Increase Strength at the Gym With Rest-Pause Training

A man showing strength gains from rest-pause training

A man showing strength gains from rest-pause training | Source: iStock

While you may have started holding your reps for that extra pump (increased muscle mass), you may want to take another quick timeout to consider rest-pause training. Now we’re not trying to slow your grind and hold up your workout. Yes, we know how hard it can be to amp up that motivation; and once you’re focused, you’re focused. But there’s a case for pause sets as it has been shown to increase strength.

Strength, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce internal tension within the muscles to overcome an external force. So since strength is pretty much regulated via the central nervous system, you can get why plateaus occur during strength training. You know, when you find yourself at a standstill with that chest press or deadlift PR, if only you could add five more pounds to that bar — but your muscles just won’t let you.

This is where rest-pause training comes in. It’s known that adjusting sets, reps, intensity, and rest can impact performance, essentially neural recruitment and output. With the rest-pause method you’re working with max loads and carefully timed rest periods. According to a study published by the Journal of Science & Medicine of Sport, increased motor-unit recruitment was observed among participants who lifted with this method, which leads to increased strength.

A typical rest-pause set

Source: iStock

Lifting weights at the gym | Source: iStock

  • 5 reps at 85% (or more) of 1-rep max load
  • 10 to 15 second rest
  • 5 reps at 85% (or more) of 1-rep max load
  • 10 to 15 second rest
  • 5 reps at 85% (or more) of 1-rep max load
  • 15 rep set complete
  • 2 to 3 minute rest before completing 2-3 more working sets

While you’re still getting in your 15 reps, keep in mind you’re getting them in at a heavier weight, which calls for increased strength on your part, and you’re taking about 30 seconds or so more to complete the working set.

A man weight lifting

A man weight lifting | Source: iStock

Speaking of that short rest, placing it between every five reps allows the activated muscle fibers to start replenishing their fuel stores just enough to get through five more reps. It’s during these short recoveries in which the activated muscles are taxed to fire again that the central nervous system begins to respond with a more efficient movement pattern in relation to the heavier load.  

Since this method has you working at, or very close to, your max load, it’s recommended you cycle it throughout your strength training program; say once every two to three weeks. Implemented too often, it could lead to over training injury, as the targeted muscles need adequate recovery periods to rebuild.

Listen to your body though, as complete recovery can take up to 5 to 10 minutes. If you begin to feel fatigue set in at any point in the workout, you have to put the weight down.

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.