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How Much Rest Should You Take?

How Much Rest Should You Take?

When you’re in the gym, resting between sets has been looked at as an indicator of ‘work effort’. If you’re resting too long – you’re not working hard enough right? If you rest for longer than 10 seconds then you’re not going to acquire gains and your workout means nothing!

In this article I hope to clarify a few things when it comes to deciding how much rest to have between sets when you’re at the gym.

Rest intervals between sets has been studied quite extensively in scientific research, particularly around the area of strength development and building muscle (hypertrophy).

When it comes to building muscle, the term ‘time under tension’, or TUT is often mentioned – it refers to the duration of time a muscle is under tension – which has been linked to hypertrophy gains. Across mainstream media, shorter rest intervals began to the norm as a way to increase TUT. Trying to keep the muscle under continuous TUT would most likely result in early onset of fatigue and a low training intensity (low weights lifted).

If you’re goal is building strength or hypertrophy (or both really), your goal is volume over time and progressive overload in intensity. Rest intervals do not play a major role in this.

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Figure 1.

In Figure 1. A 2016 study by De Salles et al. looked at self-selected versus fixed rest times on number of reps performed in upper body and lower body exercises. So one group got to select how much rest they would take whilst the other group had to abide to a set time. They basically found no significant difference in reps performed between both groups.

Longer rest periods seem to be more beneficial if your goal is strength, according to a study by Brad Schoenfeld earlier in 2016. His study looked at the effect long rest periods between sets had on strength improvements in young resistance-trained men. The long rest duration was 3 minutes, and when all other variables remained the same (number of sets and reps prescribed didn’t change), the long rest group had largest improvements in strength.
Why did strength increase? This can be explained by our body regenerating our ATP-PC stores (adenesine triphosphate – phosphocreatine system). Our ATP-PC system is responsible for our short bursts of high intensity activity, for example – sprinting. Requiring no oxygen, it does take some time to regenerate ATP.

Another argument for shorter rest periods has been the acute hormonal response associated with metabolites accumulating due to muscular fatigue (that was a mouthful). Basically, there’s belief that the fatigue caused by short rest periods creates a larger pool of metabolites (waste products) and this leads to a cascade of hormones to be released and aid in muscle building. A study from 2005 by Ahtiainen et al. looked at short versus long rest periods and the influence it had on certain markers in muscular size and strength, as well as hormonal adaptations. They looked at serum T (testosterone) levels within the blood before exercise, 15 minutes after exercise and 30 minutes after exercise for both short and long rest groups. Across a 6 month period there were no significant differences in hormonal levels between short and long rest groups. Results can be seen in Figure 2.

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Figure 2.

For strength and muscle building, it looks as though the ideal rest time should be – anywhere between 2-5 minutes. Where you lie on that range would depend on the intensity of your exercise (what weight you’re lifting), the volume (how many sets and reps) and lastly – how you bloody feel.

If you feel like shit after a set, take your time – grab some water, chill for a bit. Don’t rush into the next set. Remember – aim for increasing volume over time and progressive overload in intensity.

Hope you have a great day!



Schoenfeld, BJ., Pope, ZK., Benik, FM., Hester, GM., Sellers, J., Nooner, JL., Schnaiter, JA., Bond-Williams, KE., Carter, AS., Ross, CL., Just, BL., Henselmans, M., Krieger, JW. Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. (2016). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 30(7). pp 1805-1812.

Ahtianinen, JP., Pakarinen, A., Alen, M., Kraemer, WJ., Hakkinen, K. Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resitance training: influence on muscle strength, size and hormonal adaptations in trained men. (2005) get more. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(3). pp 572-582.

Christopher Watts

Author Christopher Watts

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