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Rest-Pause Training

Rest-Pause training is a brutal weight training technique designed to push people beyond their normal limits. It's not for someone in his or her first two years of working out! If you've reached a plateau and no other routine has allowed you to break through, rest-pause may be just what you need.

To understand how different rest-pause is, let me first explain how a traditional exercise is performed. I'll use bicep curls as an example.

The typical way of doing bicep curls is by performing 8-12 reps while keeping the bicep muscle constantly under tension. Once completed, it's called a set. You would then rest for approximately 1 minute. After the break, you go back and do it again, two to three more times. After you've completed three or four sets, you move onto the next exercise.

Rest-pause training is much more intense. There are two commonly accepted ways of doing it, so I'll describe them both.

Version One: You start with a much heavier weight than normal. If you're familiar with weight training terms, it's called your one rep max. (That's the maximum amount of weight you can lift, one time.) You perform one rep with that one rep max weight. Then you rest for 10-15 seconds before doing it again. You continue this cycle, doing one rep, waiting 10-15 seconds and doing another one, until your muscles fail.

Version Two: You start with a heavier weight than you typically use. About 80% of your one rep max is a good start. When you start the exercise, you take a short rest (1-3 seconds) between each REP and continue until your muscles fail. That's your first set. You then rest for 10-15 seconds before you start the next set. When you can't complete even one rep after the 10-15 second break, you're done.

Rest-pause changes things in three important ways.

  1. You start with a heavier weight load than normal. When you move more weight, your muscles are stressed more and grow. Just the fact that rest-pause requires you move more weight can shock your muscles into greater growth.

  2. You perform each set until failure. In traditional muscle building exercises, you have a specific number of reps you're trying to achieve. In rest-pause, you keep going until your muscles simply do not allow you to move the weight anymore.

  3. The rest period between sets is much shorter than usual. What this does is give you just enough time to gain a little strength back before your muscles are forced to start working again.

Here's how it works.

Under normal circumstances, when you're performing an exercise, muscles become inflamed. That inflammation creates a burning sensation in the muscle that eventually forces you to stop. Most people don't stop because their muscles can't handle it anymore; they quit because of the burning sensation the inflammation gives them.

What rest-pause does is give you a few seconds to wait for the inflammation "burn" to subside so you can push those muscles even further. Essentially you're now working to muscle failure, not just inflammation failure.

Rest-pause training is NOT a powerlifting program. Powerlifters do train with heavier weights and one rep sets, but they also take 3-5 minute breaks between each set. With rest-pause, the longest break lasts for 15 seconds.

How to get started.

Ten to fifteen seconds may not be enough time for your muscles to recuperate. If you want to work up to it, you might start with more traditional rest periods. Give yourself 60 seconds the first time. Then cut it down by 10 seconds each time, until you're only taking the 10-15 seconds suggested.

Pushing your muscles to this extreme does require that you take several precautions.

  • Always use a spotter if you're attempting rest-pause with free weights. Since you're working your muscles to failure, spotters are required to help you return the weights to where they belong. For more protection, I suggest you use machines for the rest-pause portion of your workout.

  • Be sure you're thoroughly warmed up before starting a rest-pause workout. You will be pushing your muscles to the edge and if you're not properly warmed up, you could seriously hurt yourself.

  • Don't use rest-pause more than once a week on each muscle group, or for longer than eight weeks total or you risk over-training.

  • Finally, if you want to perform a rest-pause routine, do it at the end of your workout. Once you work your muscles to failure, they won't be any good to you doing other exercises.

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Updated 12/21/2012
Updated 4/9/2015