Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rest-pause variation

Jim Smith aka Smitty at Dieselcrew posted a killer rest-pause workout pair over on his blog. Rest-pause, in short, is an intensifying technique where you do an exercise for a given number of reps, then rest a short time and try again for maximal reps (and possibly for more intervals afterwards). The goal is to get the maximum number of reps in a given time. This is very similar to the idea of EDT, in a way - maximize the work done with a given weight in a given block of time. Unlike EDT, the total time isn't the limiting factor, but the ability to reach more reps or when you've hit your goal "sets."

I posted a pair of way I've used this in my own training. I've decided to repeat my comments here, because I found these techniques worked really well for me.

I wrote:
I've only ever done two variations of rest-pause.

I've done them with bodyweight exercises, like rest-pause towel pullups and pushups. Just max reps, then rest 10-15 seconds, go max again, and repeat until I can't get a rep. Great way to bang out a hard workout in a short time. You don't feel like you've shortchanged yourself, because you literally couldn't do more. I couldn’t work myself up to doing these too often, though, because I'd be wrecked when I finished and the day after too. I chose those two because I could do them outside my apartment door, with the towel over the I-beams of the staircase and the pushups on the pavement.

I've also done another variation. I'd pick a pair of exercises like dumbbell rows and dumbbell bench, and set a goal total of reps (usually 75) and sets (usually 3). I'd do nearly max reps, and then rest for 1 second for each rep I made. If I got 30 reps, I get 30 seconds rest. Only 10? Rest for 10 seconds. When the rest ends, go again and again until I hit my goal total. The rests get shorter as the reps you can crank out get fewer and fewer. Then go and do the antagonist of the pair after a short rest (1-2 minutes is all you want). If I could get my goal reps in my goal sets or less, I'd go up in weight the next workout. I found this worked really well for building up my strength-endurance in a short time. Not exactly the same approach as rest-pause, but I think the intention is pretty much the same."


That second technique is one I find especially challenging. You're limiting your total sets and reps, but encouraging yourself to push harder with the promise of more reps. You learn to keep driving through the exhaustion. I wouldn't recommend this for (or use this when coaching) a beginner. But it's a great technique to use if you're finding yourself running out of gas in longer sets, or when pushing weight around in the real world. It'll help you build up some useful strength too - perhaps not like lifting maximal weights, but you'll have a base of endurance that will help when you've working your way up the weight rack to heavier and heavier lifts.

Another caveat - I've only ever used this for easily-ditched exercises: dumbbell rows and bench presses, band pushdowns, band-resisted pushups, dumbbell squats and lunges. Any problems and I let the band go or toss the dumbbell(s) down. I also don't use it for technical or speed lifts, since you don't want technique to break down or to do "power" lifts like a snatch or clapping pushup slowly. It may work brilliantly for front squats, deadlifts, bench pressing, etc. but I've no experience using it that way. I'd suggest a rack and spotters.

But it's terrifically satisfying when you get your 75 in 3 sets, or 100 reps in 4 sets, or whatever else you aimed for. You move up to the next dumbbell up the rack the next time, or add another band, or do a harder variation. You might think it's primarily endurance, but you'll quickly find yourself high-repping weights, getting 20-25 reps for a weight you'd previously gotten for only 10 or 12. I also find it makes the heavier weights less intimidating - that 75 pound dumbbell looks heavy now, but you'll work up to 75 reps of it in 3 sets soon enough. It's not so far away - you'll get there, you just need to knock off the 70 and 65 and 60s first...no problem at all.

Use this one with care, and be prepared to work hard. It sounds easy under you're staring up at those dumbbells and wondering how you'll get 75 if it feels so heavy already...

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