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If you follow any Powerlifters, Weightlifters or Fitness Enthusiasts on any social media platforms you may come across “Paused” reps before. It is as simple as it sounds. The method involves taking a brief pause at a specific point in the movement and is commonly used with compound lifts (big lifts) such as the squat, deadlift and bench.
What is the purpose of Paused Reps?
I decided to browse a powerlifting forum to try and gauge the general ideas that powerlifters have about paused reps. Here are some of the comments I found …
“You can pause to make it harder and add some variety (to your training)”
“The extra power you get is noticeable after doing them for a while … Also the muscle recruitment is greater because you stop the stretch reflex”
“The best thing they really do for you is help the very bottom of the lift”
“It helps your strength off the floor and it teaches good starting positioning (for the deadlift)”
“Think of it like driving a car though a mud hole. The more speed you have before you hit the mud hole, the greater your chances if getting through it”
Reading the comments it was clear that pause reps are commonly adopted by numerous powerlifters with many of them finding it to be beneficial in terms of strength improvement.
I really like the final analogy which I feel sums up the primary purpose of paused reps well. An individual may choose to perform paused reps in an attempt to eliminate all momentum therefore ensuring the drive is coming fully from force generated by the muscles.
The Stretch-Shortening Cycle
Many of the comments were correct. The elimination the stretch reflex is part of the purpose of paused reps. However, it is only part of the story…
The Stretch Shortening Cycle has been researched thoroughly over the years without the process being properly understood. However, what is understood is the fact that if the transition between muscle lengthening and muscle contracting is minimised, more force can be generated. Additionally, the quicker the muscle lengthens, the quicker and more powerfully it can contract. It is theorised that a combination of the Stretch Reflex and the Elastic Energy of Muscle and Connective Tissue, drive this cycle. However it does still remains somewhat of a mystery. A commonly used example to attempt to explain the cycle is a spring. The more force that is applied to a spring, the more potential it has to spring up high.
You may be able to see why individuals may choose to incorporate pauses into certain exercises. By pausing they lengthen the transition between muscles lengthening and shortening and therefore reduce the impact of the Stretch Shortening Cycle. With that being said, it is thought that the pause must be as long as 4 seconds in order to eliminate the benefits from the cycle.
The Stretch Reflex, or Myotatic Reflex, is a rapid spinal reflex occurring when the muscle (or more specifically, the muscle spindle) is stretched – this causes the muscle to instantaneously contract. The spindles detect the lengthening of the muscle and immediately send an impulse to the spinal cord which reacts by sending an impulse back to the muscle causing it to contract with more force. This a protective reflex and its purpose is to reduce the risk of the muscle stretching beyond it’s limit and potentially tearing.
Isn’t the body clever?
Let’s break down the process of the Stretch Reflex in a gym environment. We’ll look at the Bench Press. As the bar begins to descend towards the chest, the pectorals are beginning to stretch. The spindles within the pectoral muscles detect this lengthening and send a signal to the spinal cord which returns a signal to the pectorals causing them to contract with more force thus slowing down the rate of the stretch and reducing the risk of the pectorals being stretched too far or too rapidly. Once you begin to push the bar back up from the chest the stretch reflex may assist the press because the pectorals are already in a contracted state.
What Does Research Say?
I’ve found it very difficult to find reliable scientific research on paused reps – just numerous powerlifting sites advocating the usage of paused reps – unfortunately, they do not fit the scientific evidence criteria.
I will continue the search for material but so far the search for papers on paused repetition appears to be scarce. What I intend to do is complete a small experiment on myself over the coming months and will begin to incorporate pauses into my bench, deadlift and squat. Although this will also not pass the scientific criteria, I am interested to see the impact this method may have on my strength.