how long to rest between exercise sets

How Long Should You Really Rest Between Sets

Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific workout. This month we will be taking a look at a common gym question: how long should you rest between sets?

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

I have always been one of those people that sucks to have as a workout partner. Knowing about the body, my workouts are just too detailed and too specific. Which is unfortunate because people have regularly wanted to workout with me. One of the reasons that I’m difficult to workout with is because I’m a stickler for time. Have you ever been curious how long you should really rest between your weight sets? Maybe you’re one of those people who have been following the typical gym advice of waiting about sixty seconds in between weight sets. Maybe you’ve just been going on how you feel. When talking about how long you should rest between sets, the long answer is a little more complicated and it goes back to the type of energy systems our bodies have.

If you have been following our blog for a while and stopping by at the beginning of each month for our Workout Of The Month series you’d have caught our series that talks about different energy systems our body uses for exercising.

Our body has two main types of energy systems. Aerobic metabolism – which uses oxygen – and anaerobic metabolism – which uses no oxygen. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to be focusing on anaerobic metabolism because that’s the type of energy system that the body uses for typical weight training – strength, power, and hypertrophy. Under anaerobic metabolism there are two types of energy pathways that your body depends on. Each pathway depends heavily on something called ATP which our muscles use for energy.

The ATP-CP Pathway

The ATP-CP (creatine phosphate) pathway uses creatine phosphate to generate ATP for muscle contraction. The problem is that the ATP-CP pathway is very limited to very short bouts of high intensity bursts of activity. This energy supply only lasts about ten seconds before its depleted in our muscles and our body switches over to another energy pathway. Now that we’ve had a brief review in physiology of the types of energy that our muscles use to contact, let’s talk about how long it takes for our body to regenerate ATP – and this is absolutely crucial when determining how long you should rest between sets.

ATP Regeneration After Exercise

Your typical weight room workout eats up through ATP-CP supplies in the muscles. However, energy supplies can be quickly regained, eventually. Depending on the training goal, time between sets can be adjusted for ATP-CP energy supplies.

20 to 30 seconds of rest will allow about 50% recovery of ATP and CP
40 seconds will allow about 75% recovery of ATP and CP
60 seconds will allow about 85% to 90% recovery of ATP and CP
3 minutes will allow about 100% recovery to ATP and CP

Allowing Adequate Rest Between Sets

By allowing a certain amount of time between sets, you can manipulate and plan your workout to get the most bang for the buck. The shorter the rest interval the less amount of energy that will be available for the next repetition. Meanwhile, the longer rest between sets, the more ATP you will have for energy. The one caveat, too much time will For strength and power types of movement, the body relies heavily on ATP stores within the muscle. Time between sets taking about three minutes will allow for full ATP recovery.

Your typical time between sets for hypertrophy (eight to ten reps) will be best utilized with a recovery time of about sixty seconds. Remember, over enough time the body gets used to whatever demands are placed on it, so it’s important to either increase the weight, or cycle through different phases of training.


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