How Much Rest Between Sets for Muscle Growth

Christian Coulson
Updated: June 14, 2020
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Truth is, rest is important and overtraining is real, but how long should you rest between sets? Will you lose your gains if you rest for more than 1 minute? Is resting less than 1 minute basically cardio?

You may have a few questions when it comes to rest between sets, but don’t worry, I got you.

What Makes Muscles Grow?

Before getting into the good stuff, we gotta understand what makes muscles grow.

The main driver for muscle growth (hypertrophy) is progressive overload (1). Other studies (2) show that muscle damage and metabolic fatigue can also promote muscle growth.

What is Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is the gradual increase in volume – sets x reps x load – over the course of many workouts.

You’re basically increasing volume and letting your body adapt to that stimulus.

Your body will continue to adapt to the new stimulus you give it over time as you keep gradually increasing volume.

For example, if you squat 135 lb you’re body will eventually adapt to that stimulus and you’ll have to increase volume to continue to grow.

Got that? Awesome, let’s talk rest periods.

What Happens When You Don’t Rest Enough?

  • You Risk Proper Recovery

Short rest times between sets will interfere with proper recovery.

As a result, you’ll have to lighten the weight or do fewer reps on consequent sets.

This will decrease overall volume, which will put progressive overload and muscle growth at risk.

Besides resting enough between sets, it’s also important that you warm up before your workouts to reduce the risk of injury.

  • Excessive Muscle Damage

Muscle damage must happen to a certain extent for muscles to grow.

However, excessive muscle damage will hamper muscle growth.

People often believe that causing muscle damage to the point where they’re sore after every workout is a good sign of progress. 

Luckily, this is not the case.

Studies (3, 4) have shown that excessive muscle damage isn’t necessary for muscle growth and will actually put it at risk.

Could you image how miserable life would be if we were always sore?

Hulk Meme - "That's my secret, captain. I'm always sore."

You won’t be able to train with the same intensity and increase volume if you’re still sore from previous workouts.

This will cause progressive overload and muscle growth to take a hit.

Keep in mind that certain types of cardio, such as HIIT, can also affect recovery.

Therefore, you should pay close attention to the type of cardio you do when trying to lose fat or build muscle.

What Happens When You Rest For Too Long?

Longer Workouts

Pretty sure spending 3-4 hours in the gym isn’t something many of us want, even the most hardcore gym bros and broettes.

Taking too much time between sets can make the workout needlessly long, which is not very time-efficient, especially if you have other things to do.

You Lose Intensity

The chances of you wandering off, starting to talk, or getting lost in your phone increase with longer rest periods. This can lead to you losing intensity.

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How Much Rest Between Sets?

Your rest period should allow you to recover enough between sets to effectively perform the following set and it should be time-efficient.

Here are some recommended guidelines:

  • For Compound Exercises: 3-5 minutes

Compound exercises are the ones that recruit more muscle groups, such as back squats, bench press, deadlifts, and barbell rows.

The more muscles the exercise recruits, the higher on the range you should be.

So you could rest 5 minutes for things like back squats and deadlifts and 3 minutes for bench press.

It also depends on how heavy you’re going.

For example, if you’re going heavy for 1 or 2 reps, you may want to rest longer than if you were doing higher reps with a lighter weight.

  • For Isolation Exercises: 1-2 minutes

Isolation exercises recruit fewer muscle groups, so they don’t require too much rest time. 1 to 2 minutes is usually a good range.

What If I Can’t Workout for Too Long?

If you’re pressed for time but still want to make sure you’re progressing, you could superset antagonist muscle groups.

Same Muscle Group Superset

A superset is when you perform one exercise right after the other with no rest in between.

Supersetting an exercise with another that works the same muscle group is a technique used to stimulate muscle growth by reaching metabolic fatigue.

However, doing this for every exercise can be detrimental.

As fatigue sets in, you will have to lighten the weight or do fewer reps on consequent exercises, which will decrease total volume and hinder progressive overload.

Antagonist Muscle Group Superset

A superset of antagonist muscle groups is when you do an exercise that trains a muscle group followed by an exercise that trains the opposing muscle group.

For example, a bench press followed by a barbell row or a bicep curl followed by a triceps extension.

  • Antagonist Muscle Group Superset: 1 minute

When you superset antagonist muscle groups, you give the first muscle group a few seconds of active rest while you perform the second exercise.

After you’re done with both exercises, you could rest for 1 minute.

This can help you maintain volume somewhat the same while keeping your workouts shorter.

I would, however, only use this technique if you’re pressed for time or just for a couple of exercises to increase the intensity, but not as the main source for driving progress.

To Summarize

Your priority should be to rest enough so that you can perform the next set effectively and finish your workout in a timely manner.

Some general recommendations are 3-5 minutes for compound exercises, 1-2 minutes for isolation exercises, and 1 minute for antagonist muscle group supersets.

I really hope you liked this article about how much you should rest between sets for muscle growth!

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