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I'm currently training 3x a week for mainly strength and progressing fine, but I find that my rest times between sets are ridiculously long and if I don't take them, I'm not able to finish my sets.For example, on my heavy 3x5 squats, I need to rest for 5-7 minutes.

This is pretty bad, but what's worse is that even my assistance work (chinups, dips) need this much rest, or else the number of reps I can do goes down.

So what's the best way to improve my endurance and need less rest time? I heard cardio might help?

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It would be good if you told us how your legs and back are feeling after the set so we can understand the problems you are having –  aaronman Jul 30 '13 at 21:28
    
What program are you on and what is your goal? –  Dave Liepmann Jul 30 '13 at 21:37
    
@aaronman there's nothing wrong with a body part in particular, just my ability to hit the same number of reps repeatedly with short rest times –  Tristan Jul 30 '13 at 23:00
    
@DaveLiepmann I'm currently doing Stronglifts 5x5 with the goal of strength and putting on muscle thanks everyone for your help –  Tristan Jul 30 '13 at 23:01
    
Well then I say take the breaks and you may see the time needed get shorter over time –  aaronman Jul 30 '13 at 23:12
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3 Answers

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If you're on a novice linear progression like StrongLifts or Starting Strength, then 5 to 10 minute rests between sets are a reality at the tail end of the progression. If you're getting to real weights, don't fret. If it's happening quite early in your progression--say, with less than bodyweight on your squat, or less than 100 pounds on your press--then you might have a problem. Otherwise, just buckle down and do the sets with a powerlifter's rest periods.

I recommend imposing an Absolute Limit on your rest periods, and simply doing your next set at that time. If you fail, then follow the failure protocol for your program. This usually involves a deload in the next workout. This is incredibly useful for your long-term strength gains.

Don't start taking 15 minute breaks in an attempt to regain strength, because it won't work.

Don't worry about cardio or additional strength work to fix the problem. It's normal to need long breaks between heavy squats on a novice linear progression.

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I do appreciate this from a strength training standpoint, as I know the other answers are from a more general standpoint. Yes I am nearing the end of my nooby progression (1.5xBW squat, 105lb OHP, 2xBW DL, etc). I think I am going to impose an absolute 5 minute limit and go from there, as DMoore does still bring up some good points. –  Tristan Jul 31 '13 at 1:02
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For someone starting out 5-7 mins is just way too long to be sitting around in between sets. You need to be doing something not reading! If you are lifting for pure strength - not size or tone or athletic reasons - than longer break times can work.

But not at 5-7 mins per. That means you spent 21 mins doing 15 squats? That doesn't seem efficient. There have been studies done showing that once a person starts an intense workout they have anywhere between 20-35 mins of peak strength building time. After muscles are fatigued (you are making your muscles more tired not necessarily stronger) and the body needs to be replenished. A lot of olympic lifters actually lift twice a day for 30-45 mins each. And yes they do take ridiculous breaks between sets.

I don't think you are there yet though. You need to use your time wiser in the gym. Even if you think you have unlimited amount of time your body doesn't. For a beginner 3-4 mins is a long time. Drop the weight, increase the movements you do and the reps, and increase your intensity level. Now once every month or two if you want to have a max out day on a lift you can go ahead and take the long breaks to see where you are at.

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And from what you said you are taking long breaks to recoup because you don't have the strength to do the reps you want to do. That is not a cardio issue. That means you need to get stronger or more used to doing that movement. You might be sending your body in a loop because it is hard to get used to squatting when you do 15 reps every 20 mins. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 21:28
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Doing cardio would make your heart rate return to normal faster if that feels like the problem (I have to say if your heart takes 5-7 minutes to return to normal you are very out of shape). If your legs are the problem, I would suggest stretch and be well hydrated and fed (obviously don't eat right before the workout). Sometimes after squat sets I would cramp up a little and need to take pretty long rests between sets, I would say that generally squats will require quite a bit of rest time between sets though more like 3 mins not 7

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