Do I need to rest between sets when I lift weights?

Last Modified: 9/07/2022


This post was written by Austin Weingart, human performance specialist, Parkview Sports Medicine.

Most people who lift weights don’t consider how long they should rest before jumping into the next set. There are a handful of factors that come into play, primarily around the athlete’s objectives for the session.

  • What is the goal?
  • How many reps are being performed?
  • How intense (heavy or light weight) is the set?
  • What movement is being performed?
  • Is the first movement paired with anything?

The goal, number of reps and intensity should all line up with each other.

How to identify your goal and rest requirement

There are three common goals when it comes to weightlifting: strength, muscle building or muscular endurance.

If the goal is to gain strength, the rep count will be lower (1 to 5) and the intensity of the weight will be higher. In order to recover enough energy, the recommended rest time is 3 to 5 minutes.

For muscle building, a typical rep range would fall somewhere between 8 to 12 reps with a moderate intensity on the weight. For this type of training, a good rest interval would be around 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

When working on muscular endurance, reps should be on the higher side, with 15 or more reps in each set. The weight should be less intense or lower, which also means shorter rest periods between reps, usually anywhere between 1 to 3 minutes.  

Listening to your body

These rest times are guidelines or suggestions. The important thing is that you feel ready and confident enough to lift the weight, hit the number of reps you want to perform and maintain proper form so that you don’t get injured.

Some movements, like a deadlift or squat, might demand longer rest times because they are harder on your body. Squats and deadlifts are often performed with the highest amount of weight and engage the whole body in the lift, so you might feel like you need a bit longer before you can get into the next set. Conversely, a bicep curl requires just one arm and far less weight, so you might not need as much recovery.

Rest can also change as you move from one muscle group to another. If you do a set that engages the chest, for example, and then move on to one that targets the legs, it’s OK to take less of a rest because the new muscle group is fresh. Listen to your body and be open to changing the rest periods as you need to. The more you exercise and lift weights, the more your body will become accustomed to resting in between sets and the more in tune you will be with your body’s cues.


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