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Is there a Recommended Time to Rest Between Sets?


There are strong, scientifically-based rules about how long you should rest between sets. But there isn't just one best amount of time to rest between sets. In strength training, you can use both short and long breaks. The best amount of time to rest can change based on the exercise, the goal of your workouts, your need to save time, and even your own personal preferences.


In this case, "it's nuanced" or "it depends." Let's take a closer look at all the things that could affect your choice of how long to rest between sets.


As you read these tips, keep in mind that they are based on a lot of scientific study. We have a lot of faith in them.


We will also think about what is best for you in terms of practicality, since what study says is best for maximum gains might not be the best thing for you in this case.


Let's clear up some terms before we begin. In the first place, a rest interval is the time you give yourself to recover between sets of strength training routines. This is why they are also called rest breaks between sets.


The authors of one of the most well-known systematic reviews of the study (Grgic and Schoenfeld) said that a short rest interval was one minute or less and a long rest interval was one minute or more. But in real life, most people think of short rest periods as ones that last one minute or less and long ones that last two minutes or more. Some lifters would go even further and say that less than one minute is short, two minutes is middle, three minutes is long, and four to five minutes is very long.


Here are eight tips to help you choose rest times. All of these suggestions are based on science, but I won't go into all the studies and physiology behind them in this Q&A piece. Instead, I'll just tell you what to do. Here are some important papers that you can read if you want to see the study.


At the end of the piece, there is also a summary of the suggested rest intervals and a list of simple, useful "bonus tips" that will help you make your program fit your needs and get the best results.


1. Rest times for Conditioning, Hypertrophy, & Strength


There isn't a single set of rules for rest intervals that works for all workouts. The best amount of time to rest between sets relies on your main goal. What do you want to get out of resistance exercise the most? What is it? Is it maximum strength, a mix of strength and hypertrophy, straight hypertrophy, or health and fitness? How you answer this question will be the most important factor in deciding how long to rest between sets.


Strength lifters and people who do powerlifting rest a lot between sets. It can be anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. This is because after a hard set, the energy stores that make muscles contract have been briefly used up, and metabolic waste products are still in the muscle.


If you rest longer between sets (but not so long that you cool down), your muscles can recover enough to get their energy back and feel ready for the next set. This lets you lift the most weight, do the most reps, and get stronger.


Bodybuilders and other body athletes usually take breaks that are just right—not too long or too short. Even though they want to get stronger too, their main goal is to build muscle, not get stronger. For growth, you should rest for two minutes between sets of compound exercises and one minute between sets of isolation exercises.


People who want to get in shape, improve their health, and lose fat often cut their rest periods below a minute. It's not unusual for them to go as low as 45 or even 30 seconds. Some people change their whole training style to "circuit training," which is also called "metabolic training" these days, and don't do any rest breaks at all.


When you do a series of exercises, anywhere from 3 to 10 in a row with little to no rest, the weight lifting almost turns into aerobic exercise, or "metabolic." You could compare this to doing cardio with weights.


Weight training at a fast pace can still help you build strength. Because of this, people who like circuit training often say they are "killing two birds with one stone." This is because they think they are working out their hearts and muscles at the same time.


However, you won't be able to lift as much weight if you cut your rest periods that short, and even more so if you do not have any at all. If you want to get as strong as possible, you shouldn't do circuit training or any other type of exercise training with very short breaks. Research shows it's not even very good for getting stronger. If you want to get strong, improve your health, or lose fat, you should probably do circuit training or metabolic weight training instead of bodybuilding.


2. Using More Than One Length of a Rest Period


A lot of people want to know if rest periods should all be the same. To put it another way, should you do only one minute of rest between sets if you choose them? If you choose two-minute rest breaks, should you do the whole workout with two-minute rest breaks?


The clear answer is "no." A lot of workout plans don't have just one goal, like building power or size. The goal is actually both. There are two kinds of workouts that can help you reach these two goals. Every week there is a power day and a hypertrophy day.


When it's strength day, you lift more weight and rest longer between sets. For compound movements, the number of reps could be between 4 and 7, and the time between sets could be around 3 minutes.


For growth days, you lift less weight and rest less between sets. The number of reps could be between 8 and 12 or even 15 to 20. For complex exercises, the rest time could be 2 minutes, and for isolation exercises, it could be 1 minute.


Studies have also shown that you might get the most growth if you do both compound exercises with longer breaks and isolation exercises with shorter breaks during the same workout.


This is because the first one affects mechanical tension, which is a main way that muscles grow, while the second one affects metabolic stress, which is a minor way that muscles grow. In this way, you're encouraging two different ways of muscle growth, which may work better together than if you only did one.


3. Using supersets and density training to cut down on rest time


Bodybuilders and regular people who like to work out often use a method called "supersets," in which they do two exercises right after each other with little to no rest in between. In the superset, there is no rest between exercises A and B. However, there is a normal rest break of one to two minutes after the superset.


As an example of compound workouts,


Bench press (no rest, superset right to)

Bent over row. Once the bent over row is completed, that is one superset... Do this two more times for a total of three sets.


As an example (of isolation training),


Barbell curl (no stop, superset right to)

Tricep pull-overs. Once the tricep pullovers are complete, that is one superset... Do this two more times for a total of three sets.


For progressive overload, cutting down on rest periods between sets is another common way to do it. The goal is to do the same amount of work in less time or more work in the same amount of time. In the gym, this is called density training.


During the first week of density training, you might rest for two minutes between sets. In the second week, you would rest for one and a half minutes, in the third week, for one minute, and in the fourth week, for thirty seconds.


The key to making this work for muscle building is to keep up the total load of the workout. Of course, if you cut your rest periods too short or too often, you'll have to lower the weight or do fewer reps with the same weight. It wouldn't be more successful to do the same number of sets in less time if you had to use lighter weights.


If, over the course of a month, you keep lifting the same amount of weight but cut your rest periods in half or a quarter of the time you started with, or if you have to lower the weight but can do more sets and a higher volume load because of the short rest periods, you have overloaded your muscle.


It is almost always found that when rest intervals are too short, repetitions and total volume go down. This seems to go against most of the study. But those drops in performance happen when you suddenly cut short the breaks.


At least two studies have shown that your body can adapt to shorter rest periods over time. This means that you can get the same results as if you kept the rest periods the same length of time.


4. Rest Times Based on the Type of Workout


Your type of exercise will also affect how long your rest intervals should be. Because they make you tired faster than single-joint and machine exercises, multi-joint free weight exercises need more time to recover between sets. Scientists have found that when you do compound workouts, rest intervals of only one minute slow down protein synthesis more than rest intervals of two minutes or more. The short breaks also make it harder to do well in the next set.


Think about doing a set of squats with a weight load of 8 to 12 reps or even a high rep set of 15 to 20 reps with less weight. Your leg muscles should be tired, and you should be breathing hard, if not gasping for air, if you really worked hard. After being tired for a minute, let alone 30 seconds, it's not easy to rush into another set right away. When you do this, the tiredness from the last set gets in the way of the next one, or as some people say, they "throw their cookies."


All big compound workouts make you tired. For example, it might take you three or four minutes of deadlifts before you're ready to do another set with the same weights and reps. But after a set of bicep curls, you might be ready to go again in just one minute, or even thirty to forty seconds. This is because isolation exercises don't make your whole body or heart tired.


You can keep up your strength and performance when you're doing multiple sets of multi-joint compound weight lifting routines if you take a medium to long break between sets. If you want to get the most out of each set, you need to rest enough between sets, especially for big movements like squats, deadlifts, and rows.



These isolation workouts, on the other hand, are not nearly as hard as a set of bicep curls or tricep pushdowns. Because single-joint movements don't need as much rest between sets, it's fine to take shorter breaks of about one minute, or even 30 to 45 seconds in some cases if time is of the essence.


5. Rest Periods Based on Your Favorite Training Style


When thinking about rest periods, you should also think about how you like to train. Beginners usually don't have a favorite yet; they're just looking for advice, and they tend to copy the first fit person they see. But, like when you were a kid, you might have tried a lot of different sports and hobbies. Similarly, as you get better at resistance training, you may find one that you really enjoy and become more involved with that group.


It drives a lot of people, mostly women, crazy to "sit around doing nothing" for even two minutes between sets, let alone longer. That's not their style. They like to stay involved, keep moving, and rest as little as possible between sets.


That does, of course, limit how much power you can build, but strength may not be their main goal. They burn the same number of calories in less time or more calories in the same amount of time when they work out quickly with little rest between sets. They get a more tough workout for their bodies as well as a more fun and interesting one, which is what they wanted.


This is another reason why we always set goals first. Goals do more than just keep you motivated and on track. It's impossible to make a training plan that works if you don't have any goals and aren't aware of them at all times. It's easy to pick the right kind of training when you know exactly what you want to achieve.


6. Rest breaks based on how much time you need to save


Your need to get things done quickly is another thing to think about. There are people whose lives are very full. They may have kids, full-time work (often with commutes), and other responsibilities.


They want to train, it's not that they don't want to. Not because they don't want to train longer, but because they don't have the time. This is why a lot of people can't afford to wait two or three minutes between sets. This is something you need to think about when designing the program.


When I don't have much time, I usually do antagonist superset exercise, which saves me a lot of time. I also think antagonist supersets are better than circuit training or doing straight sets with very little rest because they don't hurt power or muscle gain.


Everyone who is always on the go should learn how to use antagonist supersets. This method has been backed up by a lot of scientific study. Because so many people are busy, it's no surprise that this is one of the most popular style of workouts.


7. Rest Periods Based on How Hard You're Working


Another thing that affects the rest period you choose is how hard you're working out. When you're working as hard as you can or almost as hard, you might need a longer break to keep up your performance.


Your performance on the next set will go down if you jump right into it after finishing the last rep or almost finishing the last rep of the last set. It's likely that you'll face repetition drop-off.


Say you did 10 reps on the first set, but only got 8 on the second set because you didn't have enough time to recover. You only get 6 if you do it again on the third set. You might have been able to do 10 reps on all three sets if you had taken longer breaks. Because you were in a hurry, you only did 24 reps over 3 sets, when you could have done 30.


Leaving two or three sets or more in the tank, on the other hand, makes it more likely that you won't see that kind of drop in performance. So, another thing you should think about when deciding how long to rest between sets is how hard you are working.


8. Based on personal judgment (autoregulation), rest intervals


Lastly, studies show that you don't have to use set rest periods. Instead, you can use your best judgment to decide how long to rest and still get great results. People who do this are said to be self-suggesting or autoregulating.


Are you well enough to do the next set at full strength without your reps going off the edge? Have you changed the rate at which you breathed after a hard quad set? If your body tells you it's time to move on to the next set, trust your gut and do it.


Our word for this is "auto regulation." Muscle builders used to call it "instinctive training" back in the day. A lot of study has shown that autoregulation is a good way to control your rest periods and workout speed, even though it may not seem scientific.


In short:


Most study on this subject shows that resting for more than one minute, preferably two minutes, is the best way to increase muscle growth. This is the best way to do it because it lets you get a bigger volume load. If getting as strong as possible is the most important thing, 3-minute rest breaks are even better.


As you can see, though, the best amount of time to rest relies on a lot of things, such as the goal, the type of exercise, the level of effort, and practical issues like time. Based on a person's goal, here is a summary of the best practices:


1. For best strength, you should rest for longer periods of time (3 minutes or more for powerlifting).


2. For strength and size gain, use long and medium rest periods (2 to 3 minutes for compound exercises and 1 minute for solo exercises).


3. To get the most muscle growth, you should do a mix of medium and short rest periods (at least 2 minutes for compound exercises and 1 minute or even slightly less for solo exercises).


4. If you want to improve your health, get fit, and lose fat (muscle mass and strength aren't important), you can choose from traditional resistance training (like we talked about above), traditional resistance training with short breaks of 30 seconds to one minute, or metabolic or circuit style training that goes at a fast pace.


Bonus tips that are based on facts:


1. Taking creatine monohydrate as a supplement has been shown to help your body heal faster between sets. This might help balance out some of the bad affects that very short rest periods might have. It's one of the few vitamins that really helps with strength training.


2. Shorter rest periods may be better for women than for men because women heal better between sets than men do.


3. The scientific proof isn't all clear, but it leans toward at least 2-minute breaks between sets, especially when doing compound exercises. But if you do more sets, you could rest for less time and still get the same or better results. Also, you can do more sets in the same amount of time if you rest for less time between sets.


4. If your main goal is to get stronger and build muscle, don't "turn your weights into cardio" by doing circuits or taking very short breaks. If you want to cut down on your workout time while still building muscle and strength, try antagonist supersets instead of very short gap between sets.

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About

My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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