You’ve finished 1 weight-training set and, tick-tock! The clock starts counting off the seconds. Does time really matter when you’re resting between sets during workouts?
If you want to achieve results faster, it can. How long you rest between sets can potentially make the difference between achieving your workout goals, and keeping your bod status quo.
Exercise breaks down muscles and depletes them of energy. Just like the rest of your body needs a break when it’s overworked, your muscles need time to recover from training. The question is, how long do you need to wait before picking up those dumbbells again?
Does resting between sets matter?
You bet your bulging biceps, resting matters! Taking a break between sets gives your muscles a chance to remove wastes and replenish their energy supply. Give them the right amount of time, and they’ll work for you without fatiguing or injuring too easily. Note that the science on this is ongoing and more research is needed to really understand everything about the timing of workouts and rest.
How long you put down your weights between sets really depends on your workout goals.
In 2009, the American College of Sports Medicine released their models for strength training which included rest period recommendations. In general, strength training requires shorter sets with a longer recovery period between them. To build bulk or increase endurance, you want to do more reps with a shorter recovery period in between.
Rest time during a strength workout
When you’re trying to build strength, power is the focus. Though your age and muscle type factor into your results, in general you want to give it a few minutes between sets.
The aim with a strength workout is to generate maximum power per set. Taking a break gives your muscles time to replenish nutrients like glycogen and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that fuel muscle contractions. It also gives them a chance to recover from fatigue.
Recommended routine: Do your sets with a heavier weight and rest 2 to 5 minutes between sets.
Rest time for a cardio workout
Cardio workouts make your heart pump faster and amp up your breathing. The goal is to help you sweat and blast off calories.
You can torch calories with aerobic exercises like sprinting. Or you can get a slower burn with compound weight training exercises that work multiple muscle groups (think your thighs and glutes). Either way, you want to give it a rest in between sets.
Use a work-rest ratio to figure out how long your breaks should be.
- For low-or medium-intensity exercise, use a 1:1 ratio. So after a 2-minute jog, you’d take 2 minutes to rest.
- Higher-intensity workouts need a 1:2 ratio. So after a 20-second sprint, you’d rest 40 seconds.
Rest time for an endurance workout
Endurance exercises are another important element in your workout. They build overall fitness and help your muscles work longer without fatiguing. One big cause of exhausted muscles is lactic acid build-up.
You want to let that lactic acid out, but still keep your rest breaks short enough to build stamina. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the ideal rest time for endurance exercises is 90 seconds or less.
Recommended routine: Do 12 to 15 reps with a lighter weight and rest for about 30 seconds.
Rest time for a bodybuilding workout
Bodybuilding aims to bulk up muscles, or what exercise gurus call “hypertrophy.” The best way to achieve a beefcake body is with moderately heavy weights and short rest periods.
When you take quick breaks between reps, muscle energy comes from your glycolytic system, which uses carbs from your diet for energy. This quick energy source means you don’t need as much rest.
Short breaks also trigger the release of testosterone, your body’s own home-grown anabolic steroid. Testosterone helps to fuel muscle growth.
Recommended routine: Do 6 to 12 reps weight and rest 30 to 90 seconds.
How long you take a break between workout sets depends on what you’re trying to achieve. To gain strength, wait a few minutes before jumping back into your routine. For muscle bulk and endurance, the shorter the rest the better.
If you’re still not totally sure about your routine, talk with a trainer. They can teach you how long to pause between sets, and how to use the right form to see results faster and without injuries.