How Long Should You Rest In Between Sets?

by Evelyn Valdez

No matter how hard you like to train, you need to let your body rest before your next set. You may be asking though, "how much rest time is too much?" The answer to this is, it all depends on your fitness goals

Increasing muscle mass, strength, endurance, or tone all involves different training methods. While you can cross-train and aim for more than one fitness objective, you also need to learn how to set yourself up for success. Research is the first step to making sure you're maximizing your workouts, but also not overworking to the point of exhaustion.

The amount of time you need to rest in between sets is a question almost all fitness trainers hear from one of their clients. And now we're here to help answer it!

Is there an ideal amount of time to rest in between sets?

Rest periods are tailored based on your training volume, rep ranges, and fitness experience. For example, longer rest times may be needed for new strength trainers, but short rest periods are better for advanced lifters wanting intense muscle growth and who are used to handling heavier weights. 

What's important to remember is that our muscles need fuel, like many other things, so rest is always essential. Several studies about rest intervals in strength training show how important this component is to your training and final results. During these small or long rest periods in between sets, you're allowing your body and muscles to recover, but also giving your energy systems some time to produce the energy you need to finish your workout. 

How does the body produce energy?

Nope, it's not from all the energy drinks you have before a workout! In fact, did you know our bodies have three different energy systems powering our workouts? These include the:

  • Phosphagen system
  • Anaerobic (glycolytic) system
  • Aerobic (oxidative) system

All three are responsible for helping the body produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a molecule that stores and transfers energy between the cells. Only a small amount exists within the muscle cells, that is until the muscles start contracting to generate more. This is where the three energy systems kick into high gear!

Phosphagen system

The phosphagen system provides energy for shorter duration exercises up to 30 seconds. It contributes the most to high-intensity training and weightlifting, especially when you're lifting heavy. One-rep max deadlifts and bench presses are a common part of a training program for heavy weight lifters and powerlifters. In this system, it will break down creatine phosphate to resynthesize ATP and supply the muscles with enough energy for about 8-10 seconds.

Anaerobic (glycolytic) system

Once your sets go beyond 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes, the glycolytic system takes over. When this system is activated, it begins using glycogen to make ATP. Glycogen comes from stored glucose in our body, which is created from the carbs we eat. However, we can burn through these reserves very quickly, especially during high-intensity training sessions. This is the reason most bodybuilders take branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) supplements during their workouts. If the glycogen is depleted, the body will switch to using amino acids for extra energy. That's why fitness professionals and nutritionists recommend eating a decent amount of (healthy) carbs after a heavy training day, so you can restore your levels back to normal over the next 24 hours.

Aerobic (oxidative) system

When any exercise goes over 2 minutes, the body starts relying on the aerobic, or oxidative, system. While the two other systems are still being used, this one lasts the longest in terms of ATP reproduction. However, it's also the slowest of the three energy systems. It relies on carbs, fat, and in some cases, protein, to revive your energy levels. So, if you aren't fueling your body enough, you're more than likely to become fatigued faster. The good news is, you can actually train this system through steady cardio workouts lasting between 30 minutes to an hour. Running, cycling, and swimming are a few ways to train your aerobic system so you can recover faster.

The best rest intervals based on your training goals

Now that you understand how the three energy systems work, you need to figure out what rest interval is ideal to your specific workout goals.

Toning muscles and increasing weight loss

Average rest time: 20 seconds to 1-minute

Resistance training is the best way to accomplish these three goals all in one. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) with a combination of cardio exercises and a well-balanced diet are all beneficial for building muscle, even if your primary goal is weight loss. In this case, fitness experts recommend shorter rest periods. This is a common practice with circuit training, which targets different muscle groups and offers minimal time to rest. By actively or passively resting, you keep your heart rate up and continue burning calories, but still give your muscles the chance to recover bit by bit.

Better muscular endurance

Average rest time: 30 to 45 seconds

Muscular endurance is as important to lifting weights as it is having the strength to do so. The more endurance you have, the more reps you can get out of a single exercise. It also makes your muscles less resistant to fatigue. With endurance training, you want to lift about less than half your average weight capacity so you can easily perform at least 10-12 reps or more. Many people find HIIT workouts to be a super effective form of endurance training. And while you can train one particular muscle group over another, you'll almost always be working with large muscle groups (like legs and back) or multiple muscle groups at once. Ideally, you'll want to rest 30 seconds or less. However, based on your skill level, this can be extended.

Improving muscle strength 

Average rest time: 2 to 5 minutes 

Powerlifting is the biggest way advanced bodybuilders increase their muscle strength. They'll use heavyweight dumbbells and barbells, often lifting at their absolute maximum, and try performing a particular movement in one rep. This is usually either squats, deadlifts, or bench presses. At the end of the day, developing more muscle strength isn't so much about the size of your muscles as it is the power you exert in an exercise. That's why 2 to 5 minutes of rest is absolutely necessary so your muscles can rest and gather enough strength for the next set.

Building muscle mass 

Average rest time: 30 to 90 seconds 

An increase in hypertrophy is a goal for most bodybuilders. Muscle size is tough to achieve if you're not taking the right steps, and that includes the amount of rest you allow between sets. When you're building muscle mass, you're essentially overloading your muscles and tearing the muscle fibers to stimulate growth. And while you don't want to rest too much in between sets, you don't want too little rest either. Shorter rest periods increase metabolic stress and lactate production in the muscles? What does that mean, you might ask? The lactic acid buildup is responsible for that slow burn we feel after working out, which signals our body needs to recover. This triggers the body to flush itself of the excess buildup by releasing more testosterone and human growth hormone. The testerone helps burn fat cells while the growth hormone begins building muscle. 

New to strength training  

Average rest time: 60 to 120 seconds 

As a newbie to strength training, practically the only thing you'll be focused on is building muscular strength and mastering your form. So, you're going to find you may need longer rest periods than most, young grasshopper. However, this is perfectly normal. It gets easy to become discouraged when you aren't seeing results from your training program, but constantly pushing through isn't the answer. In fact, you could develop overtraining syndrome and increase the risk of injury. It's never a good idea to just push through a set just to say you finished. As your training progresses, you'll be able to lift more for longer and can adjust your rest interval as needed. 

Rest...Recover...Recharge!

Rest in between sets is for more than catching your breath. It's actually been proven through science why rest intervals are vital to your training and a beneficial component for better strength, endurance, and hypertrophic activity. Your body not only deserves it, it needs it!

Fitness is not only about how many days you work out or how much protein you eat. Hitting your body goals is a consistent process filled with shortcomings and regular changes to your program. Make sure to keep an eye on your body and how it responds. If you need more rest, than take it. 

Who are we?

Hi - we're UPPPER Fitness Gear! We're a team of fitness enthusiasts, led by the lovely Fit With Iulia, who love everything fitness and health! Aside from providing you the best fitness and health tips that help maximize your workouts, we have collections of fitness gear to help too! We strive to make fitness gear that is high-quality, durable, comfortable, stylish, and most importantly, designed to help elevate your workouts to the next level. 

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