5 Tips for Succesful Paused Lifts

Last week I discussed 5 benefits of training with a pause, a pause squat specifically. 

To review they were:

1) Increased maximal force

2) Cue for bracing/staying tight

3) Increased time under tension

4) Enhanced confidence

5) Carry over to the deadlift

In this article, I'll discuss who should use pause work and how much is appropriate. Note: this information is guided towards competitive powerlifters or anyone looking to improve maximal strength. 

How to Incorporate Pauses into a Program

Beginners (0-1 year)

While you should never say never (damn, was that a Beiber reference?) I don't recommend pause work for beginner trainees. The only exception would obviously be bench press, as a pause is the competition movement. 

As a beginner, you want to grab the lowest hanging fruit. That means exhausting all basic means to progress before jumping on to advanced training or exercises. With the internet exploding and elite athletes sharing their programs (or at least what they want you to see), it's become popular to mimic the elite. This is especially true for beginners. But that's really stupid when you think about it. What makes you think that what Dan Green is doing to deadlift 1,000 lbs is appropriate for you when you're trying to hit 2 plates?

Beginners need to keep it simple. Train the main lifts hard and you'll get stronger. Pause work may even interfere with progress by adjusting the lifters form. For example, they may change the speed of their descent in a normal squat.  

Intermediate (1-4+ year)

This is the population that's going to benefit from paused work the most. They've developed past the point of adding 5-10 lbs to the bar every session, but they haven't reached an elite status where the main lifts should constitute nearly all of their training (ala the best powerlifters & oly lifters in the world do like 3-5 lifts total)

  • Option 1 - Add pause work after the main lift. You'll want to keep the volume low. Remember from the first article that pause work will create more time under tension, so technically 315x3 with a pause is more volume than 315x3 with no pause. Keep this in mind whenever you're programming pause work. If you squat 2x/week, say 4 sets each session, adding in 1 set of pause squats at the end of each workout would be a good starting place. 
  • Option 2 - Have a separate day for pause work. Remember, specificity is kind. So if you're only squatting 1x/week, you better be damn sure it's the competition lift, not paused. But say you're currently squatting 1-2x/week, you can add a second or third session with pause squats only. This can be an effective way to gradually increase volume, as loads will be limited with pauses. 

Advanced (5+)

Can't say I know much about this - all I can say is the best lifters in the world pretty much only do their competition lifts. Many of them also incorporate pauses, but I'd be lying if I said I knew anything about training truly elite competitors.  

Dan Green is one of the top raw powerlifters in the world and is known for his impressive paused work.

Dan Green is one of the top raw powerlifters in the world and is known for his impressive paused work.

Tips For All

  1. Have someone else say your cadence. A 3-second pause feels like 10 and a 7-second pause feels like you're watching the Titanic. It's incredibly easy to cheat and quickly count for yourself, turning a programmed 5-second pause into a 3-second. Having an objective count is key. 
  2. Don't relax. This goes mainly for the squat and bench press. You're using the exercise to cue tightness. So it's not doing any good if you simply rest the bar on your sternum or chill your hamstrings onto your calves. For bench, try to keep the bar barely on your chest. For squat, try to hold slightly below parallel. 
  3. Vary the cadence. I recommended 1, 3, 5 and even 7-10 second pauses (mostly for fun) I've found the varying the tempos keeps to motivated to PR. I mean that's any easy way to add 4 PR's to your belt, it's also keeps the staleness away, which is easy with powerlifting training. 
  4. Keep the reps low. A normal squat may be 2-3 seconds down with 1 second up. So if you're doing a set of 5 it may take 20-30 seconds total. Now a 3-second pause 5-rep set is at least 15-seconds longer than normal. For this reason I don't see much reason in doing reps above 5. As the pauses get longer, your reps should become shorter. For example, I've never done anything over 2 reps on a 7-second pause. Since that's still about 20-seconds of "work." 
  5. Humble yourself. I feel like an overly cautious mother when I say this, but people really do need to just chill out sometimes. You shouldn't try to pause squat 80 percent of 1RM your first session.

This is my general template for clients who've never pause squatted before.  

Frequency: 1x/week - following main squat

Sets: 2

Reps: 3-5

Cadence: 3-second pause

Load: 40-50 percent of 1RM

This protocol is a solid introduction to pause work. It's essential to start light with any movement to perfect the form. As you become better at it your pause squat will become a greater percentage of your 1RM - and of course the ultimate goal is for it to increase your 1RM. 

In conclusion, remember pause work is just another training tool. It's not a secret, nor is it magic. They don't HAVE to be in any program, but in my opinion that are one of the best ways (other than just squatting) to build up the squat. They also provide several benefits that is difficult to replicate with other lifts. 

Stay tight. Explode. Get stronger