You know what? I’m a people watcher, especially in the gym. I like to look around and see what everyone is doing; what type of exercise, how many sets and reps and in general – how hard are they working. And what I’ve come to realize is that many people spend more time resting than actually exercising!

So today I’m asking – how long do you rest between sets when you hit the gym? Are you perhaps resting TOO long!

The main problem I see is that far too many people train like bodybuilders. They use multiple sets of the same exercise and multiple exercises to target a specific area and then rest between sets so that the next set is presumably more productive. Usually the rest period is between one and two minutes per set as anything shorter doesn’t really allow for full recovery and if it’s longer people think they’re slacking off! Heck I’ve been there! I remember in my younger days setting my watch for 90 seconds rest. I’d perform a set, put the weights down and sit and wait around. Which is great – if you’re a bodybuilder!

Then of course you’ve got power-lifters, who are lifting max weights for one or two reps. In this instance, resting between sets isn’t so much for muscle recovery but for your central nervous system (CNS) to regroup and get ready once again for an all out effort. And of course there’s the mental component of psyching oneself up to try and reach a new max weight. Again I’ve been there. I used to sit and rock for a good minute, thinking about what was about to happen and what I wanted to accomplish before attempting a new best. Again, rest in this instance is valuable, IF you’re a powerlifter.

But if you’re like the other 99% of trainees, you’re not interested in bulging, cartoon-like muscles, or in benching or squatting 500 pounds. What you’re most likely interested in is being lean, toned, functionally strong and fit. And above all, you probably want to feel good. If this is you and you’re training in the styles mentioned above – I’m gonna guess you’re probably not getting the results you want! And the reason is simple – you’re using the wrong modes of exercise. Look at it this way – in a given one-hour bodybuilder type workout, you may be exercising (actually moving) for only about 15 minutes! That’s crazy! Now look at a cross–training, circuit or a WOD style workout and compare the differences in rest…

In a circuit style workout, where you move from one exercise to the next for a set time or number of rounds – there is no rest! You move from one exercise to the next until you’ve finished the circuit, then perhaps rest for 10 – 30 seconds and go again. With this style of training the metabolic benefits are HUGE in comparison to the old school way. For one, you’ll be training your cardiovascular system, especially if you include calisthenics or aerobic drills as part of the circuit. So you’ll burn more calories in less time, that’s always good. Second, you’ll challenge nearly every system of your body and more than likely recruit more muscle fibers as you fatigue. The less rest between sets the deeper you tap the motor units within your muscles because as the muscle fatigues, more units are called upon. And lastly, you’ll jack up your metabolism for hours so you’ll still be burning calories after your done.

Listen, I still workout using a variety of methods. On some days I’ll use a bodybuilder routine, on others I’ll try max lifts. But for the most part, most of my workouts are circuit style, with little rest and a whole lot of breathing and sweating. I find that cutting down on rest periods has greatly increased my fitness and in general made me stronger too!

So come on – how long do you rest during your workouts? Is it longer than you’re exercising? Be honest!

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