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Top Tips for Resting Between Exercise Sets

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Resting during exercise and recovery are often an overlooked part of muscle training, however it is an important factor in your exercise program. There has been extensive research in how long you should wait between starting your next exercise set, with different theories providing an array of figures and times that you should rest. Some schools of thought suggest as little as 30 seconds or as much as 5 minutes whereas rest duration can change depending on the goals of your exercise and what type of exercise you are participating in. In this blog post, the examples used will be of high level athletes but your therapist can tailor this to suit you.

For athletes who are training for high intensity exercises which will be for a short duration (e.g. weightlifters and sprinters) it is advised to use a 3-5 minute rest period between heavy sets. This allows a full recovery in order for the muscles to provide a greater force for the short duration of the set.

For longer exercises and athletes who participate in endurance events (i.e. long-distance runners, swimmers, cyclists and football players), it has been shown that optimal rest period is 30-60 seconds. Short rest periods have been shown to correlate highly with muscle growth and improve endurance and stamina by increasing the threshold of lactate in the exercised muscle.

As mentioned previously, these are figures researched to benefit high-level athletes. Unfortunately, there is no “one-size fits all” component to calculating rest duration. Individuals who are just beginning to train particular muscle groups would have to rest more than those who already have some development in the same muscles. Athletes who have had some deconditioning or extensive periods of detraining either from injury or otherwise should also increase amount of rest between sets.

A hard-and-fast rule for rest duration is: “Lower Reps, Heavier Weight, Longer Rest” or “Higher Reps, Lighter Weight, Shorter Rest”. Here is a brief guideline of some recommended rest periods before starting the next set of an exercise:

1 to 3 reps: Rest for 5 minutes
4 to 7 reps: Rest for 2-3 minutes
8 to 12 reps: Rest for 1-2 minutes
13+ reps: Rest for 1 minute

Try changing your rest time from normal to some of the above suggestions and let us know how you get on in the comments section below.