What is the optimal rest time between two sets & exercises?


Rest periods between sets and exercises for the same muscle group

In this post you will find out what is the optimal rest time between two sets and between two exercises. The amount of rest between sets is crucial but often overlooked factor in most workouts. To understand why, you will need a quick lesson in exercise science. The lower your reps (and heavier the weights) the longer you need to rest between sets. The higher your repetitions (and lighter the weights) – the shorter you rest between sets. When you lift heavy weights, you’re recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers, the fibers that generate the most force but also fatigued the fastest and take the longest to recover. When you use lighter weights and do more reps, you’re mainly hitting your slow-twitch muscle fibers. These are not only more resistant to fatigue than fast-twitch fibers but they recover much more quickly, to.

How much rest between sets of the same exercise?

So what is the optimal rest time between two sets? How long to rest between sets typically corresponds to the particular rep range (and intensity) you’re working in.

If you are training for strength in the three- to six- repetition range, rest longer between sets (around two to five minutes). To gain strength, ensure that your muscles are as close to fully rested as possible for each set. Don’t risk less-than-full recovery with shorter rest periods simply to speed up your workout.

Conversely, developing endurance requires continuous, or at least near-continuous, bouts of exercise. So if you are training for muscular endurance with high reps, short rest periods of around 30 seconds are ideal. Resting for longer than you’re working defeats the whole purpose.

If you’re doing reps of 8 to 12 for hypertrophy (increasing muscle size), anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds is optimal. So as you can from the table below, hypertrophy training falls somewhere in the middle. In other words, you don’t want your muscles to be fully rested between sets (as with strength training), but rest periods that are too brief will decrease the number of repetitions you’re able to do on subsequent sets.

GoalRep rangeResistanceRest periods between sets
Strength3 - 6 repsHeavy2 - 5 minutes
Size (hypertrophy)8 - 12 repsModerate to heavy 60 - 90 seconds
Endurance15 - 30 repsLight to moderate20 - 45 seconds

These numbers simply describe the amount of time you rest before working the same muscle (or muscle group) again. That is, if you think strategically, you can work other muscle (or muscle group) instead of waiting around while the clock ticks.

How much rest between exercises for the same muscle (muscle group) in the same workout?

Regarding how long to rest between different exercises for the same muscle in the same workout, it should usually be about as long as you rested between sets of the previous exercise. Meaning, if you rested 1 minute between sets of Exercise #1, you should rest about 1 minute before doing your first set of Exercise #2.

We actually tend to be a little less strict when it comes to rest times between exercises, because sometimes you just need a little more time to recover from that last set of the previous exercise as well as time to actually get to and set up at your next exercise.

So, if you end up taking an extra minute or 2 when switching from one exercise to the next, that’s usually alright unless otherwise instructed.

However, your rest times between sets of each exercise should stay much more strict and consistent.

Closing thoughts

An important variable for generating an overload effect in multiple-set training programs is the amount of rest allowed between sets. How long a weightlifter should rest between sets is dependent on numerous factors. These include the resistance being used, the specific exercise concerned, the goals of the lifter, and the metabolic pathways that need to be trained.

The length of hypertrophy rest periods falls in between the lengths for rest periods when training for muscular strength and those when training for muscular endurance. In other words, when performing two or more sets of the same exercise, allow your muscles to recover for 60 to 90 seconds between sets. This is sufficient time to rest your muscles and restore most of your anaerobic energy supply. Also take a brief rest between successive exercises to reduce the general effects of fatigue on subsequent muscular efforts. Resting about two-three minutes between different exercises as you progress through your workout is usually sufficient.


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