December 16, 2019

Resting Between Sets, What Do We Know?

I’m often asked how long we should rest between sets and as always, the answer isn’t exactly black and white. 

Fortunately, there is a lot of research in this area from which we can draw some sturdy guidelines.

Related: Does Stretching Between Sets Help?
How long you should rest between sets for full recovery is dependent on a few factors.

These include:

  • training intensity
  • training volume
  • exercise complexity 
  • exercise order
  • type of muscle contraction
  • activated musculature
  • training status 
  • training goal
  • strength level

What we do know, is that the length of your rest interval can significantly influence performance in subsequent sets.

For instance, shorter rest periods tend to result in a sharp performance decline and fewer repetitions completed in the sets to follow.

This is more suited to strength endurance outcomes.

Longer rest individuals allow greater interset recovery, higher intensity across all sets and more repetitions completed.

This is better for maximising gains in strength and hypertrophy.

It was once believed that shorter rest intervals were associated with better hypertrophic effects.

However, studies have reported similar magnitudes of growth, with a slightly better strength advantage in longer rest intervals. 

According to current literature we can suggest 2-3 minutes is the minimum rest needed for compound movements like the squat or bench press.

It is recommended that upwards of 5 minutes rest is best to maintain maximum training intensity and volume across all sets when training close to failure. 

When performing assistance or single-joint exercises, generally, shorter rest intervals of 1-2 minutes may be enough.

In the end, a range of rest interval durations can and should be used across the broader training plan to achieve the desired adaptations. 

Therefore, the greater share of focus should go towards more critical training parameters such as volume and intensity for hypertrophy and strength. 

There were a few other interesting details gleaned from this study, which we’ll cover another time.

Stay tuned,

Effect of Interset Rest Interval Length on Resistance Exercise Performance and Muscular Adaptation. Adam M. Gonzalez.  Strength & Conditioning Journal: December 2016 – Volume 38 – Issue 6 – p 65–68 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000257

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Danny James

Danny James is a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer with over ten years of experience working with the fastest track and field youth athletes in the country. He lives in Sydney, Australia with his beautiful wife Fabiana. Sign up for Danny's free newsletter and receive tips, insights and exclusive email-only content.

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