Gain Strength and Muscle Mass Using This Weight Lifting Method

a man weight lifting

A man lifting weights | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Let me just take a second … or four, to help you build your strength, and muscle mass in the process, with the quick and easy technique known as the pause reps. More times than not, you’ll likely catch a guy burning through his reps; barely hitting the eccentric (bottom/starting) portion of the movement before powering it back into the concentric (top/point of muscle contraction) portion. Sure, this may work for him, depending on his goals. But if you’re looking to increase strength and muscle mass, you don’t want to be burning through your reps — you want to have complete control over the mechanics of your movements.

Now when it comes to pause reps what we’re looking at is a pause — think a two to four second hold in the eccentric portion of the rep — to strengthen the weakest point in that particular range of motion. This is considered the weakest point as your momentum is broken at a spot in which there is no kinetic energy left in the tendons, in other words that push to help propel you forward. At this point, it’s up to the fibers of the targeted muscle to get going again — in turn increasing strength.

There’s also a benefit to pausing at the concentric portion of the rep. With the momentum of the lift halted, the fibers of the targeted muscles must now work in an isometric manner to hold the load in place — in turn increasing mass.

An additional advantage of practicing pause reps is proper form, as the now controlled movement allows you to be mindful of the positioning and mechanics of each muscle involved. Pause reps are best for heavier lifts, but you should begin practicing them with lower loads. Feel free to start the first few sets with concentric pauses and finish the remaining sets with eccentric pauses, or vice versa.

Keep in mind, if you’re going for speed or power, pause reps isn’t a technique you’ll want to be including in your training program.

Movements to try

two men lifting weights

Two men working out | Source: iStock

1. Bench Press

Target Muscle(s): Pecs and Triceps

Eccentric Pause

  • Hold bar about 1 to 2 inches above chest. Be sure back is slightly arched, shoulders retracted back into the bench, and chest high.
  • Power the bar up into lift with optimal force.
  • Pec activation will be increased.

Concentric Pause

  • At lockout position, be sure to keep back slightly arched, shoulders retracted back into the bench, and chest high, as you brace through the pecs.
  • Triceps (and possible front shoulder) activation will be increased.

2. Deadlift

a man lifting weights

Performing a deadlift | Source: iStock

Target Muscle(s): Glutes and Hamstrings

Eccentric Pause

  • At the drop into bottom position, pause. Be sure to keep a tight core, chest high and straight back.
  • Hamstring and core activation will be increased.

Concentric Pause

  • At top position, be sure to tilt the pelvis and squeeze through the glutes.
  • Glute activation will be increased.

3. Front Squat

a front squat

A front squat | Source: iStock

Target Muscle: Quads

Eccentric Pause

  • At the drop into bottom position, sit back into the heels and pause. Be sure to keep a tight core, chest high and straight back.
  • Quad activation will be increased.

Concentric Pause

  • At top position, be sure to tilt the pelvis and squeeze through the glutes.
  • Glute activation will be increased.

Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as head trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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