Q: What do you think about extended pauses during exercises, such as holding the bar on your chest for five seconds on a bench press?
A: Pausing during repetitions is a great way to increase the effectiveness of your training. It’s often called intrarep pausing, and I was introduced to it by my mentor, weightlifting coach Pierre Roy. One reason male gymnasts are so strong is that their training is characterized by pauses. In fact, many years ago I taught two gymnasts on the Canadian national team how to bench-press. They weighed about 175 pounds and had never performed the lift. After just four workouts they could both bench 350 pounds.
You can pause in several places during a repetition. You can pause at the start, the midpoint and the end of a repetition. You can also pause anywhere during the concentric, lifting range and the eccentric, lowering range.
The technique is especially effective for bodybuilding purposes. Pausing during a repetition increases intramuscular tension and the percentage of muscle fibers recruited. During arm curls, for example, pausing at 30 to 90 degrees of elbow flexion increases the work performed by the brachialis.
I often use intraset pauses during the last rep of flexion exercises such as chinups. For example, at the end of the last rep that you can perform without assistance, you could pause at several angles for three to five seconds to prolong the set and increase intramuscular tension.
For strength training, pausing between repetitions—at the end of the concentric range—is extremely effective for extension exercises such as squats, where you’re at an advantageous leverage position. Pausing in that range will enable you to lift more weight for whatever number of repetitions you’re performing so you can recruit more motor units.