The Two-Second Muscle Builder

Build Size & Strength With Mid-Rep Pauses

Here's what you need to know...

  1. Paused reps increase time under tension. This is essential for hypertrophy. They push blood into target muscles, creating a massive pump.
  2. You'll use more intensity with less strain. Paused reps increase the difficulty of exercise without increasing the load. Less load means less stress on the joints.
  3. They'll improve your technique. Using mid-rep paused sets forces you to eliminate all momentum and helps perfect your form.
  4. Paused reps help eliminate sticking points. Even if you're only after strength gains, using paused reps will help you get stronger on specific lifts when used strategically.

Lift long enough and you'll run into plateaus. Then you can either keep spinning your wheels or drastically shake up your training and make progress. A new training stimulus can be just what you need to force your body to grow. Enter mid-rep pauses.

What Are Mid-Rep Pauses?

It's adding two pauses to each rep:

  • One pause on the way up, at the halfway point
  • One pause on the way down, at the halfway point

On the concentric (lifting) phase, you'll stop halfway through the rep for one second, then finish and contract the muscle as hard as you can. Then do another one-second pause at the mid-point on the eccentric (lowering) phase. Here's an example of what it looks like:

Hammer Curl With Mid-Rep Pause

Your form becomes nearly perfect, almost robotic, and exercises become significantly more challenging.

Why Do It?

  1. They increase the intensity of your lifts. Pausing extends the time under tension for a set and increases the mind-muscle connection. So you end up pushing a lot of blood into the muscle. This is especially helpful if you're wanting to activate a specific muscle that's become a weak link.
  2. They allow you to fatigue your muscles using less weight. Obviously it's important to get stronger, but if you can give your joints a break and effectively stimulate muscle growth with less strain on the body, that's a good thing. Seasoned lifters often battle cranky joints from years of heavy lifting. Having joint-friendly training options is an essential for long term training.
  3. They improve form and technique. When you pause your reps halfway through, you have to be focused and controlled throughout the entire movement. It's hard to use momentum with paused-rep training. When using other intensity techniques, such as traditional drop sets, it can be easy to start swinging your reps as fatigue sets in. While cheat reps have a place, it's best to use good form most of the time.

On compound lifts, such as deadlift and squat variations, pausing halfway through the rep will clean up your form. If you don't use control, you'll have a hard time with the pauses. It may be tempting to just push through a lift when it gets too heavy, but by stopping halfway you're forced to keep yourself honest and do it right.

How to Use Mid-Rep Pauses

If your goal is to build size, then it doesn't matter when you do your paused sets in the workout. And you can use them on compound lifts like the front squat or with isolation movements for muscles you want to grow. As strength isn't a primary goal, you have more options.

This isn't to say that mid-rep pauses limit your strength gains on compound lifts; you could use these pauses on all your sets and still get stronger. But since they're most useful for hypertrophy, I wouldn't recommend them on every compound set. You should still be training your main lifts with a normal tempo on a regular basis.

When doing mid-rep paused sets, aim for 6-10 reps on compound lifts and 8-15 on isolation movements. Regardless of your chosen reps, start with 50-60% of the weight you'd normally use as the intensity will be greater. On compound lifts, you don't want to be messing around with mid-rep pauses on heavy doubles or triples – stick with slightly higher reps.

If you're on a pure strength or powerlifting program, use these towards the end of your workout. The primary compound lifts of your program should be completed with a normal tempo. Use paused-reps for your assistance work. A powerlifter could use mid-rep pauses on the bench press to practice form or work on sticking points. However, he wouldn't completely stop normal bench pressing for extended periods of time.

DB Bench Press

Best Exercises for Each Muscle Group

This list will get you started on the exercises that work well for each muscle group, but feel free to experiment. Try mid-rep pauses on other exercises and you may find something you love.


  • Dumbbell Press Variations:  Dumbbell pressing is an exercise where form tends to break down with fatigue. Paused reps will fix that.
  • Push-Up:  The added intensity means a few higher-rep sets of push-ups can absolutely torch your chest at the end of a workout.
  • Bench Press:  Slowing down allows you to control your form and get the most out of your lift. Just don't bounce the bar off your chest and then try to stop it halfway.


  • Lat Pulldown:  Another infamous swinging movement. Keep your torso completely rigid during these and really use your lats.
  • Chest-Supported Row:  This is a great option that eliminates momentum while supporting your back. Pendlay rows, or any other bent-over row, can fatigue your lower back trying to brace for so long. Use a machine or another variation that supports you.
  • Inverted Row:  Using your bodyweight may seem easy, but throwing in pauses makes it that much harder. I prefer inverted rows to chin-ups, as form is usually much better. If you're very good at pull-ups or chin-ups, however, you can try doing mid-rep pauses on those as well.


  • Front Squat:  You can get a very challenging training effect for your quads and core muscles using less weight. This makes the movement easier for some who may struggle to hold heavy weights in a front squat.
  • Leg Extensions and Curls:  Leg isolation machines are an excellent tool for quad and hamstring hypertrophy. Paused sets allow you to train with a high intensity and low weight, and as such, reduce the strain on your knees.
  • Bulgarian Split Squat:  Like front squats, this is another exercise that may challenge some new lifters who struggle to hold the weight. Paused split squats are brutal, but very effective.


  • Seated Dumbbell Press:  For paused-reps, seated dumbbell presses work better than military presses. They help you avoid stopping your lift during that mid-rep position where you may lean back or otherwise attempt to move your head.
  • Machine Lateral Raise:  Dumbbell lateral raises are okay, but you run the risk of fatiguing your arms before your delts. If you have access to a lateral raise machine you can completely isolate your delts.


  • Barbell Curl:  Any curl variation works. Mid-rep pauses put a stop to ego reps. Use lighter weights, control your form, and actually train your biceps. Don't do a standing hip-thrust to swing a weight you can't handle.
  • Tricep Pushdown Variations:  Paused reps work well for any pushdown variation. You can try them on dips or skull crushers, but you may end up straining your shoulders over your triceps. To completely isolate your triceps, use good old triceps extensions.

Workout Examples

The following workouts are designed for a lifter who wants to get bigger and stronger. You can adjust the specifics to fit your goals. This program includes both strength and hypertrophy work.

Before starting your compound sets, be sure to start light and ramp up to your working weight. Rest 2-3 minutes between your first two exercises. For the remaining exercises, rest 1-2 minutes or as needed.

"MRP" next to an exercise means that exercise is to be performed mid-rep paused style for the given number of reps.

Push Workout

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press 4 6
B Military Press 4 6
C Dip 3 10
D Incline Dumbbell Press (MRP) 3 12
E Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 15
F Tricep Rope Pressdown (MRP) 3 12

Pull Workout

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Weighted Chin-Up 4 6
B Pendlay Row 4 6
C Straight Arm Pressdown 3 12
D Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (MRP) 3 10
E Plate Loaded Row (MRP) 3 10
F Barbell Curl (MRP) 3 10

Leg Workout

  Exercise Sets Reps
A Front Squat (MRP) 4 8
B Sumo Deadlift 4 6
C Reverse Lunge 3 10/leg
D Bulgarian Split Squat (MRP) 3 8/leg
E Lying Leg Curl (MRP) 3 12
F Seated Calf Press 3 15
Matt Dustin is a fitness author and performance coach based in San Diego. He works with online clients around the world, combining old-school physique training with cutting-edge performance techniques. Follow Matt Dustin on Facebook