Does Less Rest Between Sets Really Burn More Fat?

I love fitness myths.

how much rest between setsSeriously.

Behind breaking wind as loudly as possible immediately before I get off public transport it’s like, almost my favourite pastime.

Because there are so many of them and dayummm are they hard to get rid of?!

Sometimes, not even scientific fact will stand in the way of a good training tip that Janet from your local supermarket has decided is the new reason she’s dropped 6lbs in 6 hours.

There’s the small frequent meals myth, which suggests that by eating smaller portions of food and splitting it across more meals, your metabolism will magically speed up and burn more fat.

There’s the toning myth, which suggests that if women so much as sneeze around a heavy barbell they can expect to wake up the next morning looking like The Hulk in a fucking pair of french knickers.

What makes me enjoy fitness myths so much is that some of them are more stubborn than that questionable stain on your favourite workout tee, that you think is chocolate, but may well be poop, and might not even be yours.

So you wear it anyway, because why would you have chocolate on a gym tee?

Then again, why would you have… never mind.

As I head off to buy some new workout clothes, I want to dedicate an article to another popular gym belief – shortening your rest periods will increase fat loss.

Is it true, or does it qualify as just another bit of broscience you’ll pick up from your resident knucklehead?

The Short Rest Theory

How much rest you take between sets has long been theorized to impact how much fat you burn in your workout.

If your goal is to increase muscle size and definition, it makes sense to take more recovery time between each set as this will enable you to lift a heavier weight and, thus, stimulate more muscle fibers.

So it’s not uncommon to see people who are training towards these goals taking between 2-3 minutes rest between sets.

Whereas, for those of you who are training towards fat loss goals, it is often suggested that you need to be reducing the amount of rest you take between sets and spend as much time as possible moving around, because this will keep your heart rate up.

You want 30 seconds or so.

So that means no daydreaming.

And no rolling your eyes at that Facebook friend who keeps trying to promote Juice Plus.

The theory makes sense, and this is why it has been passed around most gym floors for the last 30 years.

Trust Science

Thanks to an interesting study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, we now have an answer.

A team of researchers from the College of New Jersey set out to determine just how much more fat you’d actually burn if you adopted this technique of lowering your rest between each set during your workout. (1)

During the trial, they compared the results of two groups of participants, with both groups performing 5 sets of 5 reps on bench press with either a three minute rest or a 30 second rest between each set.

Interestingly, the researchers found that a 30 second rest boosted fat burning by over 50% compared to the other group.

Holy shit.

We have a winner.

Taking less rest between sets does indeed ramp up fat burning and, yes, you should use it in your workouts.

So, if you’ve been asking, “How long should I rest between sets for weight loss?” you now have an answer.

Of course, I’d advise you to be experimental with how much rest you take between each set. The study here used 30 seconds as a benchmark figure, but depending upon your training history you may find that you need slightly longer than that to recover between sets to offset any negative impact on the amount of weight you can lift.

rest between sets for fat loss

How To Apply This Tip

So there you have it, while science has forced some fitness trends into the myth bin, it has also confirmed the effectiveness of others.

And this training principle falls into the latter category.

You can incorporate this technique into your training in a couple of ways. Here’s what I recommend:

  • reduce your rest between sets by 15 seconds until you make it down to the 30 second mark, or
  • use cardio acceleration during your rest periods

how much rest should I take between sets for fat loss

Cardio acceleration is one of my favorite methods to use and I’ll be sharing a post with you in the coming weeks on how to use that technique to it’s full potential, so be sure to get on my free email list (bottom of page) to not miss out on that update.

Another protocol you could use to increase fat loss is the Rest Down technique, which I shared in this video.

“Rest Down” teaches you how to structure your rest periods over 5-6 weeks, progressively dropping them each time your body adapts in order to keep the fat loss coming on strong, as opposed to just reducing your rest right from the get-go.

Have fun applying these tips, and let me know how you get on.

If you enjoyed this article, all I ask is that you are kind enough to share it with others.

Jump on my email list (so you get notifications of new training tips – all free) and go here for my workout plans.

(kudos to any parents who got the poop joke from the beginning of today’s tips. Dad life for, erm, life.)


  1. Ratamess, N. A., et al. The effect of rest interval length on metabolic responses to the bench press exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007 May;100(1):1-17. Epub 2007 Jan 20.

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