Rest Period Between Sets

Rest periods between sets are key contributor to the success of any fitness-training program – whether for building absolute strength, improving endurance and/or gaining muscle mass. There is all probability that you are not optimizing this important variable.

So, what are the principles involved to get the best out of the rest periods during a workout session? The first thing is that the optimal rest periods between sets depend on the training goals & your level of conditioning. They can vary from 30 seconds (or even less) to five minutes!

Normally, it takes 2.5 to three minutes for the phosphagen (Creatine Phosphate/ATP) energy stores to get replenished completely from a set of intense exercise. However, resting for this much time period to allow full phosphagen replenishment is not necessary for all sport persons or trainers.

In this article, you will find the facts about rest periods. I have organized the facts based on training goals, so as to make it simple to understand & follow:

Rest Period Between Sets To Gain Muscle Mass (Hypertrophy) And Endurance

Are you looking for gaining muscle mass/size and/or enhancing your capability to use/apply near maximal muscular force over a period of time? Or if you are a bodybuilder, fitness freak, long-sprint runner/cyclist/swimmer, soccer player, wrestler or engaged in a sport involving similar intensity then you come under this category.

For such trainers/sport persons, the optimal rest interval range is 30 to 60 seconds. Another way to understand & apply this mode is to go for a workout-rest ratio of 1:1 or slightly higher. This means keeping the amount of time spent on resting same as the time it takes to complete the previous set or a little less than that. Work-rest ratio of 1:1 or slightly higher benefits the sport persons whose sports involve one to 3 minutes of all out effort with little or no rest. This translates into same or less amount of resting time than the time spent performing each set of exercise.

Using the above rest period between sets produces high amount of lactate in the exercising muscles. This pushes the body to boost its capability to counteract the accumulating lactate, which help improve the capability to withstand moderate, near maximal or maximal contractions over a given time period. High volume, relatively short rest interval training has also been shown to boost human growth hormone levels than the training using longer rest periods. Moreover, growth in muscle size (muscular hypertrophy) will be maximized using work-rest ratio of 1:1 (or a little higher) along with high training volume and a weight load (intensity) between your 8 & 12 repetition maximum.

Rest Period Between Sets For Absolute Strength

If your primary concern is to improve your absolute/explosive strength, it means muscle hypertrophy (gaining muscle size) and endurance are NOT your main objectives. Such trainers should include explosive, low repetition activities of short duration in their training routine. This type of training is applicable to power-lifters, weightlifters, football players, sprinters, sprint cyclists & other sport persons engaged in sports involving high intensity/short duration activities.

For such trainers, the optimal rest interval range is 3 to 5 minutes between sets. One main reason for this longer rest periods is to allow FULL recovery of phosphagen energy system (also known as the CrP-ATP system) before you start the next set. Full recovery will enable you to create the maximum muscular force possible for performing the sets, and consequently you will acquire the maximum absolute strength gains from your training. Another valid reason for this is when high duration rest intervals are combined with heavy training loads, they have shown to produce greater testosterone levels in experienced strength trainers who involve large muscle group exercises in their training. A higher testosterone level leads to greater gains in strength.

Rest Period Between Sets For Beginners

Irrespective of your goals, if you are a beginner, you require longer rest interval between sets than the experienced trainers. If you are just beginning, stay towards the conservative end of the range. On the other hand, if you are an experienced trainer, you will benefit more from shorter rest intervals.

Also the trainers/athletes who are coming back from periods of detraining – whether due to injury or any other reason – should opt for relatively longer rest periods between the sets until they reach back in their normal physical condition.

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Circuit Training, A Special Case

When & why to incorporate circuit training into your workout regime? Typically circuit training incorporates a rest interval of LESS than thirty seconds, or a work-rest interval of less than 1:1. You need to understand that circuit training has been conceived to offer an option between strength & aerobic training. Because of the short rest periods between sets, though the circuit training provides lesser strength gains when compared to traditional strength training, but then it offers modest gains in aerobic capacity – and so is useful fat loss and aerobic conditioning . So who will benefit from performing circuit training? The trainers/sport persons who are looking for a balance of both strength & cardiovascular endurance for their sport, athletes & fitness freaks with limited time and others who want to add variation to their training regime.

Useful Related Post: High Reps vs. Low Reps


Whatever your sport or fitness goal may be, understanding the technique of rest between sets helps designing your training routine in accordance with your fitness goal and/or demands of the sport you are engaged in. As explained above, not all sport persons/athletes benefit from resting full 3 minutes to complete phosphagen energy system recovery. Different rest periods offer different results. You need to select rest intervals depending upon the sports you are engaged in or your training goal.


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