Are you ready to push through a plateau? Muscles won’t continue to grow unless you challenge them continuously. Progressive overload, the process of increasing the challenge on your muscles over time, is the name of the game when it comes to muscle hypertrophy. When you stimulate a muscle by contracting it against a resistance it’s not accustomed to, it must adapt to become stronger and more capable of withstanding such stress. Muscle fibers lay down new contractile elements called myofilaments inside muscle fibers and the muscle becomes capable of generating more force. The muscle also grows in size. Over time, you get the gains you’re working so hard to achieve.
There are a number of ways you can add progressive overload, the most common being increasing the resistance and volume that you use–but that’s only cracking the surface! You can alter the tempo, the order of the exercises, the rest time between sets, train more or less often, or change the exercises you do, among other strategies. You can also use more advanced training techniques, like drop sets, pre-exhaust and post-exhaust sets, and more. But there’s another approach you can use and it’s a simple one. Add pause reps to your routine.
What Are Pause Reps?
Pause reps are where you stop at some point during a movement and hold the weight statically for one to five seconds. When you do this, you introduce a brief isometric contraction into the movement. Isometric contractions are those where your muscles generate force but the muscle doesn’t move, and the joint doesn’t change length. You’re only holding tension in the muscle. You’re probably familiar with isometric movements and already include some in your routine. Examples are wall sits and planks where you’re resisting gravity.
Isometric holds can be useful because they increase the time the muscle is under tension. While you wouldn’t want isometric exercises to make up the bulk of your training since they only build strength at a single point, there are benefits to including isometric holds or pause reps in your routine. Let’s look at some of those benefits of adding pause reps to some of your weight training sets.
Boost Muscle Growth
Who doesn’t want to boost muscle hypertrophy? By increasing the time your muscles are under tension, rest pauses at the midpoint of a movement can give you muscles a greater stimulus to grow. The theory is that when a muscle spends greater time under tension, it increases metabolic stress. In turn, this turns on anabolic pathways that tell the muscles to grow. You can increase time under tension by lifting slower and focusing on the eccentric phase of the movement or you can do it by including a rest-pause and isometric hold into the movement.
Strengthen Your Weak Points
A rest-pause can help you strengthen points where you’re the weakest with a movement. You might be limited in how much weight you can use on a particular exercise because you’re weak at a certain point and you can’t generate enough force to move past that point. Thus, how much weight you can handle is limited by the weak point. If you can strengthen the point where you’re weak, you’ll be able to manage more weight and work with more resistance. Therefore, you’ll become stronger and can more easily push through plateaus. Adding a pause can help you correct weaknesses that limit you. Despite some limitations, isometric exercises activate more motor units than traditional training and that can lead to greater strength gains at that particular point.
When you work with weights, especially heavy weights, you might have a tendency to use momentum and doing so reduces the amount of work your muscles have to do. When you use momentum, you also allow other muscles to take on a portion of the work and you reduce the time the muscle is under tension since you’re bouncing the weight around. Adding pause reps to your routine limits momentum and forces you to slow the movement down and pause. By doing this, you naturally learn to use better form. When you take the momentum out of the equation, it also lowers your risk of injury. In fact, pause reps can help you improve our form and master the mechanics of each exercise.
How to Do a Rest-Pause
Muscle contractions are made up of a concentric portion, where the muscle contracts, and an eccentric phase where the muscle lengthens against resistance. The best place to include a pause is at the point where the eccentric contraction switches to a concentric one. This is called a transition pause. An example is when you bring the bar down to your chest during a bench press or at the bottom of a squat. Pause reps work best for compound exercises, particularly squats and deadlifts.
How long should you pause? Aim for one or two seconds initially and later aim for 3 to 4 seconds. During the isometric hold or pause, it’s important to hold tension and keep your muscles actively engaged. You can choose to pause with each rep during a set or do so only on the final repetition. When you’re first starting out, stick to pausing only on the last rep. Some people start a set with a few pause reps and then finish the set with regular reps. Others use a different approach where they time the length of the pause based on the repetitions. For example, for the first rep, hold for 1 second. The second rep, 2 seconds and on and on. Try different approaches and see what works best for you.
The Bottom Line
Pause reps are another way to take your routine off of autopilot and challenge your muscles in a new way. They’re effective for improving weight training form, strengthening weak points, and for jumpstarting growth when you reach a plateau. So, don’t forget about this strategy when you’re ready to tweak your weight training routine for more strength gains and muscle growth.
· Stack.com. “Three Reasons You Should Use Pause Reps”
· Mayo Clinic. “Are isometric exercises a good way to build strength?”
· J Sports Sci. 2005 Aug;23(8):817-24.
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