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Rest Between Sets – Maximizing Strength Training

Rest Between Sets – Maximizing Strength Training

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Strength training is the key to getting stronger and getting a healthier body composition. Ideally, you want more muscle and less body fat for better functionality and health. In response to strength training, your muscles become stronger and the muscle fibers thicken. But there are a variety of variables that affect the results you get from resistance or strength training. One of those is the time you rest between sets.

How long you rest is one variable you can change to affect the results you get from strength training. Others include the type of exercises you do, the number of repetitions, the resistance you use, the tempo or your reps, the order in which you do the exercises, how many sets you do, and how often you train. The time you rest between sets should depend upon your goals.

How Long to Rest Between Sets for Maximal Strength Gains

Two Guys in Gym Doing Burpees Looking TiredIf your principal goal is to build strength, you’ll need longer rest periods between each set. The reason? For maximal strength gains, you must lift heavier, and when you lift heavier your muscles need more time to recuperate between each repetition. Otherwise, you won’t be able to maximize your effort on the next set due to a lack of muscle recovery.

For maximal strength-training gains, choose a weight that’s heavy enough that you can only do 2-5 repetitions before your muscles fatigue. In most cases, this will be a resistance of around 80 to 90% of your one-rep max. To optimize your performance on the next set, rest 2 to 5 minutes between each set. Experiment to see which end of the time range works best for you. If your performance suffers on the next set, you’re not resting long enough.

Optimal Rest Time: 2 to 5 minutes between sets

How Long to Rest Between Sets for Maximal Hypertrophy Gains

Muscle hypertrophy is best achieved with moderate resistance and moderate volume of training. Therefore, if building muscle mass and size are your primary fitness goals, lighten up a little on the weight, so you can do more repetitions.

Use a weight where you can do 6 to 12 repetitions before you reach muscle fatigue. This will correspond to a resistance of about 60 to 80% of one-rep max.

To recover long enough, your between-set rest intervals should be about 2 to 3 minutes.

I know that it may feel boring “resting” for these long periods, however, your muscles need adequate time to recover before you stress them again.

Optimal Rest Time: 2 to 3 minutes between sets

How to Rest Between Sets for Gains in Muscular Endurance

Man Wearing Black Pants with No Shirt Showing AbsIf your goal is to improve muscle endurance, the ability to repeatedly contract a muscle without it becoming fatigued, work with lighter weights and do a higher number of repetitions, as this strategy maximizes endurance gains. Here the weight you choose should be around 40 to 60% of one-rep max. With this resistance, you should be able to do 13 to 30 repetitions before your muscles are exhausted. Since you’re using lighter weights, your muscles will recover faster between sets. So, the interval between sets should be 1 to 2 minutes.

Optimal Rest Time: 1 to 2 minutes between sets

How to Rest for High-Intensity Interval Training

Well, if your goal is to burn calories and combine that will some level of muscle growth through weight training, then you should be targeting shorter rest periods. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT workouts) are designed to offer very little rest in an effort to keep an elevated heart rate.

These shorter rest intervals are great for this type of high-energy circuit training. The effects can lead to effective muscle gains and enhanced caloric burn.

Optimal Rest Time: little to none depending on the training program

The Bottom Line?

As you can see, the target minutes of rest you choose will vary and depend on your training goals. Are you trying to maximize muscle size or is building strength your primary objective? The rest interval for the former will be longer than for the latter because you’re working with heavier weights. If you find your performance from set-to-set falls short, you’re not resting long enough to allow your muscles to recover. Further, you may be increasing your risk of injury by not allowing sufficient recovery periods between sets.

While the advice here can be considered a good rule of thumb, be flexible as you work to find the ideal between-set rest period. This will have a great deal to do with your goals, fitness level, cumulative rest days, and type of training. Your exercise routine will start generating major muscle gains if you match your level of effort with adequate rest during your training session. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment a little until you find what works for you. Remember, be firm on your long-term goal but flexible on the details to achieve that goal. Proper rest combined with a focused training program and routine will help you achieve your goals and provide you with an overall better training experience.

Now that you understand how rest works in your exercise routine, let’s look at some other tips to assist you along the way: