- Short rest periods (<1 minute) between sets decrease the number of reps you can do with a given weight.
- Longer rest periods (3–5 minutes) between sets lead to greater muscle growth and strength gains than resting one minute, given that you perform the same number of sets.
- By supersetting exercises for different muscle groups, you can double your “rest” without increasing your total workout time.
How long should you rest between sets if your goal is muscle growth and strength gain?
The amount of time you rest between sets is one of the fundamental variables in your training, and it has a big influence on your training results.
But what is the optimal rest interval?
The rule of thumb is: long enough to be able to lift what you should in your next set.
Meaning, that you should rest until you have recovered enough to do another good set, or to do the next set in your training program with good form.
How Long Does It Take to Recover after a Set?
Your muscles use a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as their energy source.
Your muscles’ store of ATP, however, only lasts long enough to fuel a few seconds of maximal work, such as a heavy lift of a short sprint.
The fastest way for your muscles to create more ATP is to break down another molecule called creatine phosphate, which is also stored in your muscles.
As soon as you start expending ATP in an exercise, creatine phosphate is broken down to create more ATP. This enables your muscles to work at high power for a little longer: up to about a 10-second sprint or a few heavy lifts.
After this point, muscle glycogen becomes the primary source of ATP. But, this process is slower and cannot fuel as powerful work as during the first 10 seconds.
After an exhausting set to failure, the level of creatine phosphate in your muscles can be as low as 15–30% of its resting levels.1
Your creatine phosphate then begins to quickly restore, mainly using muscle glycogen as the energy source, over the following minutes.
As a rule of thumb, restocking your creatine stores can be approximated to a half-time of about 30 seconds.
That means that you have recovered 50% of the creatine you used in a set after 30 seconds, 75% after 60 seconds, 87.5% after 90 seconds, and about 95% after two minutes of rest.2
This resynthesis is slower if you are low on muscle glycogen, and doesn’t happen at all if you have occluded the blood flow to the muscle.3
So how long after a set have you recovered your strength?
Well, pretty much when you have resynthesized your creatine phosphate. (There are more factors, but your force recovery very closely matches your creatine recovery)
After about two minutes, you will have recovered 95% of your force. For recovery closer to 99%, which might be necessary between sets of really challenging weights, you might need to rest for five minutes or more.
Two practical conclusions can be drawn from this:
- Most of your recovery (95%) happens during your first two minutes of rest.
- The difference between resting for 1 or 2 minutes is larger than the difference between resting for 2 or 3 minutes.
How Does Rest Between Sets Affect Your Performance?
How much of a difference do longer rest intervals make? A Brazilian study on bench press performance tested this.4
Twelve resistance-trained young men with an average bench press max of 1.5 times their body weight, were tested on two different occasions for how many reps they could do in 5 sets with their 10RM in the bench press. (That is, the maximum weight they could lift for ten reps, which was tested before the two subsequent sessions.)
In the following two sessions, the participants did as many reps in the bench press as possible over:
- 5 sets on their 10RM, with 1 minute of rest between sets.
- 5 sets on their 10RM, with 3 minutes of rest between sets.
Here’s how the difference in rest periods affected the average number of reps performed in each set.
The participants performed significantly fewer reps with the same weight when they were only afforded one minute of rest between sets. They did 44% more reps in all five sets combined when they rested three minutes between sets instead of one.
You could, of course, argue that the short rest group could hypothetically compensate by doing an additional 4–5 sets of 2–3 reps, which was the average number of reps in their last set, to make up for the difference.
But, as most people base their training around the number of sets they do rather than the number of reps they do, I’d say this is seldom done.
Longer rest periods lead to more reps done at a given weight.
And, those extra reps make quite a difference in the long term.
How Does Rest Interval Between Sets Affect Your Muscle Growth and Strength Gains?
In a 2016 training study that spanned over eight weeks, participants resting three minutes between sets increased their muscle mass and strength twice as much as participants who rested only one minute between sets.5
A meta-analysis from 2009 agrees with these results, finding that resting three to five minutes between sets produced greater increases in maximal strength than one minute or less.6
One training study saw similar gains in muscle size and strength from training with two minutes vs. five minutes of interset rest periods. However, the two minute-group performed extra sets to match the training volume of the five minute-group.7
Taken together: longer rest between sets (at least two to three minutes) seems beneficial for both muscle growth and strength.
But, if you don’t want to or have time to rest that long, but still want similar training results, you can probably compensate by doing additional sets.
Or … you could do supersets.
Hack Your Workout Time With Supersets
What should you do during your rest between sets?
Well, instead of sitting on your ass for three minutes, you could train another muscle group while the one you just trained is recovering.
This is called supersetting, and it could be defined as a pair of sets of two different exercises.8
Common forms of supersets are two exercises that target:
- The same muscle group – like barbell curl and dumbbell curl.
- Agonist-antagonist muscles – like barbell curl and triceps pushdown.
- Upper and lower body muscle groups – like barbell curl and leg extension.
By supersetting exercises, you can pack more training in less time.9
And, if you choose exercises intelligently, you can do so without hurting your performance (and, as a consequence: your long-term gains).
By switching back and forth between two exercises, you can effectively double the rest time for those muscle groups, without your workout taking any longer.
Counter-intuitively, it can even improve your performance, possibly leading to even greater gains in strength and muscle size.
Here are three examples from training studies how it works out in practice:
- In one study, participants trained bench press and seated row. One group did traditional training where they first completed all three sets of bench press before moving on to the seated row. They rested for two minutes between each set of each exercise. The other group alternated between the two exercises, so they did one set of bench press, rested for two minutes, then did one set of seated row, rested for two minutes, then one set of bench press, and so on, effectively getting four minutes of “rest” between each set of the same exercise. Both workouts took just as long, but the group alternating between exercises were able to lift 13% more weight in total than the group who completed all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.
- A second study, similar in design, had one group of participants train three sets of bench press with two minutes rest between sets, followed by three sets of seal rows, also with two minutes rest between sets. Another group had the same rest between sets, but alternated the exercises, thus getting four minutes of “rest” between each set of the same exercise. Even though both sessions took the same amount of time to complete, the group that alternated exercises lifted 27% more weight in the bench press and 21% more weight in the seal row.10
- In a third study, supersets consisting of bench press immediately followed by lat-pulldown and then resting for 180 seconds before the next superset, resulted in 10% more weight lifted than traditional training with 90 seconds of rest between each set: first three sets of bench press, then three sets of lat-pulldown.11
Taken together, supersets offer a great way to squeeze more training into a given time frame, without negatively affecting your performance. Quite the opposite.
So, How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
- Shorter rest periods (<1 minute) between sets decrease the number of reps you can do with a given weight, which risks negatively affecting your muscle growth and strength gains.
- Longer rest periods (3–5 minutes) between sets lead to greater muscle growth and strength gains than resting one minute, given that you perform the same number of sets.
- You have recovered most (~95 %) of your strength and power after just two minutes of rest. To recover nearly 99%, however, can require resting for five minutes or more.
- By supersetting exercises for different muscle groups, you can effectively double your “rest” for a given exercise without increasing your total workout time.
Generally, allowing your muscles at least two minutes of rest between sets is a good idea. If you don’t like waiting for that long, utilizing supersets is a great way to keep yourself busy and cut your workout time short.
My general recommendation for rest between sets is this:
Rest for as long as is necessary, so that you can perform the next set with good form, at the desired weight, and with the number of reps that you want to.
Don’t get too caught up in the details just because the evidence I’ve presented here points in favor of slightly longer (2–3 minutes) rather than shorter (<1 minute) rest periods.
Training hard and trying to improve your performance using one-minute rest periods, will blow longer rest periods out of the water in terms of training results if you’re not making an effort in the latter.
If you enjoy training with short rest intervals or find that you get more total work done that way, then by all means: do so.
Paying attention to your rest periods simply offers one more tool for succeeding at the fundamental principle of building muscle and strength: doing more than last time, also known as progressive overload.
For which, by the way, you might want to use our free workout log app. It even has a built in set timer in which you can keep track of your rest intervals, or set it to beep after a certain time has passed.
Rest Between Sets FAQ
Let’s review some of the most frequently asked questions regarding rest between sets.
Is 1 Minute Enough Rest Between Sets?
One minute of rest between sets is not enough to fully recover your strength and power. After one minute of rest, you have recovered about 75% of your strength and your muscles’ creatine phosphate stores.
Is that enough?
It depends on what you are doing!
Remember: you should rest for as long as is necessary to perform the next set with good form, at the desired weight, and with the desired number of reps.
If you only need to rest one minute between sets to complete them, then that is enough.
However, if you are not following a program with a specific number of reps on a given weight, but rather something like “three sets of ten”, then resting for only a minute will severely hamper your performance; and as a consequence, your strength and muscle gains.
If you were to rest an additional minute (for a total of two minutes), you would increase your recovery of strength and creatine phosphate to about 95%.
Another disadvantage (at least if your training goal is strength and muscle gain) is that your performance might be limited by your heart rate. If you don’t have enough time to catch your breath between sets, your training might be limited by your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, rather than your strength.
Is a 2 Minute Rest between Sets Too Long?
Provided you still have time to complete your workout, there really isn’t such a thing as “too long rest” between sets. And even if there were, two minutes certainly wouldn’t be it.
Two minutes of rest between sets is a great rule of thumb. It will enable you to recover about 95% of your strength and creatine phosphate, which means you can use heavier weights and do more reps in your next set compared to a shorter rest interval.
Do Shorter Rest Periods Build More Muscle?
Generally, no. But they can hypothetically build more muscle in two different conditions:
The first is if it enables you to perform more total work in your workout. Your total training volume is one of the most important variables in your training, and doing more typically means gaining more.
The other condition where shorter rest intervals can maybe build more muscle mass is if you are lifting a specific weight for a specific number of reps, and you complete that in a shorter time frame than otherwise. Completing all the reps and sets in a shorter time means greater metabolic stress for your muscles, which possibly stimulates more muscle growth than otherwise.
But: if shorter rest periods means that you are doing less total work than you would have otherwise, you will probably build less muscle, not more.
What Happens if You Rest Too Long between Sets?
As previously stated, you can’t really rest “too long” between sets. Two exceptions are if you rest for so long that you become cold and stiff and need to warm-up again, or if you rest so long that you don’t have time to complete all the planned sets in your workout.
Barred these two exceptions, resting for a longer amount of time between sets is generally only beneficial, as it will allow you to perform better in the subsequent sets.
Is It OK to Rest for 10 Minutes between Sets?
Yes, absolutely, if you have the time for it and don’t feel like that it makes you stiff or cold.
Many of the strongest lifters in the world use very long rest periods (10+ minutes) between their heaviest sets, precisely so they can lift the heaviest weight possible in the next set.
Why Do Powerlifters Rest so Long?
Powerlifters often train using heavy weights for a low number of reps. To be able to lift weights near their limit, they must rest long enough for their strength to be sufficiently recovered.
Between their heaviest sets, this can mean five or ten minutes of rest between sets. But for powerlifting accessory exercises where they use lighter weight and focus more on muscle gain than strength, rest is often compressed to two or three minutes to save time.
Our powerlifting programs require most people to rest for at least two or three minutes between sets, and often longer between the heaviest sets.
What to Do during Rest between Sets?
One thing you can do between sets is to superset by working another muscle group. As the scientific training studies mentioned earlier in the article showed, this is often possible to do without any deterioration in performance.
You can track supersets in our workout app, and it also has two superset workouts:
- Chest and Back Superset Workout for Bodybuilding (7 Exercises)
- Bicep and Tricep Superset Workout for Mass
Supersets work especially well for isolation exercises where you don’t work a lot of muscle mass. The more muscle mass you use, the more will your energy systems be stressed, and you might start to run out of breath, thus hampering your performance. If you are in good cardiovascular shape, however, you might have no problem supersetting compound movements and exercises that use larger muscle groups.
Another thing you can do when resting between sets is to review your previous set. Set up your phone to film you while you lift, and then review the video while you are resting. This can help you improve your lifting technique and find errors in your form to improve upon.
Or a final suggestion: why not browse through your exercise statistics and PRs in our workout log app? If you allow it, it will give you a beep once your rest time is over!
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- Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017; 117(9): 1877–1889. The effects of traditional, superset, and tri-set resistance training structures on perceived intensity and physiological responses.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2632-40. The effect of an upper-body agonist-antagonist resistance training protocol on volume load and efficiency.
- J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019 Dec;59(12):1991-2002. Neuromuscular responses for resistance training sessions adopting traditional, superset, paired set and circuit methods.