We’ve all experienced it – waiting for a piece of equipment and getting aggravated seeing the individual currently ‘utilizing’ said piece of equipment for what seems to be forever. Then, we can’t help but think to ourselves, how productive are they actually being, resting for 5 minutes between each set? On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may have experienced an individual who is like the energizer bunny, with no breaks and a ‘go, go, go’ workout attitude. This brings forth a question that is asked frequently – “how much rest is too little or too much between sets?” I am hoping to give you the answer you are looking for.
Let’s start with why it is important to rest between sets. The rest period dictates the metabolic stress of the workout and influences the amount of resistance that can be used during each set or exercise. You see, the ATP-CP system, which is the primary energy system used during resistance exercises, needs to be replenished. This process takes time (Bushman et al., 2014)! Furthermore, “A rest interval is essential to re-establish intra muscular blood flow and oxygen delivery that allows for the replenishment and restoration, returning the muscle membrane to resting levels (Willardson, 2008)”. If you continue to exercise with no rest, you are continuously breaking down your intra muscular structure, where it cannot repair/recover fast enough to provide the strength you may need to complete the exercise you are performing. According to Bushman et al., “the duration of the rest period significantly influences the metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular responses to a short-term bout of resistance exercise, as well as the performance of subsequent sets.” Therefore, not only is it important to rest between sets/exercises to help repair and prepare your muscles for the next bout, but the duration of the rest period can positively – or negatively – affect your workout regimen as well.
Okay, time to define a goal. Many individuals begin a resistance training program to increase muscular power, strength, hypertrophy, or endurance. Your exercise regimen should be geared toward your main goal. For example, you would not be running mileage every day if your main goal was to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy), right? The same goes for rest between sets. The amount of time you want to take to rest between each set and/or exercise depends on what you are training for and what your desired goal is. Typically, a longer rest period is recommended for large muscle mass multi-joint exercises (i.e. squat, deadlift), whereas a shorter rest period may be sufficient for a smaller muscle mass single-joint exercise like a bicep curl (Bushman et al., 2014).
Below should give you an idea as to what your rest interval should look like when taking your goal into consideration:
If the goal is to increase both muscle mass and strength, both a long rest (with heavy loading) and short rest (with moderate loading) should be included. One way to determine if you are getting enough rest between sets is to be on the lookout for loss of force production (Bushman et al., 2014). If this occurs, you should practice longer rest periods. In sum, the heavier the resistance, the more rest that should be allotted between sets and exercises.
Another factor you may want to consider when determining the rest period for your exercise regimen includes your training age (how long you have been training); A longer rest period may be necessary until you have adapted both physiologically and psychologically, being able to perform the same given exercise and amount of weight/resistance with a shorter rest interval between sets (Willardson, 2008).
There you have it! The rest between sets varies depending on your goal and experience. So while you may only take 20 seconds of rest between sets (with a goal of muscular endurance), it may be necessary for another to take a 3-minute break due to the fact that your goals are on opposite spectrums! While there isn’t a perfect solution to get on that piece of equipment you have been waiting a long time for, don’t be afraid to ask to work-in with them between sets!
This blog post was written to provide educational information only. This article should not be used as a substitute or a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions or concerns about your personal health, you should always consult with your physician. It is recommended that you consult with your physician or healthcare professional before beginning any fitness regimen to determine if it is suitable for your needs. The use of any information provided by this article is solely at your risk.
Bushman, B. A., & Battista, R. (2014). ACSMs Resources for the Personal Trainer (4th ed.), 378-382. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health.
Willardson, J. M. (2008). A Brief Review: How Much Rest between Sets? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 30(3), 44-50. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31817711a4