How Long Should I Rest Between Sets?

It is common to not quite understand how long you should be resting in between sets at the gym.

Should you go as fast as you can? Wait until you’re completely re-charged? Well, it depends.

Your goals will determine how long you should be resting in between sets.

Lifting heavier weights will require a longer rest time to recover from both muscular and neural fatigue. However, if you are simply trying to get your heart rate up and sweat through some lighter sets, less rest time is needed.

Well, which is better…?

Often, people think more work is better. If they can finish their sets in as little time as possible, that must be best, because it feels like they’re working harder. However, this is not always true! If form is suffering, or if fatigue is keeping you from performing quality sets, you are trying to move too fast.


Things to remember:

  1. Aim for QUALITY over QUANTITY. Doing something well is much more important and safer than rushing through a bunch of mediocre sets.
  2. You may not even realize you are fatigued until your sets suffer. You may not realize your muscles are actually tired until you start performing movements incorrectly. This is what can lead to injuries. Even if you don’t FEEL tired after a heavy set, take rest anyways.
  3. Being social in the gym is great, it is what keeps us motivated. However, sometimes this can lead to us not paying attention to how our bodies feel, or how our lifts look. Try to keep an eye on the clock even when chatting with a gym buddy on your rest time.
  4. Mix it up! It is important to switch things up. Take note of programming. If you are doing heavier lifts, or fewer reps per set, give yourself some extra rest (2-4 minutes). If you notice more accessory-based work, or higher rep ranges, try to keep your heart rate up and not take too long between sets (30 seconds-1 minute).
  5. Listen to your body. Try to check in with how you feel and where you are feeling certain movements throughout your workout.


What if I need to rest during conditioning?

Rest time during a higher intensity, conditioning workout can be a tough thing to manage. If you notice your form starting to break down, or you feel like you’re going to be sick, that is not safe or smart to continue pushing your body through.

  • Try to stop and give yourself 3 deep, slow breaths and see if you feel ready to continue.
  • Try to slow down your pace for a short amount of time, then pick the pace back up.

You want to challenge your body, but you also want to think long-term. What is best for your body? If something feels wrong, it probably means you need to pull back a little bit. Ask your coaches if you feel unsure about a movement pattern. They are there to help you reach your goals!


Vanessa Kiriakou