How long should you be resting between sets to build new muscle? Well, it depends based on other factors in your workouts.
Let’s take a look:
Studies on rest between sets for muscle gain:
- 2005 study: 6 months of training, no difference between waiting 2-minutes and 5-minutes. (but those doing 2-minute rest did one more set.)
- 2009 study: 10 weeks of training, 2.5 minutes of rest gave slightly more growth than 1-minute rest.
- 2014 study: 3 sets of 10 reps with 90 seconds rest versus seven groups of 3 reps with a 3-minute rest: same muscle size growth, but more strength (obviously) in the heavier, longer-rest lifting program.
In a 2009 review on the topic, authors wrote:
“When the training goal is muscular [size] hypertrophy, the combination of moderate-intensity sets with short rest intervals of 30-60 seconds might be most effective due to greater acute levels of growth hormone during such workouts.”
“Resting 3-5 minutes between sets produced greater increases in absolute strength due to higher intensities and volumes of training. Similarly, higher levels of muscular power were demonstrated over multiple sets with 3 or 5 minutes versus 1 minute of rest between sets.”
So resting longer will allow you to lift a heavier weight, allowing you to get stronger.
Resting for a shorter period will allow you to fit in more volume, allowing you to get bigger through more total work and time under tension.
You might be able to get a “best of both worlds” effect by doing for something in between both extremes, like 2 minutes between each sets.
Old bodybuilders like Steve Reeves advocated resting 2-3 minutes between sets for a good blend of muscle strength and size.
Keep in mind that our body adapts to what we do and becomes better at it. So if you’ve been doing low rep lifts with a lot of rest, your body might be weak at doing lighter weight, high-volume work with little rest. That means there could be a huge opportunity there to grow and adapt.
On the flip side, if you’ve been doing light weights with a short rest for a while, your body may want to do some heavier lifting with some longer rest periods to get better at learning how to use your muscles for maximum strength.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with using both short and long rest between sets. Pay attention to your results and see what works best for you.