Hey it’s Tom Venuto here again and in recent to Burn the Fat Blog posts and newsletters, I’ve been talking about muscle-building training techniques, and the most crucial program design variables to build muscle, based on the newest science.
In today’s post, you’ll get a quick introduction to one of the best high-intensity hypertrophy techniques: Rest pause training.
Why is rest pause so great? Simply because it not only works astoundingly well to build muscle, the research confirms that it builds muscle in less time. The way I see it, that puts rest pause right up there with supersets for time efficient muscle-building training.
Last week when I was brainstorming what muscle-building techniques to share next, I stumbled onto a paper that was published in the scientific journal, Applied Nutrition, Physiology, And Metabolism.
It was this newest study, one of only a handful, about the rest pause training technique that prompted me to write this.
Scientific studies about the rest pause training are new, but the method has been around for years…
Legend has it that Sergio Oliva used rest-pause training way back in 1969 when he became the only bodybuilder to ever defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia contest. Sergio was huge – his arms were ridiculous. They had to be to beat Arnold, right?
Over the years, this technique has become very popular among bodybuilders. Most competitive physique athletes know about rest pause, but oddly, I don’t think that many recreational lifters do.
That’s too bad because looking at the results top physique athletes have achieved using the rest pause method, it has been clear for a long time that it works.
If you know me, you know I am evidence-based (everything I write about and promote and use is backed by science).
But you also know I’ve said for years, “results are what count,” and we should always look at results, not just studies alone. Just look at the case of rest pause – it took the scientists over 50 years to catch up to the bodybuilders!
After an earlier study in 2019 and this newer one in 2021, we now know rest pause works based on both experience as well as science.
What the studies say about rest pause training
On the surface, the recent research results don’t look that exciting because in both studies, the scientists essentially said rest pause training works as well as traditional training.
In one case, it was slightly better for strength, and in another case there was 11% more growth in the thigh muscles with rest pause.
But basically the researchers concluded the muscle growth was about the same compared to regular training.
So what’s the big deal? Why are we raving about it? Why not just do traditional sets?
The reason is because what the researchers did find is that the people doing rest-pause training achieved that same muscle growth in less time.
This is important because one of the most common challenges readers share with me is that they’re limited on time.
Training techniques that give you time efficiency while not compromising your muscle gains are the most valuable ones you can use when you are busy and short on time.
If you’ve followed me a while then you know I’m a big fan of supersets, especially antagonistic supersets.
Superset training is so efficient it can cut your workout time by 30% to 50% with little or no compromise in muscle gains.
It’s no surprise that our superset training program – TNB TURBO – which has been around for a few years, is still our best selling weight training program of all time.
But supersets aren’t the only time-efficiency technique you can use. Rest pause training can be used in a variety of ways, and using rest pause workouts for time-efficiency is one of them.
In fact, the authors of one of the recent studies said that the results of 1 set of rest pause were similar to the results of 3 sets of traditional training.
The other huge benefit of the rest pause system for building muscle with progressive overload
Saving time isn’t the only use for rest pause. In fact, the second benefit of rest-pause is the main reason I use it myself: to guarantee that you achieve progressive overload at every workout.
Progressive overload on a well-designed training program is the key to muscle growth. It’s so important I wrote a whole book about it:
A big reason people still struggle with this is because they think progressive overload only means adding weight. But what they don’t realize is that adding reps (even at the same weight) is also a form of overload.
Make no mistake, adding weight is still the most effective way to overload. But since we can’t add weight to the bar at every workout, we need other ways to do it, and they all have to do with increasing volume (total sets and reps performed).
Unfortunately, we can’t just keep adding more and more exercises and more and more traditional sets with 2 or 3 minute rest periods because if we do, now time efficiency goes out the window and we’re in the gym all day!
Enter the rest pause technique for time-efficient progressive overload.
Just like supersets, this is a game changer because you can get the same muscle gains in less time, and you don’t have to increase the weight you lift to get those gains.
What’s really exciting is that the rest pause technique is so simple, I can explain it to you in seconds.
Here’s the short description of how rest pause training works:
- Perform a set as usual with a weight that lets you do 8 to 12 reps and take it to within 1 or 2 reps short of failure (a hard effort), or occasionally to failure (a maximum effort… on exercises where you can do it safely).
- Put the weight down and rest, but only briefly (about 10 to 20 seconds).
- Since you’ve rested just long enough for partial muscle recovery (50% regeneration of ATP in 20 seconds), you can now do more reps (the number can vary, but it’s usually about 3 or 4 more, maybe 5).
- Put the weight down and rest again for 10 to 20 seconds. That’s one round of rest-pause. (Some people call each round of additional reps “mini sets.”)
- Repeat for about 3 to 4 rounds doing as many reps as you can each time.
- That’s one rest pause set completed (the main set plus all the extra reps done in mini sets)
- Now take a normal full rest period (about 2 minutes or so) before moving on to the next set or the next exercise
- It’s normal for the reps to drop with each round so the reps in the rest pause rounds might look like this: 5, 4, 3, 3 or 4, 3, 3, 2, or 4, 3, 2, 1 or 4, 3, 2 or 4, 4, 3
You can see that essentially rest pause is a clever way to “sneak in” extra reps at the end of regular set.
Lifters who are new to this technique might do only 1 round of rest-pause reps and they might only do it on one exercise.
Seasoned bodybuilders usually perform about 3 rest pause rounds and they might do rest pause sets on more than one exercise in a workout. Sometimes a lifter will keep doing more rounds until they can’t do any more – they keep going until they can barely even do 1 rep and that’s their signal to end the set.
Keep the rest / pause periods short (10 to 20 seconds) and be judicious about too much training to failure
Some coaches or athletes say you should rest 30 or 40 seconds, but I don’t agree. If you rest longer than 20 seconds, it’s no longer the rest-pause technique, it’s just a regular straight set with very short rest periods. I would call that “density training” not rest pause training.
Some people also say you must take the main set to failure as well as all the mini sets. That’s an option, but training to failure causes a large amount of muscle damage, makes you accumulate a large amount of fatigue and adds to your recovery needs. It also can’t be done on every exercise without exposing yourself to injury risk.
Also, if you go to total failure on the main set, then for sure you’ll get fewer reps in the mini sets. This is why it’s usually preferable to train close to failure (a hard effort), but stop the main set with 1 or 2 reps left in the tank.
(Note: you can safely go to failure more often on isolation exercises and some machine exercises. A lot of failure training on heavy compound exercises can zap you right into the ground).
How and when to use rest pause
Generally you would not use rest pause on every exercise for every muscle group. It’s more often used as a specialization technique to help bring up a slow growing muscle.
You could do rest pause for every set of an exercise for one particular muscle group. But an ideal way to use rest pause is to save it for the last set of each exercise. This is what I usually do, so I don’t accumulate too much fatigue early in the workout and I don’t risk overtraining. I also do more rest pause sets or add more rounds of rest pause within a set as a way to increase volume (to overload).
If you wanted to use rest pause strictly for time efficiency, then if you were doing 3 regular sets of an exercise, you can do just 1 set of rest pause and expect similar results. This way rest pause becomes a technique for shortening your workouts.
In my opinion, the ultimate way to use rest pause is to to keep adding on volume in a time efficient way to guarantee you get progressive overload.
Using rest pause for progressive overload
The longer you’ve been training and the closer you get to your genetic muscle building potential (ceiling), the less often you can increase the weights.
At this level, adding weight at every workout or even every week is impossible and should not be expected. When you’re advanced and especially when you get to the end of a training block, it often gets hard to even add another rep every workout.
But if you use rest pause, you have a secret weapon that always allows you to add reps. Just do a set and take it close to failure. Put the weight down. Pause 15 or at most 20 seconds. Pick the weight back up and do a handful more reps. Overload achieved!
Granted they may not have been consecutive reps, but you get the reps and your total volume for the workout goes up just the same.
You can continue to achieve progression by doing more rounds of rest pause or using the technique on more sets in a workout.
Now, go try some rest-pause training for yourself, and let me know how it goes!
I hope this has peaked your interest and you give this technique a try. It’s a great one! If you have any questions, post in the comments below.
And even better, go try some rest pause sets in your next workout, then circle back here and let us know what you thought about it and what you felt! (circle back again in a month or two and tell us about the gains!)
Until next week,
Train hard and expect success,
Author, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle
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Enes A et al, Rest-pause and drop-set training elicit similar strength and hypertrophy adaptations compared with traditional sets in resistance-trained males, Appl Phys Nutr Metab, 46(11):1417-1424. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2021-0278. 2021.
Prestes, Jonato, et al, Strength And Muscular Adaptations Following 6 Weeks Of Rest-Pause Versus Traditional Multiple-Sets Resistance Training In Trained Subjects.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2019.