How Long Should You Rest Between Sets During Strength Training?





rest-day1So you’ve added strength training to your workout regimen.  You would think that the important factors to consider are how much weight to use and how many reps…and they are.  However, another often overlooked but important consideration to factor in to maximize your workout benefits is rest between sets.  The amount of time you take in between sets determines how your muscles adapt to the movement.


Besides exercising your muscles in different ways, the rest period you take between sets and exercises correlates to injury prevention.  On the one hand, taking too long between sets causes your muscles to cool down, thus increasing the risk of injury due to muscle damage.  On the flip side, not resting long enough causes the muscles to exercise in a fatigued state since your body can’t replenish the muscles’ energy efficiently.  This can lead to poor technique which can, therefore, lead to injury.



If you’ve already started strength training, then you should know the term “1RM” or 1 repetition maximum.  This is simply the maximum amount of weight you can lift and perform 1 repetition before becoming fatigued.  If you’re not quite sure how to calculate it, check it out here.



If your goal is to lose weight…

belly-fat-loss-for-womenWhile eliminating rest periods and pushing through a 30-minute workout session without stopping will certainly help you to burn more calories (which is a key to losing weight), there’s more to consider.  You must also maintain or increase muscle mass and strength, because this will allow you to burn more calories at rest.  The more muscle you have, the higher your calorie burn throughout the day.  If you’re new to weight training, try lifting lighter resistance, 8-15 reps, 1-2 sets, 30 to 90 seconds of rest between sets.




If your goal is to build more muscle…

largeIf you want muscle definition and to add mass to your body, you can just slightly decrease your rest time.  Keep in mind that if you eliminate the rest period altogether, you change the physiological stress on the body.  This would make it more of an endurance workout, which is not an effective way to build muscle.  To build more muscle, try lifting 70-85% of your 1RM, 6-12 reps, 3-6 sets, 30-90 seconds of rest.




If your goal is to get stronger faster…

4-female-training-myths-debunked_07Recent research shows that when you are performing a 3-rep move (meaning, you’re lifting 85% or more of the maximum weight you can lift), you should rest a minimum of 2 minutes between sets.  This will maximize your strength gains.  Better yet, waiting an extra minute (3 minutes) will help you decrease your perceived exertion levels (how hard you think you’re working), while still boosting your stamina.  Your muscles need this time to prepare for the next set of moves or else you’ll feel too fatigued too fast.




So what should you do during those 2-3 minutes of rest?  Sit and relax, especially if you have been concentrating on your legs.  Another research study showed that rest intervals are especially important when working major muscle groups, like those in your lower body.  If you worked your shoulders, arms, or chest and prefer not to take a seat, then you can try walking around the room.  Another option would be to shake out your limbs to release any tension and help keep yourself loose between sets.




If you just can’t quite squeeze in the necessary wait time, consider doing super sets.  This consists of alternating exercises that focus on different muscle groups (such as performing a push-up followed by a deadlift).  With this routine, your upper body can then rest while you work your lower body and vice versa.




And one more consideration if you are going to be lifting heavy weights…get a spotter–it’s much safer, plus it can put your mind at ease mentally, thus allowing you to complete reps with better form.  To get stronger faster, try lifting 85% or more of your 1RM, 1-6 reps, 2-6 sets, 2-5 minutes of rest.



4425b352b6338f8e15383f68bcf262cbThe bottom line…any of these (losing weight, building more muscle, or getting stronger faster) are positive outcomes.  So if your rest periods end up getting cut a little shorter or even longer than you planned, don’t worry–you’ll still gain benefits.  Just remember…the heavier the weight that you’re lifting, the longer you should wait to pick it back up.  Use common sense as well, and listen to your body.  If you’re feeling especially fatigued or your heart rate is a little too high, give yourself some extra time before starting the next set.  And if you’re feeling strong and energetic, then you can lessen your rest time a little that day.




Do you or someone you know have questions on how to get started with a strength training program? Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!