component of strength training. This disparity is probably caused by the fact that weaker trainees, all other things being equal, have less developed nervous systems than stronger trainees. Nervous system development is as much a part of strength training as muscular development. In short, the weaker trainees probably weren’t really doing more reps at 75% one rep max – they actually hadn’t developed their nervous systems enough to know their true one rep maxes.
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