Inter-Set Rest Times

Sam Stephens

March 2020

How long to rest between sets for strength and/or hypertrophy resistance training. 

Inter-set recovery times vary quite a bit from person to person under different training settings but in general, more is better. If allowed to rest longer, we can lift more weight, restore a greater percentage of our baseline energy stores (ATP), remove more of the metabolites (lactate, ammonia, and hydrogen ions) that build up during exercise, increase post exercise MPS to a greater degree (when compared to shorter rest times), and keep intra-workout fatigue in check. Longer rest times between sets also just make the workout more enjoyable due to lower ratings of perceived exertion. If the overall difficulty level of an activity is lower, both emotional satisfaction and program adherence will be higher, especially for beginners. But just like set volume, we need to define ‘more’ to take advantage of these benefits. 

As seen in the graphic above, there’s a range of inter-set rest times that extends across the resistance spectrum with longer recovery periods corresponding to increased load potential and decreased PNS fatigue. The ‘best’ rest times and exactly where any of us fall on this recovery timeline depend on training experience, age, exercise intensity, volume, work capacity, diet, and goals, but we can aim for some standard targets based on common training methods.

I recommend inter-set rest times of 1.5-3 minutes when training for hypertrophy and 3-5 minutes for strength. 

It will take a little trial and error to dial in exactly what’s best for you, but these ranges should work well for most people. If you’re unsure of where to start, begin with longer recovery periods to establish baseline performance levels and then work to gradually shave off time as you increase your work capacity through cardiovascular conditioning. Keep in mind the structure of the recovery gradient and remember that heavier loads will always require more rest to be performed well. Make sure you’re recovering enough to lift heavy, because ultimately, strength and hypertrophy programming are both built on the relationship between rep count and load.

Need help with your program? Shoot me a message and let’s work together.