There is a lot of conflicting information out there on what the ideal rest period between sets should be when it comes to building strength and muscle mass. There are those that think shorter rest periods are optimal to increase the time under tension and those that believe longer rest periods are best to maintain strength and lift heavier.
It needs to be said that there are no right or wrong approaches as everyone responds differently to different training techniques based on individual genetics and preferences.
What I can say however is that there are beneficial rest times specifically for an ectomorph, especially ones that are in the early stages of training and are very much in the beginner category.
How long should ectomorphs rest between sets? An ectomorph looking to build size and strength should rest between 2-5 minutes between sets for heavy compound exercises and rest between 1-2 minutes between sets for isolation exercises.
Whilst it’s a bold statement to make I will of course outline why there is an optimal rest time between sets for ectomorphs.
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How Long Should Ectomorphs Rest Between Sets
Usually the period of rest between an exercise will be a direct correlation to the goal of the individual, training for maximal strength in the rep range of 1-3 reps will require 3-5 minutes of rest between sets.
For muscle hypertrophy in the 8-12 rep range you will be looking at rest periods of 45 seconds to 1:30 minutes between sets (though the stronger you get the more rest you will need so it could be as high as 3 minutes between sets).
Finally there are those training for increased work capacity which is still a form of muscle hypertrophy, for these individuals the focus will be on rest periods between 30 – 45 seconds. These are very short rest periods and were popularized by classic bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda as well as a well known bodybuilder in Serge Nubret.
With that being said you might be wondering how long should ectomorphs rest between sets because typically you might fall into a number of the above categories.
Ectomorphs should have very clear aims with their training in the gym and that should be on getting stronger, both with overall and absolute strength which will require longer rest periods but also getting stronger in the mid range for reps (8-12 reps).
This therefore makes it a little more complicated but to really get stronger as an ectomorph and ultimately build size you will need to train with heavy weights and maintain that in order to stimulate muscle growth and will therefore require rest periods of 3–5 minutes on your heavy compound exercises.
The key dependent for this is how many reps are you dedicating to a set and what weight will you be using as a percentage of your 1 rep max (complicated stuff for a beginner who just wants to know how long they should rest between sets!).
What Is the Best Rep Range for Ectomorphs
To find out how long ectomorphs should rest between sets you are going to have to reverse engineer the process and work backwards from how many reps you will be doing each set.
A typical workout structure for an ectomorph should be a heavy compound movement as the main exercise, for this you will want to get stronger in every rep range over time to increase absolute strength but for this example we will use a specific example.
Timeless strength building (and ultimately size building) routines like starting strength, stronglifts 5×5 and 5/3/1 all focus on getting stronger in the basic compound lifts of squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
These specific movements will be the key focus for your training sessions and there is no reason why an ectomorph should stray away from this. If you’ve read that drop sets for you biceps will build bigger arms and that cell swelling and the pump is the key to growth then you are setting yourself up for minimal progress from the outset.
These basic lifts are what will add muscle to your frame, especially as an ectomorph. I personally love experimenting with training techniques and testing out all the methods that you see commonly talked about however even having said that there is no doubt that the basics build the foundation of a physique, especially for ectomorphs.
For these compound lifts you should be following the standard set out in the popular programs mentioned earlier and be looking at rep ranges between 3-5 reps per set.
The way this works if that 5 reps is your peak set, once you hit all your sets for 5 reps then and only then can you up the weight. As you up the weight you might only get 3 or 4 reps and this is where the progressive method comes in.
With this rep scheme in mind you will need to rest 3-5 minutes between sets depending on your training and strength level. As a beginner you will be able to recover quicker in between sets because the weight won’t be heavy enough to tax your nervous system (even though it will feel heavy to you).
Once you get more advanced however and are lifting significantly heavier weights in proportion to your body weight then you will need a longer rest between sets in order to fully recover and maximally recruit muscle fibres for the next set.
Outside of these compound lifts your secondary lifts should then be in the hypertrophy driven rep range of 8-12 reps. You should follow a similar progressive model to your compound lifts and up the weight once are hitting all the desired reps though make sure you aim for a minimum of 8 reps as this isn’t a purely strength driven exercise.
When training with this many reps you’ll see recommendations to rest between 1-1:30 minutes however this still won’t be enough rest to fully recover and therefore you should look at rest periods of around 3 minutes.
This seems a lot but unless you are an assisted lifter with performance enhancing drugs the average lifter just doesn’t have the recovery capabilities to take short rest periods and maintain strength levels. Pushing heavier weight will stimulate muscle growth so this is where your focus should be, not on getting a pump.
Finally for accessory and isolation exercises where reps can range from 8-15 reps you can look to take shorter rest periods between 45 seconds and 1:30 minutes. For these exercises the focus is not on maximum strength because they will be primarily single joint movements (like a bicep curl) and therefore the strength potential is significantly lower.
Here you can focus on shorter rest periods with a focus on time under tension and cell swelling but try to keep this to a minimum.
How Long Should Ectomorphs Workout
The length of a workout for an ectomorph will be directly proportionate to the rest taken between sets, there isn’t an optimal workout length however it’s best to reverse engineer the process to ensure you are not spending too long in the gym.
Your goal as an ectomorph should be to hit it hard, hit it often but keep it short. Marathon training sessions will raise cortisol to a point where you are essentially in a state of muscle degradation, the opposite to what you are looking for.
Your main compound movement should last anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on your training level, this is the bulk of your training. If you then have two secondary exercises these should last a maximum of 20 minutes in total.
Finally a few secondary exercises should be finished in no longer than 10 minutes total. If we total this up then a typical workout should last around 45 minutes for an ectomorph.
General training recommendations are for workouts to last between 30-60 minutes with an hour session being a standard cap. Therefore 45 minutes is a good number to aim for, it means you can hit it hard enough without fatiguing and also ensures you do not overdo it.
I’ve not pulled that number from the top of my head either, the math we went through earlier supports it and the key point to notice is that you are doing around 5 exercises max. This seems like a low amount but it’s not the case that more work equals more progress, the human body does not work like that.
Focusing on your key exercises and getting the workout done in a reasonable time will be the key to muscle growth for an ectomorph, taking longer rest between sets on your key lifts will produce more results than having shorter rest periods and hitting every exercise possible.
How Often Should Ectomorphs Train
One final point that you might be considering is how frequently you should train as an ectomorph. When starting out your recovery capabilities will be low and your work capacity will also be quite low meaning you can’t handle the heavy weight and high volume.
For most beginners you want to train 3-4 days per week at a maximum making use of full body sessions. This will allow you to still hit each muscle with an adequate amount of training frequency whilst also being able to fully recover from it.
As you progress in your training you will be able to train 4,5 and even 6 days per week however this will depend on the training split that you choose to go with. If you are interested in checking these out I’ve produced an article around the ideal training splits for ectomorphs here:
When starting out though it’s fully advisable that you ignore the excitement of hitting the gym everyday and take the more scaled back approach of 3 times per week, this may seem like it won’t yield results but if you follow the rep and set schemes laid out above then you will see progress skyrocket and build some serious size and strength in the process.
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