Rest-pause, crank up the Intensity

Outside of the slight differences in the God given genetics we’re given, e.g., bone structure, muscle belly length, insertion points, hormone levels, blood type, muscle fiber number, and muscle fiber type, we’re anatomically and physiologically the same. If this weren’t true, doctors couldn’t perform surgery, or prescribe medication for specific reasons. The same holds true when training for a specific outcome, e.g., strength, size, or endurance.

The specificity of productive exercise is essential; the specific stimulus needed to stimulate muscular size and strength requires high intensity training. This is a universal training principle that affects everyone without exception that most training programs simply don’t adhere to.

Has it been divinely inspired, or scientifically proven, that the weight one uses must allow them to perform six to twelve reps? Has it been divinely inspired, or scientifically proven that a rep of a set has to be followed immediately by another? Has it been divinely inspired, or scientifically proven that one has to perform more than one working set per exercise?

Though these questions are rhetorical, they make a point of modes of training used by legions of lifters, with the vast majority failing in attaining their goals. Not to say there isn’t a place for traditional sets, because they do have their place, e.g., beginners benefitting greatly while perfecting lifting form.

It’s often pointed out that most beginners make sizable gains while following programs usually obtained from the local gym rat, from a top bodybuilder’s workout in a magazine, or the internet utilizing a six to 12 rep prescription. And for quite a while progress is made simply by adding weight periodically with no rhyme or reason to their training. This is because beginners have nowhere to go but up, going from not training, a zero muscular stimulus, to a low to moderate training program.

The gains experienced by beginners who inevitably move into the intermediate category, slow considerably and eventually come to a halt. This unfortunate, but predictable circumstance is seen in every gym. Incognizant of the reasons for the halt in progress, and unwilling to change their course of action, they trudge forward using variations of the same workouts making little to no gains for years to come.

In order for a training program to be productive over the long haul, it must stimulate an appropriate adaptive response. More importantly, a productive training program must also allow an adaptive response to occur. Notice the distinction between stimulating the adaptation and allowing it to occur.

Most training programs are either too long in duration (i.e., the volume per training session is too high), the training sessions are repeated too frequently, or both. All of which, deplete the body’s restorative ability, hindering adaptation.

The inability of conventional volume training programs to not only properly stimulate adaption, but to allow for it, is compounded as one advances to higher stages of development. A beginner who can bench 100lbs with 100% intensity for 8 reps is requiring much less physiologically than when they can bench 150lbs with 100% intensity for 8 reps as an intermediate lifter 1 year later. Not only does one require more rest between training sessions as one progresses, one requires a more intense stimulus to force growth, both of which are impossible using a volume approach.

Experienced lifters who are at a plateau, and require another way to increase the specific stimulus necessary to get beyond where they are. Rest-pause sets are just what the doctor ordered. Just be aware that if done correctly, rest-pause sets will be the most intense training you’ve ever done, which will necessitate more recovery time than the conventional training you’ve been doing between training sessions.

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Like many other types of sets, there are variations to rest-pause. This version is outstanding for breaking through plateaus. think of rest-pause as a set extender. The goal is to extend your sets beyond what you’re normally capable of doing. For example, suppose you can perform 315 on the bench for six reps with 100% intensity. Meaning, you could not do more than six reps with 315 despite your best effort. Let’s also add that you’ve been stuck at six reps for several months, and have never utilized rest-pause sets.

With this background I would recommend starting with 315 lbs for a rest-pause set. Warm up as much as needed and no more. A warm-up should be just that, a warm-up. I see too many individuals working way too hard at their warm-ups before they actually get to their working set, which in essence is a bastardized pre-exhaust workout. A proper warm-up ensures everything you have goes into the working set.

A warm-up for 315 lbs might go like this:

135 X 10, 135 X 10, 185 X 8, 225 X 4, 275 X 2, 295 X 2, 315 to failure.

Notice, as the weight increases, the reps decrease. It’s simply counterproductive to do otherwise.

Your rest-pause set will be made up of three to five sub-sets, performed 10 seconds apart. The set ends when you know you couldn’t possibly get another rep after a 10 second break. Keep in mind, the goal is to extend your set with 315 beyond the 6 reps you’ve been stuck at; eventually being able to use even heavier weight.

A rest-pause set with 315 lbs would look like the following: 315 X 2, rest, X 2, rest, X 2, rest, X 1. Your set was extended by one rep, resulting in increased intensity and muscle tension, which is a prerequisite for size and strength.

The following bench day, which would be between six and ten days apart depending on recovery ability, you could try adding another rep using 315 lbs, or try 320 lbs. I have found that once I get at least one rep in the fourth or fifth sub-set, I get better gains if I add weight.

Eventually, if you’re allowing the adaptive process to occur, in 6 workouts you’ll be performing more than 6 consecutive reps with 315. Now go bust your ass.

Rest-Pause overview:

  • Choose a weight that you can get no more than 8 reps with.

  • Perform three to five subsets per set, stopping when you know you can no longer get at least a full rep after a 10 to 15 second break.

  • Perform one to three reps under control per subset.

  • Allow a 10 to 15 second rest period between subsets. Less than ten doesn’t allow for enough recovery, while more than 15 starts to feel like one is cooling down.

  • Perform one working set per exercise. This is a set performed with 100% intensity. If done correctly, you won’t be able to perform a second set for the same amount of reps. You’re done, move to the next exercise.

  • Perform two to four working sets, which means two to four exercises, per body part.

  • Utilize rest-pause for no more than 6 training sessions for the same body part. Around this point, all training programs lose their effectiveness and need to be changed. make sure to use another program at least four weeks before using rest pause again.

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