How long you should rest between sets of exercises has been a long time debated topic. Whether you are training to increase strength, build more muscle or just to improve performance, rest intervals dictate how well you recover between each set.
Some experts suggest rest periods above and beyond 2 minutes to optimize strength while for hypertrophy, anywhere from 40 seconds to 1.5 minutes can be considered appropriate.
While there is a vast body of research covering the topic of rest intervals for resistance training, no definitive conclusion has been made.
Recently, a systematic review conducted by a variety of researchers including the muscle scientist himself, Dr. Brad Schoenfeld analyzed resistance training rest intervals for strength development. Click Here to download the review by Grgic et al (2017).
In an attempt to clear up some of the grey area surrounding the topic, a variety of research was looked at by these experts and here is what you need to know, but first..
This article is going to:
- Provide you with Evidence Based Strength Training Rest Interval Recommendations.
- Provide you with Evidence Based Hypertrophy Training Rest Interval Recommendations
Rest Intervals and Strength
Rest intervals seem to be extremely important especially when talking about strength because you need to be able to generate large amount of muscle force, repeatedly. If rest is insufficient, you might experience fatigue and an inability to generate these high force muscle contractions.
Interestingly enough, while we know longer rest is quite necessary for strength gains, it appears that it may be much more important for trained individuals.
Grgic et al (2017) seemed to conclude that in untrained individuals, rest intervals of 60 seconds or slightly longer seem to be sufficient to drive strength adaptations whereas for the trained population, rest at or above 2 minutes is likely best for maximizing strength gains.
Further, it still remains unclear whether or not rest upwards of 5 minutes or longer has any additional benefit to strength gains as there is a lack of research (Grgic, 2017). If there were added benefits to longer rest periods this would mean much longer workouts which is not always practical for many of us.
Longer rest should be further evaluated to see whether potential enhanced gains from rest intervals near the 5-minute mark are worth the tradeoff in extra training time.
On a final note, remember that rest intervals could and should change depending on exercise selection. For example, the rest interval required to recover from a set of leg extensions probably won’t equate to that needed for a back squat.
As a general rule of thumb.
Compound Exercises = Longer Rest Intervals
Single Joint Exercises = Shorter Rest Intervals
Strength Gain Rest Interval Recommendations:
Rest Intervals and Hypertrophy
So, after all this talk about the relation between rest intervals and strength you have a good idea of how to effectively design rest periods to obtain optimal strength adaptation. That’s great if your goal is to get stronger, but many individuals are concerned with putting on muscle as well.
It is mentioned by Grgic et al (2017) how individuals concerned with building muscle are better accustomed to resistance training protocols with shorter rest periods opposed to longer rest periods which are better for those strength training.
Having shorter rest intervals has been shown to be essential for hypertrophic adaptation as there is an increase in metabolic accumulation (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 142). Enhanced metabolic stress is necessary for hypertrophic adaptation as it causes cells to swell up and leads to muscle fatigue and ultimately an increase in muscle.
As mentioned by Schoenfeld (2016, p 142), increases in metabolic accumulation is determined at the expense of reduced mechanical tension. In order to effectively increase metabolic accumulation, you must gradually reduce the amount of loading placed on your muscles in further sets to maintain performance in a rep range that will induce hypertrophic gain (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 142).
Moderate rest intervals (60-90 seconds) are said to be effective in maintaining an appropriate relationship between mechanical tension and metabolic accumulation for optimal hypertrophic gain (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 142).
However, it is important to note that although moderate rest intervals have been found to be beneficial in hypertrophic adaptation, there is research suggesting that longer rest intervals of 2 minutes provide a hypertrophic advantage (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 143).
You’re probably confused and wondering how can a longer rest interval maximize hypertrophic gain.
The basis of how longer rest intervals stimulate maximal muscle hypertrophic gain is made logical through equating work volume (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 143). It makes complete sense, when longer rest intervals are introduced, one is able to maintain an increased volume load over the course of a training cycle or even workout and thus subjecting the muscles to hypertrophic gain (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 143).
Overall, it would appear that higher training volumes are associated with greater muscular development (Schoenfeld, 2016, p. 102).
Longer Rest Intervals (2 minutes) → Enhanced Ability To Maintain Greater Volume Load → Maximal Hypertrophic Gain
Although the general recommendations for maximal hypertrophic development is a 2-minute rest interval, this might not work for your training block.
If you are in a time crunch and need to get in a quick workout, then implementing a moderate rest interval will still be beneficial for hypertrophic adaptation. Don’t feel as if a 2-minute time interval is the ‘be all end all’ in muscular development, the research demonstrates potential hypertrophic gain through the use of both moderate and longer rest intervals.
Size Gain Rest Interval Recommendations:
The overall consensus on rest intervals for strength and size gains still remains to be an interesting topic for debate. While more research is currently underway, it’s important to understand that the current recommendations are subject to change.
Nothing is set in stone, so make these recommendations your own and find what works for you.
Schoenfeld, B. (2016). Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (pp. 188-193). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Grgic, Jozo & Schoenfeld, Brad & Skrepnik, Mislav & Davies, Timothy & Mikulic, Pavle. (2017). Effects of Rest Interval Duration in Resistance Training on Measures of Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine.