How Long You Should Rest Between Sets

rest between sets

Q: I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on how long you should rest between sets. Can you set the record straight on how long to rest between sets for best results in terms of muscle gain.

A: There are certainly a lot of theories when it comes to this subject. In reality a lot of trainers end up spending too much time resting between sets because they’re socializing rather than staying focused on the workout. That aside, however, the bottom line on rest betweens sets is that no two bodies are alike. The recovery between sets that you require is probably quite different than what I need. To determine how much your unique recovery system requires, you need to be totally switched into your training. If you misgauge your rest period, your workout will suffer. Too long a rest and you’ll lose the cumulative intensity effect (not to mention your pump). Of course you not only want to recover strength between sets, but you also want to build upon that last set in terms of intensity. Imagine a stair step effect where one set follows the last and pushes the intensity level ever higher.

Too long a rest and the downward path of the step will return to the start position. The result will be that the intensity threshold never rises above the level of the first set. But if the second set begins before the step returns to its start position, the intensity level will be pushed higher on each succeeding set. Too short a rest period and you won’t be able to function at your best during the upcoming set. So, keeping in mind what we’ve just said about individual recovery responses, studies on work out recovery suggest that the ideal in-between rest period is between 60 and 90 seconds. Of course, a lot of trainers have much shorter rest periods than that, some as short as 15 seconds. It is pretty clear, however, that such short rest periods, while allowing for an intense work-out will not allow sufficient strength recovery to lift heavy on the subsequent set(keep in mind that intensity techniques like drop sets are counted as one extended set).

The key to resting between sets, then, is to gauge where in the 60 to 90 second rest range your unique recovery system operates at its best. Spend that time between sets focusing on the feel in the muscle. Do some isometric contraction on the working muscle and focus on what you are going to achieve on the upcoming set. In other words, stay in the zone and make the most of every second of your workout time.