A common question among gym-goers is, “How much rest do I take in between sets?” And the answer is, “Well, that depends.”
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body’s primary energy resource for ANY muscle contraction, and there are three energy systems that produce ATP:
- ATP/PC (phosphocreatine): high power/short duration: 1-3 reps, 10 seconds of max effort
- Glycolytic: moderate power/moderate duration: 10 seconds - 2 minutes
- Oxidative: low power/long duration: 2 minutes or longer
Your body has a limited supply of ATP, and it must be replenished for work to continue. So the amount of rest taken in between sets dictates how much ATP/energy will be available to the muscles for the next set.
All three of these systems contribute to the energy needs of the body - they do not work independently of each other. The duration and the intensity of the activity will dictate which will be the dominant system.
WHAT’S THE RESEARCH SHOW?
The rest period affects both the acute response and chronic adaptation to resistance training. A recent meta-analysis of 35 different studies concluded the following:
“In terms of acute responses, 3-5 minutes' rest between sets allowed for greater repetitions over multiple sets. Furthermore, in terms of chronic adaptations, resting 3-5 minutes between sets produced greater increases in absolute strength, due to higher intensities and volumes of training.
When the training goal is muscular hypertrophy, the combination of moderate-intensity sets with short rest intervals of 30-60 seconds might be most effective due to greater acute levels of growth hormone during such workouts.”
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
How much rest you need depends on several factors, but the most important one is YOUR PRIMARY TRAINING GOAL.
If you want to become STRONGER, you’re going to lift at a higher intensity (heavier weights, fewer reps) and you’re going to need longer rest periods - no less than 3 minutes of rest in between sets.
If your goal is to ADD SIZE (muscle hypertrophy), you’ll want shorter rest periods - like 60 seconds or less - and you’ll be lifting a moderate amount of weight and doing more reps.
So the million-dollar question is: WHAT DO YOU WANT?!