Rest-pause sets are one of my favorite techniques to first add some size with extremely high volume, and second, to greatly increase strength. This method started in the penitentiary where prisoners had to be creative with their training, and do more work in less time. There is also plenty of research to back this, as a study in the Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport in 2012 showed that a rest-pause set recruited more motor units, and caused more post-workout fatigue than a traditional workout.
How to perform a rest-pause set is very simple, but you have to stay honest with your rest period and be ready to give 100%! First begin with 75% of your 1rm, or a weight that allows you to get a max of 10 reps. You will perform each set for max reps but do not fail on a rep unless it’s your last set. There will be 3 “mini” sets with only a 20 sec rest period. For example I wanted to bring up my incline bench press so I started this protocol with 300lbs, and it went as follows:
Set 1: 300 x 10 reps, 20 sec rest
Set 2: 300 x 4 reps, 20 sec rest
Set 3: 300 x 1 rep
Now here’s the fun part. Rest as needed and drop the weight 20% and repeat for another rest-pause set. My next set was 250 for 12, 4, 3. And I can say after 2 rest pause sets I was absolutely spent on this exercise.
Now if you are really pressed for time your entire workout can consist of rest-pause sets. Here is an example of an upper body day:
1. Incline Bench as I described: 2 sets
2. Seated Dumbbell press: 2 sets
3. Incline Cable Fly: 2 sets
4. Dips: 2 sets
Continuing with how to use rest-pause sets for strength, you will make small jumps each week that will eventually change from a hypertrophy rep range to a strength one. For myself it took me 10 weeks to go from a 10 rep max to then setting multiple PRs in the last few weeks.
Week 1: 300 10, 4, 1/250 12, 4, 3
Week 2: 315 8, 3, 1/255 10, 4, 2
Week 3: 325 7, 2, 1/260 10, 4, 2
Week 4: Deload
Week 5: 350/4, 1, 1/300 6, 3, 2
Week 6: 360 5, 1, 1/300 10, 3, 2
Week 7: 370 4 (pr), 1, 1/310 8, 3, 1
Week 8: Deload
Week 9: 380 2 (pr), 1, 1/315 8, 4, 3
Week 10 405 x 1 (pr)
As you can see through these 10 weeks I started with a great way to build muscle, and very importantly build tendon and ligament strength through the higher reps. Once the weight got heavier (lower than 5 reps) I was more than prepared to handle it as well as get multiple rep and 1 rep max PRs.
Give this method a shot with a lift you have been struggling at. As I have stated in previous articles you cannot grind out heavy doubles and singles each week, and expect the weight to continue to go up. You need to step back sometimes and add some muscle to your frame to support the heavier weights.