Rest time between sets is an important topic in bodybuilding, and while it is generally agreed that for strength training rest time should be significant, for those seeking hypertrophy, there are many theories.
There are those who talk about short rests and there are those who advocate longer rests in order to recover better.
After all, who's right?
If your goal is to gain muscle mass, or keep what you have while you lose fat, how long should you rest between sets?
To answer this question, we went first to take a look at what the studies tell us, and we found some to help us.
After the studies, our opinion on the subject remains.
1 minute vs 3 minutes
This year an interesting study was published that compared long rest periods with short rest periods, in a context of strength and hypertrophy.
Twenty-one young men with training experience were selected and divided into two groups.
One group rested for 1 minute between sets, while the other group rested for 3 minutes between sets.
The experiment lasted 8 weeks, and consisted of three weekly full-body workouts, with 7 exercises per workout, 3 sets per exercise, and between 8 to 12 repetitions.
At the end of the study the results demonstrated that the group that rested longer, 3 minutes, not only gained more strength, as expected, but also gained more muscle mass than the group that rested only one minute.
In terms of muscle endurance, the results were similar between both groups.
1 minute vs 2.5 minutes
In 2009, a study was published that also compared short rest times between sets and longer rest periods.
They decided to evaluate the differences in the level of hypertrophy, strength and hormonal response between these two methods.
The study lasted 10 weeks and 12 men were selected, with an average age of 25 years and with no training experience.
They were separated into two groups, one with a rest period between sets of 1 minute and the other of 2.5 minutes.
At the end of the first week, the group that rested for just one minute had an increase in testosterone and cortisol after superior training compared to the group that rested 2.5 minutes.
However, at the end of the study, that difference disappeared, and the hormonal response was similar between groups, as was the strength gain.
The difference between the two groups in the end was just one.
The group that rested the longest between sets, gained more muscle mass.
2 minutes vs 5 minutes
In a study that lasted 6 months, they decided to compare the results between 2-minute rest periods and 5-minute rest periods between sets.
For that, they selected 13 men with training experience and analyzed if any of these two methods could bring better results in terms of muscle mass, strength and even hormonal level.
For three months these men did their training plan with 2 minutes of rest, and for another three months they rested for 5 minutes.
At the end of the study, the conclusion was simple.
There were no significant differences between the two methods, either at the level of muscle mass, strength or even differences at the hormonal level.
How long should I rest then?
According to studies, using short rests does not seem to have any benefit at the hypertrophy level, and this is the same conclusion they came to in 2014 when they decided to evaluate the available studies on the subject (1).
You should get enough rest so as not to affect your next set, that is, if you rest for 1 minute it means that you will reduce the load by 20%, then you should rest longer.
There is no magic number, but for larger muscles and compound exercises, you should rest for at least 2.5 minutes.
For smaller muscles and isolation exercises, at least 1.5 minutes seems like a good starting point, but you may need more.
There are several factors that can affect the rest time between sets, such as the training experience or the diet, so you must adapt them in order to achieve the best results.
But what I want is to lose fat, now what?
If your goal is to lose fat, you should pay attention not to the rest time between sets but to your diet.
If to lose fat you choose to rest less time between sets, you will end up reducing the volume or intensity, and consequently, losing more muscle mass.
Use weight training to maintain lean mass, and diet and training cardio to lose fat.
In other words, the rest times are similar, whether you want to gain muscle mass or lose fat, and a slightly longer rest can even help to maintain your training volume.
The rest time between sets is important, and 10 minutes between each one will not help you at all, however, there are much more important factors.
You must find a balance, and just as resting too long can be harmful, resting too little.
In short, if you need three minutes to load the previous series, or increase, rest three minutes, not two.
References 1 minute vs 3 minutes Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, SchnaiterJA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW.Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy inResistance -Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul; 30 (7): 1805-12. 1 minute vs 2.5 minutes Buresh R, Berg K, French J. The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan; 23 (1): 62-71. 2 minutes vs 5 minutes Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M, Kraemer WJ, Häkkinen K. Short vs. long restperiod between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug; 19 (3): 572-82. (1) Henselmans M, Schoenfeld BJ. The effect of inter-set rest intervals onresistance exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy. Sports Med. 2014Dec; 44 (12): 1635-43.