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September 09, 2021 9 min read

The concept of rest-pause sets can be explained as a type of stretching program that is known to increase personal strength and increase the amount of hypertrophy to your muscles.

When you decide to do rest-pause sets, you will be working on a certain exercise until technical failure. First, take a look at this helpful video to get better acquainted with the rest-pause system.

Resting After Doing Your Lifting

The type of exercises you decide to do will greatly determine the type of rest-pause technique that you choose to use. Studies show that strength training and aerobic exercise can help you manage and sometimes prevent health conditions.

Another major health benefit is protecting vitality and making everyday tasks more manageable.

A simple regimen of light weightlifting can be an excellent way to improve your health. After you have determined a basic regiment, get started with your original set of lifting the weights. Start lifting for about 10 or 12 reps (or whatever feels comfortable), and then simply rest for a short period of time (the rest intervals can be for just a few seconds if you like, but they should be no longer than 15-30 seconds). 

After this rest period, you should be ready to do another set until failure before taking another short rest (known as the second rest). The idea is to repeat this rest-pause method until you have completed a certain number of total repetitions (or reps).

The total reps you choose to do will depend on a wide variety of circumstances, but usually, you should aim to do twice the number of reps that you were able to do in your most difficult first set. 

What are Some of the Pros and Cons of Rest-Pause Sets?

Rest-pause sets offer a wide range of pros and cons. They work in terms of both tissue and strength gains because the idea is to maintain a high motor unit output. You should always try to put in the same amount of effort for all of your sets. Some of the most beneficial pros of rest-pause sets can be measured in terms of fundamental lifting principles like intensity, volume, and effort. 

A few of the cons of rest-pause sets would include the fact that they can make you more prone to injury. Rest-pause sets do tend to be weaker in conventional training when you are trying to maximize strength and hypertrophy. Rest-pause sets only do really well in studies when the overall weightlifting program supports using these sets.

If you have been getting into weightlifting for a while now and you are looking for something to mix up your performance a little, it is not a bad idea at all to give this method a chance. You might find that it reduces some of the boredom of simply lifting weights, and it also brings another element of challenge into the entire workout process.

Looking at Research into Rest-Pause Sets

A lot of the research that has been done on rest-pause sets is questionable because it is hard to quantify the effort that each participant is making.

For example, one particular study showed rest-pause squat training led to higher muscle activation, but that might be because the rest-pause group trained at a much higher intensity. 

Another study gave both groups the instruction to train to failure. Both groups performed eight supersets of bench press exercises where four sets of reps were practiced to failure. The traditional lifting group lifted as they usually would while the rest-pause group racked the bar for four seconds after every rep.

Because both groups went to failure, neural activation could be compared between the groups, which shows that the amount of effort matters a lot. Strength improvements within the groups were the same despite the rest-pause group performing about 30% more reps. So rest-pause sets can lead to more volume, but that does not always improve overall strength.

Rest-pause sets are an old school powerlifting method for breaking through plateaus, and that can be an effective way to increase size and strength, especially for experienced weightlifters. Rest-pause training is very simple: take a set to muscle failure (or just short of it), rest for a short period by taking some deep breaths, do another set to near-failure, and so on. 

The Simple Science of Muscle Growth 

There are three main ways for weightlifters to stimulate the amount of muscle growth in their training program: by using progressive tension overload, measuring the level of muscle damage, and thinking about cellular fatigue. We’ll take a more detailed look at each of these concepts below.

1. Progressive Tension Overload 

Progressive overload is a way of increasing the tension levels in the muscle fibers. Some good ways to do this are by gradually increasing intensity (the amount of weight that you lift) and volume (the number of reps that you do). The best ways to overload your muscles are by adding more weight to the bar and making them do more work.

Muscular Man Doing Heavy Deadlift Exercise

Muscles adapt quickly to strength training, and to keep improving, they have to be consistently exposed to increased tension levels through extra weight or reps.

This is why, as a natural weightlifter, if you want to keep getting bigger, you have to keep getting stronger. This is also partly why most studies on hypertrophy (muscle growth) have found the best results when people use heavier weights.

2. Muscle Damage 

When you lift weights, your muscle cells stretch and deform, which causes small tears that must be repaired. Muscle fibers never just return to their previous state.

They become stronger, more resilient, and better able to deal with future stress. This is why, over time, it takes a higher amount of overload to damage your muscle cells, which is why you generally need to keep making your workouts progressively more challenging.

3. Cellular Fatigue 

There are two basic dimensions to the functional capabilities of muscle: how fully and forcefully it can contract, and how many times it can contract before failing. A muscle is made up of many muscle fibers and muscle cells. When a muscle contracts, the more individual muscle fibers will fire, and the harder they contract, the stronger that muscle will be.

One of the benefits of heavy weightlifting is it forces muscles to use many muscle fibers and contract them as hard as possible. This helps you more thoroughly overload your muscles and thereby increase muscle growth. In many ways, muscle cells are like little engines. They can only produce so much force and can only do so much work until “redlining.”

In other words, a muscle can only move so much weight and do so many repetitions of a movement before it quits. When a muscle cell “redlines,” it leads to a cascade of signals that cause adaptations to increase muscle endurance,  burn fat, and sometimes even grow your muscles. 

If you decide to repeat this process over any length of time, your muscle cells will continue to adapt, and it will take more work for them (with a shorter rest time) to reach complete fatigue. For experienced weightlifters, their muscles do not normally reach this level of fatigue until close to the end of their workout.

How Rest-Pause Training Helps You Gain Muscle Faster 

At the very least, rest-pause training helps you build muscle faster because it “pre-exhausts” your muscles and allows you to push them to near-failure several times for each set of resistance training. This can significantly impact the amount of muscle gain that you can realize. And, just as important, it allows you to do these things without really leading to overtraining. 

You might have heard that the main triggers for muscle growth are only tapped in the last few reps of your sets. One of the easiest ways to ensure you continue to overload, damage, and fatigue your muscles is to often push them to muscle failure, where you simply can’t get another rep, or close to it.

When you do this, you create much higher levels of muscle activation than with easier sets, which leads to muscle building. When you are doing normal weightlifting sets, you only reach this point at the very end, after you have already done several reps. So, to increase the number of times your muscles taste failure in a workout, you have to complete more straight sets and a lot more reps.

However, you can only do so many reps per major muscle group per week before your body falls behind in terms of recovery. This is especially true if you use heavy, compound weightlifting in your workouts.

Rest-pause sets allow you to reach muscle failure several times in one set without greatly increasing workout volume.

Essentially, they are a good way to expose your muscles to powerful muscle-building stimuli more frequently without causing more muscle damage than your body can effectively repair. Another big advantage of rest-pause sets is that they can be a safe and time-effective way to increase workout volume (the number of reps you do in a workout).

Once you have gathered up a bit of weightlifting experience, increasing your volume is a straightforward way to get ripped and gain muscle mass.

If you make your muscles do more work over time, they’ll get bigger and stronger. The problem with this is unless you are taking drugs or have unlimited free time, it’s difficult to keep adding volume to your workouts without getting injured or spending most of your life in the gym.

Rest-pause sets solve both of these problems. They take far less time than traditional sets. Since they involve lighter weights than your normal sets, the additional volume doesn’t put the same amount of stress on your joints and nervous system.

For example, in one study, athletes who used the rest-pause training method were able to finish the same amount of volume almost 20 times faster. Muscle activation was also 13% higher on average when using rest-pause training. 

Also, people who did rest-pause sets were able to lift just as efficiently after their workout as the people who had used longer rest periods. In other words, rest-pause training helped them do more reps and achieve higher levels of muscle activation in less time, and without significantly higher levels of fatigue. 

Getting Started with Rest-Pause Training 

There are several popular styles of rest-pause training, but they all follow the same basic structure: to start with an “activation set,” where you push your muscles to failure, or close to it. You then take a rest for a short period, and then do another second set. You repeat this procedure until you can no longer match the number of reps that you did in your first mini-set. 

For example, consider doing some rest-pause sets with biceps curls or triceps curls. You might want to start with a rep range of 10 reps, which is your activation set. You then rest 10 seconds, and do another set with the same weight, this time getting 5 reps. You then repeat the process several times, resting 10 seconds and repping out until, after several sets, you can’t get up to 5 but only up to 3.

That would be the end of the rest-pause sets for that exercise. That is mostly what rest-pause training is all about, but there are different ways to specifically program it. Doggcrapp Training, which is named after the online screen name of its creator, bodybuilder Dante Trudel, is a high-frequency, low-volume bodybuilding program. It uses heavy weights, intense stretching, and rest-pause training.

In Doggcrapp Training, the rest-pause sets start with a weight that you can do for 6 to 8 reps, and stop about one rep shy of failure. You then rest for up to 30 seconds and do another set of as many reps as possible, again stopping just short of failure. This is followed by a third and final set, which you push to absolute failure.

Rest-pause training is most effective when it’s worked into a well-designed workout program. It’s not something you want to do exclusively or even too much, because it can be easy to burn yourself out. A good place and time to start with rest-pause sets is at the end of your workouts, after your main lifts (which require a lot more energy). 

For example, if you start with a few sets of barbell rows and deadlifts and then move on to one-arm dumbbell rows and pullups, you would do your rest-pause sets with the dumbbell rows and/or pullups. Over time, you can increase the difficulty of your rest-pausing training by doing rest-pause sets with your bigger lifts, too. When you do, though, it is a good idea to be very strict on form. 

Rest-pause training works because it tires the muscles out far more than usual, which is good for muscle growth, but it can also mean a higher risk of injury. While exercises like the deadlift can be extremely useful, they can cause unnecessary pain for some people, so you may need to look into a  few deadlift alternatives to help you avoid experiencing too much pain.

The Bottom Line on Rest-Pause Training

If you are a complete beginner (with six months or less of consistent weightlifting), then this type of training really is not for you. You would be better off sticking to simpler, more traditional strength and bodybuilding programs for building muscle. You should also focus more on cardio and lowering your body fat. 

But if you are an experienced powerlifter and you are looking to  massively improve your bench press performance, this might be for you.

Also, if you simply feel stuck or just want to see how your body responds to something new, rest-pause sets can be extremely rewarding.