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How Long Should You Rest Between Set for Weight Lifting?

March 22nd, 2010 · 9 Comments ·


Normally, I see 3 groups of people at the gym:

  1. One group who fly from one exercise to another with almost no rest between the sets.
  2. Another group who often talk for more than 5 minutes before they move on.
  3. The rest are those who rest enough between each set.

How long should you rest between sets? Some people say 5 minutes, others say 2 minutes. Some even say 30 seconds. Who is right then?

We need to find a balance when it comes to the length of your rest periods between sets. If you do not rest long enough, muscles may not recover properly and your strength will suffer. If you rest too long like 5 minutes, your heart slow down, muscle will get cold and intensity diminishes as a result.


Based on the study:

  • 30 – 45 seconds rest if your primary goal is for endurance training and to burn more fat calories.
  • 45 – 90 seconds rest allows you to build muscle as they encourage testosterone and growth hormone production in greater levels. This plays an important role in triggering muscle growth.
  • 3-minute rest between sets if you are training for pure strength. The longer you rest, the more your muscles can recover from the previous set, and the more weight you can push and pull later.


My Experience

  • Well, after over 7 years of training and trying nearly all of the theories out there, I come to the conclusion that there is no set amount of time one should rest in between sets. I realize that no two bodies are alike and it may take my gym buddy 30 seconds to fully recover from a work set while I may take me 90 seconds to fully recover.
  • I myself rest between 45 and 90 seconds, depending on the muscle group I am training. After one minute, my body has mostly recovered. Workout involving large muscle groups take longer to recover than small ones. However, I do not like resting too long like 3 minutes because I normally lose the momentum and gone is the feel of natural high for the next set.
  • To build more muscle and finish my workout in less time, I have tried cut down my rest periods by 5 to 10 seconds over time without increasing the weight. For instance, when I first started, I rested about 90 seconds between sets week 1, then I rest only 80 seconds next week. After few months, I realized that I was able to accomplish the same amount of work in much less time and increasing my overall conditioning dramatically.


So, the school of thought which I practice: resting purely by “feel”.  OK, You may be disappointed if I were to tell you I do not have “one time fits all” or “one program fits all” for you.

  • On certain days, you feel good and are ready for the physical onslaught which awaits you before each set. On these days, you grab the weight and it is nothing but effortless motion. You seem to recover a little quicker than other days because you are well fed and well rested.
  • On other days, you are tired and lacking a bit of motivation. Your joints hurt and your body aches. You do not have a good night sleep last night. Still, you push and pull your way to soreness. On these days, it takes a little longer to recover. The world is seemingly against you. Yet you fight and persevere. Then, rest longer between sets.

My point is – we all have our good days and bad days in the gym. You know your body better than me. You need to pick out which days are better than others and choose appropriately how much rest you should really take.


If you notice that your reps are dropping significantly in between these sets using the same weights, then take a little bit longer to rest. On the other hand, if you notice that your reps and weights are staying about the same, then you could theoretically cut your rest time down a bit. Given a choice, instead of cutting the rest time, you should consider increasing the weights. I am not sure whether this act makes sense for you, but I do it.

Many learn their ideal interval rest durations with trial and error. Weight training, sometimes, it is beyond science. I use feel and little common sense. No matter what the goal of the particular workout, you should be comfortable with it.



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Category: Weight Training

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9 responses so far ↓
  • nia // Mar 22, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    great post. i was just wondering about this myself. :) thanks!

  • Angie Tan // Mar 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    Thanks for the tip Mun! I’ve been pondering the question myself too. :)

  • justin // Mar 22, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    i usually do 2 sets together without resting, but both sets are for different muscles group. okay?

  • xavier // Mar 23, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    i agree totally with what you said. for me, i go by feel too. as you said, there’s a good day and there’s a bad day. on a good day you would feel like you have take steroids and can do more weights with less rest and on a bad day you would really struggle and feel like dying pushing the reps.

    but the rule of thumb is to determine what is your goal in hitting the gym and adjust your rest period according to your target and body condition.

  • David // Mar 24, 2010 at 4:18 AM

    My rest time is one music. It works for me.

  • michael // Mar 25, 2010 at 1:47 AM

    Perfectly said. Everyone has different goals and time restraints. The key is to also mix it up from time to time to confuse the muscles. If your not sure check with a local trainer for some advise.

  • Will // Mar 25, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    I think that whatever you do, you should only do it for a while, and then change it up! Rotate, confuse, keep it changing.

  • xavier // Mar 25, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    yea but don’t change too much to the point that you are over straining yourself and in the end cheats in the workout. then it would be pointless, no. :)

  • James Reno // Mar 29, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    Great article. Will have to keep your advice in mind. Additionally, big picture, you must keep your workouts both challenging, yet fun and interesting. Because if your workouts get to be too technical or experimental to the point you burn out and start missing workouts, you have defeated the whole purpose.

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