Understanding rest periods between sets

I’m just over 5 weeks out from the OPA Provincials at the Toronto Pro SuperShow, which means my workouts are pretty intense. On top of weight training 6 days a week, I complete 35 minutes of high intensity cardio post workout, and another 35 minutes of steady state cardio later on in the day. My workouts consist of a mixture of both high rep circuits, and high set/lower rep lifting.

Beyond concentrating on proper lifting technique and focusing on each muscle contraction, is the importance of rest periods between sets.

Rest periods are an often overlooked necessity to a successful strength training program. The length of time you pause between sets depends on your training goals and fitness level.

High Intensity/Short Duration Athletes

Weightlifters, powerlifters, sprinters, football players, etc. – I’m talking about you.

Your rest period for maximum performance is in the 3 to 5 minute range. The long time period allows for complete muscle recovery, which allows you to produce the greatest muscular force possible for each set, which in turn produces the greatest strength gains. Research shows that this long rest period, when combined with heavy lifting, produces greater testosterone levels in experienced athletes: higher testosterone = greater strength gains.

Hypertrophy and Endurance Athletes

This applies to athletes training for physique and muscular size – bodybuilders, figure competitors, wrestlers, soccer players, long-sprinters (running, cycling, swimming).

If you fit into this category, your rest period should fall between 30 to 60 seconds. Basically, you’re spending the same amount of time at rest as you are at work. This type of rest interval creates high lactate levels in exercising muscles, forcing your body adapt and improve its ability to work at near maximal contractions over a given time period.  This type of training has also been found to increase human growth hormone levels, when compared to longer rest periods.

Not for Everyone

Now, don’t go running over to your gym and changing your entire outlook on work/rest ratio. Beginners or athletes coming back from injury need more rest between sets than primed athletes. Take your time and build up to shorter rest periods for optimal training results.

As you can see, different rest periods can produce different results. It’s up to you to figure out which approach works best for your needs.


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