Rest/Pause: Simple and Intense!
It's one of the simplest intensity techniques there is. You do a certain number of reps to – or close to – failure (usually around 6), then rest for a short period of time (10 to 20 seconds) then resume the set with the same weight, trying to get as many extra reps as you can.
That's the simple form of rest/pause. I wrote a comprehensive article on various rest/pause techniques that you can use. These certainly have their place. But they're extreme methods that can't be used often or for long. Regular rest/pause sets can be used weekly as long as you stay conservative with the volume.
How to Do It
My intensity recommendation for rest/pause is to start with a weight you can lift for six to eight reps. Rest for 10-20 seconds and get as many extra reps as you can.
I recommend keeping one rep in reserve on the first leg of the set and either going to failure (machine or isolation work) or keeping one rep in reserve (big free-weight lifts) on the second leg. This should give you something like six to eight initial reps plus three to five extra reps.
Now, "maximally-effective reps" is a term coined by hypertrophy nerd Chris Beardsley to explain reps where all the fast-twitch fibers that you can recruit are being recruited and stimulated. Since these fibers have the greatest growth potential, these reps will make your muscles grow.
When using an initial rep number of six to eight, likely with a load between 75 and 80 percent, most of your initial reps will be maximally-effective reps. Maybe one to two reps are primer reps, but that's good since they also increase CNS activation and grease the groove for the key reps. All of your rest on the second leg will be maximally-effective reps. In one rest-pause set you'll have mostly maximally effective reps and maybe two low-impact reps.
Two rest/pause sets will have the same impact on muscle growth as four to six regular sets without the drawbacks that could actually limit how much growth you're getting from your workout.
You should do two rest/pause sets, maybe even just one. It could look like this:
- Set 1: 50% for 8 reps
- Rest 90 seconds
- Set 2: 65% for 8 reps
- Rest 2 minutes
- Set 3: 75% for 6 reps
- Rest 3 minutes
- Set 4: 80% – rest/pause starting with 6-8 initial reps
- Rest 3-4 minutes
- Set 5: 75-82% – rest/pause with 6-8 initial reps