I'm an amateur, but refer to your site often for ideas
about different exercises to perform. I have a question about
how much rest is acceptable between sets. I'm currently working
from home and while it's been difficult to find time for a dedicated
chunk of time for a workout during the day, I have been able
to do a set here and there throughout the day. Using a single
leg squat (aka "Pistol") as an example, I'll do a set
to failure on each leg (right now that's 5, but it was only 4
a couple of weeks ago!) then get back on the phone and computer.
A while later (maybe 5-10 minutes, sometimes an hour) I'll go
do another set. I'll do at least three sets throughout the day,
often it's four or five sets. I still have a normal split schedule,
I won't do legs again for another few days.
Is there a benefit I am missing by not doing 2-4 sets with
only a few minutes of rest? Doing it this way has been a great
for my motivation. It's really easy to talk myself into knocking
out "just one more set" at various times during the
That is kind of how I began weight training
as a teenager, taking very long rests between sets. I spent more
time station surfing on my shortwave radio than working out,
so I took hours to complete a workout.
Generally, as you know, you would take a few minutes between
sets. By taking longer rest, you will basically forgo two benefits
that may or may not be important to you at this point. First,
by training with less rest between sets, you achieve a specific
type of muscular endurance. Unless you are in a sport that requires
this type of endurance, or will be required to train this way
by your strength and conditioning coach, you are probably not
missing out on much, particularly since that type of endurance
is the first to go during periods of detraining (aka: lay offs).
Secondly, by waiting so long, your muscles will cool down
between sets. Typically, you would begin an exercise by performing
a warm-up set of approximately half of your workout resistance
before your first workout set. The warm up preceding the workout
set assists in several ways. (1) Reduces the chance of injury
by warming the specific muscle groups and joints. (2) Allows
you to rehearse the motor skill required for the movement. (3)
Allows you to use greater resistance, or greater intensity to
If you take more than several minutes rest between sets, you
may need to rewarm-up the muscle to achieve these benefits. However,
since you consider yourself a novice, you'll make progress no
matter what you do and ironically, may have a lower risk of hurting
yourself as a more advanced exerciser.
Although you workout to failure now, your ability to push
yourself harder during your workouts will actually increase as
you progress throughout the years. This means performing a warm-up
set and taking only modest rest periods between sets will be
more important for those above mentioned benefits when you are
more advanced, using those greater resistances.
Incidentally, despite popular beliefs, it is not necessary
to workout to failure. If you look at the training styles of
Olympic weightlifters and Powerlifters, they typically avoid
working out to failure, only failing periodically by accident.
Instead, they commonly workout one repetition short of failure
during their workout sets. Even for bodybuilding, training to
consistently to failure is not only not necessary, it can even
lead to premature stagnant progress and burnout.
If you train just short of failure for some time, you will
find on those reps that you can just barely manage the last rep,
you will be more likely to achieve that last rep since you'll
have taught your body to success rather that to fail each set.
You will also be able to make more long term progress working
out just short of failure. It is much easier to overtrain when
working out to failure and overtraining invites stagnated progress.
In my opinion, training to failure should only be practiced sparingly,
if at all.
Also see Weight Training: Applied Research Findings: Rest