Physiqonomics Weekly #65: How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

21 October 2021 | by Aadam


It’s time for another instalment of Physiqonomics Weekly.


No Aadam Answers segment today as the Tidbit ended up longer than anticipated. But if you want to ask me a question for a future instalment of PW––you can click the blue button below and leave your questions in the form.


How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?

The importance of taking adequate rests between sets (and between exercises) can’t be understated. Yet, one of the questions I get from people doing my programs is “why are the rest periods so long?”

Here’s why: Resting enough between sets allows your body to clear out waste and replenish ATP (which is needed for muscular contractions).

Additionally, taking enough rest between sets of an exercise allows for more reps to be completed (Willardson & Burkett. 2006) and maintains training intensity and volume Willardson & Burkett. 2008).

A recent study by Longo et al. (2020) found muscle growth was lower when resting 1 min between sets versus 3 mins. But when training volume was equated between groups, the difference disappeared, suggesting that shorter rest periods impaired performance and the short-rest period group had to perform more sets to match training volume.

And the research as a whole tends to favour longer rest periods for muscle and strength gains. (Henselmans & Schoenfeld 2014; Schoenfeld et al. 2016; Grgic et al. 2017).

It’s worth mentioning that longer rest periods seem to be more important for multi-joint “compound” movements, while you could probably get away with shorter rest periods for single-joint “isolation” movements. As one paper notes: (Senna et al. 2017)

Rest intervals of 2 minutes between sets are sufficient for the MCF (machine chest fly) and 3 to 5-minutes for the BP (bench press). Thus, it appears that longer acute recovery time is needed for a multi-joint (core) exercise like the BP versus a single-joint (assistance) exercise like the MCF.

Logically, this makes sense. Exercises that work multiple muscle groups are more taxing overall, and thus require a longer rest interval so you’re adequately recovered for your next set. Additionally, performing a high-risk movement in a fatigued state increases the risk of injury compared to a lower-risk movement (e.g., the back squat versus the leg extension).

Do women need less rest?

There’s some evidence to suggest that women are more “fatigue-resistant” than men, and they may not require as much rest.

A 2012 study by Ratamess et al. found that women were able to complete more reps on the barbell bench press than men after a 1-minute rest interval. The women completed 10, 9, and 8 reps across three sets, while the men were only able to complete 10, 7, and 4 reps.

While women may not need as much rest as men, too short a rest period can still negatively affect performance.

In one study, eighteen females were split into one of two groups: One group rested 20-seconds between sets, while the second group rested 80-seconds between sets. The 80-second rest group had better strength improvements than the group that rested only 20-seconds. (Hill-Haas et al. 2007)

This doesn’t mean that women should only rest 80-seconds between sets. How much rest women need to take compared to men is hard to say as there isn’t any research that’s looked at this directly. As such, to keep things simple, women should aim to rest as per my recommendations below.

But, can’t you just rest “intuitively”?

You can. At least if you’re an experienced trainee. (Ibbott et al. 2019)

My only contention with “intuitive” rest is that how you “feel” isn’t always the best way to gauge whether or not your body is ready for the next set.

A 2013 paper (Goessler & Polito), for instance, found when participants were allowed to “self-select” the rest period, they rested on average 155 seconds (or 2.5 minutes). Depending on the exercise, this may be too little or too much rest.

Considering this, using “guided” rest periods is a better starting point for most people. And as you gain more experience, resting “intuitively” can be an option.

One final point: Manipulating rest periods can be used as a way to increase the intensity of a set, and as a form of progression. In the first block of programming, you might rest anywhere between 1-3 mins between sets. Then in the second block of programming, you might rest between 45 seconds to 2 mins between sets (depending on the exercise). In this scenario, there’s a specific purpose behind the rest periods, and sticking to them is an important component of the program.

So…how long should I rest then?

As a general rule, my recommendations for rest intervals are as follows:

  • 2-3 minute rest between multi-joint compound movements (up to 5 mins for really heavy/taxing exercises like squats and deadlifts, especially when performing lower reps with heavier weights)
  • 1-2 minute rest between single-joint accessory movements

(Share on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, or Email)



PLTNM gives you access to 90+ training programs (that you can do at home or in the gym), 170+ recipes (including plant-based options), a progress tracker, in-depth form tutorials, specialist guides, a monthly research review, and more. Try PLTNM for free and see for yourself.

Start your free trial


– Cardio or Weights: What’s Better for Fat Loss?

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy my weekly emails, please consider telling others.

A lot of time and effort goes into writing these weekly emails to make them as helpful as possible for you.

If you enjoy and find value in them, it would mean a lot to me if you could let others know about Physiqonomics Weekly. It helps Physiqonomics grow and keeps me motivated to continue writing the content you love.

You can share this week’s issue on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, or Email.


Enjoyed this?

You just read an email from my weekly fitness newsletter, the Vitamin. Every Thursday I drop some knowledge bombs on your face to help you reach your goals quicker while avoiding all the bullshit.

Get the next issue in your inbox by dropping your name and email address below–

No spam. Ever. Unsubscribe at any time.