All About Rest Between Sets: Tips to Improve Your Performance

You need to learn to rest between sets, as it’s a way to reach your goals faster. In fact, it’s an essential part of routines that athletes don’t always take into account.
All About Rest Between Sets: Tips to Improve Your Performance

Last update: 05 November, 2020

Regardless of your fitness goal, if you want to perform at your best, you must rest between sets. This is very important! But what does it consist of?

In today’s article, we’ll tell you what these rest periods are and how to adapt them to your goal and training. In addition, we’ll offer you a series of tips to help you with your rest between sets.

All about rest between sets: what it consists of

This is nothing more than the time you take to start a new set after you just finished one. This time is necessary, no matter the physical capacity of your training. There are three types, depending on the intervals:

  • Long. When the rest time exceeds three minutes.
  • Intermediate or moderate. When the rest time is between 60 and 90 seconds.
  • Short. When the rest time doesn’t exceed 30 seconds.

Regarding this rest time, it’s important to note that it can be either active or passive. Active rest consists of doing small mobility or activation tasks to speed up the recovery process. On the other hand, passive rest consists of not doing any task in order to favor the recovery process.

How to estimate rest between sets

Nowadays, it’s almost an impossible task to set an exact rest time. In order to estimate accurate training intervals, you need to take a series of factors into account.

Firstly, several authors state that it’s essential to take both gender and age into account. Their studies observed that young subjects experience a greater performance decline after the first set. This is because their strength and power levels manifest themselves in that first set, which is when they perform best.

This decline would also be greater in men compared to women. This is obviously something you must take into account when it comes to the rest periods you introduce between sets.

A woman working out at the gym.
The gym can help any athlete improve their sports performance.

At the same time, it’s also important to point out the hormonal importance of establishing these breaks. According to different authors, when the rest period is short, the growth hormone GH becomes important. Each time it’s activated, it can aid muscle building.

Rest between sets: a few tips

As you can see, there’s a great deal of controversy regarding the exact time you must rest between sets to achieve optimal results. Because each athlete’s body is different, it’s difficult to generalize. However, here are some general guidelines you should follow:

  1. The lower the number of reps and the greater the load, the longer the rests between sets should be.
  2. The higher the number of reps and the lower the load, the shorter the rests between sets should be.
  3. When you’re working out, it’s a good idea to alternate exercise sets. To do this, work antagonistic muscles, such as lower body muscles with upper body muscles. Remember that, even if you do alternate exercises, you must respect the rest time between one set and another.
  4. In short, the best advice is to rest long enough to be able to lift the weight you need to in the next set with the maximum possible intensity.

Rest time depending on your fitness goal

The rest times vary depending on the activity you’re doing, or on your fitness goal:

  • If muscle definition is your goal, you should reduce rest times between sets. You want your metabolism to work as fast as possible, so you can continue burning more calories.
  • If you want to achieve muscle hypertrophy, the rest time depends on whether you’re an amateur or expert athlete. Beginner or intermediate athletes need to rest for two to three minutes between sets. On the other hand, expert athletes need to rest for one to two minutes between sets.
  • If you’re training for muscular endurance, you shouldn’t rest that long. In fact, one minute is enough.
A woman stretching.
  • Finally, if you’re focused on strength training, according to the ACSM, it’s best to rest for three to five minutes between sets. In addition to this, if you increase the rest time between sets even more, your body will be able to replenish its ATP reserves. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is important for exercise, as it’s a nucleoside that the body uses to get energy.


As you’ve seen, rest times between sets will vary depending on your needs. Despite this, if you want to optimize your workouts and establish appropriate rest intervals, you must bear in mind the factors we mentioned here. Start taking advantage of rest times in your workouts today!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. (2009). Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Mar;41(3):687-708.
  • Bottaro, M., Ernesto, C., Celes, R., Farinatti, P. T., Brown, L. E., & Oliveira, R. J. (2010). Effects of age and rest interval on strength recovery. Int J Sports Med, 31(1), 22-25.
  • Theou, O., Gareth, J. R., & Brown, L. E. (2008). Effect of rest interval on strength recovery in young and old women. J Strength Cond Res, 22(6), 1876-1881.
  • Willardson, J. M. (2006). A brief review: factors affecting the length of the rest interval between resistance exercise sets. J Strength Cond Res, 20 (4), 978–984.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.