How Long To Rest Between Sets? A Guide To What’s Right For Your Goals

Among the many factors to consider when you are doing a strength training workout is how long to rest between sets.

The ideal amount of rest time between sets for muscle growth vs. how much time between sets to rest for building strength or improving muscle endurance are generally different.

So, how long should you rest between sets when strength training? What is the optimal rest time between sets for increasing strength? What is the ideal rest time between sets for hypertrophy or muscle growth? Does it matter how long you rest between weightlifting sets?

In this guide, we will discuss why the rest time between workout sets matters, factors that determine how much time to rest between sets, guidelines for hypertrophy rest time between sets, and the amount of rest between sets you should take for different workout goals.

We will cover: 

  • Does It Matter How Long You Rest Between Sets In a Workout?
  • How Long To Rest Between Sets In a Workout
  • How Much Time Between Sets Should I Rest?

Let’s jump in!

People lifting kettlebells.

Does It Matter How Long You Rest Between Sets In a Workout?

Rest time between sets in a workout absolutely matters.

If you do not rest enough, your energy systems will not regenerate the ATP necessary for high-powered, high-intensity lifts for increasing power or strength.

Strength and power athletes generally use just the phosphagen system, known as the ATP-PC system, which fuels very short-term, max-effort exercise of less than 10 seconds or so.

The closer you are to lifting your 1RM load for an exercise, the more you are relying on this system.

While this energy system produces a tremendous amount of energy rapidly, it takes longer to replenish and restore the creatine phosphate and ATP used by the system after explosive exercise. 

Therefore, rest time for power training and rest time for strength training between sets is longer.

A person lifting a kettlebell.

Hypertrophy training relies somewhat on the fast switching system as well as the glycolytic system, which primarily fuels exercises of up to 90 seconds or so at a high intensity. 

This energy system requires a little bit longer to regenerate than the aerobic energy system but is quicker than the phosphagen system in terms of recovery.

Muscle endurance exercise uses the aerobic energy system along with anaerobic glycolysis, so rest time for muscle endurance training is shorter because the aerobic system, also known as the oxidative system, does not require much time to regenerate and recover after you are muscle endurance workout set.

Resting too short between workout sets can compromise your coordination, strength, power, and form.

Resting too long between sets can not only be inefficient but can cause your muscles to cool down between sets, and you may lose some of your strength, power, and force potential.

A person pushing a workout sled.

How Long To Rest Between Sets In a Workout

Although many training factors seem somewhat debatable, such as the best exercises to gain muscle, how long to rest between sets in a workout seems to be a fairly universally agreed-upon concept based on fitness goals among the top strength and conditioning agencies and professionals.

According to the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) guidebook, “Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning,” the recommendations for the rest time between sets of an exercise depend on your primary training goal more so than any other training factor.

The NSCA recommends the following strength rest time between sets, hypertrophy rest time between sets, and muscular endurance rest time between sets:

  • If your goal is to increase power and strength, the recommended rest time is 2-5 minutes between sets.
  • If your goal is hypertrophy or muscle growth, the recommended rest time between sets is 30 to 90 seconds.
  • If your goal is to increase muscular endurance, the recommended rest between sets is no more than 30 seconds.
A person pushing a barbell overhead.

However, while you will find similar recommended rest periods between sets or rest guidelines between workout sets from most fitness organizations, you will notice that there is a pretty significant range in the best rest guidelines for increasing strength and power as well as the hypertrophy rest time.

Therefore, you have to consider other factors that affect how much time to rest between sets to help you dial in your ideal amount of rest between workout sets in your own training program.

This is where various factors, such as your current fitness level, the stage of your training plan, the particular exercises you are doing, how your body is feeling, and that particular strength training program you are doing, can all come into play.

How much time between sets Should I Rest?

Here are some of the factors that affect how much time you should rest between sets in a workout:

#1: Training Goal

The primary factor that determines the guidelines for rest time between sets is your training goal.

As mentioned, there are different recommendations for how long to rest between sets for strength and power training, hypertrophy training (building muscle), and increasing muscle endurance.

A single-arm row.

#2: Experience Level

Beginners often need more rest between sets to give their neuromuscular system time to recuperate and prepare for the next workout.

#3: Fitness Level

Slightly different from your experience level, your fitness level also influences how much rest between sets you should take.

If you are attempting new exercises or starting a new strength training program, you may need longer between sets because your energy systems will be less efficient and take longer to regenerate ATP.

You may experience more neuromuscular fatigue and poor coordination if you rush your rest time between workout sets.

#4: Weightlifting Exercises

The exercises you are performing also influence how long to rest between sets.

Rest time is generally increased with compound exercises, power exercises, plyometrics, and full-body exercises because you have more muscle mass working together simultaneously, which means that regenerating ATP and recovering between sets will take longer.

A cable machine exercise.

#5: How You Are Feeling

We all have days in the gym where we don’t feel our best, while other days, it’s like we have found a new gear and feel like we are fueled with high-powered octane.

Listen to your body when you are lifting weights.

Sometimes, you may need more rest between sets because your strength and energy seem low and recovery seems slower, while other times, you may recover quickly between sets and be fired up for the next set sooner.

Let’s look at an example using the rest guidelines for rest time between sets for muscle growth.

According to the NSCA, the hypertrophy rest guidelines are 30 to 90 seconds between sets.

This is a difference of 60 seconds, which may not seem like a lot, but it actually can be rather significant.

So, how long should you rest between sets for muscle building in your own workouts? 30 seconds? 90 seconds? Somewhere in between?

This is where you will have to be your own critical thinker and evaluate your circumstances.

A person doing a kettlebell snatch.

The less rest you take, the less recovery you will have.

This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your goals and how you are feeling, the exercises you are doing, and the relative weight you are using.

For hypertrophy training, the recommendation is generally to perform 8 to 12 reps using a weight that is about 65 to 85% of your 1RM or 70 to 85% of your 1RM for the exercise.

Here, if you are on the lower end, say performing 12 reps with a lighter weight, like 70% of your 1RM, you are closer on the strength continuum to muscle endurance, so you can likely use a shorter amount of rest between hypertrophy sets then if you are lifting heavier, say 8 reps at 85% of your 1RM.

This is because, in the latter case, you are closer to the weight lifting recommendations for reps and load for strength and power building with 8 reps at 85% of your 1RM vs 12 reps at 70% of your 1RM.

Thus, theoretically, you are using more of the anaerobic/aerobic energy systems and not as many fast twitch muscle fibers as when you are lifting heavier for fewer reps at maximal effort.

Of course, it may seem counterintuitive that you would take a shorter rest time between sets when you are doing more reps, but the relative intensity of the set is a little bit lower because the load that you are using is significantly less based on your maximum potential.

People doing planks in a gym.

This means that you are able to produce energy from multiple systems and not just the fastest ATP–PC energy system, which requires a longer time to regenerate creatine phosphate and ATP for another power set or strength set.

However, an important caveat is that less rest is not always better.

Taking too little rest between sets will compromise your ability to perform all of your reps with good quality and good form without petering out at the end of the set or needing to cut your set short because your muscles are still fatigued from the previous set.

For this reason, it is also important to listen to your body during your workout.

You might find that if you are performing three sets in a hypertrophy workout, you can take 45 seconds of rest between most of the exercises between your first and second set, but need 60 seconds of rest between the second and third set because it is taking longer for your muscles to recover.

Again, the priority should be on high-quality sets rather than minimizing rest time as long as your goal is actually building muscle rather than trying to do a metabolic lifting workout.

Check out the Madcow 5×5 workout program here for another strength training guide.

A dumbbell pushup.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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