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Break Times in Weight Training

How long should the breaks between sets be in strength training?

This is a question that you will not get a clear answer from most trainers.

But why is there no clear answer to such an important and basic topic?

That’s just because they did not devote themselves to it. Most folks decide on how long the breaks between their sets last depending on their mood.

These breaks in strength training play a significant role which should not be underestimated if you want optimal training progress. Those who do not may give away a lot of potential.

In this article, I am going to address rest times in weight training. In the following you will get all the important key notes that you need to be aware of when talking about rest times in weight training.

First of all, what does “a break” in weight training actually refer to?

The break simply describes the time between two sets.

During this time, you should focus on 2 things:

1.) Recovery from the last set

The goal of volume maximization can only be achieved if we are able to recover enough from the previous set. Otherwise, we diminish our performance and accordingly our volume and progress.

We’ll get to specific break recommendations later on.

You just have to be aware that you should definitely recover from the previous set. Having said that, you should not do anything that could interfere with our regeneration.

2.) The preparation for the upcoming set

Especially for challenging exercises, you should mentally review the affected movement several times and visualize the most important aspects in your mind at least 45 seconds before the next set.

Not only will you be able to greatly improve your technique, but you will also be much more capable and be able to move more weight.

During the break, you can also check your technique, assess your RPE, or analyze the speed of your execution, assuming you’ve recorded your previous set.

The latter can give you some tremendously valuable data about your current state of exhaustion.

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For example, with a very slow dumbbell movement, it may well appear that you are much more exhausted than with your “normal” speed.

Most athletes strongly neglect this aspect of preparation or analysis of their last set.

As long as you keep these two principles in mind, you will be on the safe side.

However, short breaks also certainly have their advantages:

1.) Higher workload with relatively light weights

Using short breaks gives you the opportunity to get close or even to muscle failure with relatively light weight. Especially if you can not or do not want to train hard, this aspect should not be neglected.

2.) Time savings

Short rest breaks naturally reduce your training time immensely.

If you cannot afford to spend multiple hours for long gym sessions, then short breaks in between your sets are absolutely reasonable and can be exactly what you’re looking for.

Nonetheless, you have to realize that everything comes at its price and you may not get the best possible results.

Thus, depending on your priorities, you make the call. Eventually, good results are still better than no results, right?

For best results, I recommend the following breaks:

Repetition range Rest times
1-5 4-6 minutes
6-10 3-5 minutes
10-20 3-5 minutes

The tendency is to say that you should take a longer break at a higher intensity.

In addition, break times also depend heavily on the exercise, because 15 reps of squats are obviously something completely different than 15 reps biceps curls.

Therefore, the above table just serves as a guideline for you, guys, which you can orient yourself on.

If you need more time between sets then you are welcome to take as long as you need. But I am not talking about chatting on Instagram or scrolling on Facebook. Don’t waste your time and stretch the breaks unnecessarily long.

Especially with basic exercises (squats, bench press etc.), you should rather rest longer than starting the next set out of breath. Eventually, too short breaks solely result in diminished performance.

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Rather, rest at least as long as your breathing has normalized.

A lot of people consider 3 minutes to be the bottom limit because your energy storage usually is not fully recharged before that.

For optimal performance during each set, you should think about the following checklist before each set:

  • Did I take a break for at least 3 minutes?
  • Has my breathing become halfway normal? (Basic Exercise)
  • Has my heart rate normalized? (Basic Exercise)
  • Did I visualize the exercise movement?
  • Am I really mentally ready to perform?

Apart from that, there are a few other options to reduce your exercise time without diminishing your results:

1.) Supersets

Let’s just assume that your training programme includes 3 sets of bench press, followed by 3 sets of pendlay rows.

Normally, you would first complete 3 sets of bench press, before you then dedicate yourself to your back. Furthermore, we assume that you take a 5-minute break between each set and need one minute to complete each set.

The total exercise time for the 2 exercises would then be calculated as follows:

5 x 5 minutes (breaks) + 6 x 1 minute (set duration) = 31 minutes

However, in a superset, you use the conventional break times of bench press to train your back. Since rowing does not strain your chest at all, so neither your bench press performance suffer, nor your volume.

The total duration for these 2 exercises would then be calculated as follows:

1 (B) + 2 (P) + 1 (R) + 2 (P) + 1 (B) + 2 (P) + 1 (R) + 2 (P) + 1 (B) + 2 (P) + 1 (R) = 16 minutes

As you can see, supersets can save tremendous amounts of time.

On that note, it is essential to mention that those two consecutive exercises should not target the same muscles, otherwise, you would decrease your performance.

2.) Blood Flow Restriction:

I will not go into more detail about Blood Flow Restriction, as I have already written a separate detailed article. For all among you who don’t know what Blood Flow Restriction Training is, just click the link above.

3.) Rest-break / Myo-reps:

First of all, a normal set of 8-15 reps is performed until or just close to muscle failure.

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After a short break of 5-20 seconds, another set is done with the same weight. Depending on the protocol, additional sets follow with a 5-20 second break, with a maximum of 3 in total.

The idea behind it is the so-called “effective repetition”, means those at 100% muscle fiber activation. The first set serves as “pre-fatigue” to greatly increase the workload of the following sets, because as you already know, a high workload leads to a great muscle fibers activation, even with a low intensity.

You can go even further and do 10-20 repetitions, one at a time, extending the break as long as it takes to complete the next repetition without exceeding 20 seconds. If you need more than 20 seconds to prepare for the next rep, the chosen weight has been too high.

Especially with isolation exercises rest-pause or “myo-reps” can make sense to save time properly.

When it comes to saving time alone, I’m most convinced of supersets. They allow you to perform the exact same volume as before and meanwhile save a lot of time.

If this saving is still not enough for you, a combination of the above-mentioned methods would also be possible.

Take home

To conclude, rest times in weight training are of significant importance. Not only do they prepare you for the next upcoming set and therefore, decide on your performance but also, in the same way may even decrease your performance.

Let’s recap what you should take home from this article:

  • During a break in the set, you should recover from both the last set and prepare for the next set
  • Do not sabotage your volume by taking too short breaks
  • Before a sentence, go through the above checklist – Super sets are great for saving time
  • If you can not save time, you can also use BFR training or rest-pause or myo-reps
  • If you want to further reduce your training, you must shorten the break times

As always, thank you very much for the read, guys

Claas

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Claas

Claas

Hi, I'm Claas. I am a passionate fitness and performance lover. For several years I have been training and developing my personality with dedication, ambition, and commitment to pursue my goals. During this time, I already had the opportunity to support many friends, family members and athletes on their journey to achieve their goals, both athletic or performance driven. Whether about nutrition, training, performance or self-development, for the last few years I was able to steadily improve my knowledge to provide our clientele with all my experience. I believe the key to a happy life, to pursue your goals, overcome challenges and convert your dreams to reality, is based upon mastering our four underlying four pillars; nutrition, fitness, productivity, and mindfulness.

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