Rest Between Your Reps: The Importance of Taking Breaks
It might seem counterintuitive, but less is more when it comes to your next workout and your overall fitness routine.
The perfectly timed break, and the properly scheduled rest day, can transform your exercise results from average to exceptional. To harness the value of breaks and rest days, it's all about picking the right timing depending on your workout goals.
Rest Between Sets: What Happens When You Pause During Your Workout?
Before we dive into how long you should rest between sets and the value of taking regular rest days, let's first discuss the science of what happens when you're exercising.
When your feet hit that treadmill, or you begin pumping that iron, you trigger a series of metabolic energy systems in your muscles and body:
- Phosphagen system: This system stores energy, and it gets fired up when you're doing very high-intensity movements. Examples include one-rep-maximum lifts and short-duration, high-intensity cardio movements like hill sprints. Although your phosphagen system can generate high levels of force very quickly, it also needs a long time to "recharge" after expending its stored energy.
- Glycolysis system: Your body recruits this energy-storing system for medium-duration movements, such as your standard 8-12 rep set of weight lifting. The glycolysis system is primarily responsible for fueling movement that lasts anywhere from 30 seconds to 120 seconds.
- Oxidative system: Once your exercise duration moves past the 2-minute mark, your body starts to recruit the oxidative system (i.e., the aerobic system). Rather than using stored glycogen in your muscles, the oxidative system burns fats and carbohydrates for fuel. This is the system that gets fired up when you're doing longer cardio exercises, as well as muscular endurance training.
Why You Need to Rest Between Sets
The purpose of taking a rest between sets is to allow each energy-storing system to adequately recharge and rebuild so that it can properly fuel your next set. Failure to take a break means you're running on increasingly depleted energy stores, thus sabotaging the strength of your next set.
It's not about working harder. It's about working smarter.
Thus, a perfectly timed break leads to faster and bigger muscle and strength gains. Emphasis on "perfectly timed." Your goals, and the type of exercise you're doing, determine exactly how long your rest should be.
How Long Should You Rest Between Sets?
1. Goal: Muscle Mass
If you want bigger muscles (i.e., more muscle mass), your workout is typically based on hypertrophy training. This involves progressive muscular overload using sets of 6-12 reps each. Because your goal is muscle overload to trigger more muscle mass growth, studies show that your breaks should be on the shorter side.
Rest Between Sets: 30 to 90 seconds
2. Goal: Muscle Strength
If your workout goal is to develop maximum muscle strength and power, you're looking at more traditional powerlifting or weightlifting movements with one-rep max pushes and pulls. This activates your phosphagen system, which needs a longer recovery time.
Rest Between Sets: 2 to 5 minutes
3. Goal: Endurance
Low weight, high rep workouts aimed to develop your muscular endurance should focus on a much shorter recovery time between sets, with some researchers showing the benefits of keeping your break as short as 20 seconds. However, the bulk of research suggests a 30-second window of rest between reps.
Rest Between Sets: 20 to 30 seconds
Don't Forget the Benefits of Rest Days
Not only do you need a properly timed break between sets to help your body's energy storage systems to recharge, but you should also be weaving regular rest days into your week. While many athletes view their workout as the thing that leads to fitness improvements, it's actually during your rest and recovery that your body rebuilds, repairs, and strengthens itself.
A rest day is important because it:
- Gives your body time to repair the micro-tears and micro-injuries created during your last workout
- Lets your muscles replenish their energy stores
- Reduces the stress on your body's nervous system and hormones
- Improves overall performance and reduces the risk of burnout and fatigue
Certified personal trainer Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, recommends taking a complete day off of any form of exercise at least once every seven to 10 days. But factors like your lifestyle, training protocol, and genetics can influence how soon your body needs a break. The American Council on Exercise recommends taking a rest day if you feel any of the following signs of overtraining:
- Reduced performance in muscle strength or endurance
- Chronic feeling of fatigue or low energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood swings
- Chronic pain or injuries
Supplements to Improve Your Rest Days
Get more out of your rest days with recovery- and repair-enhancing supplements:
- Creatine helps your muscles to hold more hydration and energy and has been shown to reduce injury risks and speed up post-exercise muscle recovery. Plus, it is an ATP-boosting mechanism within your muscle cells.
- Protein Powder, specifically whey protein, provide the amino acids your muscles need for repairing and rebuilding after a workout.
- Ashwagandha may help to boost muscular endurance. It also functions as an adaptogenic, helping to support the rest and recovery of your nervous system and hormones.
- Citrulline supports post-workout recovery by increasing Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) production, a source of energy for your phosphagen and glycolysis systems.
A Recap on Rest
In summary, your body needs two things for optimal exercise and faster recovery:
- A properly timed break between each set of your workout
- A full rest day at least once a week, or sooner if you feel signs and symptoms of overtraining
Because everyone is unique, track your progress and your overall energy levels. You may find yourself slightly increasing or decreasing your rest windows or rest days, depending on how your body feels.
Tiger Fitness Supports Proper Rest and Recovery
Fuel your rest days with post-workout supplements designed to boost recovery and maximize your muscle strength and mass.
Tiger Fitness is your source of healthy supplements to support proper rest and recovery, whether you need 100% pure whey protein or targeted recovery supplements like creatine or citrulline. Shop our collection of best-selling post-workout supplements today!