Recovery time: How long? And what should I do?

By Charley Smook, MS, CSCS

One of the biggest questions when it comes to lifting is: “How long do I have to wait in between sets and what do I do while I wait?”  There is no concrete answer. It all depends on what phase of training you are in and what style of training you are doing.  For a basic performance enhancing style of training here are some guidelines to follow.

Certified strength and conditioning specialist, Charley Smook, via the National Strength and Conditioning Association.With a hypertrophy phase you want slightly less recover time in between sets.  Recovery time could be forty-five seconds if you are looking for major hypertrophy, i.e. Body building, but can go to one minute thirty seconds for a general athletic hypertrophy phase.  Keep in mind you will be at a mid-point for reps 8-12 and the weight being lifted will be lighter.  This is why recovery time is shorter as the muscles do not need as much time to regenerate energy for the next set.

With a strength phase the recovery time gets significantly longer.  For reps ranging from six to eight recovery time is around two minutes thirty seconds.  This allows the ATP in muscle to regenerate and the heavier load can then be lifted again.  For reps ranging from three to five a recovery time of three minutes to three minutes thirty seconds should be used.  The heavier weight at these lower reps shreds through the built up ATP in muscles which is why recovery time is longer as it takes more time for the energy system to recover.  When dealing with one rep sets it is best to do three minutes thirty seconds.  However, if you are doing a max set this recovery time should be pushed to four or five minutes.

Now what to do with all of this recover time in between sets.  There is a plethora of options.  On squat days pairing with a core activation of some sort is my go to.  I like to pair squats with a core stability exercise of some sort i.e. a plank, hollow hold, pallof hold.  On bench day warming up the shoulders with some posterior band work or T-spine mobility are great options.  With a pull from the floor mobility of the hips and ankles or glute band work is a great way to fill the recovery time.

The key to the best lift is to not take too much or too little recovery time.  While adding extra time will make a lift longer it is important to follow these guidelines to reap the benefits.  Be smart with your recovery time, do not waste it utilize it for mobility, core activation, and or glute activation.