Exercise, Hypertrophy

July 23, 2014

How long should you rest between sets for hypertrophy?

Recently, I collaborated with my friend and colleague, Menno Henselmans, to review the literature on the effects of rest interval length on muscle growth. I’m pleased to report that this review has just been published in the prestigious journal, Sports Medicine. If you’re into the science of hypertrophy, I encourage you to read the paper as we delve into all the relevant research on the topic. In the meantime, here is an overview of the take-aways with practical implications.

General resistance training guidelines recommend that rest intervals should remain relatively short to maximize hypertrophy. In a previous review, The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training I echoed these sentiments, suggesting that rest periods of 60-90 seconds would seemingly provide an optimal balance between mechanical tension and metabolic stress (primary mechanisms in the hypertrophic response) to enhance anabolism. It should be noted, however, that these recommendations were based primarily on a logical extrapolation of mechanistic data; there simply have not been a sufficient number of studies that have investigated the topic in a well-controlled fashion.

In what is the most comprehensive study on the topic to date Ahtiainen et al. found no differences in muscle cross sectional area between 2 versus 5 minute rest periods in a sample of well-trained men. The study had several strengths including a randomized crossover design (which substantially increases statistical power), the inclusion of experienced trainees, and the use of the gold-standard imaging modality, MRI, to measure muscle growth. The one issue here is that the 2-minute rest period employed by the researchers is longer than what is generally advised for hypertrophy-type training. The impact on metabolic stress diminishes with longer rest periods, and this conceivably could have had negatively affected anabolic signaling in this study.

The other study of note that attempted to investigate the effects of rest interval length on hypertrophy was carried out by Buresh et al, whereby 12 untrained individuals performed their workout with either 1 or 2.5 minutes rest between sets. This study actually showed superior results for hypertrophy in the arms and a trend for greater growth in the legs in the subjects using longer intra-set rest intervals. While these results may seem compelling, it should be noted that muscle cross sectional area was determined by anthropometric means (i.e. surface measurements) which can be quite unreliable and thus compromise accuracy. Further confounding matters is the small number of subjects (only 6 in each group) and the fact that subjects were inexperienced with resistive exercise. Thus, while the findings here are interesting they must be interpreted with caution.

So what practical applications can we derive from the literature? Based on current research, it seems highly doubtful that rest interval length has a substantial effect on muscle growth. Bottom line: It would appear that you can self-select a rest period that allows you to exert the needed effort into your next set without compromising hypertrophic results.

That said, the paucity of controlled studies on the topic make it difficult to draw concrete conclusions. Certainly we know that shortening the duration of rest between sets increases metabolic stress, which is known to stimulate muscle remodeling. We also know that well-trained individuals such as bodybuilders are able to sustain a high percentage of their repetition maximum with rest periods as short as a minute. Could the combination of these factors may provide an additional hypertrophic stimulus — albeit a small effect — over time in well-trained subjects? Could other factors such as increased hypoxia and cell swelling also contribute to such a response?

These are questions that require further research. I’m currently in the process of carrying out a study that will provide relevant answers. I hope to begin data collection before the year is out. Stay tuned.

Henselmans M, Schoenfeld BJ. The Effect of Inter-Set Rest Intervals on Resistance Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy. Sports Med. 2014 Jul 22. [Epub ahead of print]


  1. Love reading your research Brad. I cut my rest times down significantly recently and I feel my workouts are much more intense. Yes, you lose a little bit of strength, but the pumps are insane. It does seem more mental than physical overcoming the short rest, but I won’t go back to wasting time again. I would love to see a study of 30 seconds vs 90 seconds, same sets, reps and load even if the former can’t do all the workload. Thanks.

    Comment by Steven — July 23, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

  2. Nice write up, Brad. Does this study contradict your recommendation for 1-2 minute rest for hypertrophy-like training and 2-3 min rest for strength training in your book?

    Comment by Jacob — July 29, 2014 @ 9:37 am

  3. Yes, please answer Jacobs question above, thanks!

    Comment by Sam — August 29, 2014 @ 12:23 am

  4. […] How Long Should You Rest Between Sets for Hypertrophy?, by Dr. Brad Schoenfeld […]

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  5. […] to varying how long you rest between sets. For more on specifics of the review paper check out my blog post where it is discussed in […]

    Pingback by » New Insight into Rest Intervals for Muscle Growth — October 20, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

  6. I think that maybe it has the same effect after all, because with shorter rest periods you will induce more metabolic stress but lift less weight, and with longer rest periods more weight but less metabolic stress ! At the end it’s probably the same

    Comment by Bane — December 4, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

  7. […] basis for the claim that shorter rest intervals was beneficial to hypertrophy. As I discussed in this blog post, It would appear from current evidence that you can self-select a rest period that allows you to […]

    Pingback by » What is the Ideal Rest Interval for Muscle Growth? Implications from Our Recent Study — February 5, 2016 @ 1:33 pm

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