How long should I rest between sets when I workout?

This question is usually answered by ‘it depends on who you’re ¬†chatting to in the gym’. Traditionally people will go for somewhere in the region of 1-2 minutes, although over the years I have noticed that people can be particularly keen to get on with it and leave less than a minute.

Bodybuilding tradition would suggest enough rest between sets to feel that you have fully recovered so that you can train as hard, and lift as much as you can on the next set. So perhaps closer to 3 minutes.

However, a new piece of research by McKendry et al (1) may change all that. Their work matched young men resting for either 1 minute or 5 minutes between sets.

Afterwards they looked at the effect on muscle protein synthesis, effectively how well the training had made their body react to grow new muscle, and found that there was a significant difference in favour of the 5 minute rest group.

In a brief conversation with one of the co authors, the theory for the moment is that perhaps the shorter rest of 1 minute is so short that the body considers it to be part of the same set, or stimulus. Using a longer gap makes the body think that the stimulus is happening twice and creates a greater need to adapt.

So where does that leave us as gym goers and personal trainers. Well, first up, plenty of time to flex and pose between sets, the traditional method. Nowadays it give you plenty of time to get into the right positioning with the lighting to take great pictures to put all over Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, although you may need to add fake sweat now with the longer rest period.

You could try working out in a group, take it in turns to do the exercise while the others wait, and in the mean time discuss the topics of the day, whether the intricacies of the Barclays Premier League title race, the Six nations rugby or the current political state of the USA, what ever floats your Boaty McBoatface.

  1. doi:1113/EP085647.