Change Your Rest Times To Match Your Goals


There are lots of different factors that need to be considered when it comes time to design your workout routine. Of course, everybody’s thoughts immediately go towards exercise selection. Then there’s the set and rep scheme.

Often, though, people don’t give a lot of consideration toward the amount of time that they take between sets – the rest period. Which is a shame. The length of your rest period could have a pretty major impact on your performance during that particular workout, as well as your long term progress.

So, how long should you be resting for? Well…that all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Increasing Strength

If you’re working on seeing your lifts increase, then you’re likely going to be working with fairly high levels of resistance for just a few reps. The goal here is to provide the stimulus for your muscles and nervous system to make some pretty drastic adjustments to their structure and function.

And that’s going to translate to demanding workouts. Each set will place a significant amount of stress on the target muscles. In order to ensure that you’re performing your best set after set, then, your muscles need time to recover properly.

Typically, the recommended rest time for strength workouts is about 2 minutes. However, if you’re lifting extremely heavy weights – limiting you to about one to three reps – your rest time can increase all the way up to five minutes.

Remember: strength training is not about getting your heart pounding. The purpose is to challenge your muscles while giving them time to recover and improve.

Muscle Growth

Although it might seem a little counter-intuitive, size and strength don’t always come bundled together. In fact, the training styles required to achieve these are vastly different.

While strength can be increased by simply placing gradually increasing amounts of resistance on your muscles, muscular growth – or hypertrophy – requires a pretty specific hormonal response. Your workout design, then, needs to encourage the increase of these muscle-building hormones, specifically testosterone and growth hormone. To do that, keep your rest periods to around a minute, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Granted, there’s a lot more involved in building muscle than just waiting a minute between sets. But that’s a much bigger topic for a different post.

Fat Loss

Burning fat requires you to keep your heart rate elevated and your muscles working as much as possible throughout your workout. To do that, your rest periods are going to be cut down to almost nothing.

This circuit-style training, wherein you move from one exercise to the next with no more than 30 seconds of rest, is a highly effective way to burn tons of calories in a relatively short workout. Remember, though, not to try to haul around big, heavy weights with this type of training program.

What To Do…

With all that said, it’s important that we be clear about what constitutes a “rest period.” Of course, you can do the obvious: nothing. But that’s not your only option.

Those windows between sets – especially the long ones used for strength training – could be used for foam rolling, to check your form for your next set or even to train opposing muscles.