“Rest periods” are the time an individual takes after a completed set before beginning the upcoming set.

This topic has created heated debates within the gym.

Historically, short rest intervals are associated with hypertrophy-type training and long rest intervals are traditionally used in strength-type training. But what does the science say?

A recent study concluded that 3-minute rest intervals were significantly superior for both strength and muscle growth in comparison to 1 minute’s rest, when 21 men were tested on varying resistance programs over 8 weeks [13].

Another study examined the isokinetic strength of 15 male subjects divided into two groups, the first utilised 40 second rest periods (2:1 rest to work ratio) and the second utilised 160 second rest periods (8:1 rest to work ratio). It was demonstrated that longer rest periods resulted in greater improvements in peak power, torque and total work [14]. Additionally, a meta-analysis of 35 studies noted that 3-5 minute rest periods, when using loads between 50%-90% of one repetition maximum, produced greater increases in absolute strength compared to shorter rest periods, due to being able to train with higher intensities and volume [15].

Rest periods should be seen as a time in which to recuperate from previous work, to maximise power output for work to come

A single set is enough to notably deplete ATP levels, and fatigue the nervous system which is a poor combination when aiming to maximise performance. Sufficient time taken to replenish in order to maintain intensity and energy levels throughout the workout is a more beneficial method than implementing short rest periods.

strength training barbell on floor

However, an exception to this rule is apparent.

When used infrequently relative to one’s overall training program, utilisation of short rest periods may have some benefit. Studies have shown short intervals may be beneficial to hypertrophy by creating significant metabolic fatigue and local muscular endurance. These physiological benefits occur by increasing mitochondrial and capillary density, increasing buffer capacity, and promoting shifts in muscle fibre composition [16].

I repeat though that this is an acute hypertrophic response, and will only benefit muscle growth when implemented infrequently as excessive use will hinder training intensity and volume, the main contributors to muscle growth.

Summary – Use 2-5 minute rest periods between sets

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13) Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW. 2016. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res.
14) Pincivero R, Danny M, Lephart SM, Karunakara RG. 1997. “Effects of rest interval on isokinetic strength and functional performance after short-term high-intensity training.”. British journal of sports medicine
15) de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. 2009. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 39(9):765-77.
16) Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. 2004. “Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription.”. Medicine and science in sports and exercise