Journal Logo


Effect of Interset Rest Interval Length on Resistance Exercise Performance and Muscular Adaptation

Gonzalez, Adam M. PhD

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2016 - Volume 38 - Issue 6 - p 65-68
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000257
  • Free



Interset rest intervals (RI) refer to the amount of time taken in between sets and exercises. The amount of rest allotted can significantly affect performance of subsequent sets, the metabolic, hormonal, and cardiovascular responses to an acute bout of resistance exercise, and training-induced muscular adaptations. General guidelines recommend at least 2- to 3-minute RI for multiple-joint exercises and 1- to 2-minute RI for single-joint exercises during strength and power training (i.e., lower repetitions), whereas shorter RI (i.e., <2 minutes) are often recommended to enhance muscle endurance in conjunction with higher repetition sets (2). However, RI length often depends on several other factors including training intensity, training goals, and fitness level. Therefore, it is difficult to precisely define an optimal RI, and it could be argued that on a global basis, it may not exist. This brief review will examine the effect of RI on resistance exercise performance, the acute hormonal and metabolic response, and training-induced muscular adaptation in an effort to aid strength and conditioning professionals in selecting the most appropriate RI for individual clients.


Several studies have shown that the number of repetitions performed during a resistance training bout may be compromised with shorter RI. That is, a 3- to 5-minute RI has been shown to produce less performance decrements than a <2-minute RI during compound exercises, such as bench press or back squat (16–18,23,26,27). Specifically, under conditions where the load is held constant (50–90% 1-repetition maximum [1RM]) and all sets are performed to the point of muscular failure (i.e., inability to complete an additional concentric repetition with proper form), resting 3–5 minutes between sets allows for significantly greater repetitions versus resting 1–2 minutes. For example, Ratamess et al. (17) found that a minimum of 3-minute RI are necessary to maintain bench press performance over 3–4 sets at 75–85% 1RM in trained men. Although many causative factors exist that contribute to fatigue, neural fatigue resulting in changes to the voluntary activation of motor units can be impacted by RI. For example, shorter RI (i.e., <2 minutes) may accelerate the onset of neural fatigue, whereas longer RI (e.g., 3–5 minutes) may allow for maximal voluntary activation of motor units and the maintenance of training intensity and volume, which seem to be of primary importance for augmenting strength and stimulating muscle hypertrophy (14,21). Therefore, when training for maximal strength and hypertrophy, it is generally advisable to afford 2- to 5-minute RI in between sets and exercises to limit the negative effects on performance and to prevent the need to lower the exercise intensity during subsequent sets to sustain repetitions within the range conducive to the training goal.

Two key factors, training history and strength level, can influence the RI required during resistance exercise and should be taken into account when prescribing training parameters. Consistent training with shorter RI may result in adaptations that allow for training intensity to be sustained (12). It has also been shown that stronger individuals (based on peak power output) were able to sustain power output over 5 sets of 8 repetitions with 40% 1RM when using a 2-minute RI, whereas weaker individuals needed a minimum of 3 minutes to maintain power output performance (10). Therefore, athletes attempting to achieve specific training volume goals may initially need longer RI but may later adapt so that shorter RI can be utilized without excessive fatigue.


It is well-established that resistance exercise protocols that activate a large amount of muscle mass and are of sufficient intensity elicit a transient hormonal and metabolic response (13). Several studies have demonstrated that resistance exercise performed with shorter RI (<1.5 minute) provokes a greater transient increase in circulating hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone, and cortisol compared with longer-duration RI (4,9,11,25). Alternatively, Ahtiainen et al. (3) demonstrated that both 2-minute and 5-minute RI between leg press and squat exercises using 10RM elicited significant increases in growth hormone, testosterone, and cortisol and found no significant difference between protocols. Although it has previously been suggested that transient elevations of these circulating hormones (i.e., growth hormone and testosterone) are critical for muscle anabolism, others have shown that transient increases in the hormonal milieu after resistance exercise are not related to exercise-induced muscle hypertrophy (8). Given the equivocal nature of exercise-induced systemic hormonal alterations on muscle anabolism, the notion that a shorter RI provides a superior stimulus for muscle hypertrophy remains questionable.

Shorter RI are also related to increased metabolic stress, which manifests in the accumulation of lactate and hydrogen ions with a subsequent reduction in pH (8,11). Ratamess et al. (17) observed an inverse relationship between RI length and the acute metabolic response. Shorter RI do not provide sufficient recovery time between sets to replenish intramuscular phosphocreatine stores; thus, the continuation of exercise prompts an increased reliance on glycolytic energy production. Although this glycolytically induced metabolic stress may play a role in hypertrophic adaptation (20), metabolic buildup may compromise the ability to sustain repeated high-force muscular contraction (1).

The notion that a shorter RI (<1.5 minute) maximizes muscle hypertrophy based on the hormonal and metabolic milieu in the postexercise period has recently been challenged. McKendry et al. (15) observed a blunted muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and anabolic intramuscular signaling response after sets of moderate-intensity, high-volume resistance exercise separated by 1-minute RI compared with 5-minute RI, despite a greater testosterone and lactate response after the 1-minute RI trial. Notably, participants performed a significantly lower total training volume during the 1-minute RI trial compared with the 5-minute RI trial. Because muscle hypertrophy occurs as a result of cumulative increases in MPS with each successive bout of resistance training, it is plausible that longer RI would promote greater muscle protein accretion over time. It is important to highlight that other contributing mechanisms of skeletal muscle hypertrophy exist beyond hormonal and metabolic changes, such as stretch and mechanical load. Although important, no studies to date have directly investigated these mechanisms through manipulation of RI.


It is generally well accepted that manipulating resistance exercise parameters can influence skeletal muscle remodeling. Traditionally, shorter RI have been associated with resistance training programs focusing on hypertrophy, whereas longer RI have been associated with programs focusing on strength. Hypertrophy-style routines typically involve greater volumes, moderate intensities (<85% 1RM), and shorter RI (<90 seconds), whereas strength-style routines typically involve lower volumes, higher intensities (>85% 1RM), and longer RI (3–5 minutes). Among the studies that have compared these 2 styles of training in resistance-trained individuals, both routines appear to elicit similar magnitudes of muscle growth, although strength outcomes favor the strength-style of training (7). However, whether the differences in rest periods per se are responsible for greater improvements in strength remains questionable because the subjects were exposed to a different intensity of training during working sets.

Few studies have explicitly examined the influence of RI manipulation on exercise-induced hypertrophy and strength improvement. Schoenfeld et al. (22) demonstrated that a 3-minute RI elicited greater increases in strength and muscle thickness compared with a 1-minute RI after an 8-week total body resistance training program in young trained men. Similarly, Buresh et al. (5) reported greater increases in arm cross-sectional area after a 10-week resistance training program utilizing a 2.5-minute RI compared with a 1-minute RI in young untrained men; however, no differences between groups were observed for strength outcomes. Robinson et al. (19) also demonstrated greater strength improvements after a 5-week resistance training program with a 3-minute RI compared with a 30-second RI in young trained men. Conversely, Villanueva et al. (24) found that elderly untrained men achieved significantly greater gains in lean body mass and maximal strength after an 8-week resistance training program with a 1-minute RI compared with a 4-minute RI. To further confound matters, others have found no significant difference in strength (6,28) and hypertrophy (3,6) when comparing different RI lengths in young trained men.

In summary, with the exception of 1 study (24), research has not supported the hypothesis that shorter RI provides an advantage for hypertrophy or strength outcomes. Nevertheless, it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of RI per se and the effects of altered training volume. Rest interval manipulation may only have minor effects on muscle hypertrophy compared with other training parameters, such as total training volume, which suffers when RI is insufficient.


Training intensity and volume seem to be reduced proportionally as RI length is reduced during multijoint resistance exercise. It seems that at least 2–3 minutes of RI would provide sufficient recovery so as not to compromise total workout volume and subsequent hypertrophy and strength outcomes. For assistance or single-joint exercises, a shorter RI of 1–2 minutes may suffice. Moreover, the majority of literature does not support the hypothesis that training for muscular hypertrophy requires shorter RI than training for strength development. However, training with shorter RI has shown to promote adaptations that ultimately facilitate the ability to sustain high-intensity performance.

The required RI for full recovery varies depending on several factors, including training intensity, complexity of the given exercise, type of muscle contraction, activated musculature, exercise order, training status, and strength level. Additionally, stopping repetitions before muscular failure would allow for a more rapid recovery between sets compared with training to muscular failure. Therefore, rather than prescribing a fixed RI, it is prudent to recommend that athletes training for muscular strength or hypertrophy perform subsequent sets when psychologically and physiologically ready. Ultimately, several RIs can be implemented within a periodized model to achieve the desired physiological adaptations. Manipulation of training variables including RI is dependent on the specific training goals of the individual.


1. Abdessemed D, Duche P, Hautier C, Poumarat G, Bedu M. Effect of recovery duration on muscular power and blood lactate during the bench press exercise. Int J Sports Med 20: 368–373, 1999.
2. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand: Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 41: 687, 2009.
3. Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M, Kraemer WJ, Hakkinen K. Short vs. long rest period between the sets in hypertrophic resistance training: Influence on muscle strength, size, and hormonal adaptations in trained men. J Strength Cond Res 19: 572–582, 2005.
4. Bottaro M, Martins B, Gentil P, Wagner D. Effects of rest duration between sets of resistance training on acute hormonal responses in trained women. J Sci Med Sport 12: 73–78, 2009.
5. Buresh R, Berg K, French J. The effect of resistive exercise rest interval on hormonal response, strength, and hypertrophy with training. J Strength Cond Res 23: 62–71, 2009.
6. de Souza TP Jr, Fleck SJ, Simão R, Dubas JP, Pereira B, de Brito Pacheco EM, da Silva AC, de Oliveira PR. Comparison between constant and decreasing rest intervals: Influence on maximal strength and hypertrophy. J Strength Cond Res 24: 1843–1850, 2010.
7. Gonzalez Acute Anabolic Response And Muscular Adaptation AM. Following hypertrophy-style and strength-style resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res 30: 2959–2964, 2016.
8. Gonzalez AM, Hoffman JR, Stout JR, Fukuda DH, Willoughby DS. Intramuscular anabolic signaling and endocrine response following resistance Exercise: Implications for muscle hypertrophy. Sports Med 46: 671–685, 2016.
9. Gonzalez AM, Hoffman JR, Townsend JR, Jajtner AR, Boone CH, Beyer KS, Baker KM, Wells AJ, Mangine GT, Robinson EH. Intramuscular anabolic signaling and endocrine response following high volume and high intensity resistance exercise protocols in trained men. Physiol Rep 3: e12466, 2015.
10. Hernández-Davó J, Botella RJ, Sabido R. Influence of strength level on rest interval required during an upper-body power training session. J Strength Cond Res 2016 [Epub ahead of print].
11. Kraemer W, Marchitelli L, Gordon S, Harman E, Dziados J, Mello R, Frykman P, McCurry D, Fleck S. Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. J Appl Physiol 69: 1442, 1990.
12. Kraemer W, Noble B, Clark M, Culver B. Physiologic responses to heavy-resistance exercise with very short rest periods. Int J Sports Med 8: 247–252, 1987.
13. Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Med 35: 339–361, 2005.
14. Mangine G, Hoffman J, Fukuda D, Stout J, Ratamess N. Improving muscle strength and size: The importance of training volume, intensity, and status. Kinesiology 47: 131–138, 2015.
15. McKendry J, Pérez-López A, McLeod M, Luo D, Dent JR, Smeuninx B, Yu J, Taylor AE, Philp A, Breen L. Short inter-set rest blunts resistance exercise-induced increases in myofibrillar protein synthesis and intracellular signalling in young males. Exp Physiol 101: 866–882, 2016.
16. Miranda H, Simão R, Moreira LM, de Souza RA, de Souza JAA, de Salles BF, Willardson J. Effect of rest interval length on the volume completed during upper body resistance exercise. J Sports Sci Med 8: 388–392, 2009.
17. Ratamess NA, Falvo MJ, Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Faigenbaum AD, Kang J. The effect of rest interval length on metabolic responses to the bench press exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 100: 1–17, 2007.
18. Richmond SR, Godard MP. The effects of varied rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men. J Strength Cond Res 18: 846–849, 2004.
19. Robinson JM, Stone MH, Johnson RL, Penland CM, Warren BJ, Lewis RD. Effects of different weight training exercise/rest intervals on strength, power, and high intensity exercise endurance. J Strength Cond Res 9: 216–221, 1995.
20. Schoenfeld BJ. Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports Med 43: 179–194, 2013.
21. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci 2016 [E-pub ahead of print].
22. Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL. Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res 30: 1805–1812, 2015.
23. Scudese E, Willardson JM, Simão R, Senna G, de Salles BF, Miranda H. The effect of rest interval length on repetition consistency and perceived exertion during near maximal loaded bench press sets. J Strength Cond Res 29: 3079–3083, 2015.
24. Villanueva MG, Lane CJ, Schroeder ET. Short rest interval lengths between sets optimally enhance body composition and performance with 8 weeks of strength resistance training in older men. Eur J Appl Physiol 115: 295–308, 2015.
25. Villanueva MG, Villanueva MG, Lane CJ, Schroeder ET. Influence of rest interval length on acute testosterone and cortisol responses to volume-load equated total body hypertrophic and strength protocols. J Strength Cond Res 26: 2755, 2012.
26. Willardson JM, Burkett LN. A comparison of 3 different rest intervals on the exercise volume completed during a workout. J Strength Cond Res 19: 23–26, 2005.
27. Willardson JM, Burkett LN. The effect of rest interval length on the sustainability of squat and bench press repetitions. J Strength Cond Res 20: 400–403, 2006.
28. Willardson JM, Burkett LN. The effect of different rest intervals between sets on volume components and strength gains. J Strength Cond Res 22: 146–152, 2008.

rest interval; hypertrophy; strength; metabolic response; muscular adaptation

Copyright © 2016 National Strength and Conditioning Association