Build Strength and Size with Rest-Pause Training

Rest-Pause training is a good method for athletes who need to make quick size or strength gains.

In a strength and conditioning program, coaches manipulate sets, reps and weight to achieve certain results. But other variables also come into play, including tempo, rest time, range of motion and exercise order. Creative manipulation allows a coach to inject some of his or her own personality into every program.

One system I find myself repeatedly coming back to is Rest-Pause training. It is most appropriate for athletes who need to make quick size or strength gains. I say "quick" because due to the amount of accumulated fatigue it can cause, Rest-Pause training is best suited for use over a relatively short period of time

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Rest-Pause Training

Although different protocols exist within Rest-Pause training, the underlying principle is to manipulate inter-set rest periods into intervals of approximately 10-15 seconds in order to perform more total work with a heavier load.

Typically, this type of work can be implemented in two ways: 1) Rest-Pause the total number of sets, or 2) Rest-Pause to a specific rep goal with a desired weight.

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Rest-Pause Sets

Rest-Pause training focuses on increasing the number of reps performed in a set by including micro-rest periods. A typical Rest-Pause set is programmed like this:


This notation means choosing a weight that is heavy at 6-8 reps, and performing max reps to failure two times on 10 to 20 seconds of rest. The completed set might look like this:

  • 7 reps
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • 4 reps
  • Rest 15 seconds
  • 2 Reps
  • 13 Reps Total

In this system, you take a weight that is tough to complete eight reps and perform a total of 13! The amount of work with that weight increases significantly, stimulating increases in size and strength.

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Rest-Pause Total Reps

The second way to employ this style of training is to complete a specific number of reps in as few sets as possible. This works great with exercises like Chin-Ups, Dips, Push-Ups and other bodyweight movements where the load is constant. It would be programmed as RP50, meaning complete 50 reps. For instance, if an athlete can perform a total of 10 Chin-Ups, you may want to give him an RP 25 or 30 and have him do a total of 25 reps of Chin-Ups. His sets might look like this:

  • 8 Reps
  • Rest 20 seconds
  • 6 Reps
  • Rest 20 seconds
  • 5 Reps
  • Rest 25 seconds
  • 4 Reps
  • Rest 25 seconds
  • 2 Reps
  • 25 Reps Total

Rest-Pause training is a great way to increase the density of your training, meaning the amount of work you can do in a specific time with a specific load. I have also used it effectively with athletes who are preparing for the 225-pound Bench Press test for football combines. In their programming I give them a specific number of reps to complete for the day, such as RP30 @ 225. Their goal is to complete 30 reps in as few sets as possible. Ideally, during  each subsequent workout they will be able to complete the total number of reps in fewer sets, increasing their endurance, strength and Bench Press proficiency.

Final Recommendations

The number of reps depends on the main goal: either size or strength. Typical rep ranges for size are 10-12RP2, or 8-10RP2. More strength-oriented rep systems are 6-8RP2 or 4-6RP2. These set configurations work well for Presses, Pulls and Squat variations.

Rest-Pausing for total reps works great for accessory and bodyweight movements—where, as fatigue sets in, the movement does not become unsafe. Try employing RP50 or RP100 sets for arm exercises, Bodyweight Rows, Bodyweight Squats or even Chin-Up variations for more advanced athletes.

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