Paused squats to build strength and size
Squats are an exercise that get A LOT of attention.
They are considered the ‘king’ of exercises by some, while described as a living hell by others.
I guess I personally fall somewhere in between. I enjoy squatting. There is something very rewarding about hitting a new squat PR. And the quad pump after a set of high rep squats? I’ll let Arnie answer that one….
I suck at them.
They have never felt natural to me. It took quite a bit of work just to get comfortable squatting to depth. And once I actually started to add load, I was weak.
Like REALLY weak.
Now I’m not one to force a square peg into a round hole (so to speak), and if this was a client who didn’t necessarily need to back squat to see reach their desired goal, I wouldn’t have forced it.
But this was ME. And I wanted to be able to squat lots of plates.
Maybe not a clever goal by any means, but I wanted to get good at something I wasn’t particularly good at (still do in fact… lots of room for improvement).
So I squatted. My lower body sessions typically involved both back and front squats, and while I did see improvements, they came slowly, and I still didn’t feel 100% ‘comfortable’ squatting.
So I started playing around with different squat variations, and happened to strike gold.
Introducing Paused Squats
I started using paused reps after my heavy squat sets as an assistance exercise, and actually started seeing some improvements! My squat got stronger, I felt much more comfortable squatting under load, and my jeans got considerably tighter!
A paused squat is pretty much just a squat where you pause completely (as in STOP DEAD) at the bottom of the squat for 2-3 seconds (or longer, for the masochists out there) for each individual rep.
If you think it about it, it makes sense. Most people are weakest at the bottom of a squat, and as a result this is where they tend to feel least comfortable. By spending a bit more time in the bottom position of the squat, we can get a little more comfortable in that position.
Here’s a quick video of me pumping out a couple.
If we look a little deeper (pun intended...), there are a couple of serious benefits that paused squats provide over regular squats.
They build strength out of the hole.
It is pretty common to see people drop into squat really quickly, and then bounce back up. While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, it does have a couple of issues.
When we drop quickly into a squat, we rely on two things to get us out of the hole. The first is the muscles ability to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) effectively. The SSC describes the storage of elastic energy during the eccentric portion of a movement, followed by the use of that energy for the concentric portion of that same movement.
So using the squat as an example, during the descent the quads and glutes are lengthening under load. During this eccentric loading they are storing ‘elastic’ energy in the muscle and tendon tissue. By descending rapidly (and spending minimal time in the hole) this energy can be used effectively to help produce a concentric action (the up portion of the squat). Now while this can be a good thing, it is not something we want to become too reliant on during the squat. If we rely solely on the SSC to get out of the hole, we are likely to limit our strength development in other areas of the lift (eg. Just after we bounce out of the hole).
Secondly, it places a large amount of stress on the passive structures of the hip. The hip capsule and its surrounding ligaments take majority of the load as we rapidly drop into the bottom position. This means we are relying on these structures for stability in the bottom position of the squat rather than the muscles surrounding the hip and trunk. This can lead to hip issues and potential injury.
By pausing at the bottom of the squat we completely eliminate the SSC from the lift. This forces us to stay completely tight in the bottom position, and we are required to rely on the muscles around the hip to provide stability and maintain a solid position. This allows to build strength in the bottom position of the squat, which can increase our strength out of the hole.
Additionally, by increasing our strength out of the hole we can also limit the stress placed on the passive structures of the hip, and even improve our ability to use the SSC out of the hole on regular squat sets due to the improved muscular strength in that position.
Improves Squat technique
Good squat technique is essential to a big squat, and a large component of good technique is the ability to maintain a neutral spine throughout the duration of the lift. Often people will hang out in the bottom position of the squat, losing spinal position and relying on those passive structures to keep them upright.
By pausing in the bottom you can’t rely on these passive structures to maintain a good trunk position, you have to earn it. This teaches you to remain ‘tight’ throughout the duration of the lift, which will allow you to produce more force coming out of the hole.
I know for myself personally, by increasing this sense of stability in the bottom of the squat, I started feeling more comfortable squatting under load.
As a bonus, maintaining a healthy spinal position throughout the entire lift is also going to significantly reduce the risk of injury, or risk of developing low back pain.
Greater potential to build muscle
By pausing mid-way through a rep we increase the total amount of time under tension (TUT) the muscles are under. TUT is considered a key mechanical trigger to muscle growth, and by increasing it we can increase muscular hypertrophy as a result.
If you want massive quads (silly question, everyone wants massive quads) then paused squats are a great variation to implement into your training as an assistance exercise.
I typically program paused squats as an assistance exercise after heavy squats or deadlifts on one of my lower body days, and then as a core lift on one of my other lower body days.
I like to use 3-4 sets of anywhere from 2-8 reps using a 2-3 second pause in the bottom.
Try them out for 4 weeks and I can guarantee your technique and strength will improve.
If you want any more info, contact me via the form below and i will get back to you ASAP!