Ever wonder why there are varied rest periods between sets? Or asked how come this plan says thirty-second rest between sets and the other says one minute? These questions used to come up all the time, especially if a friend came along. I always answered by saying the body needs to catch itself before being exerted again but apart from that, I do not know.

However, after further investigation, I realized that the time varies based on specific goals. The main reason being the time the body needs to complete certain processes and restart. Now, I know there is a more in-depth way to explain this, but it is very overwhelming to go through it all. Yet, I’d like to give a few goals and times to spark your research. Therefore, you will be able to set a time based on your specific goals.

What the Science Says

When only strength gain is the goal, three to five minutes of rest between sets is optimal. Fueled by phosphagen the ATP – PC system (Adenosine Triphosphate Phosphocreatine) activates while lifting heavy weight for low reps. Our body needs a minimum of three minutes to fully replenish itself after such activity. William Kraemer has proven this in his studies. Kraemer, 1997 link

A one to two minute rest period is optimal when mass training. The glycolytic system activates as well as the ATP – PC which allows for two types of fuel to burn instead of one. carbs being the second fuel, which allows the body to need less recovery time. Moreover, the body produces more anabolic hormones as a result and this stimulates more muscle growth. Another notion mentioned by Kraemer in one of his studies. Kraemer, 1991 link

Endurance training is a whole different animal which will be discussed in another post.

Enough Science

I know that science is always evolving, and new information is discovered almost every day. Therefore, I find it hard to solely focus on scientific studies alone. Moreover, as many of you know I focus on listening and being in tune with my body as well as I can. A goal that everyone should aim for in my opinion. While still remembering, no bodies are identical enough to follow the same steps and produce identical results.

That said, we can be in tune with our bodies and use a little bit of science to create the optimal rest time. To do this, we need to know what our current goal is to build mass, get stronger or a combination. Then through trial and error figure it out what allows for the best results. Remember to give more than a few days on each trial to get useable results.

As for me, I combine building mass and strength into one, but it is not always an even split. There are times where I am focusing on gaining mass back quickly due to being out of the gym for a long time which usually occurs after travelling. Whereas other times maintaining my current size while getting stronger is the goal. Yet, no matter which one is the primary focus the other is still a secondary, thus my rest period goes up or down by thirty seconds. I figured the thirty-second variant after years of trying new exercises as well as getting in tune with my body. Therefore, I know that one-minute in-between sets work best for playing catch up and one minute – thirty seconds works best for lean mass building.

Trial and Error

This is your choice, but from experience, I’d like to say that trying different rest periods over five-week windows works the best. There is no science behind it that I have on hand right now but it worked well when I was doing this task. The reason being, I lift four out of a six-day training cycle, which means twenty sessions during the trial period. Therefore, the optimal time to get adequate results for comparison in my opinion.

However, this is all based on my body as well as how fast it shows results. Thus, your trial window could be longer or shorter than mine to see the type of results you are looking for. Not to mention, your goals are possibly very different from mine which requires a different approach.

That said, I’d like to wish each of you luck on this journey and invite you to message me anytime if you’d like my help.


Hope you learned something from this post and are eager for more! Like, Share, Bookmark and get ready for more weekly content.

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Ethan is a self-motivated McGill graduate with strong technical expertise, social & digital marketing experience. His work relies on strong communication skills and experience interacting with various levels of stakeholders. Skills: Adept at creating device-adaptive websites and compelling e-commerce stores. Over 8 years of experience in communications, videography and web design, with a thorough understanding of cross-media processes from concept to completion.

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