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Rest Between Sets For Strength Gains

Are Your Rest Intervals Adequate For Optimising Your Strength Gains?

Posted by TimeIsMuscle - October 14th, 2015

I find this is a topic that isn’t talked about enough, and for me it should be at the forefront of anybody’s strength training programme. The methodology behind strength training contradicts the “Hypertrophy” philosophy which is built on high volume and high frequency. What needs to be understood here is the impact that rest intervals can have on your training and your ability to optimise your strength gains.

Are Your Rest Intervals Adequate?

To get stronger and faster, the best rest period is 3 to 5 minutes between sets. I personally apply the 3-5 minutes notion of rest time between sets when doing 5x5 strength training. This rest period, I find, allows me to perform heavier repetitions over multiple sets. Furthermore, over-time I have found this structure has helped me increase the frequency of my strength-based workouts, and has helped me produce even greater increases in strength.

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Why Do I Have To Rest For So Long? (The Science Behind The Theory)

The majority of your body’s energy is consumed very quickly when you're using the 1-6 rep range and heavy weights. This energy source I am referring to comes from the Adenosine Triphosphate Phosphocreatine system, otherwise known as “ATP”. Limited amounts of this energy source can be found intramuscularly (inside the muscles). When our muscles engage these storages through high intensity strength-based training, we often deplete our energy storages extremely fast.

More specifically, high energy phosphates are used as an energy source to produce our maximum output. For example, a one rep max. Therefore, if you don't allow your body to have sufficient rest between sets, you will no doubt fail in your attempt to make some strength gains.

How Much Weight Should I Be Lifting?

When applying the methodology behind strength training, you should be aiming to lift between 80-90% of your 1 rep max and apply a rep range of anything between 4-6 over 3-5 sets. Some people adopt the 5x3 principle (5 reps for 3 sets) and others like myself adopt the 5x5 principle (5 reps for 5 sets). Whichever principle you choose to follow, the same duration of 3-5minute rest intervals will apply.

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Getting enough rest and allowing your body to recover between sets is as important as consuming the right pre-workout nutrients to help produce the energy that enables you to perform optimally. Both are essential factors in anyone’s pursuit to increasing strength. You cannot do one without the other. Therefore, if your rest intervals are insufficient, you will burn-out very fast, and you’ll find yourself scratching your head wondering why you cannot overcome those strength plateaus.

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Problem with long restperiods in the generic gym is, that we deal there with mostly hobby'ist gym goers that work on their looks and rather workout or exercise but do not 'train'. Thusly you will be starred at, or get to hear some bro' science about why it is wrong to rest that long. For someone chasing after some hypertrophy results it is not understandable of course, and many of them are stuck to their usual amount of weight which they do since years and try to amp up frequently a bit or don't care when they are stuck with an amount of weight that "looks" big enough in the gym to not look like a weak wussy. And that's fine too - If that suits their goals (and as long as they leave us alone with their bro'science ^^). But if one is serious about increasing their strength, then strength training rules apply and with those come longer restperiods. It's as simple as that. If you ever had the luck to train in a sportsclub gym of olympic lifters or powerlifters.. you won't hear any word about your restperiods.. and as good old Rippetoe already said.. "you lift when you are ready again" meaning when you don't feel any depletion or fatigue anymore from the set before, even if it was a 1 rep. And even bodybuilders or hobbyist-body-shapers (i just love to make up words for them ^^) should always include strength phases  in their training to increase the amount of load they can handle in their upcoming hypertrophy phases. 

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

@crood couldn't have said it better myself! :)


30 seconds between sets is good enough for me most of the time. When going really heavy 60 sec. 

Brolle81  Edit  Delete  Close

Only thing I can lift double my bodyweight is on Squats and there I have up to a minute rest period but then again those weights are 1RM and usually the finisher.. I am often doing superset training to maximize my tight training time running 2-4 exercise 6-10 reps each and then rest 30-50 secs before hitting it again. But also when I do those I lift perhaps 60-70% of my 1 RM at most. Otherwise I would be forced to take of weight every set. 

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

Rest times vary depending on the differnet types of training you do. If its hypertrophy then you need no more than 45 seconds maxmium between sets. However if your lifting heavy (and when I say heavy I am talking double your body weight or more) you'll benefit more from resting...anything from 2.5 minutes to 5 minutes between sets.


I don't have time to rest sufficiently when strenght training as I am often restricted with regards to time :-(

crood  Edit  Delete  Close

What works for me is to cut out all the unneeded accesory /isolation crap in the strength phases. If i lift at my limits i don't have any energy left for that stuff anyways and it would also just interfer and take out much needed energy for the heavy lifts. Thusly at those phases i go into the gym to do 2-3 heavy exercises, and then go home, or do a some conditioning HIIT or some slow cardio and then go home.  So the session takes all together only the same time as a trainings unit in a high volume / hypertrophy phase would do. And you can be done in as little as 40 minutes. I think it's just often hard for many to let go of all the accessory and hypertrophy work and really just go into the gym to concentrate on strength gains, due to the fear of loosing their shredness and muscle volume if they don't participate in the "volume grind" for a while =)

TimeIsMuscle  Edit  Delete  Close

@nilsfearsons you can make the time if you carefully reconstruct your priorities when you step into the weight room. For example; doing an upper body and lower body split will enable you to focus on "Bench press in one session and Squats in another". Hope this helps Bro!


Resting is often overlooked and definitely needs to be incorporated into a workout if you are going for strength gains.  Good article!


Definitely need to be resting more in between sets when focusing on strength.


Need to be resting in between sets!


A wise, fat powerlifter once said, "Anything over five reps is cardio." hahahaha

Bryce Lewis does an excellent job of back up your point about the importance of volume and the strength benefits of choosing something like 10 sets of 3 rather than 3 sets of 10

crood  Edit  Delete  Close

haha so true XD. And yeah each aspect of the muscle (strength versus hypertrophy) requires it's own techniques to get the most out of it. 


Great article! Rest periods are something commenly neglected!


Awesome.  Yeah, rest period length is really not a concern for strength. People wanna superset, dropset and crank out reps in as little time as possible, but it's ultimately about the amount of volume.


Excellent article man! You need to rest in between workouts so that it give your muscle time to grow, prepares you for the next sets and reps.