The rest time between sets is fundamental to your training performance and consequently to your results. Planning the rest time allows you to control fatigue during training and the training volume.
So how long should I rest?
First of all, we have to understand that the rest time depends on several factors (like most fitness issues), including your goal, the time you have to train (of course no one has all the time in the world to train), how you feel during training, among others.
Other conditions will influence the rest time:
- Type of training (hypertrophy, strength, endurance…)
- Load (more load, more rest)
- Contraction speed (less speed, more rest time)
- No. of muscle groups trained in one session (more muscles, more rest)
- Fitness level (lower fitness levels tend to require more rest time),
- Weight of the individual (the body tends to recover more slowly in heavier athletes for similar fitness levels).
Depending on so many factors, the rest time between sets will vary according to the abovementioned aspects. From this, you can already guess that there is no ideal rest time between sets.
In short, the ideal rest time between sets is the one that allows you to accumulate more training volume within the time you have to train.
If you have more time, you can have longer rests, allowing you to manage fatigue throughout the training session better and maintain or improve your performance from session to session.
Short VS Long Rest
But which is better: short breaks or long breaks between sets?
Both lead to the same result IF the training volume is equal.
If the goal is hypertrophy, training volume is essential for your results.
Longer rest times allow you to recover better, which benefits the training volume. You can maintain/increase the load and/or reps, allowing you to maintain/improve performance and accumulate more training volume.
Shorter rest times negatively affect recovery and consequently, performance will be lower, so to equalize the training volume (as you can’t maintain the load and/or reps), you’ll have to do more sets to equal the volume accumulated with longer rests.
How long should I rest?
You must have already concluded that there isn’t an ideal number for the resting time. But in general, I recommend 3 to 5 minutes for compound exercises (which include many muscle groups) and 1 to 2 minutes for isolated exercises.
With the experience of training, you can also self-regulate your rest time. In my case, this is the method I use during my workouts. Each set should be rested when you feel ready to perform the next set the same or better than the previous one.
Contrary to what many people think, decreasing rest time does NOT increase the intensity of your workout!
Decreasing rest time is not synonymous with increasing intensity. When you decrease the rest time, you increase the perception of effort, not the intensity.
With little rest time:
- You don’t fully recover your energy.
- Your heart rate may not have normalized.
- Greater accumulation of metabolites.
This leads to:
- Inability to pick up as much load.
- Inability to do as many repetitions.
- More accumulated fatigue.
Because of all this, intensity is compromised.
Keep in mind that the rest time is individual, as such, there is no specific number that defines the best rest time—neither in general, much less for each of us. The best rest time is the one that allows you to recover as best as possible for the next series. The better you recover, the better the series will be in terms of load and repetitions—the better the training volume and the better the training. So: don’t be afraid to rest.
Happy training and good recovery between sets!