How Much Rest Do You Really Need?

Something I find lifters tend to hyper-focus in on maybe a bit too much is rest times. As if the difference between taking a 2 minute rest and a 3 minute rest is the difference between their arms being 22 inch cannons vs. a pair of noodles.

Truth is it’s really not that deep. Sure you’ll see very EXACT rest times laid out for strength training, hypertrophy, endurance, etc., but nothing bad is going to happen if you go outside of these ranges or slightly tweak them to your liking.

At the end of the day rest times come down to two main factors. How much time you have available to spend in the gym, and how much time you need to feel ready for your next set. That being I understand people like knowing “appropriate rest times” so here’s some basic guidance for what those times look like for different styles of training.

1. Strength/Powerlifting

Powerlifting often get’s made fun for having incredibly long rest times, and with good reason. Beginner lifters can be surprised to find that advanced powerlifters may take anywhere between 5-7 minutes of rest between working sets of their heavier compound movements.

What you have to understand is, the rest IS warranted. These sets are often above 85% 1RM training intensity. The lifter not only needs to be fully recovered between sets, but also mentally recovered for their next attempt.

Now 5-7 minutes may be overshooting, and something you’ll only see from higher level athletes. A more practical recommendation for strength and powerlifting style training is around 3-5 minutes. Gauging off the fact that you should “feel ready” for your next effort, both physically and mentally.

2. Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy rest periods are most often the ones I see individuals get WRONG, and it’s not your fault. Unfortunately information continues to circulate that you should only take 30-60 seconds of rest for hypertrophy style training, from as high up as college level textbooks. This is a very narrow minded way to view hypertrophy training and thankfully being more regularly updated.

Extremely short rest periods CAN be utilized in a hypertrophy workout and still regularly is but only for small parts of the workout. A more modern recommendation for hypertrophy training is around 2-3 minutes of rest for the bigger more taxing training movements.

3. Endurance

Resistance training for endurance athletes is the only style of training where I’d say you SHOULD put some extra focus into it. Because you are emphasizing building muscle endurance you simply can’t give the muscles as much time to recover with an endurance training focus.

THIS is where you’ll see the common hypertrophy recommendation of 30-60 seconds come into play. Endurance training is all about putting a lot of reps down range (typically 15-20 reps), taking a brief rest, then doing it all over again. The only benefit here being you typically don’t have to deal with quite as much load.

4. General Fitness

What if you don’t consider yourself any of the above training disciplines? What if you just consider yourself someone who just goes to the gym?

Well, like I said in the beginning, everything is largely up to you. If you’ve got a lot of time to hang around in the gym your rest times can be longer. Only have 30 minutes to train? Cut your rest times down.

My recommendations for general heath and fitness clients is that same 3-5 minute strength recommendation for large compound movements like the squat, bench, and deadlifts, then cut it down to 2-3 minutes for smaller accessory exercises to save yourself some time in the gym.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.