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How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

Monday, September 6, 2021


I wanted to clarify the rest periods between sets, which is one of the forgotten points in training technique. In this article, we’ll examine how much rest is needed for endurance, muscle hypertrophy, and strength.

Rest time between sets:

Let’s first define the set. It is the name given to all repetitions grouped in set exercises. Without rest we mean the time spent between two sets.

Why is the rest time between sets important?

During the exercises performed during the set, your muscles contract and relax. In this process, the muscles; it gets damaged, consumes energy and creates metabolic waste. With these contractions, the time until the next contraction determines how intense the exercise is, how long your tired muscles will rest, and when it will pass to the next contraction.

This time directly changes exercise volume, difficulty, and hormonal response. For this reason, if you are trying to reach a goal with exercise, you will get lucky results with random times. And this result will not make you happy.

Rest periods for muscle strength

Let’s look at the researches done first.

Research 1

A student group consisting of healthy university students is divided into two separate groups. Participants are done isokinetic quadriceps and hamstring exercises for four weeks, three days a week. On the contrary, group 1 uses 90 seconds of rest between sets, and group 2 uses 160 seconds of rest between sets.

At the end of the research, the quadriceps and hamstring strength of the participants are tested. As a result of the test, it shows that group 2, which had more rest, gained 3% more strength.

Research 2

A group of people consisting of male university students are divided into three different groups. Between sets group 1 rest for 180 seconds, group 2 for 90 seconds and group 3 for 30 seconds. Participants who exercise four days a week for five weeks are compared before and after the 1RM (maximum single repetition) squat weight gain.

It is seen that improvement has been achieved in all groups by comparison. However, group 3 with the least rest seems to have achieved 3% less improvement than group 2. Group 2 provides 2% less improvement than group 3.

As you can see, it is obvious that the participants who have longer rest between sets provide more power gains.

Strength exercises include exercises based on less repetition, more weight plan. During these exercises, sudden lifts use the sources of ATP and creatine phosphate in the muscles. ATP and creatine phosphate stores are filled for a long time (3 minutes or more) rest between sets and helps you to lift more weight. Lifting more weight means increasing your strength faster.

With the increase of the resting period in the cell, ATP and creatine phosphate stores, many metabolites reach the optimal level and the muscle is rested in many different ways.

As a result, you must keep the rest interval between 2 and 5 minutes for a boost in strength. The thing to note here is that you should try to lift more weight by doing fewer repetitions as the rest period gets longer.

Rest periods for muscle mass

According to a study conducted: A group of male participants are subjected to research to measure the effect of rest periods between sets on hypertrophy. The first group of the two participants rested for one minute between the sets, while the second group rested for three minutes.

Growth hormone (GH), somatomedin c (IGF-1) and testosterone levels, which are the main sources of hypertrophy, are measured before and after exercise (0, 5, 15, 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes).

As a result, it is seen that GH, IGF-1 and testosterone levels are significantly higher in the group resting for 1 minute at all times after exercise.

Complete rest, unfinished rest concept

As you can see, the subjects were always given 3-5 minutes of rest time to develop strength, while they were given less 45 seconds to 2 minutes of rest for hypertrophy.

The reason for doing this in exercises that want to gain strength is to want the muscles and nervous system to recover “fully”. In exercises aimed at hypertrophy and endurance, trying to build up the pressure on the muscle, ie to exercise again before “completing” resting and to put pressure by ensuring that the muscles do not recover.

Starting a new exercise before complete recovery creates more growth pressure within the muscle. Because exercise puts pressure on cells and conveys the message “you are not enough, you have to grow.”

For this reason, in general, full rest in strength exercises, unfinished rest is performed in exercises aimed at muscle mass (hypertrophy) and endurance.

As a result, it is important that athletes who want to develop muscle mass and want to gain strength prefer to rest for 2-3 minutes between sets, and those who want to develop more muscle mass and less power prefer to rest 45 seconds to 2 minutes.

Rest periods for endurance

For endurance, which is the ability to continue exercising at a certain intensity for a long time, your muscles need to work better under intense pressure, in an acidic environment, use energy resources more economically and withstand other extreme conditions.

The key point here is to create and maintain these conditions in a short time. The sooner the athlete catches these conditions, the longer he continues them, the better his body will adapt to this situation.

For this reason, the main starting point for endurance athletes is to accumulate stress quickly with very short rest periods. Regarding rest between sets, this number should be between 15 seconds and 60 seconds.

Rest time between sets: Is it strictly limited?

There is a point that I want not to be misunderstood. It is the fact that these numbers do not have sharp boundaries, that is, they are not exact and equal for every muscle group. For this reason, I have included the concepts of complete and incomplete rest in the article.

My aim to talk about these concepts is to improve your knowledge about resting during exercise and to make you understand better what we are aiming for.

In exercises involving large muscle groups and more than one joint – hence the muscle – your resting period should be close to the upper limit of the goal rest range, and in exercises involving small muscle groups and single joints, the rest period should be close to the lower limit of the target resting range.

Finally, remove the distracting factors from the environment while exercising.

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