Your muscles adapt to the stimuli you place on them, no matter how rigorous. So, you have to keep challenging them to enjoy continued muscle growth and strength gains. You can boost the challenge to your muscles in a number of ways. The most common is to increase the resistance or the volume of the exercise that you do – but that gets boring after a while. Plus, your muscle adapts to this approach as well. Fortunately, there are other more advanced ways to get your muscles to respond once they’ve reached a plateau. No doubt about it, a strength training plateau is something you want to break out of. Otherwise, you’ll be perpetually frustrated by the hard work you’re doing without the gratification of seeing further gains in strength.
Advanced Weight Training Technique; Rest and Pause
One advanced technique you might not be familiar with is called rest-pause. This is an advanced technique you can use to stimulate further growth when your workout becomes stagnant. How exactly does it work? Although there are various approaches to rest-pause training, the concept is simple. You perform a set to near failure and then allow your muscles to partially recover enough to do another set. One approach is to complete a strength-training exercise until you can’t complete another rep with good form. Then, rather than putting the weight back in the rack, hold it in the starting position and rest for 15 seconds. Then repeat the set again, again pumping out as many reps as you can. Pause and rest for another 15 seconds and do a third set.
If you write it down, it would look something like this:
· 8 reps
· 15 second rest
· 5 reps
· 15 second rest
· 3 reps
· 15 second rest
Remember, you’re trying to do as many reps as you can with each mini-set, so the number of reps will vary depending upon your strength and endurance. What are the benefits of resting and pausing? Rather than doing only 8 reps and then stopping, you rest long enough to do two more sets, thereby increasing the volume you do.
Why does it work? The rest-pause approach to training takes advantage of the phosphocreatine system for fueling muscle contraction. This is the system your body taps into when your muscles must contract with force quickly. For example, you use the phosphocreatine system when you lift a heavy weight quickly or do an explosive sprint. It can only supply energy for movements that last 8 to 12 seconds.
The Phosphocreatine Energy System
Phosphocreatine is a creatine molecule with a high-energy phosphate group attached. When a muscle contracts, it splits ATP into ADP and phosphate and must be regenerated to fuel further contractions. Phosphocreatine helps out by donating its phosphate group to ADP to rebuild ATP. As a result, the muscle can keep contracting. The purpose of the 15-second rest is to give your muscles a chance to regenerate a portion of the phosphocreatine in your muscles to fuel further contractions.
During muscle contraction, lactic acid also builds up. The short rest period you give your muscles, helps your muscles clear some of that lactic acid and restore partial muscle homeostasis. Because only a limited amount of regeneration occurs during the 15-second rest, your muscles don’t completely recover. Thus, you can only do a percentage of the reps you completed in the first set when your muscles were fresh. Still, you’re forcing your muscles to push past the point you would normally have to stop by allowing them a brief rest.
What a Study Showed
Is the rest-pause technique superior for building strength and muscle size? Although research looking at this training approach is limited, a recently published study addressed this question. In the study, 18 trained males and females were asked to train using a traditional approach consisting of 3 sets of 6 reps using a weight that was 80% of one-rep max. They rested for 2 minutes between each set. The second group used a rest-pause approach. At the end of the 6-week study, the researchers measured strength and muscle size. In terms of strength, measured by 1-rep max strength, the two groups made similar gains. However, with regard to muscle endurance and muscle hypertrophy, the rest-pause group made greater gains for the leg press exercise but not the bench press.
So, at least for the lower body, the rest-pause technique may have advantages over traditional sets for muscle hypertrophy. Most importantly, it’s a way to vary your training. As you know, your muscle quickly adapts to the stress you put on it and changing the structure of your workouts. By altering rest periods, tempo, volume, resistance, and other parameters keeps your muscles “guessing” and growing.
Advanced Training Techniques Help Your Muscles Grow
Based on the results of the study, rest-pause may be most effective for lower body hypertrophy and endurance. However, you can still use it for upper body exercises, especially when you’re trying to break through a plateau. To get the most return for your workout time, use the rest-pause technique in conjunction with traditional training as well as other advanced training techniques to diversify your training. Explore other non-traditional, strength-training techniques to challenge your body. Some options include drop sets, supersets, super-slow training, giant sets, partial sets, forced sets, isometrics, negatives, and more.
The Bottom Line
Rest-pause is yet another advanced technique to add to your fitness line-up. Don’t do it every time you train but use it when you want to challenge your muscles a little harder and in a different way. With this technique, you’ll place added stress that should translate into muscle growth.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. “Strength and Muscular Adaptations Following 6 Weeks of Rest-Pause Versus Traditional Multiple-Sets Resistance Training in Trained Subjects”
Biochemistry. Fifth edition. (2002) W. H. Freeman and Company. “Fuel Choice During Exercise Is Determined by Intensity and Duration of Activity”
Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77. doi: 10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000.