Study: How Long Should Weightlifters Rest Between Sets?

There are a lot of controversial areas of fitness. We’re not just talking about the big, easy-to-bust myths like deep squats are bad for the knees or lifting will make women bulky (no and no) but even concepts as “simple” as how long you should rest between sets can be hard to work out.

These days, there’s a pretty widely accepted protocol: for endurance, about a minute. For hypertrophy, two or three minutes. For strength, three to five minutes. That’s kind of a spectrum and you can combine qualities by putting your rest periods between them. We’re not saying this is gospel, rather that it’s pretty common practice.

What, then, are the best rest intervals for weightlifters? This is a sport that’s not just about strength or hypertrophy, it involves enormous technical expertise and a serious focus on coordination and timing. At such a high level, when do qualities like these get fatigued?

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A new study aimed to figure this out. Entitled “Effect of 2- vs. 3-Minute Interrepetition Rest Period on Maximal Clean Technique and Performance” the study notes that “it is widely accepted that adopting a long rest period (3–5 minutes) during maximal strength and power exercise is of importance in reducing acute fatigue and maintaining power and technique proficiency” but wanted to put this idea to the test.

When it comes to performance, rate of perceived exertion, technical efficiency, and power production, how long should you rest to get the best outcome between two max lifts?

What’s cool is that while the sample size was pretty small, the study focused on elite athletes, not novices or recreational lifters. Nine of them worked up to a 1 rep max clean & jerk on two separate occasions, one with a two-minute rest and another with three. The reason they compared two minutes with three is that international competition allows two minutes between heavy lifts when an athlete is making successive attempts at the snatch or clean & jerk.

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[Read more: 6 things to do between sets that are more useful than looking at your phone.]

The results? Athletes that waited three minutes performed better. This was measured through a variety of means like backward movement during the first pull and peak horizontal displacements.

If you’re saying “well, duh, of course three minutes has better recovery than two,” then you’re probably not alone. The point of the study, though, appears to be to provide feedback to the international community and suggest that athletes should have more than two minutes’ between attempts if the goal is to have the heaviest lifts possible.

Featured image via @iwfnet on Instagram.