How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
Sometimes moving your body is all about getting sweaty, feeling the rush of endorphins, clearing your head or listening to music while you try and catch your breath. On these days, the feel-good fitness factor trumps everything else.
Other times, you might be training in the pursuit of a specific fitness goal, such as lifting heavier weights, boosting your cardio fitness, improving your muscular endurance or increasing your muscle mass.
If you’re following a strength training program (or are keen to start!), we can imagine one or more of those goals is on your list and you’re looking to get the most out of every single session.
Because there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to strength training, there are several different components you can tweak to change how your workouts feel, how challenging they are, the progress you make and the results you see.
Depending on your goals, you might want to adjust how fast or slow you perform each rep, how heavy your weights are, how many sets and reps you perform, or even try a slightly different training style. Another thing that can make a big difference is the length of your rest periods between sets.
It’s a common assumption to think that having very short or no rest periods between sets would mean you have an extremely high level of strength and fitness, but including enough rest in your resistance workouts is essential if you want an effective workout, to progress to heavier weights and ultimately to get stronger. Not seeing those strength gains you’re chasing or unable to complete the full number of reps or sets? A lack of rest could be the culprit!
Why are rest periods important?
We all know that rest days are an important part of any training plan as they allow our muscles time to recover, and rest periods within your workout function in the same way. If you’re challenging yourself enough during your workouts, you should need a bit of rest in between sets to take a breather and prepare for the next round.
Research has shown rest periods between sets are an important variable that can affect your workout performance and long-term results. With the right amount of rest, alongside other factors such as weight selection and workout intensity, the amount of rest between each set can influence the efficiency, safety and effectiveness of your strength training routine.
Without adequate rest, you can increase your risk of injury, fatigue your muscles too early into the workout, or be unable to complete the specified number of reps - jeopardising your chances of achieving the fitness goals you had your sights set on.
A 2011 article published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research journal aimed to compare performance and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) with one, three or five-minute rest periods between sets. Consistent declines in performance were observed for all rest periods (as you would expect), but declines started in the second set for those with a one-minute rest period, compared to the third set for those with a three or five-minute rest period, proving rest can make a huge difference!
The whole point of a rest period is to allow your body to recover and rebuild its energy stores so you feel ready to smash out another set of reps with a weight that feels challenging for you, while still maintaining great form.
How long should you rest between sets?
Although the ideal rest period will depend on factors like your training style and individual goals, luckily it’s not a complicated equation.
For most people, your goals and training style will be a match made in heaven, such as powerlifting for strength gains, hypertrophy training to increase muscle mass, or a mixture of weight training and HIIT for improved muscular endurance. These preferences will then lend themselves to different time frames for your rest periods. Let us explain.
Rest periods for different goals and training styles
A general and easy rule to follow is that your rest periods should be long enough that you’re able to complete your next set of reps with good form. For most people, this is between 30 seconds and five minutes, and what is best for you largely comes down to how you’re training.
Training for muscular endurance by lifting lighter weights (or your bodyweight) for a higher number of reps? 30-60 seconds is generally a good option for your rest periods, especially if you’re relying more on your aerobic fitness than muscular strength.
Lifting heavy weights in the gym and needing every bit of strength you can muster? For heavy lifting or powerbuilding programs like BUILD on the Sweat app, research has shown your rest periods should be on the longer end of the scale - between two to five minutes to allow your strength to properly recover between sets. A 2009 review even found that resting 3-5 minutes between sets produced greater strength gains.
Another piece of research from 2015 published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine compared maximal power output, muscular activity and blood lactate concentration following rest periods of one, two or three minutes in a power training program. The findings suggest one to two minutes of rest is sufficient to recover power output, but two minutes is recommended for optimal recovery and consistent power output if you have the time.
Pushing for muscle hypertrophy and increased muscle mass? This is where you would sit somewhere in the middle with rest periods between 30 seconds and two minutes, depending on how you feel.
If you’re following a Sweat program, your rest periods are already programmed into your workouts to give you time to recover, but you can give yourself an extra breather at any moment by clicking the pause button if you don’t feel ready for your next set.
What should you do during rest periods?
While your rest periods aren’t long enough to catch up on your favourite TV show or do some online shopping, they’re definitely long enough to have a sip of water, wipe off your sweat, shake out your muscles or make any changes to your weight selection.
If you’re lifting heavy weights or trying a new exercise and don’t have a mirror, it can also be a good idea to film yourself and review your form during your rest periods to make sure you’re performing the exercise correctly.
Short on time or love efficiency? You can also incorporate supersets into your workout, where instead of having a rest period, you switch to another exercise that uses opposing muscle groups to allow one part of your body to work while the other recovers. You’ll find supersets in several Sweat programs, such as PWR with Kelsey Wells and Strength & Sculpt with Katie Martin.
Rest periods between sets are just as important for your performance, progress and recovery as your rest days between workouts. Feeling like your body needs just a little bit more time before you launch into your next set? Take your time and get ready to come back even stronger.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.