In the 1960s a gargantuan figure, Jim Williams, affectionately known in strength circles as the "Scranton Strongman," presided within prison walls.
Williams, who was serving time due to a string of youthful indiscretions, turned his jail sentence into an opportunity to transform himself into the prison's strongest inmate, becoming just the second person to eclipse the 600-pound mark on the bench press and the first to notch 650 pounds in competition.
And due to the limited equipment available in the Scranton weight pit, rest-pause training played a huge part in Williams' training.
Rest-pause training breaks down one set into several subsets with a brief rest between each. It can be performed in a number of ways, depending on the intensity level and the desired outcome.
Williams did 90% to 95% of his 1-rep max for a single, then waited 20 to 60 seconds and performed another single. He repeated the process for the maximum number of sets he could do that particular day, typically 6 to 8.
Many old-time strength aficionados swear by this method and it certainly works. But as with everything in training, we need to weigh the risks and benefits. Rest-pause training is extremely taxing on the central nervous system and can be dangerous, especially as fatigue sets in.
Furthermore, the adaptations of rest-pause training are more neurologically driven for strength than for increases in muscle size, so know what you're signing up for and proceed with caution.
To help you make up your mind on whether or not to try this, recent research provides some interesting findings on the effectiveness of the rest-pause method. A study published in Journal of Science & Medicine of Sport had 14 subjects perform three different resistance training protocols involving 20 repetitions in the squat with 80% of their current 1-rep max.
The first training protocol consisted of 5 sets of 4 reps with a 3 minute rest interval, while the second program had trainees doing 5 sets of 4 reps with 20 second rest intervals. The third group used a rest-pause method with the initial set performed to failure and subsequent sets completed after a 20-second rest interval.
All training methods had similar decreases in maximal force and rate of force development post workout, but increased motor-unit recruitment was observed following the rest-pause protocol.
Sure, it's only one study, but it just backs up what my lifters have experienced.
A sample strength-based rest-pause workout on the bench press for someone with a one-repetition max of 350 pounds would be to hit 330 pounds for a single, rest 30 seconds, and then keep repeating for the daily maximum of sets.
However, if hypertrophy is the goal, you must lighten the load but maintain the training intensity. In other words, you'd perform a set using a weight that will allow 6-10 repetitions, take a 20-second rest interval, and then repeat the same weight again. You'll probably squeeze out 2-3 reps. Repeat this process two more times for a total of three subsets.
Sticking with the bench press scenario, a rest-pause series with an emphasis on hypertrophy might look like this:
- Set 1: 250 x 8 reps
- Rest 20 seconds
- Set 2: 250 x 3 reps
- Rest 20 seconds
- Set 3: 250 x 2 reps
This method is great for busting through plateaus while teaching you to grind out reps. Your muscle fibers will get hammered and thanks to the repetitive bouts with limited rest, you'll experience a T-shirt tearing pump.
Still, this method is taxing on the central nervous system (CNS), so it shouldn't be used every workout or for every set. Also, avoid using rest-pauses with highly technical movements like the Olympic lifts for the same reason.
- Determine Your Purpose. For strength, use 85%+. For size, use 70-85%. For muscle endurance, use less than 70%.
- Set the Rest Intervals Between Subsets. For strength, use 20-60 seconds. For size, use 20-30 seconds. For muscle endurance, use 10-30 seconds.
- Have a Spotter Monitor Rest Periods. You need to worry about lifting the weight and not the clock.
Note: When in doubt, stop.
Keep rep records – rest pausing is the ultimate form of density training. We're measuring reps for the duration of three subsets. If the last rep of a set of bench press was an all-out grinder, you'll perform poorly on subsequent sets, handicapping total rep count.
Rest-pause training is one of the few methods that synergistically blends auto-regulation with linear periodization. It's helped two of my very explosive, easy-gainer athletes, Big Al Davis and Vince Dizenzo, develop their ability to grind and become two of the best bench pressers in the world, and I'm certain it can help you too.
Al Davis benching 670, raw