Rest Times Explained

Rest time between sets is a crucial part of training that is often neglected. For every goal in training, there is an applicable rest time that will best prepare us to progress towards that goal. Whether your goal is endurance, strength, power, or muscle growth, you need to put some thought into your rest times.


The rest time you use is based on the metabolism that is used during your workout. Yes, there are different metabolisms used when doing different activities. The metabolism used to run 3 miles if drastically different from the metabolism used in sprinting 40 yards. When sprinting, energy is created much quicker but also creates byproducts that lead to muscle failure to keep you from burning through your energy too quickly. Running 3 miles at an easy to moderate pace will allow your body to create and burn energy at a more conservative rate, allowing your body to keep up with energy demands.

As a general rule, if our goal is strength, we should rest between 2-5 minutes. If power training, we should also rest 2-5 minutes. If our goal is muscle hypertrophy, we should rest from 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes. And if our goal is muscular endurance, we should rest 30 seconds or less.


Training Goal

Rest Period

Strength

2-5 min

Power

2-5 min

Hypertrophy

30 s - 1:30

Endurance

<30 s

Since our rest times vary by goal, we can also think of it as varying by load being used. Most strength work is done at 5 or fewer reps, with loads of 80% of 1RM or more. So anytime we are doing high load low rep work we can give our body much more rest. Most hypertrophy work is done between 8 and 12 reps at loads of 60-80% of 1rm, so anytime we find ourselves in this rep and load range we can rest up to 2 minutes.


These are just general guidelines. Once you have been training long enough, I like to let people decide how much rest is enough. You know when your body is ready, and you know when it’s not. As a general rule of thumb, whenever you feel like you can complete a set with just as much intensity as the previous one, you are ready to go. Obviously, this will not work for everyone, but if you are in tune with your body and know your capabilities, this can be a simple way to keep up with your rest time.



Chris Still

BS Exercise Science

CSCS, USAW

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