by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS
Bonafide squatting is seldom witnessed in the land of commercial gyms, posh fitness studios, and performance training centers. Partial squat heroes reign supreme in virtual world inundated by spurious feats of strength. Each football season we encounter a tales from the weight room, claiming that a number of its players eclipsed the 400, 500, or 600 pound mark while testing their squat maxes. Many commercial gym goers and YouTube time wastrels have seen the guy who’s a buck eighty soaking wet walk out of a rack with three times his body weight on his back and perform a jerky hybrid movement consisting of slight knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion concluding with a violent reracking of the bar, so they may not know what a true squat looks like.
Okay enough of that rant. Point taken. It’s no secret that few people squat correctly. But there’s a one form of squatting that’s as rare as the most precious gemstones, and that’s pause squatting.
Pause squatting separates the men from the boys, the serious strength athletes from the broseph who “likes to lift heavy”, and for powerlifters, three whites from a missed lift.
Pause squats deliver results. Ed Coan, the Michael Jordan of Powerlifting, used them throughout his illustrious record setting career. If the best powerlifter of all time used them, why can’t you?
The mirror muscled brethren may consider those squatting with a pause in the hole to be a masochistic attempt to unseat their bravado which features giant set of three different curling variations they saw on one of the internet’s most watered down strength training websites. Okay, so if decide to perform paused squats, you’ll likely miss out on forging vapid weight room bonds with the beater crew, but you’ll scare the bejesus out of gym goers and anyone within a 5 block radius with guttural groans and screams, not to mention reaping a number of associated benefits.
Pause Squats Enhance Rate of Force Development
Rate of Force Development, or RFD, is characterized by how rapidly concentric muscular force can be generated. Integrating a pause on a movement or lift eliminates the contribution of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), forcing your nervous system to recruit, activate, and synchronize motor units for concentric force production.
Recent literature suggests that incorporating movements with a pause, specifically paused squats, significantly elicit motor unit recruitment (1), in turn prompting the necessary nervous system adaptations for increased strength.
Performing movements with a pause improves isometric strength within a given range of motion. Paused movements, which can be performed over a range of time, engages a slew of musculature, which includes the agonists, or prime movers, synergists, or helper muscles, smaller stabilizer muscles, and to a lesser degree, the antagonists, which play a key role in stability. Paused movements expose the aforementioned muscles to time under tension, which can be employed where many athletes and lifters miss lifts.
For instance, paused squats activate the glutes, adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and core musculature, with length-tension relationships and activation patterns varying throughout the range of motion.
- Lifters who have trouble exploding from the hole should pause from an ass to calves position, which strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and hip flexors in their weakest position. Deep squatting has been proven in the literature to increase countermovement, squat jump, and vertical jump performance (2).
- Lifters who hit their sticking point at or around parallel can pause a little above or below parallel, which targets the hamstrings and quads in their weakest position.
- Lifters who encounter their sticking point near the top of the squat could pause with a slight bend in the hips and knees, however, this position significantly stresses the patella and should be used sparingly, if at all. Instead, direct quad work and/or end range hip extension work as well as walkouts should be considered as they contribute to improving lockout strength.
- Per the aforementioned research, paused movements with loads approaching one rep maxes (at 80% or above) should be reserved for advanced lifters (1). When compared to novices, advanced lifters possess greater neural efficiency, making them better equipped to reap the benefits of strength improvements of paused movements along with a lower risk for injury.
- To mitigate safety risks, spotters should be employed when performing heavy paused squats. Alternatively, they may be performed in enclosed power cages, with the safeties set just below the point the lifter is squatting from.
- Paused front squats may be a valuable assistance exercise for Olympic lifters or those looking to improve their clean. The pause can be performed from the rack position, or the bottom of the movement, where the bar is received.
- Paused squats can be performed as a main squatting movement during a wave cycle, or as an accessory movement throughout one’s program.
- Coaches may use paused squats as a tool in assessing muscular imbalances and strength deficiencies among their athletes and clients.
- When performing paused squats, take a big breath and fill the belly with air prior to a fast, yet controlled descent. You do not want to dive bomb, since paused squats do not involve the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). Be sure to keep tight so you can maintain tension during the pause.
- It is inherently critical that you apply the principle of Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) during paused squats or any paused movements for that matter. As soon as you break inertia, stomp the gas pedal and explode through the movement, while forcefully exhaling through any sticking points.
Mark Menslage Pause Squatting
- Marshall PW, Robbins DA, Wrightson AW, et al. Acute neuromuscular and fatigue responses to the rest-pause method. J Sci Med Sport. 2012;15(2):153-158.
- Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M, et al. Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(12):3243-3261.