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Resting between sets gives muscle enough time to recover before we overload it again with the following set. Thus rest between sets is extremely crucial for muscle recovery. In this post, we are answering questions that surrounds rest interval between sets in order to maximize muscle growth. We will also highlight rest interval for strength training.
Q: How much rest between sets is optimal for Hypertrophy and strength training?
A: The text on this was pretty univocal until recent year. Most strength/power training workouts recommend rest between 3 – 5 minutes where as for hypertrophy, a rest of 1 – 2 minutes [1, 2, 3] between sets is considered a norm. However, a recent study done in 2016  has shown that a rest interval of 3 minutes not only increase strength but also promoted greater muscle growth i.e. hypertrophy. In another study  from 2014 also concluded that insufficient rest between sets resulted in lower energy production thus decreasing power producing capability of the muscle. For our thoughts on long should be rest time between sets, please read “Our Thoughts” section below.
Q: How long does it take for a muscle to recover after performing a set?
A:Chart below shows muscle energy (ATP) recovery w.r.t. time. After exertion of a training set, a muscle recovers 98.5% of its energy by 3 minute mark. It is evident that a rest time of roughly 100 seconds, your muscle has recovered 90% but got maximum recovery, 3 minutes rest is required.
Q: How much rest is too much rest between sets ?
A: An 8 – 10 minutes rest between each set is considered too much. It not only cools down the muscle and increase chances of injury, it also doesn’t provide any significant recovery to your muscle beyond 3 minutes mark. Unless you are lifting really heavy weights and mentally needs more time to focus, the rest of 5 minutes max should be sufficient time for full recovery.
Q: Doesn’t short rest interval for hypertrophy training causes more muscle fatigue and thus promote more hypertrophy?
A: It may seem like that short rest interval causes more fatigue however based on study and even your experience, you may be able to conclude that a short rest interval does not give your muscle full recovery time. Similar to what has been found in studies [2-6]. Hence, when you start another set after short rest interval (< 1 min), the muscle have only recovered about 75%. This means that the load capacity of the muscle is 25% less not due to fatigue but due to lack of recovery time. Also studies [4-5] have shown that a rest interval of 3 minutes also promotes hypertrophy. This makes a strong case in favor of increasing rest time between sets even for hypertrophy.
Q: What are some other advantages that we can expect with higher rest intervals?
A: Apart from muscle recovery to almost 90%+ thus increasing your load capacity, here are few other advantages.
- Longer rest interval also promotes more protein synthesis in muscle post workout as evaluate by study in . The actual protein synthesis was doubled to 152% from 76% in 4 hours following workout.
- Helps mental recovery from max set and enhances focus on next working set thereby increasing muscle contractions and range of motion due to a stronger mind-muscle connection.
- Higher intensity of weight is moved when rest is longer. The study performed in  showed that increased rest (3 minutes) resulted in increase of 1 RM Squat for trained men.
- The longer rest interval allows you to recruit more percentage of Type II fibre. As highlighted in our last post, both type I and type II muscle fiber are responsible for muscle growth but type II governs the hypertrophy.
Q: Longer rest time will result in longer workouts. How do you optimize for time when training for hypertrophy?
A: This is where concept of super-sets and tri-sets comes in handy. You can perform 2 or 3 exercise is a superset of completely different isolated muscle. For example, a superset of push-ups and pull-ups. Lets say you perform a set as
1 Minute push-ups
1 Minute rest
1 Minute pull-ups
1 Minute rest,
and start push-ups again.
then by the time you will do 2nd set of push-ups, the rest interval would have already been 3 minutes. Same of pull-ups. This way, you can super-set exercises and save time in between. In above case, lets assume you plan to do 3 sets of each execise. It will take you 12 minutes to do 3 sets by doing super-sets (as shown above) but if you perform 3 sets of pull-ups followed 3 sets of push-ups each sequentially with 3 minute rest, then you are looking at 24 minutes (12 mins each) just for these 2 exercises.
Note: GYMINUTES has the capability to create and record workouts with super-sets, tri-sets, multi-sets and circuits. In fact, GYMINUTES is the only app in which you can also record drop-sets as well. You can download GYMINUTES for FREE here.
After reading the research and experimenting with our rest timers, we do believe that rest minute of more than 1 minutes is crucial for muscle recovery and does assist in more focussed, higher volume working sets. However, as we all are different with different muscle size and stamine, the rest time for maximum recovery will vary from person-to-person. Thus our suggestion is that you experiment with different rest intervals. Start from 1 minutes and increase it all the way to 3 minutes with 30 seconds marks i.e. 90 sec, 120 sec, 150 sec and 180 sec, and see how you feel. Personally for me, 2 minutes looks like a good amount of time to recover.
Instead of just blabbering here, I can actually share my results with you. I have performed 2 cycle of MadCow5x5, 1 round of PHUL and 1 round of German Volume Training sessions last year. Below are screen shots from GYMINUTES analysis section.
If we see the last card (Actual) values, we can compute the rest timer per set by dividing Avg. Rest Time Per Workout by Avg. Rest Performed Per Workout. So here are my numbers:
Routine Name Rest Time
MadCow 5X5 – 36/16 =~ 2.5 mins = 150 sec
German Volume Training – 20/25 =~ 0.8 mins = 50 sec
PHUL – 57/24 =~2.34 mins = 140 sec
Out of all three workouts, I personally felt that I got maximum results from madcow followd by PHUL and then GVT. And the timing show it as well.
If you want to find your rest time between sets, you can start tracking your workout with GYMINUTES . If you already have a workout in gyminutes, then it is pretty straightforward for you to change the rest timer. You can edit the workouts or add +10 sec to set. If you are NOT using GYMINUTES to track your workouts, you can download it here. Its FREE 🙂
 McCall, G et al. Acute and chronic hormonal responses to resistance training designed to promote muscle hypertrophy. Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 24:96-107, 1999
 Kraemer, W. A series of studies-the physiological basis for strength training in American football: fact over philosophy. J. Strength Cond. Res. 11:131-142, 1997.
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 Effects of Different Weight Training Exercise/Rest Intervals on Strength, Power, and High Intensity Exercise Endurance.
Robinson, Joseph M.; Stone, Michael H.; Johnson, Robert L.; Penland, Christopher M.; Warren, Beverly J.; Lewis, R. David