Do you need all that recovery time between sets?

Do you really need to rest between sets?

I get it. It can be boring. Waiting. Time is in short supply. Those 30sec periods can add up. And if you’re pushing bigger weights those rest periods can creep up to 5min (or more). Exactly how many times can you check social media on your phone to keep yourself amused while you wait?

But the simple fact is this: You actually need that rest.

Especially if your goal is to increase strength. You can’t outrun your physiology. Muscles take a defined amount of time to recover and that’s it. There are no shortcuts.

If you choose to try and shortcut the system and drop your 90sec rests down to 30sec, you’re not going to be able to complete your full complement of reps and your results will suffer. When you’re completing sets of 3–6 reps, you’re working so close to your maximum effort that every little bit of energy you can cram back into your muscles matters.

Sure, if you’re working in a hypertrophy (or muscle growth) phase you could get away with shorter rest periods because the load isn’t as heavy. And it will normally be programmed that way. But strength takes time.

The other thing people try to do is sneak another exercise into the recovery period (commonly known as ‘super sets’). So they’ll complete a heavy set of back squats and then try to cram that overhead press set in the rest period.

Most people think that this is okay because their legs get the rest and they can work their upper body, but it’s the finer points of physiology that they don’t see. And not to mention the fact that both of these exercises are taxing on your core stabilisers, which means over the course of 8-10 sets your core is going to be absolutely fried and you’re setting yourself up for failure. And maybe even injury if you’re unlucky enough.

So the core message here is: Don’t cheat your rest periods. They are just as important as your work periods in generating real results.

Rest up!

Written by

Travis Waite

Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.

Travis Waite