A moment's hesitation can get you in a world of trouble. For instance, you're crossing the street and look up to see a semi barreling down on you, threatening to use you like a speed bump. Or you find yourself in a bar fight and the bumbling twit insulting your manhood has his fist balled and his arm cocked back. Even the briefest of pauses can be killer, when your wife or girlfriend asks, "Do I look fat in this dress?"
However, in the world of training, hesitation can sometimes be the trick to adding a little more muscle or stimulating muscle fibers that have gone a bit stale. Such is the case with the "rest-pause" technique, a simple way to squeeze a few more growth-producing reps out of your exercise regimen.
Rep ... Refuel ... Rep
While some training tricks can be a bit complex or require a spotter, rest-pause is crudely simple. You perform your reps as you normally would until you can't do any more. Then, instead of terminating the set by putting the weight down or placing it back in the rack, you pause in the "down" position, rest three or four seconds, then try to pump out a few more reps. Bingo! It's as simple as that, yet you reap many of the same benefits as you do from doing forced reps or negatives, but without the extra risk of injury inherent in those techniques, and without the need for a spotter.
Rest-pause uses your body's-and more specifically, your muscles'-rapid recovery abilities to increase the intensity and duration of a set, according to Bob LeFavi, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., professor of sports medicine at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga. "The muscle is able to regain some of its strength due to its ability to quickly regenerate a chemical compound called phosphocreatine," he explains. "By regenerating phosphocreatine, which can occur in seconds, the muscle is then able to derive energy from that compound for muscular contraction, while at the same time lactic acid is being flushed out."
This is not to say the muscle has suddenly gotten stronger, LeFavi adds. "It has simply gotten hold of a quick energy source. Of course, the muscle itself is still fatigued, and you'll be lucky to get a few more reps before lactic acid shuts everything down again. But hey, a few more reps can be enough of an increase in intensity to prompt growth."
How to Use It
You can use rest-pause with almost any exercise in your workout regimen, although you may want to save it for the last move for a given body part (or at least the second-to-last one) so you're warmed up and you don't burn out your muscles too quickly. "I would pick the set where you felt both completely warmed up and strongest," LeFavi says. "Often, that would be near the 'top of the pyramid'-or where the resistance [weight] is greatest."
Rest-pause, of course, can be applied to more than legs. You can use it on shoulders, chest, back, biceps, triceps, even forearms if you work them (hey, Popeye isn't the worst idol you could have). Once you try the technique, the most difficult thing to overcome may be the desire to use it all the time. Don't.
The downfall of using this or any advanced technique too often is the inevitable physical adaptation that occurs: If you keep using the same set-extending trick, your muscles will adjust and expect it. Growth comes from keeping your muscles guessing, so mix rest-pause up among many different techniques and never let your body get used to the same old tired routines, sets, reps or training schemes.
"Approach rest-pause as a high-intensity supplement to your program," LeFavi recommends. "That is, like forced reps and negatives, it might be best to use it every third workout or so for any particular exercise. Otherwise, an overuse injury might be looming in your future."