Home Lifestyle Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Rest up

Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Rest up

From newbies to experienced gym goers all seem to grapple with one question – how much rest should be taken between sets of an exercise. In fact, the rest period between sets is a key variable for changing the density and intensity of a training program. Before we get into how much rest is to be taken, let us define some common terms which trainees run into and are often confused about.

Training density

This is related to the amount of work done in a specified period of time. Thus, density is connected to volume – which is the total number of sets and repetitions in a workout and duration – which is the length of the workout. Higher the number of sets and repetitions in a given time, higher the density.

Training intensity

Intensity has two meanings for the gym goer. How heavy are you lifting as well as how much effort is being used – going to failure on each set is considered a form of High Intensity training. In this form of training, as long as each set is a gut busting, nausea creating effort, going heavy or light has no real meaning. CrossFit workout of the day or WOD tend to be very high intensity, though the lifter might not be lifting a lot of weight.

Rest periods of 30 seconds or less was prescribed for improving cardio vascular conditioning through circuit training (Shutterstock)
Rest periods of 30 seconds or less was prescribed for improving cardio vascular conditioning through circuit training (Shutterstock)

Inter set rest

Traditionally speaking, trainees looking to maximize muscle growth were advised to keep the rest periods between 1-2 minutes while power lifters or those wanting to emphasize strength were told to rest 3-5 minutes. Rest periods of 30 seconds or less was prescribed for improving cardio vascular conditioning through circuit training. Recent research by Brad Schoenfeld PhD shows that rest periods of 2-3 minutes is ideal for gaining muscle strength as well as size/hypertrophy. Though Brad Schoenfeld being a scientist, does not like to make absolute statements.

But it is pretty evident from the research that longer rest periods are better as more weight can be lifted and hence lot more muscle fibers are loaded and fatigued which would lead to muscle size growth over time. In fact, you could be short changing yourself by resting too little between rests.

Increasing the rest period has a down side – the time spent in the gym for the workout can increase. Gym goers who have a life outside the gym, may find that their workout taking too long. There is a way around this – pairing two exercises or two distant body parts can cut down on the duration of the workout while keeping the rest long enough. This increases the density of the workout while also increasing muscle strength.

Putting it together

A guide to increasing inter set rest while keeping the duration of the workout same or slightly decreasing it.

•Pair Compound multi joint exercise with an isolation exercise

1a) Squats rest 60-90 seconds

1b) Lateral Raises rest 60-90 seconds


•Pair large muscle with smaller muscle:

1a Dumbbell Chest Press rest 60-90 seconds

1 b Calf Raise rest 60-90 seconds


•Increase the rest period for your bigger or multi-joint exercises while decreasing or maintaining the rest period for the smaller or isolation exercises. Multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press etc. will benefit from increased inter set rest while single joint exercises like chest flyes, lateral raises do not need extended inter set rest.

I hope this column has finally answered the eternal question of how much rest to be taken between sets. More rest equals more growth. But this should not degenerate into the other extreme – trainees socializing or updating their social media accounts. Too much time between rests might mean that you need to warm up again and that is a situation you do not want to be in! Now go and do it.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, August 8, 2021

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