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Strength Secrets: Pause Reps

Building up strength and muscle is heard. While the first two years of any lifting program is is a honeymoon period (gotta love those noobie gains!) after that, it gets a little more difficult to expand your strength and skill set. Those that have been lifting for a number of years without a coach often struggle to build any real strength around many lifts.


Others just seem to plateau on lifts. Try as they may nothing is getting better. Pull-ups, squat, and deadlift numbers remain where they are at and only the frustration is growing.


One of the greatest techniques to get over stagnant training and quickly build strength is introducing pause reps into your compound lifts (the Big 5 Lifts). Pause reps are so easy to use and a way to make literally any exercise into a butt-kicker.


It’s also a perfect way to build enough targeted strength to get past a sticking point. Most of our beloved compound movements have a sticking point. It happens around the middle and end range of a lift. This is when the barbell is usually crossing a point where it seems the heaviest or is overcoming gravity from a dead stop.


In the squat, the sticking point is “out the hole”(from the bottom of the squat) and when the quads are around parallel to the floor. For the deadlift, it’s out the hole and when the bar is going past the knees. Same for the bench [ress, row/pull up, and overhead press: starting and the middle are the sticking points. The best way to overcome these sticking points is to live in them a little longer.


When we introduce pause reps and tempo reps we are just doing the same movement but slower to increase time under tension. Instead of moving through the movement quickly, we drop weight and take out time to linger in the lift. This is such a good technique for getting better. It is often skipped over in beginner programs because it seems not necessary for the novice lifter. But if the lifter wants to gain some skills and improve technique quickly, pause reps are the way to go.


Implementing it is quite simple. In order to improve the deadlift, perform a 3 second hold of the barbell somewhere below the knees on the way up. If we wanted to make it a tempo deadlift, you would lift the barbell up at regular speed, and lower it back down at a 3-5 second count, focusing on the mind/muscle connection in the core, glutes, and hamstrings.



For a bench press, a three-second hold at the midpoint or just above the chest will do. A pull up with a two-second pause with your chin over the bar, a squat with three separate three-second pauses at the midpoints downing down, bottom, then midpoint going up. Honestly, my quads are sore just writing that.


Look at your bog lifts and see if you can dissect them a bit. Pause rep training takes only slightly more head work than regular training and is a good technique to use when you feel like getting a good workout but not lifting huge weight. You can only use like 60-70% of your one rep max (1RM) when doing sets of 6-12.


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