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cat rest between sets and workouts

We all know we need some rest between workouts, but just how much rest do you need? Do you need rest between sets? And do you need rest days?


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 520 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


I will address rest in between sets but before we get to that, recovery time between workouts is vital to experiencing gains of any kind.

Rest Between Workouts

One of the biggest reasons that rest (or off-days) from workouts is important is because this time between workouts allows your muscles to repair themselves. This is important for not only injury prevention, but for optimal muscle growth, too.

For those of you who are crazy active, be sure to get in at least 1 rest day each week. The term “rest day” doesn’t mean you’re sitting on the couch; your rest day could mean going for a walk instead of doing your usual routine. For others, it may mean completely resting your body… it just depends. If you’re just getting into an exercise program and are starting to perform resistance training, it may best to allow 2 days of recovery before your next weight training session.

Now for rest in between sets during your workout…

Should You Allow Some Rest Time Between Sets of Exercises?

Not necessarily. In fact, a way I like to mix things up at the gym is to change the rest period. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a 2-3 minute rest be taken between sets of exercises.

Let’s say you just performed 8 repetitions of bicep curls. After those 8 reps, the recommendation is to rest for 2-3 minutes before doing another 8 repetitions or moving on to the next exercise.

But this recommendation is just a guideline and a great place to start for newbies. As you get more and more comfortable with your resistance training, you may be able to mess with that rest period a bit.

Cut Back Your Rest Periods

Let’s say you’re comfortable performing bicep curls. You like performing 8 reps and aren’t interested in changing the weight. Maybe you feel like adding more weight will mess with your form; but you still want to make progress. One thing you can do is shorten your rest period. Instead of waiting 2 minutes in between sets of bicep curls, you only rest for 1 minute and then jump back in. By doing this, you’re actually increasing the intensity of your workout, which is a great way to force your body to adapt in a new way (which is a really good thing).

I don’t recommend everyone cut back on their rest periods between sets. This is because when you cut back on your rest period, your form can suffer. You’re going to be more fatigued because you’re not allowing your muscles to recover for as long. Whether you’re new to strength training or have been at it for a while, maintaining proper form is so important for injury prevention.

Also, don’t be surprised if you find yourself fatigued really fast. You may find that you normally spend 45 minutes at the gym when you rest for 2-3 minute between sets. But when you cut that down to 1 minute rest periods, you may be done in half the time or less.

Don’t be surprised if you’re drenched in sweat, too! By limiting the rest time, your going to keep your heart rate up, so it becomes a cardio workout, too.

Change Up Your Rest Periods

You can get really creative with rest periods. You can shorten your rest between sets so that they last only 5 seconds before jumping back in, or maybe 30 seconds, or 27 seconds… you get the idea.

I should also mention that it’s a good idea to continue to mix up your rest periods–after playing around with say, a 30 second rest period for 2 or 3 weeks, go back to a 2-3 minute rest period. You’ll find that it force your body to adapt once again.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 520 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.