How much rest do you need between sets? It’s a topic that’s often overlooked, however it can have a significant impact on your strength. While you probably don’t need to set a timer between every set you do, being mindful of the amount of time you’re resting should be helpful.
One study had participants perform 5 bench press repetitions for 5 sets. They used rest intervals between the sets of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes and 5 minutes. The researchers found that participants who used 30 seconds or 1 minute of rest suffered declines of between 15% to 55% on every set. At 2 minutes, the number of reps was maintained for the first 2 sets, but declined by between 8% to 29% on sets 3- 5. At 3 minutes performance was maintained for the first 3 sets, with declines in sets 4 and 5 by an average of 21%. At 5 minutes, there was only a reduction in the fifth set. Here’s a graphic look at the relationship between rest intervals and volume from another study:
Looking at actual performance, another study found that 30 seconds of rest between sets increased participants’ max squat by 2.4% over a 5 week period. 1 minute of rest increased outcomes by 5.8%, while 3 minutes of rest increased outcomes by 7.3%.
While many people recommend resting more for multi joint exercises (squats) versus single joint exercises (bicep curls, another study shows that the same amount of rest (3- 5 minutes) is need for each type of exercise. Another myth to dispel is that when training for hypertrophy (muscle growth), you should decrease the amount of rest between sets. A recent review found no study that showed superior muscle growth with shorter rest intervals (and 1 showed the opposite).
3 minutes of rest between sets appears to be a good starting point. If you’re doing a higher volume (4 sets or more), you might want to up the rest interval to 5 minutes if you have the time. Otherwise, pay attention to your results. If you notice no declines in successive sets with 2 minutes of rest for example, you might be ok reducing the rest intervals. Conversely, if your heart rate is still high after 3 minutes and you don’t feel like you can do the exercise adequately, take some extra time.
Fleck, Steven J., and William Kraemer. Designing Resistance Training Programs, 4E. Human Kinetics, 2014.
Henselmans, Menno, and Brad J. Schoenfeld. “The Effect of Inter-Set Rest Intervals on Resistance Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy.” Sports Medicine 44.12 (2014): 1635-1643.
Ratamess, Nicholas A., et al. “The effect of rest interval length on metabolic responses to the bench press exercise.” European journal of applied physiology100.1 (2007): 1-17.
Robinson, Joseph M., et al. “Effects of Different Weight Training Exercise/Rest Intervals on Strength, Power, and High Intensity Exercise Endurance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 9.4 (1995): 216-221.
Richmond, Scott R., and Michael P. Godard. “The effects of varied rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men.”The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 18.4 (2004): 846-849.
Senna, Gilmar, et al. “The effect of rest interval length on multi and single-joint exercise performance and perceived exertion.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.11 (2011): 3157-3162.