How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

Learn what resting time is best for your fitness goals!

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
María Rubio María Rubio
5 min read

When it comes to creating an effective workout routine, there are several things that you need to consider first. You need to choose a SMART goal, determine your training frequency, pick your exercises, and decide the appropriate number of sets, reps, and amount of weight for you to make progress toward your goal.

However, another big detail that you need to consider that isn’t talked about as much is resting times, particularly between sets. Resting is crucial during any training program because it allows your muscles to get ready for the next set to avoid fatiguing them too early into the workout – but how long is long enough?

In this article, we’ll talk about rest intervals between sets across different fitness goals, as well as the average time you should be resting for each goal to actually see results and have a more effective workout. So keep reading!

Why should rest intervals vary depending on your goals?

Rest times are not a constant value in the fitness world. While they should be part of every fitness routine because your muscles need some rest, the amount of time that you need between sets to catch your breath and recover for the next set varies depending on the intensity of the workout, your current fitness level, and the desired outcome.

For example, if you’re a beginner at the gym and you’re new to strength training, you might need longer rest intervals to be able to keep up as your muscles aren’t used to working intensely for long periods.

On the other hand, an advanced lifter that wants to increase muscle size will greatly benefit from resting for shorter periods to increase hypertrophy. The key is assessing your current goals and limitations and going from there!

Best rest intervals for each fitness goal

Now that you know that rest times vary from goal to goal, let’s take a look at some of the most popular fitness goals and their optimal rest times between sets…

Starting a strength training journey

Ideal rest time between sets: 60-120 seconds.

Before getting into any specific goal, it’s important to talk about beginners. As we mentioned before, anyone who’s just starting a strength training journey will benefit from long rest periods between sets because their muscles need more time to get ready for the next set.

During these first few months, your focus shouldn’t be on increasing muscle size or toning just yet. Instead, you’ll be working on mastering perfect form and building enough base strength to start making noticeable progress, so you’ll need enough rest between sets to make sure you can finish your workouts.

Remember, it’s always better to go slow and steady than to dive head first and fatigue your muscles too quickly or even strain or injure them. A couple of minutes of rest is a great starting point, then with time, you’ll be able to decrease it as you see fit!

Increasing muscle mass

Ideal rest time between sets: 30-90 seconds.

When it comes to growing muscle, hypertrophy is what you need to focus on. This refers to the process of muscle tissue growth after damaging the muscle during exercise, and it’s the principle that advanced lifters and bodybuilders use to stimulate growth and achieve their muscle gain goals.

The purpose behind hypertrophy training is to tear your muscle fibers, maximizing damage to your muscle tissues so that your body can build lean muscle on top and increase its size. This is achieved by reducing rest times between weightlifting sets, resulting in higher lactic acid and blood lactate levels, which play a role in muscle growth.

Plus, less time to rest means a more fatigued muscle, which in turn increases muscle fiber damage. All in all, shorter rest times are ideal if you’re focused on increasing muscle size – but always be careful with overtraining!

Improving muscular endurance

Ideal rest time between sets: 30-60 seconds.

Improving your muscular endurance also requires lower rest intervals between sets, similar to increasing muscle mass, except that for endurance you use a lighter weight (less than half of your average lifting weight) that allows you to perform more reps in one set.

Endurance essentially means how long you can go for while maintaining proper form, such as with HIIT circuits. Because you’re not dealing with heavy weights, fatigue doesn’t come as quickly to your muscles, allowing you to rest for as little as 20 seconds and still be able to keep going for several more reps.

Another reason why endurance training works well with low resting times is that you usually perform compound movements that involve a lot of muscle groups instead of just one, reducing the possibility of early fatigue and overtraining. If you were to work on endurance with more limited exercises, the higher end of the time range might be best.

Toning and maximizing weight loss

Ideal rest time between sets: 20-60 seconds.

Getting leaner is a popular fitness goal among gym-goers, and the best way to achieve this is with a combination of resistance training, cardio, and a balanced diet. When it comes to these goals, training styles such as HIIT are perfect to achieve them.

HIIT training, or high-intensity interval training, consists of performing short bursts of intense exercises with little rest in between. This maximizes muscle toning and fat burning, not only during your workout but also after by increasing oxygen consumption post-workout (known as EPOC), helping you burn calories during rest.

This combination of high-intensity bursts and short rest periods is the perfect combination if you’re looking for a leaner body, no matter if you perform active or passive rest in between. Plus, workouts such as HIIT circuits are shorter than regular workouts, allowing for more recovery time outside of the gym.

Increasing muscular strength

Ideal rest time between sets: 2 to 5 minutes.

If you’re working on increasing your overall strength at the gym, you’ll benefit from longer rest periods between sets. This is because, during muscular strength training, you’ll be dealing with heavier weights to push your muscles to the limit, so they’ll need more time to recover for the next set.

Muscular strength training often involves heavy compound movements such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses, recruiting a lot of muscle groups to be able to exert as much power as possible during your routine. Barbells are often the stars of the show, but you can also use heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a cable machine.

During this type of training, you’ll be training close to your one rep max, performing around 2-4 reps per set. If you keep your rest intervals short, you’ll accidentally prioritize hypertrophy instead of muscular strength, so make sure to have plenty of rest time between sets!

Maximize your gains with the ideal rest times

These are only the average rest times that are ideal for each fitness goal, but remember that ultimately how much you rest will depend on you! If you feel like you need more time, then go ahead and take it. Even advanced lifters need some extra rest from time to time, so don’t be afraid of giving your muscles what they need.

Need some help creating an effective routine with the appropriate rest times?

Check out the Fit With Iulia app! The app includes weekly goal-focused workouts created by Iulia herself with appropriate training splits and rest intervals so that you can achieve your fitness goals in no time. Simply download the Fit With Iulia app and try our 7-day free trial today!