How Long Should You Rest Between Weight Sets?

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One of my favorite sayings is “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.” Most of us have it ingrained that we need to keep moving, feel the burn, superset, keep your rest times short when working out. We take that to heart and rest 45 secs, 60 secs, 90 secs between sets. Anything over that seems excruciatingly long and feels awkward.

When I ask clients to increase their rest times between sets and just sit or stand there, they look at me like I just asked them to walk through fire. I used to be one of them. I supersetted and kept my rests to 60 seconds, 90 at the most if I just couldn’t catch my breath in time. Sometimes I did supersets back to back to save time. Bicep curls then tricep dips or leg curls and leg extensions.

My results were slightly less than stellar. Yeah, like the not even noticeable level of stellar. I didn’t really lift more, my body didn’t change, and there wasn’t improvement. So I did the unconventional and I changed my approach. Let’s all gasp together now. I know right! LOL. I started to wait 3 minutes between sets. Gah, it was tough at first. I felt like people were staring at me for being lazy.

I itched and twitched. Gradually I came to a realization. The workouts I was doing before were exhausting but they were a different kind of exhausting. More like mentally draining and physically just tiring, a frenzied exhausting. The new longer rest times didn’t kill me mentally and the exhaustion was there but more of a powerful exhaustion. I’m not sure how to describe it. Kinda like an “OMG, I can’t put one foot in front of the other and need a nap” vs “Wow, I killed that and damn that was good.”

I also started seeing the weights go up for the first time in forever, then the mirror improvements started since I wasn’t beating myself to death. Now I’ve got no problem at all sitting on my butt between sets. I save the cardio for cardio and twiddle my thumbs when there isn’t weight in my hands. If you are having trouble increasing the weight you are lifting, or the number of reps you get from week to week, or you start strong but see a big drop in reps on the next sets, reconsider your rest times.

I won’t bore you with a technical ATP-type discussion, but your muscles need a chance to rebuild strength after a set and this takes a little bit of time. It’s actually quite standard to wait 3 minutes or even up to 5 after a really heavy set, if needed. This gives your muscles a chance to get themselves back together and hit each set almost as hard as the first.

Play around with rest times a bit and see if it doesn’t make a difference in your strength and reps… most importantly, your results. Your muscles have great memory so they may be very conditioned to the shorter rest times. It can take a few weeks for them to adjust and get used to waiting longer, but if you give it a chance I bet you’ll like the outcome.

I also do the unexpected in the kitchen from time to time and change things up. Who says that you need to serve tomato sauce with pasta? Try making a batch of polenta for a change and keep it fun.

Quick Polenta with Homemade Tomato Sauce Polenta with Pasta Sauce

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup (140g) uncooked polenta
  • 1/4 cup (30g) yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 16 oz ground turkey (93/7) or ground beef (93/7)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp (33g) tomato paste
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes

Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil over and stir in the uncooked polenta. Simmer for about 5 – 10 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the polenta is cooked. Remove from heat.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a pot over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and turkey or beef. Cook until browned and thoroughly cooked, breaking the meat up into small chunks as you cook. This will take about 7 – 8 minutes or so. Add the spices, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes with juices.

Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Divide the polenta into bowls or on plates and top with the tomato sauce. Top with shredded parmesan or other cheese if you like.

Makes 4 servings at approximately 321 calories – 26g protein, 34g carbs, and 9g fat.

I put two of the servings into plastic containers for leftovers the next day so they reheat really well. The sauce itself is also great over pasta too so you really can have quick homemade pasta sauce. So rest your 3 minutes and dream about creative ways to use your tomato sauce. Make sure you come back and tell me about your results. 😉

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