Do you even pause, bro?

My current Barbell Medicine strength development program has included pause squats, deadlifts & bench presses. I started off simply doing the old mental ‘1, breath, 2’ then up I would go on. These are new movement patterns, that I have never really used in a training program, other than maybe one or two reps over the last few years.

For a recent deadlift session, I was to do 1″ height at 2 count pause deadlifts. For fun, I decided to place my iPad on the floor in front of me and pulled up the stopwatch app and went about doing a proper 2 second pause on the deadlifts. Apparently, my whole training life had been a lie! Two seconds is at least two infinities longer than my mental two counts. I guess years of playing the guitar and piano have taught me nothing about timing.

I would highly recommend placing your iPhone/iPad/watch/timer in front of your face when it comes to any pause or tempo movements. Our brains have a funny way of speeding up counting when we’re feeling pretty exhausted. This is great for consistency, we need to use the same measuring stick each and every time because lifting 315lb for a pause of half a second vs two seconds is a huge difference. How can we accurately measure our progress if our timing is off, it’s on the same spectrum as changing range of motion. This is why the bench is from touching the chest to arms locked out. Doing anything in between that should be considered a different exercise and thus a different benchmark. Same goes for any other exercise, being able to benchmark the range of motion with measurable distances is greatly beneficial.

Secondly, why do pause movements? They are great because they add variety to the movement without veering too far off of the specificity scale. To get better at squats, you would pretty much do more squats. However, this concept has to be balanced with stress. For the purposes of powerlifting, the main goal is to increase the one rep max for the squat, bench, deadlift. That is it, nothing else matters.

Does this mean all we would ever do is one rep squats? That would be ludicrous and very ineffective. This topic could fill an entire book – programming. I only want to address two points behind using ‘pause movements’

  • Variety that isn’t too far from the movement. A pause movement is the exact same movement, with a pause placed somewhere, usually at a weak point, once you get experience you’ll understand where your own sticking points are in a movement and this is the perfect place to insert a pause in the movement. The further away the accessory movement is from the original big three, the less carry over it will have to the movement. Will flying a jet plane make you a better race car driver? Possibly, they both require similar skills: spatial awareness, coordination, mental acuity. However, does driving a four door station wagon make you a better race car driver? Not really, but there’ll be more carryover than trying to fly a plane to become a better driver.
  • Stress reduction. Constantly moving weights at 90%+ of your max isn’t the most efficient programming methodology, will it work? Yes. Is there a better way? Most definitely. The other great use of pause movements is the ability to increase time under tension and felt difficulty, whilst actually using sub-maximal weights. If you’re able to use 90%+ of your one rep max on a two second pause movement, your one rep max isn’t your true one rep max.


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