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The Optimal Duration of Rest Periods Between Sets

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

You’ve likely heard the power-training guideline that the greater amount of weight you lift, the lengthier you must rest between sets. If so, you may have questioned whether this is truly an inflexible truth — or if lengthier rests serve your specific health and fitness objectives.

Precisely how lengthy should you rest between sets? The reality is, the response differs depending on your desired outcome: Developing strength necessitates longer rest periods than increasing endurance, for instance.

Below, professionals clarify what you need to comprehend about rest intervals, based on your intended results.

Shape Up, Shed Pounds, or Enhance Stamina

Rest for: 20 to 60 seconds between sets

If your objective is to improve your physical condition by enhancing your muscular fitness or boosting your muscular stamina, keeping rest periods to a minimum is in fact the superior approach, says Ryan Rogers, C.S.C.S., a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. “For the majority of individuals who are looking to maintain their physique and shed a bit of weight, I suggest minimizing rest by simply remaining active during workouts,” he remarks. (See also: What’s the Distinction Between Muscular Stamina and Muscular Strength?)

To give muscles a small break while keeping the heart rate elevated, Rogers typically has his clients complete circuit workouts in which the only rest is during the transition from one movement to the next — usually less than 30 seconds. “This approach helps burn more calories than fully resting between sets while still allowing the muscles to recover slightly so they can exert a little more force,” he explains. (More: How to Construct the Perfect Circuit Training Workout)

Develop Strength

Rest for: 2 to 5 minutes between sets

Want to become stronger? This rest interval time permits muscles to replenish the energy they require for contraction and allows the nervous system to recuperate, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an ACE-certified trainer based in San Diego. “When lifting heavy weights such that you’re performing 10 reps or less, proper rest and recovery are vital for the activation of muscle fibers, which ultimately leads to the hormone response that’s responsible for muscle growth. Essentially, heavy lifting creates mechanical damage, and the hormones help repair the damaged tissue and initiate growth,” he explains. (PS: Here’s how frequently you ought to be engaging in intense power-training workouts to begin with.)

Increase Your Muscle Size

Take a break for: 1 minute between sets

If your primary objective is hypertrophy — meaning an enlargement in the cross-sectional size of the muscles — this is the optimal rest duration. “Pausing for a duration longer than 60 seconds would compromise the aspect of metabolic stress during training and reduce the potential for muscle growth. However, resting for less than 60 seconds doesn’t provide enough recovery time for the muscle to perform well in the next set,” says Sabrena Jo, senior director of science and research at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). (See: How to Increase Muscle In and Out of the Gym)

Perfect Your Technique

Take a break for: 3 minutes between sets

Why three minutes? According to research that has been published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, you’ll recover more rapidly compared to resting for only two minutes between sets. Additionally, you’ll have more time and energy to wholly concentrate on the movement you’re striving to master.

Just Getting Started

Take a break for: longer than you anticipate you need

If you are relatively new to strength training, “you’ll benefit from prolonged rest periods between sets so you do not push yourself to the extent of experiencing nausea, whereas someone who is in excellent physical condition can take shorter breaks without much difficulty,” says Rogers. (Also: Don’t overlook this strength training workout that is suitable for beginners.)

For beginners, allowing yourself more time to recover (without fully returning heart rate and body temperature to resting levels) offers some additional advantages, as noted by Fabio Comana, a lecturer at San Diego State University’s School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences. “For less experienced individuals engaging in exercise, longer rest periods can enhance self-efficacy,” he says. In other words, if an additional minute or two of rest between sets enables you to complete that final effort, you’ll have more confidence to stick with the workout for the long term — which, of course, is the most effective way to achieve results, regardless of your objective. (Up next: Frequently Asked Weight Lifting Questions for Beginners Who Are Ready to Lift Heavy)

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