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How long should you rest between sets?

The time you take between sets (called a rest interval) should be based on your fitness goals. Like all aspects of fitness, you need to take a scientific approach if you want to maximize results. Here’s an overview of rest interval basics:

If you want to maximize fat loss, minimal rest should be taken between sets (no more than about 30 seconds, or so). This helps increase the aerobic component of the workout, thereby accelerating fat burning. Moreover, it can boost excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), helping to burn fat many hours after your workout is completed. Understand, though, that short rest intervals will impair your strength levels, so it’s not the best scheme for maximizing muscular gains.

If you want to maximally increase muscle mass, take about 60 to 90 seconds between sets. This allows your muscles to sufficiently recuperate to use reasonably heavy weights for your next set, while simultaneously promoting the secretion of various anabolic hormones involved in muscular hypertrophy. Growth hormone and testosterone, in particular, have been shown to be optimized when rest intervals are in this time range.

Finally, if you want to optimize power and strength, a rest interval of three to five minutes is recommended. This ensures that your muscles are completely recovered from the previous set and have all their resources to put into lifting your heaviest weight possible.

Employ these principles according to your goals and you’ll derive optimal benefits from your training efforts.

Include Olive Oil in Your Diet

Q: I’ve heard it’s good to include olive oil in your diet. Is this true?


Yes. Fats are a necessary dietary nutrient. The ultra-low-fat diets of the past are passé. They have been shown not only to be unhealthy, but also inferior in promoting fat loss. At a minimum, you should consume about 15 to 20 percent of your calories from fat, with the vast majority coming from unsaturated sources.

Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, is often called a “neutral” fat because it neither raises nor lowers blood cholesterol levels. This, however, is somewhat misleading. Olive oil contains heart-healthy compounds such as phytosterols, polyphenols and antioxidants that have been shown to improve lipid profiles. Hence, olive oil does indeed promote heart-healthy benefits and should be included as part of your diet.

What’s more, olive oil is readily incorporated into the outer part of cells (the cell membranes), improving fluidity. Cell membranes serve a critical function by regulating the passage of nutrients, hormones, and chemical signals in and out of cells. When cell membranes are fluid, they become more permeable, allowing substances such as hormones and secondary messenger molecules to readily penetrate into the core of the cell. This has wide-ranging effects, from increasing muscle protein synthesis to improving insulin sensitivity to enhancing fat burning – factors that help improve the quality of your physique.

bottle of pure fresh olive oil

When choosing an olive oil, make sure to get one that’s “extra virgin.” This ensures that the oil is completely unrefined and hasn’t gone through industrial processes like degumming, bleaching, and deodorizing. These procedures remove the health-related benefits of the oil and render it nutritionally unsound.

Also, try not to cook with olive oil. It has a fairly low “smoke point” (meaning it burns easily) and therefore loses its benefits when overheated. If desired, it can be used for stir-frying when the heat is below about 300 degrees Fahrenheit.


Toning Your Midsection

Q: My lower abdominal area is flabby. How can I tone it up?


Your question is one of the most common I am asked. The lower abdominal region is a trouble area for most women. For one, it tends to be a storehouse for body fat. For another, the monthly effects of bloating (and pregnancy, if applicable) cause the area to stretch and therefore become flaccid. The result is a droopy lower pooch.

Provided that your plight is due to a lack of muscle tone, regimented exercise can definitely do wonders for your lower abdominal region. In practice, though, it’s not as simple as some people make it out to be. There is a prevailing misconception that you can isolate the upper and lower abs. This simply isn’t possible. The rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscle) is one long sheath of muscle that runs from the breastbone all the way down into the pelvis. The performance of any abdominal movement causes the entire muscle to contract. Thus, when you work one part of the abs, you necessarily work the other.

With that said, you can target the lower abs by performing movements that involve lifting your pelvis up toward your chest. Exercises such as reverse curls and hanging knee raises, among others, accomplish this task quite nicely. Make sure you lift from the butt; simply lifting your legs up and down won’t significantly activate the lower abdominal fibers. Aim for approximately 10 to 15 reps per set; if you can easily achieve this without struggling on the last few reps, use leg weights (or hold a medicine ball between your knees) to make performance more difficult.

It’s important to realize, though, that these exercises are designed to tone the abdominal muscles; they will not strip away body fat. If you have a layer of flab obscuring your lower abs, you’re not going to see the results of your exercise efforts. The only way to reduce fat in any region of the body is through proper nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, and total-body weight training. Combine these principles with targeted lower ab movements and you’ll soon be sporting fab abs!

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on training for muscle development and fat loss. He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on various exercise- and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of multiple fitness books including The M.A.X. Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), which has been widely referred to as the “muscle-building bible” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge, body-sculpting program targeted to women. Brad also has authored the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text devoted to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. In total, Brad’s books have sold over a half-million copies. For more information, visit For more information, visit