The other day I visited Lift Performance in Redfern, Sydney for the first time. First things first: it’s a great gym, and if you’re in the area you should check it out. Also a big shout out to Greg from EFP gyms and Darren and Trent from Scots college for the banter. Here is a little video Greg and I shot from the session of me doing paused deadlifts:
The pause reps I were performing in the video are a great training tool for a number of reasons including:
Positioning– if you ever struggle for technique, use pause reps in the most difficult range of movement for the exercise you are performing. Not only will the pauses give you more opportunity to spend time and get comfortable in those difficult ranges, they will also teach you very quickly the right way to do it. Try doing pause deadlifts with a rounded lower back or paused benches with massively flared out elbows- that shit hurts! This is a similar idea to one of the uses of bands I picked up from my visit to Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell.
Isometric strength– long time followers of the page will know that I am a big fan of Cal Dietz and his tri-phasic approach to training. In a nutshell here is why tri-phasic training is important. To maximise on-field performance you need to maximally develop all three contraction types: eccentric, concentric and isometric. All three contraction types are programmed differently by the brain and are essentially separate skills, therefore they have to be individually emphasised at different times in the programme. Pause reps are one way to directly target isometric contraction, which will have transfer over to movements on field which require a quick reversal or change of direction i.e. almost everything we do, but especially stepping and sprinting.
Time under tension– though I wrote in how to build maximum muscle for rugby that total muscular tension was the most important variable for building muscle, time under tension plays a secondary role in creating the muscle damage and metabolic fatigue that also triggers growth. Pauses are a great way to extend the duration of a set and increase TUT if you are in a hypertrophy focussed phase of training.
If you want to implement them in your session I recommend using them either as part of your main strength exercise or as a stand alone exercise to be performed after your main exercise (this is what I did for the session in question: deadlifts, then pause deadlifts).
If you want to do them as your main exercise make sure you have your technique down and you are well prepared for them because paused reps in the 80+% range are brutal. You might also want to keep the reps lower and the pauses shorter too (probably no more than 3 reps per set or 3s per pause).
If you perform them as a stand alone exercise you can go as light as 50% of your training max. Just make sure you perform a few more reps or lengthen out the pauses a little more like I did on the last rep (5s or more per pause).
I find pause reps work best for movements where the most difficult portion of the lift is at the bottom i.e. squats, bench presses, over head presses and deadlifts. However if you feel you are weaker elsewhere in the movement or you want to switch things up, you can change where to pause.
I recommend you cycle these in and out of your training for about 4-8 weeks at a time. Once you’ve mastered paused reps and developed a good amount of isometric strength, it will be appropriate to move on and target other the contraction types via different training methods.