Many people, women especially, tend to assume that less is more when it comes to resting. While I have previously talked about the importance of rest days, I’ve never devoted an entire post to rest times during an individual workout.
Luckily, when I put out a call for post requests, Chelsey asked: I’d be interested in how much rest you suggest people take between sets of heavy lifts, I find women in particular often want to keep moving between sets and curious what your opinion is.
(As an aside, I know I shouldn’t pick favourites, but Chelsey’s blog is my absolute favourite – please check it out if you haven’t already!)
The length of time you should rest between each set depends on your goals (I wrote a post here about how to determine how many sets and reps to perform). As a general rule, the longer the duration of your working set, the shorter the rest period should be. I know this sounds counterproductive and is the opposite of the protocol we are taught to follow in cardio-based training, but there is a good reason.
If you are completing sets of 15 repetitions, you are targeting muscular endurance and greater fat loss. Your rest periods should be just long enough for you to catch your breath – around 30-45 seconds.
If your goal is hypertrophy, you will be performing sets of anywhere from six to 12 repetitions. You should rest for 60-90 seconds between sets. You are lifting a heavier weight, so your body needs longer to recover.
Finally, if you are following a lower rep range (one to six reps), you must ensure you are resting long enough to allow your body to completely recover from a maximal effort lift. This time can vary quite significantly and I encourage you to listen to your own body , but I usually recommend at least two minutes for sufficient recovery but no longer than four minutes to ensure your body doesn’t cool down too much.
When I look at workouts printed in magazines or on Pinterest, they tend to have a common theme of rushing through workouts. Rest periods are very short (usually 30 seconds) and it’s common for every exercise to be combined with another as a superset, or even bundled together with multiple exercises to form a circuit. Combined with the CrossFit phenomenon, this workout style continues to perpetuate the myth that faster is better.
We are taught that resting is bad and every workout should leave you dripping in sweat. Some of the best workouts I’ve ever had are ones where I have barely broken a sweat. For example, when I hit my deadlift PR last month, it took me half an hour to do only five sets!
I perform all of the main lifts with a low rep range. I typically rest two minutes between upper body sets and three minutes between lower body lifts. I might superset one exercise per week if I’m running short on time, but most of my workouts are completed as straight sets.
When I start training someone, they often panic when I tell them to just rest between sets. If you must busy yourself with something, use the rest time to foam roll or perform mobility drills. But don’t be afraid to do as the name suggests and REST.
I’m not constantly worrying about whether I’m burning enough calories or not. I don’t see the point in rushing through workouts if it means your performance suffers. I would much rather take a little longer to rest in between sets and know for certain that I’m hitting a maximal weight. Weight training is not cardio, so don’t treat it as such.
I know that when I am ripping a heavy ass weight from the floor, my body is working. As I rest, my body is furiously burning calories to prepare itself for the next time I place it under a similar stress. It’s using the fuel I give it in the form of food to build muscle so that I can continue to adapt to the workload. The time you spend resting is just as important as the workout itself!
How long do you rest between sets?