Rest-Pause Training: What, Why, Who, and How
In the realm of fitness – and particularly strength and conditioning – there’s no shortage of programs to follow.
Moreover, when you factor in all the varying set/rep protocols, rest intervals, tempos, and any other permutations, algorithms, or NASA level geekdom that can come into play when designing a program or general template…..it’s easy to see that the possibilities are endless.
And that’s what I dig so much about this field.
I’ll be the first to admit I have my own biases on what I feel are the most useful, safe, and time efficient protocols to implement for any given goal or task.
Hint: none include the Shake Weight.
At the end of the day there’s really no one BEST way to train someone. Everything works!
At least for a little while anyways.
Having said that, today I want to discuss – albeit briefly – one of my favorite protocols that I feel leads to amazing results when implemented correctly (and with the right person).
What Is It: Opinions may vary, but here’s the nuts and bolts. Unlike a standard powerlifting routine where one performs low reps (1-3 reps) for several sets with long rest periods in between (typically 3-5 minutes), rest-pause training requires you to take as little as 10-15 second breaks between each set.
Why Use Rest/Pause Training: That’s a great question.
It’s essentially a fantastic way to increase both training density and training efficiency with the compound movements (think: squat, deadlift, bench, chin-ups) using heavier loads by utilizing shorter rest periods between each rep. There’s no dilly dallying around, and it’s no wonder that many people who choose to follow this type of training for a training block (or two) get really strong and pack on a decent amount of muscle in no time flat.
Sounds cool, right?
Who Should Use It (and How): Another great question. And as with anything…..it depends.
I see two trains of thought here:
1. The more accepted (and popular) form of rest/pause training is geared towards those who have more of a hypertrophy or muscle gaining agenda. You know: guys (or girls) who want backs the size of Kansas, pecs that can deflect a tank, and/or tree trunks for legs.
The most widely used variation of rest/pause requires you to perform a set to “failure,” rest about 25-30 seconds, perform another set to failure, rest about 25-30 seconds, and perform a final set to failure.
More often than not it will go something like this: perform set, rest 15-20s, eek out 2 more reps, rest 15-20s, eek out another 1-2.
I placed “failure” in quotations because there’s a bit of a caveat. When I say failure in this context I don’t mean “OMG OMG OMG OMG someone help and get this bar off my neck failure.”
Rather, what I really mean is TECHNICAL failure.
That is: end your set when technique starts to falter and you can no longer perform any reps without the risk of destroying the back of your pants, dismemberment, or putting your life in danger.
2. You can also view rest/pause training as a hybrid form of cluster training, where you perform 1-3 reps with a specific weight with an emphasis on strength and performance.
I’ve been toying around with this variation for a few months now with my deadlift training, and have seen marked improvements – especially with my speed off the floor (which I have always been miserable at).
I’ll take 70-80% of my 1RM and perform 5-10 singles (sometimes more) with 10-20 seconds rest in between each rep.
If I’m feeling super masochistic, I’ll set a timer for 15-20 minutes and try to get as many “singles” as possible within that time frame – taking the appropriate rest intervals of course.
But as I noted above it’s a superb way to increase training density, and with regards to the timed variation, has a pretty significant conditioning component as well.
Moreover, there’s a built in progression in that you can try to beat your rep-record from the previous week.
Taking it step further is a variation I “stole” from strength coach Mike Mahler (which I’m sure he stole from someone else, who probably stole it from Jesus), called modified rest/pause training:
To quote Mike himself:
What you do initially to prepare yourself for modified rest-pause training is to take your three rep max and do ten singles with that weight. Instead of taking only 10-15 seconds between each set, take one-minute breaks between each set.
For most people, this won’t be too difficult and that, of course, is the point. I want you to build a pattern of success with a few relatively easy training sessions to prepare you for the brutal rest pause training sessions to follow. Once you can complete all ten singles with one minute breaks, decrease the breaks to 45 seconds between each set. Keep the weight the same.
Once you can complete all ten sets at 45 seconds, go down to 30 seconds. Once you can do that, go to 15 seconds (even though you’re only resting 15 seconds, you’ll still rack the weight in-between).
Once you’ve completed ten sets with 15 second breaks, increase the weight by 10 pounds and go back to one minute breaks between sets. Work your way down the rest pause ladder again until you’re back to 15-second breaks. At that point, increase the weight again by another 10 pounds.
And I Lied, There’s Actually Three Trains of Thought
3. While considered a more advanced protocol to follow – and definitely not for the faint of heart – I’ve also incorporated rest/pause training with some beginners I train to help with their technique.
A lot of personal trainers and coaches make the mistake that beginners should use nothing but high(er) rep training to slowly introduce them to loading and to better prepare the joints/tendons/ligaments to the rigors of training.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with that notion – how many times have you seen a beginner dominate his or her technique when performing a set of 10+ rep squats?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re more likely to see another Fast and Furious movie being made. I mean, what are they up to now, five? There’s no way they can keep this thing going.
I’m not gonna lie: that does look pretty sick.
But back to my point – hammering technique is the name of the game when it comes to beginners, and I’ve found that, sometimes, rest/pause training fits the bill nicely here.
You just don’t need to be too aggressive with the loading!!!!!!!
If someone is struggling with technique, instead of having someone perform five continuous reps (which can get ugly really quickly), I’ll have them break down the “set” into five separate singles with 10-20 seconds rest in between.
Now I can have them focus on perfect technique with each rep, but without having fatigue become a determining factor.
And There You Go
Like I said, there are dozens (if not more) of other variations of rest/pause training out there, but hopefully this helped to clarify as to whether or not it would be a good fit for YOU.
This isn’t something that can (or should) be used long-term, but it’s definitely a great way to spice up your training and take your physique and performance to the next level.