Bodybuilding: How much should I rest between sets?

One of the most asked questions when it comes to lifting has always been:

“How long should I rest between my sets?”

Conventional bodybuilding wisdow, which is a special kind of stupidity you find in specialized muscle magazines, says that 1-1,5 minutes rest periods are optimal for hypertrophy training.

Then, the ghost writer usually talks about how professional bodybuilder X used to rest a specific amount of time and “he was huge“, and therefore we should listen and repeat. As always, they forget to tell you that the actual secret to growth of professional bodybuilders have always been the muscle elixirs. Rest periods between sets have never been the driving force behind muscular growth. Never. Never.

Resting only 1-2 minutes between sets unless you are doing some sort of circuits or assistance exercise seems like too little. Any weight that’s remotely heavy will require you to rest at least 3 minutes, which in my eyes is the actual “bodybuilding” rest period, if such thing was to exist.

3 minutes is a pretty short period when you think about it, but it’s long enough to allow you to lift heavier weights and prepare mentally for what’s about to come. When you are resting only 1 minute, you can’t possibly lift anything heavy for multiple sets. Thus, you are building endurance with a lighter load. When it comes to the big lifts, 1 minute just doesn’t work. Just assuming proper position before a big lift may require more than one minute.

Don’t be afraid to rest a little longer. 

Mainstream bodybuilding propaganda still has a negative effect over the minds of many. People think that if they were to rest a minute more than what bodybuilding broscience says, their “gains” will disappear. That’s not true, because what matters the most is how much quality work you are actually doing during your workout. By quality work I mean attempts which were performed with good form and forced you to push harder. In the end, that’s what’s going to drive progress. If you need a few minutes more, take them.

Resting too much

In the experience the maximum amount of rest which makes sense is about 15 minutes. Everything after is saved only for professional powerlifters and weightlifters and it’s hard to pull off. After 15 minutes you are simply getting cold.

Back in the day, I used to be a skateboarder and I noticed an interesting phenomenon. When you skate for some decent amount of time like 1-2 hours and then rest for about 30-40 minutes, you just feel cold and your knees lose flexibility and become stiff. Thus, I would try to skate for as long as possible with little rest to avoid this stiffness.

The longest I have ever needed to rest between sets was about 15 minutes back when I was squatting heavy (for me). I would do a set of 5, rest 15 minutes and try to repeat it. It worked for a little while but it was not a smart thing to do. This is also how I learned that sets across are not for me.

Below is a simple guideline that I came up with over the years:

Assistance exercises (usually done for high reps) – 1-5 minutes of rest;

Conditioning work – 1-2 minutes of rest;

Heavy barbell lifts – 5-10 minutes of rest prior to the top heavy set;

Isometric holds (front lever…etc) – 1-5 minutes of rest;

Skill work (depends on the nature of the movement; If strength related – 3-10 minutes of rest may be needed. If not strength related, you can simply go by feel.)

Hypertrophy – I have never experienced this phenomenon in my life, but 3 minutes of rest seem like a balanced number. You will be using a relatively heavy weight, while still taxing your endurance and digging into that protein pool. But, to be honest, I have no idea what’s the “ultimate resting period” for hypertrophy work.

P.S. Half of this post was written before a top set of weighted dips.

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