How much rest you get between weights training sets is very important as it has a significant effect on the results you get from your training program. Too short a rest between sets and you wont recover in time for the next set; too much rest is not necessary you'll be at the gym all day long!
What does the research suggest for rest between sets? A University of Kansas study examined the effects of three different rest period lengths on subsequent set performance. Twenty-eight recreational weight trainers participated in this study.
Subjects performed one set of bench press at 75 per cent of their predetermined 1RM to volitional exhaustion. After a randomly assigned rest period of 1 minute, 3 minutes, or 5 minutes, subjects performed another set of bench press at the same percentage of 1RM, to volitional exhaustion.
Results showed significantly fewer repetitions for the second set with all three rest intervals. In addition, the total work performed during the second set was significantly less with the 1 minute rest interval than it was with the 3 minute and 5 minute rest intervals. While all of the second sets of weights produced fewer repetitions, after both the 3 minute and 5 minute rest intervals, subjects were able to perform between 8 to 12 repetitions. Subjects were only able to perform 4 to 6 repetitions on the second set after only a 1 minute rest.
It looks like a 1 minute rest is too short for a good second set, while 5 minutes doesnt give you much more help than 3 minutes. As such, a 3 minute rest period will be appropriate for most people, and allow them to get a good second set when weights training.
Note that the researchers point out that the population used for this study was recreational weight trainers. Other studies that have used highly trained weightlifters and bodybuilders have suggested that rest periods of one minute is adequate for full recovery between sets. So if you are an experienced weights trainer you might aim for a 2 minute rest between sets, whereas beginners should aim for the full 3 minutes rest.
As the authors point out, rest intervals will depend on training goals. If the goal is to maintain the same number of repetitions in each set, then the rest interval may need to be longer than five minutes. But if the goal is 8 to 12 repetitions, 3 to 5 minutes rest should be adequate.
Source: NSCA and Richmond SR, Godard MP. (2004). The effects of varied rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(4):846 - 849.
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