By Brittany Risher Englert
Many factors go into creating the best workout for your fitness goals. You probably know it's important to pick the right amount of weight to lift, and follow a certain rep and set scheme. But the amount of rest between sets also matters when you're strength training.
“Rest is what allows you to recover between bouts of exercise so you can maintain a high enough level of performance and thereby optimize your results," explains Trevor Thieme, CSCS, LADDER's senior director of fitness and nutrition content. “It's important to tailor your rest to your goals."
Follow the recommendations below for how long to rest between sets to optimize your strength workouts and reach your fitness goals.
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Weight: 70 to 80 percent of your 1 rep max (1RM)
Reps: 6 to 12
Sets: 3 to 6
Rest between sets: 30 to 90 seconds
The ideal rest time between sets for muscle growth is between 30 and 90 seconds. “It allows you to sustain a high level of performance while also maintaining high enough levels of mechanical tension and metabolic stress to optimize muscle growth," Thieme explains.
The reps and sets are also the same for losing fat because of two reasons: “You'll build more muscle, and you'll maximize the after-burn effect, which is the sustained increase in your metabolism post-workout as your body recovers," Thieme explains. Read: You burn more calories, helping spur fat loss.
Weight: 80 to 90 percent of your 1RM
Reps: 6 or fewer
Sets: 2 to 6
Rest between sets: 3 to 5 minutes
The heavier you lift, the longer you need to rest to allow your muscles to recover. But listen to your body. “Beginner exercisers probably don't need to rest five minutes," says ACE-certified personal trainer Chris Gagliardi, resource center manager at the American Council on Exercise. “That might be better for a competitive weightlifter who will expend so much energy during the sets, they have to make sure they are fully recovered and ready for the next one."
Weight: 60 to 70 percent of your 1RM
Reps: 12 or more
Sets: 2 to 3
Rest between sets: 30 seconds or less
Because the amount of weight you lift isn't as high when you train for muscular endurance, you don't need as much recovery time, Gagliardi explains. And since you're training your muscles to last for a longer amount of time when you're targeting endurance, moving quickly between sets will help with that.
Weight: Body weight
Reps: 10 or more
Sets: 2 or more
Rest between sets: 30 to 90 seconds
If you are new to weightlifting or simply want to focus on perfecting your form to build a solid fitness foundation, skip the iron and begin with just your body weight. “You want to learn do to the movements properly before adding weight," Gagliardi says.
Although you can rest up to 90 seconds between sets, you may find you'll need less downtime to recover before the next set, since bodyweight exercises are less intense than weighted ones.
Here are some additional suggestions to help you get the most out of your time in the gym.
To be sure your rest time between sets is accurate, time yourself using whatever works best for you, Thieme says. That could be your watch, a timer on your phone, or the clock on the wall.
Never rest so long that your heart rate and body temperature return to your normal resting levels. If you're adhering to the above rest times and find that this is happening, it's probably a sign you need to up the intensity of your reps.
Speaking of intensity... really pay attention to the weight you choose. If you want to build muscle, make sure you can only lift that weight for a maximum of 12 reps. Don't pick a weight you could lift for 15 reps, but only do 12 reps, Gagliardi says. Otherwise you won't reach your fitness goals (or it will take way longer than it needs to).
“This is hard for some people, because they want to be intense all the time," Gagliardi says. “But you don't want your exercise to suffer because you're not recovered between sets." Let's all say it together again: Rest is important!
“If your goal is muscular endurance or fat loss, remaining active between sets can help you build more endurance and burn more calories," Thieme says. Do this by performing an exercise that targets "noncompeting" muscles between sets of the primary exercise (e.g., by jumping rope between sets of the push-up).