The Low-down On Pause Reps
What Are Pause Reps?
A pause rep is a strength training technique primarily used on heavy compound exercises such as the bench press and squat.
The pause rep involves pausing for a count of 1 - 2 seconds at the bottom of the repetition, when used for squatting the brief pause will be while you're in a below parallel position. When performing pause reps on the bench press you'll be pausing when the barbell is only just above your chest.
Once all momentum has been eliminated and you've isometrically held the weight for 1 second your explosive power and fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited to power the weight back up to the starting position, completing the rep.
Here's an example of pause reps in action on the bench press
And now the squat...
Benefits Of Pause Reps
Ensures Good Form
Partial range of motion, swinging, bouncing... when it comes to moving heavy weight at speed it's all too common to see a 'whatever it takes' attitude to lifting the weight, as long as it gets from the the bottom of the repetition to the top that's all that matters, right? Unfortunately when it comes to touch and go reps that's the norm.
Pausing for a second or two between repetitions ensures you're able to practise good form as you're under control of the weight - driving through the positive portion of the repetition utilizing only your muscle, and slowly controlling the negative portion of the rep keeps each rep honest.
Removes Any And All Momentum
Momentum is your enemy in the gym. Momentum takes tension off your muscles, increased tension on our muscles is the KEY to gaining both size and strength. If you're bouncing the barbell off your chest when hitting the bench press you're shooting yourself in the foot. The bottom portion of any exercise is traditionally the hardest - if you're utilizing momentum to move the weight through the bottom portion of your reps you're not going to be getting the bang for your buck out of the exercise - you're moving the weight yet failing to apply the tension to your muscles.
Pause reps ensure any and all momentum is removed from the equation.
Places All Tension On The Targeted Muscle
Once the barbell has paused at the bottom of the repetition for several seconds the only way it's going back up is via your explosive power. Your fast twitch muscle fibers are going to be recruited to get that heavy weight moving - you're not going to be losing tension due to momentum, bad form or any other factor. Make sure you're lifting a weight you can muscle without momentum to ensure you're not going to get stuck under the bar.
Fantastic For Strength & Explosive Power
Anyone can put on a weight belt, knee wraps and some olympic lifting shoes and rep their way through what many would consider a 'heavy' set of squats...
Get that same person and give them half the weight, remove all of their training aids and make them perform pause squats with a 2 second pause between each repetition... I guarantee you they will find this far more of a struggle, and it'll help them build far more strength over time.
Strength doesn't equate to muscling around weight with the aid of bouncing, kipping and momentum.
Pause reps are a true demonstration of strength and are fantastic for building explosive power and strength, there's nothing there to help you get that weight moving except your muscles!
Why Touch & Go Isn't Always The Answer...
There's a few issues with the traditional 'touch and go' style of training, performing repetitions immediately after each other... the following problems stand out to me:
Momentum Takes Tension Off The Targeted Muscle Group
If you want to satisfy your ego and look tough, perform touch and go style repetitions.
Bounce the weight off your chest, swing the bar to get it moving at the start (hardest portion) of each repetition, momentum is your friend.
IF however, you're like me and want to actually gain strength, build muscle and get in a proper workout instead of risking injury to move some heavy weight with the aid of your good friend momentum, you're going to want to take it easy on the touch and go style repetitions.
Increased Risk Of Injury
Performing both squats and bench press with touch and go style repetitions, especially towards the end of your sets can be downright dangerous.
The desperation to bounce and swing the barbell at speed to get out of the bottom of the rep can easily see the barbell going off course, resulting in a rounded lower back or falling off balance when squatting. Bouncing the barbell off your chest during the bench press while flaring your shoulders is also a sure-fire way to set yourself out of the gym for a while with a rotator cuff injury. Pause reps are honest, touch and go is 'whatever it takes'.
Not Ideal If Strength Is Your #1 Goal
As I eluded to above, momentum is the killer of strength.
If strength training is your goal you should be 'resetting' the bar or weight between repetitions, this is the only way to ensure no momentum, force or swing is utilized from the previous repetition to assist you in moving the weight.
To move a dead weight (such as the deadlift!) you're going to have to get it moving all on your own.
Exercises I Perform With Pause Rep Training
Give the following exercises a try utilizing pause repetitions.
Chances are you'll need to lower the weight by 10 - 20% to maintain the same rep range while pausing.
Don't kip or utilize momentum as you reach the bottom of your pull-up, allow yourself to dead hang for 2 seconds before exploding back up, pulling through your lats.
Pause at the bottom of each repetition (at least parallel, ideally ATG) for 2 seconds to prevent a 'bounce' from the transfer of energy of the previous repetition.
A bent over row with a twist. Reset the barbell on the ground between each repetition. This will allow you to perform a fuller range of motion, increase your strength and reduce the load on your lower back.
Allow the barbell to rest on the floor for a second or two before pulling again, do not drop the barbell quickly during the negative, as the bounce of the 45lb plates hitting the ground will get you out of the hardest part of the movement via momentum. As I said, if you're gunning for strength this is not what you want.
After pressing the barbell overhead lower the barbell to an inch off your upper chest, pause for 2 second before exploding the weight upward once again, ensuring it remains in-line with your body. No bouncing off the chest, no bending of the knees to catapult the weight back up.