Use Pause Squats to Break Through Training Plateaus and Lift More Weight

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While you needn't go 'ass to grass' in order to have a squat depth to be proud of, a decent range of movement can support your strength goals and help you progress.

However, it's common for lifters to avoid the bottom of the squat if they haven't already built strength there, especially during the barbell back squat. Most people favour lifting heavier weights without the strength levels needed to perform full reps – essentially biting off more than they can chew and performing half reps.

Our suggestion: swerve the ego lifting and include pause squats to elevate your lifting numbers. Here's why you should be doing them and how to get the most our of them.

What Are Pause Squats?

Pause squats include performing any variation of the squat with a pause for 2-3 seconds at the bottom of your squat. The depth of the squat will be different for everyone, some people have the mobility to go below parallel (the thighs parallel to the floor) without sacrificing form. However others find this more difficult, and their end range of movement will be reaching parallel.

Usually the weight lifted is at a slight reduction in comparison to your normal sets. This is because the increased time under tension from the pause will also increase intensity. So aiming for 10%-20% weight reduction is suitable for pause squats.

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What Are the Benefits of Pause Squats?

Builds Strength

Pause squats result in improved strength in the 'hole' of the squat - this means the bottom of the squat. Many lifters find this portion of the lift the hardest, due to the change from eccentric to concentric (lengthening the muscle to contracting the muscle). This can often result in lifters failing their rep at the bottom of the squat. By pausing in the most difficult part, with a slightly lower weight, you are gaining strength there and are more likely to progress.

go hard or go home
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Improves Control

Pause squats reduce something called 'stretch reflex' and help you rely on muscular strength rather than bouncing out of the bottom of the squat. This can in turn benefit strength throughout the rep and improve your squat strength. It can also improve the safety of the lift, helping you feel more balanced and confident during the entirety of the rep.

Improves Range of Motion

Multiple studies support the use of full range of movement in our exercises for muscular development and strength. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning concluded that increasing ROM can improve strength and muscle gain. Because pause squats help us build strength in the full range of movement, we could be reaping the full rewards of the move.

Breaks Plateaus

People hit plateaus with their squats for a variety of reasons. However, when the plateau is caused by poor lifting mechanics and a lack of strength, the pause squat can help iron these out by building strength and control in the most challenging portion of the movement, allowing us to make use of the full range of movement again and then increase weights.

How To Do Pause Squats

You can use any variation of squats to do pause squats, including:

Programme your paused squats at a weight reduced in comparison to your normal sets. For example, if you are performing 4 sets of 6 reps, you could work at 60-75% of your one-rep max. Or, at a 10-20% reduction of your usual weight.

barbell back squat
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Paused Barbell Back Squats

  1. Begin by grabbing the barbell a little wider than shoulder-width apart and un-rack the barbell with it on the meaty part of your shoulders, behind your head.

  2. Maintain an upright torso and push your hips back into a squat, bending your knees until your thighs hit or pass parallel to the floor.

  3. At the end of your range of movement, hold for 2-3 seconds.

  4. Explosively stand back up to the starting position.

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