Featured in: Fitness & Weight Management  |  July 6, 2020

The Lifter’s Guide to Resting Between Sets

By T.J. Colquitt

Resting between exercise sets is just as vital as the actual exercise. Muscle recovery is an important part of building endurance, developing overall strength and overall general well-being.

However, each of these goals requires a different amount of rest. How experienced you are at exercising also factors into how long you should rest when exercising.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re going to help you learn exactly how long you should rest between exercise sets based on your goals and experience.

Goal Setting

Most people have a reason for exercising , whether it’s broad like “lose weight” or specific like “increase bicep size.” Determining exactly how long you should rest between exercise sets impacts how successful you’ll be at meeting your goals. (The National Strength and Conditioning Association provides specific recommendations for rest intervals based on fitness goals and the style of training.)

Resting between sets can take one of two forms: Active rest and passive rest. Active rest involves continuing to move in some way in between sets, like jogging in place or jumping rope. Passive rest is exactly what it sounds like: total rest in between sets. Generally, active rest is great for experienced gym-goers while those new to the workout circuit should use the rest interval to slow their heart rate.

Strength Building

If you’re looking to build strength, your rest periods between sets should be two to five minutes. Giving your muscles a longer time period to recover from the intense work will quickly improve your ability to lift more weight. If you’re new to strength training, definitely start with a longer rest interval and work your way up to shorter rests. The shorter rest periods, closer to two minutes, will also help build endurance.

Sample Upper Body Strength-Building Workout

  1. Dumbbell Chest Press

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Two

Rest: Two to five minutes

  1. Lateral Raise

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Two

Rest: Two to five minutes

  1. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Two

Rest: Two to five minutes

  1. Triceps Extension

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Two

Rest: Two to five minutes

  1. Bicep Curl

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Two

Rest: Two to five minutes

Increasing Muscles

If you’re looking for those big, defined muscles , you’ll want to take a different approach to rest intervals. For best results, rest between 60 and 90 seconds between sets. The short rest interval gives your muscles little time for recovery, which keeps them engaged and primed for growth. Of course, if you’re new to lifting, start with longer rests and build up to shorter rests.

Sample Lower Body Muscle-Building Workout

  1. Squats

Reps: Six to eight

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

  1. Split Squats

Reps: Eight to 10

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

  1. Calf Raises

Reps: 10 to 15 reps

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

  1. Lying Leg Curls

Reps: 10 to 12

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

  1. Abdominal Crunches

Reps: 10 to 15

Sets: Three

Rest: 60 to 90 seconds

High-Intensity Training

High-intensity training, sometimes called high-intensity interval training or HIIT, is a combination of high exertion exercises, weight lifting, and designated rest periods. It’s a popular exercise style for endurance, weight loss and muscle toning. HIIT works best with active rest, though if you’re new to exercise generally or HIIT specifically, you might want to start with passive rest and build up.

Since HIIT combines weight lifting and aerobic exercise, people might do it for different reasons with different goals. If you’re aiming for strength, stick with the two to five-minute rest interval. Looking to get large? Try a shorter rest of 60 to 90 seconds.

Sample HIIT Workout

  1. Jog in Place

Time: 45 to 60 seconds

Sets: Four

Rest: 90 seconds

  1. Forearm Plank

Time: 45 to 60 seconds

Sets: Four

Rest: 90 seconds

  1. Reverse Lunge

Time: 45 to 60 seconds

Sets: Four

Rest: 90 seconds

  1. Skater

Time: 45 to 60 seconds

Sets: Four

Rest: 90 seconds

  1. Pop Squat

Time: 45 to 60 seconds

Sets: Four

Rest: 90 seconds

Tips for Beginners

Are you totally new to the world of weights? You’re going to want to rest longer than you think between sets. Conditioning your muscles appropriately and building your endurance slowly will keep you safe and help you avoid injuring yourself.

Always start with the longest recommended rest interval. If you’re still struggling on the next set (to the point of possible injury), go ahead and increase the interval length. You’ll build your endurance quickly and then be able to shorten that rest interval.

Sample Beginner Weight Lifting Workout

  1. Push-Ups

Reps: Five to 10

Sets: Two

Rest: Three to four minutes

  1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

Reps: Five to 10 each side

Sets: Two

Rest: Three to four minutes

  1. Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Reps: Five to 10

Sets: Two

Rest: Three to four minutes

  1. Tricep Extensions

Reps: Five to 10

Sets: Two

Rest: Three to four minutes

  1. Russian Twists

Reps: Five to 10

Sets: Two

Rest: Three to four minutes

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