Taking the right amount of time to rest between sets is paramount in a quality workout.
Too much rest and you lose your pump. Too little rest and you quickly fatigue the working muscle.
Let’s give a little explanation on why you might choose longer or shorter rest periods between each workout.
There are 3 different primary energy systems that your body uses to produce ATP, which is the primary fuel your muscles use for exercise.
These definitions come straight from this article on Wikipedia:
ATP-PC System (Phosphagen System)
This system is used only for very short durations of up to 10 seconds. The ATP-PC system neither uses oxygen nor produces lactic acid and is thus said to be alactic anaerobic. This is the primary system behind very short, powerful movements like a golf swing or a 100m sprint.
Best for short bursts of intense lifts, like in powerlifting or strength training.
Anaerobic System (Lactic Acid System)
Predominates in supplying energy for exercises lasting less than 2 min. Also known as the Glycolytic System. An example of an activity of the intensity and duration that this system works under would be a 400m sprint.
This is what you’ll partially use for bodybuilding and creating muscle mass, size.
This is the long duration energy system. By 5 min of exercise, the O2 system is clearly the dominant system. In a 1km run, this system is already providing approximately half the energy; in a marathon run, it provides 98% or more.
You use this when doing aerobic activity, so this system doesn’t really apply to our discussion here.
How much rest between sets works best for each goal?
3-5 Minutes Rest:
Longer rest periods are generally better for people who are training for strength and power and should be used together with lower reps 3-5
This is because your body requires approximately 3 minutes for it to restore the phosphagen (Creatine Phosphate/ATP) stores for your next set. Once the ATP-PC energy system has been able to replenish the energy stores in your muscles, you’ll be to lift a heavier weight for more reps. So, you should rest longer to get the energy to go heavy.
Taking a shorter rest works better for hypertrophy and building overall muscle mass. In this type of training, you’re not aiming to lift the most weight you can possibly lift. The purpose is to keep the stress on your muscles and work them again before they have the chance to fully recover.
This gives your muscles intensity over a longer period of time and allows you to keep your muscle “pump” between sets. This is best for the 8-12 rep range used by bodybuilders, and is optimal for increasing muscle mass and hypertrophy.
However, the amount of rest needed between sets is a highly individual thing. Everyone is different, and just as one person can run faster than another, one person can also recover faster than another.
Your recovery time will be influenced by a number of factors:
- The intensity of the set
- How much sleep & rest you’ve had
- Your nutrition
- Your age
- Any injuries you might have
- The temperature of the room
- If you have a cold or other minor illness
- How intense your day has been
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no set amount of time one should rest between sets. No two people are the same and it may take one 30 seconds to fully recover from a work set while it may take another 90 seconds to fully recover. Try shorter or longer rest periods yourself and see what difference it makes to your workout.
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Rachel Law is a personal fitness trainer based in New Malden, Surrey. Qualifications: ActivIQ Level 3 Personal Training; Burrell Education Pregnancy Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education Advanced Pregnancy Wellness Practitioner; Burrell Education Advanced Post Natal Exercise Prescription; Burrell Education 3rd Age Women Optimal Health and Nutrition; Burrell Education Peri Natal Athlete; Burrell Education Pelvic Flow and Freedom; Olympic Weight Lifting; Premier Global Kettlebells; FIE Level Assessment and Mentoring