How long to rest between sets to build muscle

By Marwan / July 9, 2014

One of the issues that I faced when I ventured out into the bodybuilding world was how long to rest between sets in order to build muscle.  Nearly everyone I asked in the gym used to tell me 1 minute!! I thought this was strange since it isn’t all cut and dry.  Why 1 minute? Why not 2 minutes or one and a half minute? And by the way that is not how you build muscle I can assure you! Yes it is one way but not the ONLY way.

It is not a subject that you would see in many magazines or you would hear many people talk about it as it is not considered important.

And when I digged deeper surprise surprise the answer is not as simple as “rest one minute”

These kind of answers are what I call “broscience” lol!!! For those who don’t know I will go for the polite version, basically guys who are clueless and just spout whatever they hear without knowing how it works.

For now we will talk about the rest periods and maybe I will do an article about broscience in the future.

OK so the length of rest will be determined on factors such as…

  • Number of reps – high number of reps usually means less rest as you are usually using lower loads
  • Load or weight used – the higher the load the more you would need to rest and the lower the load the shorter the rest periods, you will see why shortly
  • Training age – the length of time that a person has been training for.  Somebody with 4 or 5 years training behind them will need to rest less
  • Proportion of muscle mass – The more muscle mass the person has the more you need to rest.  I am not talking about an average individual. Someone who weighs 100KG will take longer to recover than somebody who weighs 60KG.  I am talking about guys with muscle mass by the way.
  • Level of aerobic fitness – the fitter you are the less rest you would need.  Guys who are cardio dominant, basically the ones who do triathlons, running etc… will find 3 minutes rest as an example too long and will want to jump  back into the weights.  The higher the aerobic fitness of the individual the less rest they will require.


Those guys want to keep their heart rate up so effectively turning it into a cardio workout.  Most of these guys are skinny with little muscle mass.  That is not how you build muscle guys, this isn’t endurance you need to take a rest and recover.  Again if you bear with me I will explain why.

Your central nervous system takes longer to recover than your muscular system.  Research shows that it can take up to 5-6 times longer.

The nervous system is connected to your muscular system.  When you are working with less rest periods you are in effect working your metabolic system which generated ATP (AdenosineTriPhosphate).

When we are working out with weights we are strength training the metabolic source of energy which again is ATP or AdenosineTriPhosphate.

The chart below will help you to determine your rest periods.

After 30 seconds rest ———>>>  You recover 50% of your ATP stores

After 60 seconds rest ——–>>> You recover 75 %

After 90 seconds rest  ——>>> You recover 87 %

After 120 seconds rest —–>>> You recover 93%

After 3 minutes rest –>>>>> You recover 98.3%

So guys here is a tip, when you’ve got rest periods built into your programme, do me a favour and stick to them.  Don’t forget yourself and go to chat to your buddy or stare at some hot chicks butt!! Buy a stopwatch and set your timer for the rest period that you are set.  And no guys, no iphones please in the gym that won’t help you stick to your rest periods!! I am talking from experience here believe me!

You might find after 3 sets you can do more weight than the first set and you think holy cow I am strong!! Well duh… of course man, you’ve just allowed your ATP stores to recover completely which might be completely against what you are trying to achieve out of the programme!!

So how do we determine how much rest we need for each programme? Well as we know we have 4 strength training variables or phases that we can train, they are in no particular order Strength, Functional Hypertrophy, Hypertrophy and Endrurance.

Training Phase                                                                                  Rest Periods

Strength3-10 minutes rest
Functional Hypertrophy90 seconds – 3 minutes rest
Hypertrophy30-90 seconds
Endurance30 seconds or less

The above points apply differently to different sports but since we are talking about muscle building I will refer to this subject in the definitions below.

Strength – when you are training to get stronger in the low rep ranges which strengthens the muscle fibres so when you train in the higher rep ranges you should be able to lift bigger weights than not training in this phase.

Functional Hypertrophy – muscle growth that is strategic so that it grows the muscles in a way that will aid physical performance

Hypertrophy – the growth of muscle fibres due to them getting bigger as a result of strength training

Endurance – Training your type 1 muscle fibres to allow you to last longer in a set before tiring out.

We talked in a previous article about the how many reps it takes to build muscle you can check it out here        

So to wrap up guys the more reps you do the lower the rest periods are likely to be, the lower the reps the higher the rest periods will be as you are drifting into the strength phase.  Remember rest is inversely related to reps.  Your work to rest ratio should be around 1:5.

And there you have it guys, I hope you have now learned how long to rest between sets to build muscles!

About the author


Hi, my name is Marwan and I set up this site to help skinny guys and girls just like you to end their frustrations and have the body of their dreams. I believe there are no limitations to what mankind can achieve.