How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

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Tick-tock! The clock on the wall is counting, but does time matter when resting during strength training workouts? The amount of rest time between sets could be an important variable affecting strength workout results, with optimum rest periods ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes, depending on the goal [1].

Got Goals? — Why It Matters

When it comes to strength training, the amount of rest between sets significantly affects workout effectiveness. Our bodies, specifically our muscles, need time to recover from training before starting another set [1]. When we use our muscles, the amount of time before they’re rested varies depending on exactly how much they’re fatigued. Engage more muscle with more strenuous activity, and the more time the body needs to recover [1] [4].

The optimal rest interval therefore changes based on workout goal, whether that's maximizing strength, building muscle mass, or developing endurance [5]. The exercise involved with each goal taxes our bodies differently, requiring different amounts of time to recover and prepare for the next set [1]. In general, when our bodies move heavier weights, they usually need a longer rest between sets.

Work Hard, Rest Hard — The Answer/Debate

While the exact amount of rest likely varies from person to person, research suggests some basic guidelines based on workout goals. For heavier lifts to maximize strength, longer breaks between three to five minutes allow the muscles to recover from the considerable stress and perform better on subsequent sets [5] [4].

For those looking to build muscle size (a process called hypertrophy), it’s recommended to keep the rest interval between one and two minutes [5]. That duration is consistent with peak growth hormone production, a necessity for muscle growth [1]. And if muscular endurance is the goal, perform higher repetitions at lower weight, and make the rest intervals a bit shorter. Between 20 and 90 seconds is recommended [5].

These guidelines, however, are far from exact. Current research is exploring possible benefits of varying rest interval duration between workouts, and even within the workout itself [12]. Further studies are needed to determine if more specific goals require more specific rest intervals for those who hit the weights.

Now we just need to remember to pack a stopwatch...

Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft

Do you rest between sets? Why or why not? Share in the comments below!

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Works Cited

  1. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF., Simao R., Miranda F., et al. University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39(9):765-77.
  2. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF., Simao R., Miranda F., et al. University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39(9):765-77.
  3. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF., Simao R., Miranda F., et al. University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39(9):765-77.
  4. The effect of different rest intervals between sets on volume components and strength gains. Willardson, J. M., Burkett, L., N., Kinesiology and Sports Studies Department, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008 Jan: 22(1):146-52.
  5. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults., Jacobs, I., Schilling, B., Swank, A., et al. American College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009 March: 41(3):687-708.
  6. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF., Simao R., Miranda F., et al. University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39(9):765-77.
  7. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults., Jacobs, I., Schilling, B., Swank, A., et al. American College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009 March: 41(3):687-708.
  8. The effect of different rest intervals between sets on volume components and strength gains. Willardson, J. M., Burkett, L., N., Kinesiology and Sports Studies Department, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008 Jan: 22(1):146-52.
  9. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults., Jacobs, I., Schilling, B., Swank, A., et al. American College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009 March: 41(3):687-708.
  10. Rest interval between sets in strength training. de Salles BF., Simao R., Miranda F., et al. University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39(9):765-77.
  11. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults., Jacobs, I., Schilling, B., Swank, A., et al. American College of Sports Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009 March: 41(3):687-708.
  12. Comparison between constant and decreasing rest intervals: influence on maximal strength and hypertrophy. de Souza, T. P., Fleck, S. J., Simao, R., et al. Metropolitan University of Santos, Santos, Brazil. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010 Jul: 24(7):1843-50.

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