As I've began to enhance my own maximal strength, program/teach others to do the same and follow the strongest people in the world I came to embrace paused lifts.
Weightlifting and powerlifting are skills. Never forget that. With that being said, nothing can totally replace the 5 main lifts in those sports. Squat, bench, deadlift for powerlifting - snatch and clean and jerk for weightlifters.
*This article won't be directly applied to weightlifting, since my knowledge is minimal, but pauses are incredibly popular in weightlifting as well for some of the same and different reasons as will be mentioned.
The three main lifts for a powerlifter are a lot like a basketball player playing pick-up. It's practice. What do basketball players do before or after practice? They work on individual skills that enhance their performance. Coming off pick and rolls, shoot free throws, pull up jumpers. They pick specific drills that carry over to their sport and hopefully attack their weaknesses to become a better overall athlete. They don't scrimmage and go home and the most certainly don't scrimmage and go play cricket.
A powerlifter should be no different. Executing movements before or after their squat, bench, deadlift that will have a high carryover to their sport. A pause squat will assist a powerlifter like shooting off a pick and roll helps a basketball player. In contrast, a kettlebell walking lunge with alternating overhead press will improve the squat about as much as cricket improves your jumper. (It should be noted that specificity becomes more important as an reaches their full potential, for a beginner trainee almost any exercise will improve all other exercises, but as you get more advanced training needs to get more specific. AKA there's no need to a 500lb squatter to be doing KB walking lunge overhead presses.)
I will bring up specificity in nearly every training article I write, because it's that important, it lays the foundation for everything else.
With that being said, paused work is highly specific to powerlifting. It's literally the same movement with a pause. So you naturally expect a large carryover to lift and here are some reasons (other than specificity) why. For brevity I use only the squat as an example in this article.
1. Increased maximal force
The squat is actually unique in powerlifting in that the concentric (upwards) part of the lift doesn't initiate with a pause. With a bench there's a slight pause on the chest, with deadlift the bar is resting on the floor. Watch any high-level squatter (raw) and you'll find the elastic effect of a squat is huge.
This is most commonly referred to as the stretch-reflex and without a doubt is beneficial when squatting.
The problem arises for powerlifters when a max attempt lift will not allow for such a great stretch-reflex, resulting in a slower lift and maximal force to be exerted.
So again: by limiting the stretch-reflex we can more effectively train maximal force. A combination of maximal force and using the stretch-reflex will result in best possible squat.
2. Cue for bracing/staying tight
In order to squat big weights you must stay tight. Many beginners struggle with being able to properly brace (make sure you check out my first edition of Friday Freebies where I talk about low back pain and Juggernaut shows you how to properly breathe/brace.)
When doing paused work it's critical to brace, descend into the hole and keep that brace and breath until the rep is nearly complete. Yes, this means holding your breath in the hole for 3, 5 or even 7 seconds (who likes even numbers?)
At first it's incredibly hard, especially if you're someone who relies on a big stretch reflex. By consistently implementing pauses you'll strengthen your core musculature in the most specific way possible. If you miss squats by folding over (aka getting stapled) pause work is especially important.
It's commonplace to see lifters miss weights they're capable of lifting because they don't properly brace or haven't developed the core musculature (both neurally and muscle size.)
Don't let this be you. Pause!
3. Increase time under tension
We know from piles of research that training volume (weight moved) is a big indicator of muscle growth. We also know that bigger muscles are stronger muscles. Of course, powerlifting is a skill, so the neural input and practice of the lift is still incredibly important, but assuming those are equal a lifter with more muscle will be better off. This effect is small, but it's worthy of mentioning, especially since the increased time under tension (TUT) is specific to the movement.
Time under tension is a component of total volume. Although I'm not a fan of specific tempo training, such as a 4:1:4:1 count where the individual lowers the weight for 4 seconds, pauses for 1, lifts the weight for 4 and rests at the top for 1 second. Personally, I think that's paralysis by analysis and Eric Helms offers up some great insight on TUT.
4. Enhance confidence
We all know there's no shortage of high squats in the world and while mobility plays a part so does confidence. Reaching depth for some beginner and even more advanced trainees is often difficult. It's even more difficult when they don't "feel" what good depth is.
Whenever I begin with a client in person I always have them sit in the bottom of a squat position with a band support to keep them from falling over. I make them feel what depth is, because without this many people don't have the confidence that they can get that low and stand back up.
It's one thing to feel depth with bodyweight, it's another to do it with load. By performing long pauses in the hole, the position no longer becomes intimidating. If you have trouble with depth this helps psychologically knowing you can hit it. If you don't have issues with depth, pauses are still beneficial as they'll make you more comfortable in the toughest position in a squat.
5. Carry over for deadlift?
I'll admit this last reason is more of a hunch than something I have evidence for.
Many lifters talk about the carryover between squats and deadlifts and while this may be partially true, the two lifts are drastically different and this carryover effect is overstated.
Body-type always plays a role in lifting success and if someone has both short femurs and short arms, they may be a great squatter, but struggle with the deadlift. Someone with long femurs and long arms might be the opposite.
Another component that comes into play is how much the lifter uses the stretch reflex in his or her squat. I hypothesize that the more a lifter relies on the rebound effect of a squat the less carryover the lift will have to the deadlift. I don't think this is a stretch considering there is no stretch reflex involved in the deadlift.
Therefore, pause squatting for lifters who rely on a big rebound simulates the pure force output that's required off the ground with a deadlift. Don't get me wrong, nothing will increase your deadlift more than deadlift, but pause squats may also have a place. Although the pause position in a squat is different than the start of a deadlift, it still trains maximal force in a similar position.
That should be more than enough reason to get you excited to pause squat. Next week, I'll show you how to implement them into programs.
If you're impatient and want full customized programming, head over to the online store and email me about joining the MyoBrain team.