How Long Should You Rest Between Weight Lifting Sets?

Sometimes it’s hard for us to workout like we should, because life gets in the way and we get bored or tired of what we’re doing. However, when you take the step to go to the gym or buy some dumbbells for your home use, you are doing the right thing.

If you’re new to weight-lifting or you just aren’t sure what you’re doing, you may want to find out some information first, because otherwise you could hurt yourself.

When doing strength training, you should be resting between sets, but most guys don’t know how long that should be. If you’re in a nice gym, you probably have sports television to watch and may watch it until you feel you’re rested enough. However, that could be hurting your results because you’re not resting the same amount of time between each set.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

bodybuilder resting between sets

The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. Each person is different and has different goals and needs, but there are some helpful guidelines to ensure that you’re resting enough, but not too much.

I understand the difficulty of working out with all the hassles of life, but I also understand the benefits that strength training and cardio can provide. You should consider having a balanced workout routine that includes both cardio and strength, as well as rest days, stretching and possibly flexibility routines of some kind.

Everyone knows you should take a day to rest in between weight training routines, because it allows the muscles enough time to recuperate and rejuvenate, but most men aren’t sure if they should rest between sets of weight training or not.

The easy answer is that yes, you should be resting between sets.

Heavier Weights, Lower Reps

bodybuilder resting

It is important to realize that not all muscles are equal. Some can handle the added weight relatively easily, but some need more of a break between each set. In order to have a fully worked muscle, you need to compensate for both the smaller and larger muscle groups, which could mean that you lift heavier weights, but have few repetitions in each set.

This type of workout allows the type II muscle fibers to be used more frequently, which can help make you stronger faster. You should be using over 25 percent of your max weight lifting ability, but you should also realize that those muscle fibers will fatigue quicker.

Rushing through sets to get to the next muscle group (or shower off and go home) will cause those muscles not to get the training they need and could cause injury.

However, if you would like to do weight lifting as cardio, you could choose to have fewer rest breaks while lifting heavy weights, which will bring up the heart rate and be more of a cardio session, though you won’t be able to keep it up for long periods of time.

Lighter Weights, More Reps

Your endurance muscles should also be worked and are considered Type I muscle fibers. They are used mainly when you’re lifting lighter wights and during aerobics, such as running. Type I fibers won’t require so much energy, so you want to rest less.

Higher repetitions will rev up your metabolism, which can help your body fight fat and give you more energy. If you rest too long, you’ll sort of undo that effect.

Figuring Time

workout time

When weight training, you’ll want to wear a stopwatch and there are many available on the market. Almost any version will do, as long as it allows you to time in minutes.

If you are only going to do one to three repetitions, you should rest at least five minutes before going again. If you’re doing four to seven reps, that rest time can decrease to two or three minutes.

Those who want to use lighter weights and eight to 12 reps will want to rest for about one to two minutes while those who are going to do 13 or more reps will only be resting one minute.

It’s best to use extremely heavy weights from 25 to 100 pounds when doing the one to three rep option, because lifting that much weight will be difficult to do more than a few times. The more repetitions you do, the lighter your weights will be.

If you prefer to use five to 10 pound weights, you’ll want to do at least 13 reps.

Your Body

It’s necessary to pay attention to your body and its needs. If you haven’t been working out, you should start with a smaller weight and do what you can. Try for eight to 10 reps and if you can’t get through them, you may need to drop down to a lower weight size.

If you can do over 14 repetitions with the smaller weights, you’ll want to increase the amount of weight.

In The Meantime

woman doing squats

For most men, it is difficult or impossible to sit and wait for five minutes before going again, so you may not want to try large weights and small reps. However, you can always work a different muscle group while waiting to go back to the first.

For example, if you want to use a 50-pound barbell for your arms, you can then do squats or other leg exercises for five minutes until you can go back to the arm workout.

Circuit routines are very popular because they train one area, move to another area, and then go back to the first. Pick out at least three exercises that work similar areas. You can try alternating rows, deadlifts and bicep curls. They all work the top half, but slightly different muscles. Then, you can go back and do them again.

Another option is to do alternating sets, where you pair up exercises that work opposite muscles. Most people prefer to work the upper half and then the lower half, going back and forth to ensure they aren’t working the same set of muscles each time.

Another Way Of Thinking

If the above option doesn’t work for you, or you just aren’t sure, you can always determine which goal you want and work from there. There are four primary goal options you can have while weight training, and each one has various reps and rest times.

For example, if you want to work on your muscular endurance (how long you can do the exercise before your muscles get tired), you’ll want to do at least 12 reps and up to 20. Resting between sets shouldn’t be more than 30 to 45 seconds and then you can do the same exercise again.

resting between sets memeIf you want to increase your muscle mass, also known as muscular hypertrophy, you should do between six and 12 reps with a rest time of one to one and a half minutes.

If you want to improve your overall muscle strength, you’ll want to do three to five reps with a rest of two to four minutes, and for those who want muscular power, they’ll do one to three reps and rest up to five minutes.

It is fairly similar to the other option, but helps you determine what you should be doing for whatever you want to accomplish.

Just remember that your muscle should hit fatigue when you are finished with the repetitions. If you feel you could still do more after the set with good form, you need to use heavier weights. If your muscles hit fatigue before you are finished with those repetitions, you should use lighter weights.

Resting between sets is just as important as the amount of weight you choose. It may take a few times before you find the right weight and you shouldn’t feel bad or embarrassed that you have to switch to a lighter set.

You want to do the right thing for your body, not what someone else of similar build can do. If you are still uncertain, you may want to consult with a personal trainer, as they can help you determine what goal is best for your body and how much weight you need.

Why Work Other Groups?

If you are like many weight lifters, you may sit around and wait for your next time-frame to continue working out, but it could be more beneficial to work a different group of muscles or take that time to figure out what you did wrong and how to improve.

While you can do a complete rest between sets, you could ultimately help train your body better by using those resting minutes to foam roll and work other muscles. Three to five minutes is plenty of time to do some lunges or squats for the legs and glutes.

Focus On You

arnold with workout partner

Your body is different than every other man’s body at the gym. While you likely know better than to compare yourself with others, you probably don’t realize that the amount of time you have to wait between sets won’t be the same as someone else.

If you regularly go to the gym with buddies, you both need to realize how much resting between sets is necessary.

It doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your buddy while you’re working out. You can both be in the same area and work various muscle groups, but you may need longer than your friend. If they don’t know, you can help them figure out how long they should rest between sets, so you can both get the most out of the workout.

Don’t Focus On Numbers

Even though most trainers and gym-lovers will tell you that you have to focus on the numbers, and most of everything you read online will also say to focus on the numbers, you may not need to. If you feel rested and ready to tackle another set, go for it. If you feel that you need more time (or want to finish off another muscle group first), do so.

Numbers are just a guideline, but they can help.

Instead of going around and chatting up the babe on the treadmill, focus on what your body just did and how it made you feel. Rest the recommended amount of time and do it again. Ask yourself if you still feel the same or if you’re getting tired. Could you do another whole set right now or does your body need rest.

It will take some time to be able to read your body’s signals, especially if you haven’t been doing so for awhile, but after some time, you will be able to tell. You can always go back and flirt with the treadmill babe when you’re finished taking care of your body. 😉


branch warren resting between set

Now that we’ve tackled some guidelines and numbers, and you’ve been told not to focus on the numbers, it’s time to listen to what various studies have shown. Most studies have concluded that between one and one and a half minutes are the perfect amount of rest between sets because you will recover approximately 90 percent of your muscle capacity.

This means that when you do the next set, you will feel just about as good as you did before. Over time, of course, your muscle will tire, even if you wait the full 90 seconds each time, because your body can’t continue doing the same thing for hours.

I’ve known some people who thought it’d be a good idea to rest only 30 seconds, but they stop going to the gym or do some real damage to themselves. It’s not worth it, guys! If you feel like dying and stopping the routine early, then you’re not resting enough.

The question: how long should you rest between sets can only fully be answered by you and no one else.

Don’t listen to your friends brag that they only need 20 seconds rest when lifting 100 pound barbells. Instead, find out how much resting between sets you need and do what works for you and your body, so that you see the results you want to see.

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