Maximizing Results with Rests Between Sets

I am all about circuits with most of my clients. We have 50 minutes to do a full-body workout and we get the job done; there will be no rest. Many people aren’t looking for max power or building muscle. They want health, tone, and weight loss.

But in traditional weight lifting, you rest. You rest so that you have enough energy to lift just as heavy for the next set. It’s a big part of your workout and a big part of your results. If you can’t lift heavy for the prescribed number of reps, you’re not going to see the results you want. So you rest.

The key is to rest appropriately. And that will depend primarily on your goal. Other factors must be taken into account too, such as how you feel that day, what you ate, and how intensely you’re working. But along with listening to your body, a few guidelines you can help you stay within a general timeframe so that you don’t rest too long or not enough.

Building Muscle Mass

How I love to build muscle. And it’s not easy for me. But it’s my personal passion, what drives me, what turns me on. I know I can’t look like a man, so I am not deterred. I push on for more muscle no matter what and use all the techniques I know of.

If you love building muscle too, strive for 45-60 seconds of rest between sets. You want to work those muscles again before they fully recover but not lift so heavy that you need more than that amount to recover.

When you’re lifting for 8-12 reps – the best rep range for building muscle mass – your body is using primarily glycolysis as its energy source (with ATP-CP at the onset). Glycolysis is used for activities lasting less than two minutes… It’s been shown that when lifting in the 8-12 rep range, muscles are sufficiently ready to be stressed again without too much recovery within 45-60 seconds.

If you need to rest 90 seconds after a set, don’t stress about it. Just keep the range in mind and try to stay within it on most sets. Doing supersets might necessitate a few more seconds to your rests but don’t let it become an excuse to lengthen them. My motto is if I have to rest longer than 60 seconds, I need to lower the resistance.

Increasing Power and Strength

If you’re a power lifter who lifts for short bursts or you train for strength using very heavy weights for low reps, strive for three to five minutes of rest between sets. That’s approximately how long it takes to replenish the ATP-CP energy pathway needed for short, intense bursts of activity 10 seconds or less.

After three minutes, 100% of your ATP-CP levels have been restored. So if you’re a max power lifter or lifting for strength using the 3-5 rep range, enjoy the longer rests.

Burning Calories/Raising Metabolism

Is your primary goal “toning up” while losing weight or increasing your metabolism? Keep your rests under 60 seconds and shorter if you’re more interested in calorie burn. Research has shown that metabolism is raised for more than 24 hours with shorter rest periods.

Circuits and endurance interval training is included here – the type I do with many of my clients. If strength training is done with progressive loads and minimal rest, you will see your goals of increased metabolism, calories burned, and muscle tone realized.

Maximizing Your Rests

It can be a bit challenging to get in the exact right amount of rest between sets. Especially when someone talks to you or those pesky texts keep coming in. That’s why it has to be a conscious part of your workout.

After lifting weights for so long, I have a feel for how long to rest. But when I started timing it, I found out I was actually resting too long. So I’ve started using my watch to time the 60 seconds. It’s the only way I can really get the proper amount of rest in, and to me it’s worth it.

If you’re not into timing your rests, may I suggest leaving your phone in your locker? Just checking Twitter mentions and email alone can take well over a minute (trust me, I know). If you’re resting three to five minutes you may have time to check your phone, but do still keep an eye on the clock. You don’t want to undo the stress on your muscles that you’re working so hard to build.

Sometimes I like to do core work in between sets. Again, watch the time. If you’re doing 50 crunches or a nice little abs superset you could go well over 60 seconds. You can even check yourself in the mirror… come on, no matter what our goals, this is fun to do. Just be sure and come back to the weights before too long.

Let me know how your progress is coming along. Keep your eye on your goals… everything you do in the weight room should reflect them. I love building, building…

25 thoughts on “Maximizing Results with Rests Between Sets

  1. As always, great advice for lifters! And I second the recommendation to leave the phone in the locker. I’ve always believed we can achieve much greater results while keeping our minds in the gym during the precious minutes our bodies are there.


  2. A lot of great workout timing tips presented impeccably. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sneaks some core work between sets. πŸ™‚

    Question(s) for you: If you workout to music, what’s one song that gets you pumped. And if you don’t, why not?

    Might kind of sound like I strange question I guess, but I’ve met a growing number of people who make it a point to never wear headphones while working out.

    Strong lifts,



    • Hey Matt, I’ve also heard from those saying they don’t listen to music. But I must! It totally pumps me up and lets me go into my own little world *rubs hands together.* Right now the song I love the most is called “Got to Love U” by Sean Paul. I don’t update my playlist often enough though… You??


      • Nice! I’m right there with you. Nothing kills my drive like an unexpectedly dead iPod! I’m sort of a bipolar musical madman. I’ve got everything from Vivaldi to stuff like Static-X. I will say though that I’m trying to workout outside more this Spring, in which case I might opt for the chirping of birds over my tuneage.

        All the best!
        – Matt


      • I can see that! When I’m outside walking, hiking, or snowshoeing I want to hear nature. I love the idea of working out though.. when I get my home-based business set up I hope to do some of it outside!


  3. Great post & I so get the whole thing after my 30+++ years! πŸ˜‰ One thing great about keeping this up is you learn what your bod likes & does not like, what works & doesn’t for you. We are all different too. I was an easy gainer when I was younger so building was easy for me – even now still can but not like when I was young.

    I actually can do circuits with little rest & still put on muscle! I know, the exception, but that is me. I pretty much do this every workout to maintain & keep my muscle. I had to lift lighter for a while when I was younger & did not want to get too big. Now I am lifting a little heavier because things just don’t work the same at 541 πŸ˜‰

    You are right on with what you described above! πŸ™‚


  4. I call it, “Stresting”. It’s stretching while resting. Stresting.

    It’s not science based, but what about my training persona is? Stresting is simply the act of, in-between sets, stretching the primary muscles involved in the movement. That is, if I’m performing pull-ups, in-between sets a I briefly stretch the muscles of my back. Then, right back to pull-ups. Whether it’s biceps, quads, whatever, I rest long enough to stretch, and stretch long enough to rest. Stresting! Now go ahead and use it in a sentence sugar plumb!


    • Lol, stresting. I know you do this because I’ve worked out with you! πŸ™‚ I dunno, I’ve heard it both ways. I’ve heard stresting isn’t good for muscles between sets and it is. So I don’t do it. The only exception is hanging from a bar between chin ups… decompresses the spine and truly does improve performance, as long as my arms don’t get too tired.


  5. Hi there

    “or those pesky texts keep coming in”

    That astounded me: I can’t believe that people will exercise at the levels you describe and have their cell phone with them!

    Isn’t that kind of potential distraction hazardous?


    • Haha, well, when you have 60 seconds to kill 10 or 12 times, you get into habits. I love tweeting during my workouts because that’s when I think of “tips” lol. But it can be a bad habit if you aren’t also timing your rests!


  6. I suck at resting with purpose, I need a PT to be there with me keeping me honest….and I can tell because I struggle to lift that next set. But after reading your full post I am thinking that the circuit/endurance style training may be a better match for me right now. With training for a marathon in May, I now only have 2 days for strength training…so a full body, circuit might be a better fit.


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