How long should you rest between sets?

How long should you rest between sets?

Today we’ll tell you about resting between sets, and how much rest is optimal depending on our objectives.

You’ve probably asked yourself these questions:

  • How long do you have to rest between set and exercises to produce hypertrophy?
  • And how to define it?
  • What if you want to gain strength?
  • Do you need time control?
  • Do you have to adjust rest time to the exercise?
Lots of questions… I’m sure I’ll answer them all in this article.

Why do we rest between sets?

Breaks during workouts in a muscle building room are periods we use for our body to restore its balance, start to create energy sources to use, and clean our muscles of waste products.

Bicep curl

Bicep curls

What determines the rest time between sets?

Breaks between sets have been a focus of discussion between athletes and coaches.

Those strength training experts have defended up to 10 minutes rest between exercises, while bodybuilders usually use composite sets to increase the density of the training and not rest.

Why is there so much variability? Are they opinions or is there a basis behind it?

This variability is due to breaks which must be adapted to the objective of the athlete:

What you are training for, and therefore what type of training (exercise, intensity of effort, intensity of training, and duration) you are doing.

Rests for Hypertrophy

Breaks in sessions aimed at increasing muscle mass have traditionally been associated with shorter breaks; we always hear about:

“45-60″ breaks for hypertrophy”

This idea arose for two reasons:

  1. The bodybuilders of the 80s trained with “Weider routines” at frequency 1 where they destroyed the trained muscle, subjecting it to 30 sets or more a day; and of course… Resting 5 minutes between sets with 40 sets per workout is unworkable.
  2. The shorter breaks demonstrated a strong elevation of the concentration of the post-training growth hormone..

Graphic

This second was the reason that mattered most to bodybuilders.

Resting for 1 minute produced a growth hormone peak which was more than 8 times higher. (Kraemer et al., 1990; Henselmans y Schoenfeld, 2014).

However, what athletes still don’t understand is that the growth hormone within the concentrations our body can produce is a chestnut to hypertrophy, so generating a physiological spike in growth hormone during training is not going to make your biceps grow (West y Phillips, 2012).

To go even further… If you want to produce a spike of post-workout growth hormone by doing a brief HIIT session to finish you will get it too, since that peak is due to the lactate produced by extramitochondrial glycolysis (Godfrey et al., 2009).

What is the reality?

Currently we do not have a clear view of which breaks are better for hypertrophy; we have results that tell us that short breaks are more effective (Villanueva et al., 2015) and others that tell us that longer breaks are more effective. (Schoenfeld et al., 2016)

My opinion is quite clear:

If we take into account the principles of training and the mechanisms through which we generate hypertrophy, we know that tonnage (total kg moved in a session) is not relevant (Lysenko et al., 2019);

The only relevant thing is the number of effective sets and the intensity of the effort we apply (Baz-Valle et al., 2019).

So, rest as much as you need.

  • Rest more if you base your training on exercises that involve a lot of muscle mass and therefore demand a high oxygen consumption (exercises that make you pant from tiredness).
  • Rest less if your workouts are based on more isolated machines and exercises.

Resting for hipertrophy

Keep in mind that both options are effective for hypertrophy, so choose the one you like the most and give it hell!

Rests for Strength

In strength training the importance of rest changes, and it becomes more relevant.

When we train with an elevated load (1-3RM) the limiting factor of lifting is not peripheral muscle fatigue, but the central capacity (nerve) of contracting muscle.

We know that the central nervous system requires longer rest periods to continue exercising with the same frequency and intensity of discharge.

Training

Resting two minutes allows you to manifest more average strength in a set of quadricep extensions than a rest that lasts for one minute. (Bottaro et al., 2010)

When we bring this into reality, the effects are drastic; after 8 weeks performing the same strength training, the group that rested 3 minutes gained much more strength (1RM) than the group that rested 1 minute (Schoenfeld et al., 2016).

To not just show a table full of numbers, the following chart shows the extent of the effect of 2 exercises: press bench and squat in the group of long rest and short rest:

Comparative

If you’re going to strength train, rest more.

Regulate your breaks based on the exercise you’ve done, and the intensity (training and effort) you’ve applied.

A variable rest between 2 and 7 minutes in the heaviest basic exercises is fine and will depend on your ability to regain contractile function to the maximum post-sets.

Breaks for Conditioning

One of the “base training sessions” that they teach you in physical activity and sport science degrees is circuit training, i.e.:

Arrange a variable number of exercises spread over stations and run a set of each one relentlessly until you complete a lap.

At this time you rest or do not, and a new round begins; and so on until you complete the full volume of training.

Well… does this make sense? Somewhere, yes.

Shorter breaks further stimulate oxygen consumption, i.e. the volume of air ventilated and used by our tissues to meet demands.

BUT LOOK! This only happens when we perform an exercise that involves a lot of muscle mass.

Comparative exercises

In the graph above we can see that the oxygen consumption in some chest flys is practically the same if we rest for a minute or three.

However, when we do a leg press, it changes, and oxygen consumption increases significantly in the group that rests less time.

Conditioning rests

This is why Cross-training workouts, or BPT-style protocols work so well to physically condition an athlete, because they use overall workouts, which involve a lot of muscle mass, with high intensity and short rest periods.

If you are looking to improve your fitness and become a power hybrid! use exercises that involve activating a lot of muscle mass and short breaks of about a minute.

Conclusions

Hypertrophy

Rest as you need to, depending more or less on your cardiorespiratory capacity, the more you “drown” during training, the more rest you need.

You can use Supersets and Combined Sets to train! Click here to read more about their benefits.

Strength

You may benefit from somewhat longer breaks (about 3 minutes).

I would still recommend that you do not worry about the stopwatch, because when athletes are asked to rest between sets and take as much time as they need, we see that the average rest time is 5’57” (Do Carmo et al., 2018), so it is a very suitable rest period to train strength.

Fitness

Rest less (about a minute) in your most demanding cardio-respiratory exercises (squats, strides, leg press, Olympic movements, kettlebell swing, gymnastics) to induce a greater consumption of oxygen during and after its realisation.

The isolation exercises you perform apply the proposed rest system for hypertrophy.

Bibliography Sources

  1. Baz-Valle, E., Fontes-Villalba, M., & Santos-Concejero, J. (2018). Total Number of Sets as a Training Volume Quantification Method for Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1.
  2. Bottaro, M., Ernesto, C., Celes, R., Farinatti, P. T. V., Brown, L. E., & Oliveira, R. J. (2010). Effects of age and rest interval on strength recovery. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31(1), 22–25.
  3. do Carmo, E. C., De Souza, E. O., Roschel, H., Kobal, R., Ramos, H., Gil, S., & Tricoli, V. (2018). Self-Selected Rest Interval Improves Vertical Jump Post-Activation Potentiation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1.
  4. Farinatti, P. T. V., & Castinheiras Net, A. G. (2011). The effect of between-set rest intervals on the oxygen uptake during and after resistance exercise sessions performed with large-and small-muscle mass. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(11), 3181–3190.
  5. Godfrey, R. J., Whyte, G. P., Buckley, J., & Quinlivan, R. (2009). The role of lactate in the exercise-induced human growth hormone response: Evidence from McArdle disease. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(7), 521–525.
  6. Grgic, J., Lazinica, B., Mikulic, P., Krieger, J. W., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2017). The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review. European Journal of Sport Science, 17(8), 983–993.
  7. Henselmans, M., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2014). The Effect of Inter-Set Rest Intervals on Resistance Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy. Sports Medicine, 44(12), 1635–1643.
  8. Kraemer, W. J., Marchitelli, L., Gordon, S. E., Harman, E., Dziados, J. E., Mello, R., … Fleck, S. J. (1990). Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Journal of Applied Physiology, 69(4), 1442–1450.
  9. Schoenfeld, B. J., Pope, Z. K., Benik, F. M., Hester, G. M., Sellers, J., Nooner, J. L., … Krieger, J. W. (2016). Longer interset rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(7), 1805–1812.
  10. Silva, W., Viana, R., Santos, D., Vancini, R., Andrade, M., & de Lira, C. (2018). Profiling Rest Intervals between Sets and Associated Factors in Resistance Training Participants. Sports, 6(4), 134.
  11. West, D. W. D., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Associations of exercise-induced hormone profiles and gains in strength and hypertrophy in a large cohort after weight training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(7), 2693–2702.

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
A specialist in Pathophysiology and biomolecular effects on nutrition and sportive activity who will show you the elaborate world of sports nutrition in his articles, employing a simple and critical writing.
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