How long should you rest between sets for the best workout?

Not resting during your workout can have as negative of an impact as taking a breaking for too long. So, what’s the perfect amount of time to rest in between sets? 

Have you ever picked up your phone after finishing a set of squats to then realise that you’re 10 minutes late for your next set? Or perhaps you’re more familiar with the feeling of jumping straight back into the next round of burpees without adequate rest – which can lead to burning out mid-set. 

Perfecting your rest breaks during your workout is important, but tricky. You want to rest for long enough that your muscles recover and heart rate lowers, but not so much that your body feels like it’s starting from scratch on the next round. 

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“Your rest should be ample for you to recover and gather your energy, so that you’re able to perform your next set with the same number of reps at the same quality and intensity,” says Emma Obayuvana, personal trainer and strength coach from the Strong Women Collective. “But you need to avoid your heart rate dropping and your nervous system disengaging too much. We need to remain warm and connected to the movement.” 

How long should you rest between weight lifting sets?

When it comes to lifting weights, your rest break will depend on how heavy you’re lifting. If you are lifting for strength or power, meaning you lift heavy weights for one to five reps, you’ll need to rest for quite a long time. “Ideally, you’re looking at about two to five minutes of rest,” says Emma. “This is because you’re working with such a heavy load and being explosive with your body so you have a really high energy expenditure and need ample recovery. 

“Usually these are also quite technical lifts, so you need to give your nervous system time to recover from the demand you put on it and to recoup your concentration.”

At the other end of the scale, there’s endurance training, which is anything over 12 reps. “In this form of training we are using oxygen and training our lungs to increase aerobic fitness,” says Emma. “Rest should be shorter – around 30-60 seconds – because you don’t want your heart rate to drop too low,” says Emma. 

If you’re training to build muscle, aka ‘hypertrophy’, you’ll be working in the middle range of reps – around six to 12 reps per set. Rest breaks can be anywhere from 30-90 seconds, depending on when your muscles feel ready to jump back in. “This has to do with the amount of growth hormone that is released during sets, but it’s also a happy medium between power and endurance training,” explains Emma. 

How long you rest between sets will depend on your workout

How long should you rest between HIIT rounds?

Rest between HIIT sets will depend on a few things. In true HIIT, the rest is usually around half as long as the work. For example, if you did 30 seconds of burpees you would rest for 15 seconds. However, “it’s important to take your fitness level into consideration,” says Emma. “It might be too much for beginners to have really short rest breaks.”

“If you are repeating the same exercise, you need to take enough rest between sets. If you are completing a few exercises, you could do these back to back with no rest in between as you’ll be fatiguing different muscles. In this case, rest for longer – say 60 seconds – at the end of the circuit.”

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