How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Burn Fat, Build Muscle and Increase Strength?

Dave Barnas, MS, CES, CPT

Muscle science shows your rest time between sets depends on your goal.

Is your goal to burn fat, build muscle, or increase strength?*

Knowing your goal dictates the length of time you should rest between sets.  Here’s a breakdown based on science with pros and cons.

Goal 1: Burn Fat

The ideal rest time between sets of more than 12 reps is 30 seconds. With limited rest times, your heart rate remains elevated, which supports calorie and fat burning achievement.

Pro: A limited rest between sets burns more total calories and net fat calories than a workout with longer rests between sets.

Con: The short rest periods can compromise exercise technique, decrease focus, and increase risk for injury.

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Goal 2: Build Muscle

Ideal rest time between sets of 8 to 10 reps is about 1 to 2 minutes. This rest time allows ATP, the energy currency of the cell, to replenish about 90%.  A 90% replenishment of ATP supports a high intensity lift of heavier weight to build muscle.

Pro: A 1-2 minute rest allows exhausted muscle groups to recover so that you can perform high levels of strength training.

Con: After resting 1-2 minutes, the psychological momentum can subside as your body cools down, making it feel as though you’re starting over rather than continuing to build muscle.

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Goal 3: Increase Strength

Ideal rest time between sets of 3 to 5 reps is about 2 to 5 minutes. This rest time allows ATP, the energy currency of the cell, to full replenish, which is needed to lift near maximum weight.

Pro: A 2-5 minute rest between sets helps you build strength as you go ‘all out’ every lift of 3-5 reps.  This type of training recruits more muscle fibers than the previous two.

Con: Increasing strength with 3-5 reps workouts is highly intensive. Proper form is essential for long term care of the body.

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In closing, for those of you that want all these effects, as long as you stay true to the principles and routinely apply them, you can build a hybrid program to reach your goals.

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About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is the true health guy. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT & Wellness Writers, a subscription wellness newsletter service that incorporates live & virtual wellness workshops for companies across New England. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 20 years of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 25 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his wife) founded Wellness Writers and deliver evidence-based Wellness E-newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various businesses throughout the US. Dave currently serves as a personal trainer in Tolland as well as a wellness coach and writer for several businesses, gyms and wellness facilities throughout the US.

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