Introduction To The Rest Pause Sets

Right now, you’re probably weightlifting by focusing on resting between sets of reps, but it could actually be a better idea to break up those sets into smaller ones and take shorter breaks between them. 

Sounds crazy? 

Welcome to rest pause training. Here’s what you should know about it and why it works.

What’s the big deal about the rest pause set? 

By taking breaks of between 10 to 15 seconds between your mini-sets of reps, your muscle fibers become exhausted. 

Doing another rep or two boosts your muscle growth because that little break jumpstarts your muscles so they can push harder.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest ways in which a rest pause set can help to boost your muscles and why it’s worth adding to your regular strength training workout if you want to get stronger and bigger.

Muscles Need Shorter Breaks To Build Mass 

Imagine you’re running laps around a track. 

You’ve been doing the laps with great form. Now suddenly, you feel like the muscles in your legs are about to max out. 

You stop for a quick breath – just 10 seconds – and then you push on for that last lap. 

You make use of your body’s sudden energy boost to help you reach the finish line, without which you might have had to stop the race altogether.

Rest pause training works in a similar way. 

It can make your workouts more efficient because a shorter break between your sets gives your muscles a chance to continue lifting weights. 

You get that fuel to keep pushing for a little while longer – and you could even lift heavier weights!

To understand exactly how the rest pause set can benefit you, we need to take a look at how the muscles work and what happens when you give them a shorter break during lifting weights.

How Muscles Bulk Up (And Then Stop)

Your muscles need to be given tension of increasing levels to bulk up. 

That means you increase the reps you do and make the weights you’re lifting bigger over time, right? 

But here’s the thing: it’s easy to hit a plateau with this traditional routine because muscles get used to the movements they’re doing all the time, so their growth stagnates. 

Basically, working your muscles harder without focusing on resting and replenishing them can cause them to lose their horsepower.

After all, as you probably have already experienced in the gym, there are only so many times in a set that your muscles can contract without throwing in the towel and leaving you high and dry. 

That’s where the rest pause set comes in to give your muscles fuel and help you ride out that plateau you’ve experienced when trying to build muscle. 

It lets your muscles find an extra source of energy to complete more reps than they usually would, which is something you should be doing to build greater muscle mass. 

But, the cool difference is that the rest pause does it smartly.

Taking Advantage Of The Rest Pause Set

The beauty of rest pause training is that it makes use of your muscles’ ability to recover rapidly. 

As Bob LeFavi from Armstrong Atlantic State University tells Men’s Journal, how a tired muscle regains its strength is due to its ability to regenerate phosphocreatine. 

This is a chemical compound required to produce ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) in the body, the molecule your body’s cells need for energy.

So, by rebooting this compound’s supply, your muscles draw energy from it so that they can contract again. 

What rest pause training does is make the most of this process and give your muscles second wind.

When you take a really short break during exercise, you prevent your muscles from getting exhausted. 

They’re almost about to get completely zapped, when you give them a tiny bit of relief to keep going. 

This has the bonus of allowing you to keep pushing them, which means they can build up, as we’ve mentioned earlier. 

However, it all comes down to how rest pause training is brilliant at activating your muscles much more than what you were achieving with your regular routine.

Research has proven this. 

In a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, athletes who made use of a rest pause set finished the same amount of exercise 17 times faster – and they achieved 13 percent higher muscle activation – than people who didn’t make use of rest sets.

Rest Pause Training Helps You Burn More Fat

Rest pause training can help you build muscle but also lose weight, so it can come to the rescue if you feel that your weight loss efforts have hit a plateau. 

Science has confirmed this one, too.

In a study that was published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, when experienced weightlifters tried a rest pause set in their workouts, they burned 18 percent more calories 22 hours after doing it when compared to a traditional workout. 

This included a greater amount of fat burning, too.

You Do More In Less Time

While you might think you have to slave it away at the gym to really bulk up, the rest pause set challenges that way of thinking. 

In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Brazilian researchers discovered that people could build muscle with one rest pause set just as quickly as with three normal sets.

What this means is that you’re basically doing the same number of reps in a shorter time, thanks to undertaking shorter rest periods, which is great for increasing how much muscle you can build in a shorter amount of time.

So, How Should You Do The Rest Pause Set?

A popular way to do a rest pause set is by following the Myo-Reps rest training method. 

It’s the same as what’s been mentioned earlier in the article: you want to focus on pushing your muscles close to their quitting point and then resting for a short amount of time, before doing another mini-set.

Then, you continue with this mini-set until you feel that your muscles can’t do as many reps as in the first mini-set. 

Some people call this stage “muscle failure” because it’s really the point where you can’t take anymore reps.

You want your muscles to be in a position where they do fewer reps in each mini-set as you work through your training – yes, this is a good thing. 

The reason why is because when you feel that your muscles are close to becoming exhausted, like if your lifting speed has been decreasing throughout your set, this is a good time to take a quick break and allow your muscles to replenish their energy stores so you can continue with the workout instead of give up for the day.

The key is to a rest pause set just before your muscles flop, so good timing is key.

How this method looks like in the example of bench pressing would be:

First mini-set: 85 pounds X 10 reps – you stop after eight because you can’t do another rep

Rest: 30 seconds.

Second mini-set: 85 pounds X 5 reps – the reps are getting harder to complete and you’re stopping just before they become impossible, so you might only do three in this round.

Third mini-set: 85 pounds X 2 reps. 

See how you’re cutting down your reps? 

This is good because it gives you the chance to do more reps with the same load in smaller sets than you would be able to do in a bigger traditional set. 

While it might feel like you’re doing less, you’re actually doing more!

Another Example: The DC Training Rest Pause

There’s a variation on the above rest pause set and it was created by bodybuilder Dante Trudel.

It’s in line with the HIT/minimalist method of working out.

How you do this rest pause is by starting with a weight that feels comfortable and lifting for about six to eight reps. 

Just before you feel muscle failure, you should stop. Rest for 30 seconds. Then, do as many reps as you can manage, but again, don’t completely exhaust your muscles.

Here’s where things become interesting (and tough): Once you hit muscle failure, you should take 10 to 15 deep breaths before doing the same exercise with the same weight. Yup, you have to do another set!

Alternating Rest-Pause Training

This version is a twist on the rest pause set because it makes use of unilateral leg and arm exercises. 

Basically, while you’re working one side of your body, the other side is taking a break. You should move from one side to the other during this routine.

So, let’s say you’re lifting weights. You’ll do three reps with one arm, then move over to the other arm and do three reps. 

You then move back to the first arm and do another two reps, then carry on in the same vein. 

The rest pause comes in because you’ll want to do three rest pauses for three reps, two rest pauses for two reps, and one rest pause for the last rep. 

You can further intensify this last mini-set by trying to do as many reps as you possibly can.

Since you’re only using one arm at a time, you’re able to lift more weight and you can increase the number of reps in your set, which can help you to build stronger muscles.

Pro tip: You know you’re doing it right if you can only do one more set after that final rest pause set. If you find that you can do more, you need to increase your weight in future so that you make use of the benefits of reaching muscle fatigue. The whole point of the rest pause set is to take your muscles to the edge – that’s where the benefits are gained from muscle fatigue.

How Does Muscle Fatigue Happen?

In case you’re wondering, researchers have found five different factors that contribute to muscle fatigue.

One of these includes the depletion of phosphate energy in the body. 

A rest pause set works by making the most of this system’s quick recovery by boosting your muscles with extra strength.

Basically, this energy system, known as ATP-CP, is what gives your muscles the fuel it needs to use in short bursts of energy, as author Chad Waterbury explains in his book, Muscle Revolution: The High-Performance System For Building A Bigger, Stronger, Body. 

So, by using the rest pause set, you reboot the system so that your muscles have enough energy to make it through that last rep in your mini-set.

So, for how long does this system give your muscles energy? 

When your muscles become fatigued, it takes them three minutes to recover. 

By using the rest pause set, however, you give your muscles an opportunity to rest for 15 seconds – which is more than enough time for the energy system to reboot and give them a boost. 

How To Start Out With The Rest Pause Set

You might be raring to go and try rest pause training, but is rest pause training safe for beginners? 

Although it shouldn’t stop you from trying it out, the key is to take your time with it because it is an advanced training method.

The reason why you want to go slowly is because you need to be aware of your body and know when and how you reach the point of muscle fatigue. 

You’ll only really know that with experience.

You also need to experiment with different weights so that you know which load will take you to that breaking point, instead of tipping you over. 

It’s also crucial not to push yourself when trying the rest pause set as this can cause injury.

Now that you’ve understood that, where should you start? 

A good idea is to try the rest pause set when doing isolation exercises after your main workouts. 

For example, if you’re doing one-arm pullups at the end of a workout, that’s when you could try incorporating rest pause training. 

You don’t want to do rest pause earlier in your workout because it’ll wipe you out and make it difficult to continue with your other exercise routines you need to build strength.

As you get used to using rest pause training, it can benefit your main workouts too. However, the important thing is not to burn yourself out by doing it all the time.

Practice Taking Shorter Breaks

Doing the rest pause set can take some getting used to, so another way to bring it into your workout effectively is to ease into it slowly. 

For example, start with taking a one-minute break between sets. When that feels comfortable, you should shorten your breaks so that they’re not longer than 45 seconds. 

When you can do that, move on to 30 seconds, and so on, until you get to 10 or 15 seconds.

The important thing is not to change the weight you’re lifting so that your muscles get used to lifting it with the shorter breaks in-between reps.

As gym owner Tony Gentilcore suggests in his blog, when you have managed to complete 10 sets with 15-second breaks between them, you can move on to increasing the weight you’re lifting by 10 pounds. 

Again, it’s important to take this slowly! 

Start the process all over again with the heavier weight, with one-minute breaks between your sets and continue reducing your breaks until you’re back to taking 15-second breaks. 

At this stage, you can start again with heavier weights.

Pay Attention To Your Rhythm

As you’ve probably realized by now, the rest pause set is quite a tricky thing to master. 

You have to be aware of when to do it, how to incorporate it, and how to make the most of muscle fatigue, which will happen to you at a different time from your gym buddy (it depends on your level of experience, mainly).

So, it’s no surprise that one of the things some people don’t like about rest pause training is that it can cause you to lose your momentum and rhythm during exercise, which can hamper your chance of doing another rep or two instead of help you complete it.

How do you bypass this obstacle? 

Basically, this problem is an example of why it’s so important to practice being more mindful of your rhythm and how your muscles are feeling. 

This will help you to learn when to hold off on the rest pause set – and when you want to bring it into your exercise routine because you’re in a position to make the most of that extra burst of energy.

The Big Sign You’re Doing It Right

It might seem a bit difficult to know if the rest pause training is working for you, but you’ll only know once you take a look at your performance over time. 

If you’re improving, the rest pause set gives you greater energy to complete workouts. You’ll also see the positive changes in your muscle mass. 

These are big signs the rest pause set is working for you and you’re doing it right!

Exercises To Use (And Avoid) During Rest Pause Training

By doing a rest pause set during other strength-training workouts, you can bolster your muscle building and burn fat. 

However, while all your muscle groups can benefit from rest pause training, you can’t do rest pauses for any and every exercise.

It can be difficult and risk injury if you commit to the rest pause set when you’re doing deadlifts with heavy weight or bench presses with a barbell, for example. 

You really don’t want to reach a level of muscle failure in such situations as it can be really dangerous to be handling such heavy weights at that point. 

Once you’re at an advanced level and have a lot of experience with dealing with rest pause training, however, then you can try it out.

In addition, if an exercise you’re doing requires you to pause to complete it, like during a shoulder press, it’s not viable to use this time to do a rest pause set. 

You won’t really be resting your muscles, so it defeats the purpose of doing it.

That said, some exercises are perfect for rest pause training. They include leg presses, leg dips, pull-ups, seated rows, and dumbbell bicep curls. 

When doing a cable or machine exercise, a rest pause set can also be beneficial because you can relax properly during those 10 or 15 second breaks.

Bottom Line

If you’ve been lifting weights for a while and you’ve hit a plateau in muscle gain, or you just want to try something different to push your workout to greater heights, then including the rest pause set into your workout can be beneficial to your overall muscle gain and weight loss goals.

Should you use the rest pause set in every workout?

You really shouldn’t, even though it’s tempting. 

You don’t want your muscles to become too used to the process, which can inhibit growth. 

Keep your muscles guessing by only using rest pause training every few workouts.

What should I avoid when doing a rest pause set?

Because of muscle fatigue, you might rush through a rest pause set to try to complete it. But this will prevent you from doing a set properly. 

Ask a training buddy to help you if you need help to complete that last rep with the right form. It’s difficult but so worth it.

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