When it comes to resistance training, one important question is how long you should rest between sets and reps. The recommended rest period can vary based on your goals, the exercise, and the intensity. Finding the right balance between enough rest and too much rest is key for maximizing strength gains, muscle growth, and endurance.
What is the purpose of rest between sets?
Rest periods serve several important functions:
- Allow your muscles to partially recover before the next set
- Restore depleted energy systems (e.g. creatine phosphate, ATP)
- Remove accumulated metabolites like lactic acid
- Re-oxygenate your working muscles
- Lower your heart rate and blood pressure
Without adequate rest between sets, you won’t be able to fully recover and maintain performance. You’ll fatigue faster and have to use lighter weights. The ideal rest time allows your muscles to recover enough to complete all your reps with good form, without letting fatigue dissipate completely.
Factors that influence rest period length
There are several factors to consider when determining optimal rest period duration:
Your training goals
- Strength/power: 3-5 minutes rest for heavy compound lifts
- Muscle growth: 60-90 seconds for lighter isolation exercises
- Muscular endurance: 30-60 seconds for higher rep sets
Longer rest promotes strength while shorter rest maximizes metabolic stress.
- Compound exercises like squats and bench press require more rest than isolation exercises.
- Multi-joint exercises require more recovery than single-joint movements.
- Large muscle groups like legs need longer rest than small groups like biceps.
More muscles used equals more recovery time needed.
- Heavier weights necessitate longer rest periods.
- When training at 80-100% 1RM, take 3-5 minutes rest.
- For moderate intensities around 70% 1RM, rest 1-2 minutes.
- With lighter loads below 60% 1RM, 30-60 seconds is sufficient.
The heavier the weight, the more recovery required between sets.
Number of repetitions
- Lower rep sets (1-5 reps) require longer breaks than higher reps.
- When training for strength (1-6 reps), take 2-5 minutes rest.
- For hypertrophy (8-12 reps), rest 60-90 seconds.
- For muscular endurance (12+ reps), 30-60 seconds is adequate.
Fewer reps with heavier weights necessitate more rest between sets.
Your training level
- Less experienced lifters may need longer breaks between sets to fully recover.
- Advanced lifters can handle shorter rest periods as their work capacity increases.
Novices should start on the longer end of rest period recommendations.
General rest period guidelines
Here are some general evidence-based guidelines on recommended rest times:
|Higher rep sets
However, these should be adjusted based on your specific needs and response. Be sure to track your rest times to find the sweet spot.
Active vs. passive rest
You can take your rest periods in two main ways:
- Passive rest – Complete rest between sets. Do nothing and let your muscles recover.
- Active rest – Perform an easy low-intensity exercise like walking or cycling. Keeps blood pumping.
Active rest may enhance recovery by clearing waste products and preventing blood pooling. But it may also hinder strength gains compared to full passive rest.
How to determine your optimal rest time
Here are some tips for gauging appropriate rest periods:
- Time your sets and monitor when your performance starts decaying.
- Adjust rest periods based on when you feel fully recovered and ready for the next quality set.
- Use a timer or stopwatch to keep rest periods consistent.
- When in doubt, start on the longer end of guidelines.
- Shorten rest times as your conditioning improves to further challenge yourself.
Finding your optimal rest ultimately comes down to listening to your body and tracking your performance.
Signs you need more rest between sets
Here are some indications you may need to lengthen your rest periods:
- Number of reps decreases each subsequent set
- Unable to lift the target weight by the last few reps/sets
- Form breakdown, cheating, poor technique
- High levels of fatigue, burnout
- Elevated heart rate, breathing hard
- Unable to complete all programmed sets
If you experience any of these symptoms, extend your rest times and monitor whether it improves your performance.
Caution about excessively long rest periods
While adequate rest is important, resting too long has some potential downsides:
- workout duration increases significantly
- Less total volume due to fewer sets performed
- Cool-down effects – muscles get cold, body temp drops
- Less metabolic stress for hypertrophy
- Less training density hinders muscular endurance
- Mental boredom, lack of focus
Try to balance sufficient recovery with keeping rest periods practical and productive. Somewhere around 3-5 minutes is reasonable for most purposes.
Tips for making the most of rest periods
Here are some suggestions to optimize your time between sets:
- Stick to a rest period timer or clock
- Record sets/reps/weights lifted in a journal
- Stretch and roll out tight muscles
- Hydrate and replace electrolytes
- Review training notes and plan upcoming sets
- Visualize success on your next set
Having a plan helps prevent wasted time and mental drift.
Special considerations for supersets and circuits
With supersets and circuits, you perform exercises back-to-back with minimal rest. This builds muscular endurance and conditioning but compromises strength gains.
- Take only 15-45 seconds rest between superset exercises
- For circuits, rotate through exercises continuously with no rest
- Perform just 1-3 supersets/circuits per workout
- Keep total weekly training volume high through other conventional sets
Minimize superset frequency to allow strength focus in other lifts.
Rest period length has important implications for performance, muscle growth, and workout quality. While recommendations vary based on your specific routine and goals, use these general evidence-based guidelines for your starting point:
- 3-5 minutes for heavy compound lifts and strength
- 60-90 seconds for moderate intensity isolation exercises and hypertrophy
- 30-60 seconds for lighter high-rep sets and muscular endurance
Monitor your results, rest as needed between sets, and adjust as necessary to continuously make progress. With properly timed rest periods, you’ll lift stronger, train harder, and maximize gains.