You’ve been training hard and eating right, and you’ve been making gains.
Your stomach is tighter. You’re stronger than ever before. Your friends are starting to make meathead jokes.
But progress has slowed.
It’s getting harder and harder to add weight to the bar and your body isn’t changing like it once was.
What to do?
Well, if you turn to the magazines, you’ll probably conclude that you just have to eat more. “Eat big to get big” right?
Sorta kinda maybe…
Yes, a caloric surplus is conducive to muscle gain, but no, adding a gallon of milk per day to your meal plan isn’t advisable. You’ll gain weight, alright, but too much will be fat.
You need a smarter approach, and rest-pause training can help.
As you’ll see, this simple weightlifting tool can be adapted to any type of workout program, and, unlike most fancy-sounding training tips, it has science on its side. It actually works.
So, in this podcast, you’re going to learn what rest-pause training is, why it works, and how to do it right so you can get the needle moving again.
Let’s start at the top.
5:11 – What is rest-pause training?
7:10 – How do muscles grow bigger and stronger?
10:56 – How does rest-pause training help build muscle faster?
15:34 – What are the benefits of rest-pause training?
17:10 – What are the disadvantages of rest-pause training?
18:40 – How do you do rest-pause training?
20:26 – What is the dogg crapp style of rest-pause training?
21:34 – What is the Myo-reps style of rest-pause training?
24:58 – How do I get started with rest-pause training?
Mike: [00:00:26] Hello, Mike Matthews here from Muscle For Life and Legion Athletics. Back with another episode of the Muscle For Life podcast. And this time around, I’m going to monologue about rest-pause training, which is a rather neat training method that allows you to gain muscle faster without having to necessarily eat more food or even spend more time in the gym.
[00:00:51] So let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you’ve been training hard, you’ve been eating right, and you’ve been making gains. Things have been going swimmingly. Your stomach’s tighter, you’re stronger than you’ve ever been, your friends are starting to make meathead jokes, but progress has slowed. It’s getting harder and harder to add weight to the bar and your body isn’t responding and changing like it once was.
[00:01:17] What are you to do? Well, if you poke around online, you might conclude that you just have to eat more, right? You got to eat big to get big. Well, sorta, kinda, maybe. Of course, a caloric surplus is conducive to muscle gain. But adding a gallon of milk per day to your meal plan is not advisable.
And if you want to know why, head over to Legionathletics.com and search for “gomad” that you bring it up, and you can check out an article I wrote on that diet. It’s stupid and shitty basically, because, yeah, you’re going to gain weight, but too much of it is going to be fat and your GI, your gastrointestinal tract, is going to explode.
[00:02:03] So you need a smarter approach. And this is where rest-pause training can help. And normally, as you will find out in this podcast, this is a simple weightlifting tool that can be adapted to really any type of workout program. And unlike most fancy-sounding training tips, this one actually has science on its side.
It actually works. So that’s what we are going to cover in this podcast. What rest-pause training is, why it works, and how to do it correctly so you can get that needle moving again. Scale needle, not the other kind of needle. Stay away from that.
[00:05:07] All righty. You can probably guess where we are starting. At the top, as always: what is rest-pause training? Now, if you are familiar with my work, you know that I am generally not a big fan of training methods that stray too much from just: do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting, make sure you’re progressively overloading your muscles, and make sure you’re getting enough rest and calories and nutrition.
And that’s why my programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger respectively, don’t have anything really in the way of supersets, drop sets, giant sets, and the like, or nontraditional training protocols like super slow training, which is a bust, by the way, super-fast training, which definitely has its uses, but not for the average person just wanting to get bigger and stronger, and so on.
Thus you probably think that I would toss rest-pause sets into the same trash heap. And I actually thought I would as well when I first heard about it. Instinctively, I assumed bullshit. But I was wrong. Rest-pause sets and rest-pause training, actually, they get my stamp of approval.
[00:06:20] It turns out that they are actually an old school powerlifting method for breaking through plateaus. And research shows that rest-pause training actually is an effective way to increase size and strength, and especially inexperienced weightlifters, which is pretty neat. And we are going to get into the details of how to do it, of course. But at its core, it’s very simple.
[00:06:47] What you do is you take a set to muscle failure or just short of it, and then you rest for a short period, and then you do another set to near failure, followed by a short rest period and another set and so on. That’s it, really.
[00:07:01] And why does that do anything special? Why does that work, you’re wondering? Why can it help you gain muscle and strength faster? Well, to really answer that question, we have to start with talking a bit about why muscles grow bigger and stronger.
[00:07:16] So the first thing you need to understand about the physiology of muscle building is: there are three primary triggers or pathways for muscle growth. You have mechanical tension, muscle damage, and cellular fatigue.
[00:07:32] Now, mechanical tension refers to the amount of force that is produced in muscle fibers, which are made up of many muscle cells. So when you lift weights, you produce two types of mechanical tension in your muscles. You have passive tension and active tension. Passive tension occurs when your muscles are stretching and active tension occurs when they are contracting.
Muscle damage refers to microscopic damage caused to the muscle fibers by high levels of tension. This damage, of course, requires repair and if you give your body proper nutrition and adequate rest, it will make those muscle fibers larger and stronger to better deal with future bouts of tension.
[00:08:20] Now, it’s worth noting that it’s not entirely clear whether muscle damage directly stimulates muscle growth or whether it’s just a side effect of mechanical tension. But as of now, I think it deserves to be on the list as a muscle-building trigger or pathway.
[00:08:36] Now, the third and final muscle-building trigger pathway is cellular fatigue. And to understand this, let’s talk about two basic dimensions to the functional capabilities of muscle.
[00:08:50] So the first is how fully and forcefully a muscle can contract. Now, I mentioned a little bit earlier that a muscle is comprised of many individual muscle fibers which are comprised of many individual muscle cells. And when a muscle is called upon to contract, the more individual muscle fibers that fire, that responds, the harder they contract and the stronger that muscle will be. Now, one of the benefits of heavy weight lifting is that it forces muscles to recruit as many muscle fibers and contract them as forcefully as possible.
[00:09:34] Now, the second functional aspect to muscle as related to cellular fatigue is how many times a muscle can contract before it fails. Now, you can think of muscle cells as like little engines. They can only produce so much force, they only have so much natural horsepower and only can do so much work until they red line and have to stop. So in other words, a muscle cell can only move so much weight and only move it so many times. Before it has to quit.
Now when a muscle cell red lines, when it hits its limit for work, it triggers a cascade of signals that lead to adaptations that increase muscle endurance and to a degree, muscle size. Now, of course, as you repeat this process over time, redlining muscle cells, they continue to adapt and it takes more and more work for them to reach that point of complete exhaustion. Now, if you are an experienced weightlifter, your muscles normally don’t reach this level of fatigue until close to the end of a workout. And it can actually take quite a bit of work to get there.
[00:12:24] So now that you understand the basic physiology of muscle growth, let’s see how rest-pause training fits into this picture. How can it help you gain muscle faster? At bottom, rest, pause, training can help you build muscle faster because it pre exhausts your muscles, so to speak. You might have heard of this, this has been a bodybuilding thing for some time.
Because what it does is it allows you to push your muscles to near failure several times per set. So if we stick with our engine metaphor, what rest-pause training allows you to do is red line your muscles under a moderate load more frequently than regular training. And just as important, it allows you to do that without much increasing the likelihood of overtraining. So let’s take a minute to unpack that. It’s a lot of information there.
[00:13:19] Now, if you’ve been kicking around in the body composition or bodybuilding space for some time now, you’ve probably heard that the main triggers, the most powerful triggers for muscle growth are only really tapped into in the last few reps of your sets. You know, the grinders that just really light your muscle bellies on fire. And that’s not exactly true, but it’s not wholly off base either.
[00:13:45] You see one of the easiest ways to ensure that you continue to overload your muscles, which simply means increasing the amount of tension they’re producing over time, that’s progressive overload, and so one of the easiest ways to do that is to frequently push them to something close to muscle failure or to absolute muscle failure, which you can do on some exercises safely.
I would think more about technical failure with heavy compound stuff, which is the point where you can no longer do reps without your form breaking down. But on something like a bicep curl, there’s no risk to going to absolute muscle failure or just maybe a rep or two shy.
Which is probably going to also coincide with technical failure, whereas with a more technical movement that allows you to use big muscle groups like, take the squad or take the deadlift, your form will break down before you simply can’t keep the bar moving anymore. So that’s why I like to think more about technical failure with the big movements and then muscle failure with the smaller movements.
Anyways, regardless of how you look at it, they are closely related. Even on the big stuff. Once your form starts to fall apart on the squatter deadlift, you have maybe a rep or two left if you were to try to go to absolute muscle failure. But anyway, once you get to that point where you are, let’s say a rep or two, maybe three shy of absolute muscle failure or a rep or two shy of technical failure, what happens is: it creates much higher levels of muscle activation than with easier sets where you are leaving a number of reps in the tank.
And research shows that that positively influences muscle building. And that’s why regularly pushing your muscles to that point of close to technical failure or on some exercises, absolute muscle failure, is actually a very important aspect of gaining muscle and strength. And especially as an experienced weightlifter.
[00:15:49] Now with a normal weight lifting set, a normal hard set, a normal working set, you really only reach this point at the very end of the set, right? So let’s say you’re doing a set of 6 reps or 8 reps or 10 reps, the first half of that set, things are pretty easy, you’re just working through. And then it starts to get harder.
And it gets harder and harder and harder. Therefore, if you wanted to increase the number of times that your muscles taste, you know, failure, get close to failure, in a workout, you would need to do more sets, and that would, of course, entail a lot more reps or a lot more weight.
[00:16:24] For example, let’s say you are squatting in the 4 to 6 rep range or doing something like Bigger Leaner Stronger, you’d either have to add more 4 to 6 rep sets or maybe some heavier stuff. Maybe you would go up to 90 or 95 percent of your one rep max and do 2, 3 reps sets. Either way, you have to subject your body to more abuse.
And that’s fine, but you can only do so many reps per major muscle group per week and you can only push those muscles so far in terms of intensity before your body starts to fall behind in recovery and symptoms related to overtraining start to set in. And this is especially true, of course, if you are doing a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
[00:17:07] Now, the beauty of rest-pause sets are they allow you to reach that point of muscle failure, or come very close to it, several times in one set without greatly increasing the workout volume and without increasing the intensity. So essentially these rest-pause sets are a way to expose your muscles to this powerful, but fleeting, muscle-building stimuli more frequently without causing more muscle damage or more central nervous system strain than your body can effectively repair and recover from.
[00:17:46] Another big advantage of these sets is they are very safe and they are very time effective. And especially when you want to increase workout volume. Right? So you can think of volume as – I mean there are different ways to look at it. It could be the number of hard sets that you’re doing in a workout, it could be the number of reps that you’re doing in a workout it could be the amount of weight that you’re moving.
But in this context, I’m referring to the number of reps that you’re doing. So you are increasing the number of reps in your rest-pause sets without increasing the amount of time that you have to be in the gym, which is nice.
[00:18:19] And research shows that especially once you have a bit of weightlifting experience on your belt, increasing volume, just increasing the amount of work that you are making your muscles do over time, is an effective way to gain more muscle. If you make your muscles work harder and harder, they will get bigger and stronger. That’s one of those first principles of muscle and strength gain.
[00:18:43] Now, the problem, of course, with that for most people is, unless they’re on drugs or have unlimited free time to sit in a gym, it is very difficult to keep adding volume to your workouts without getting saddled with, you know, two-plus hour workouts that you’re supposed to do four, five, six days a week.
And that also, of course, increases the risk of injury as well. The rest-pause sets again are a bit of a solution or a hack to both of those problems. They take less time than traditional sets because they involve lighter weights than your normal sets. And the additional volume doesn’t put the same amounts of stress on your joints and your nervous system.
[00:19:25] For example, in one study, athletes who used rest-pause training were able to finish the same amount of workout volume as the traditional group 17 times faster. And muscle activation was also 13 percent higher on average among the rest-pause trainers.
Another interesting fact is that the people who were doing rest-pause sets were able to lift just as efficiently after their workouts as the people who used the longer normal rest periods. So in other words, the rest-pause training helped these people do more reps and achieve higher levels of muscle activation in less time and without significantly higher levels of fatigue.
[00:20:12] All right. So now let’s get to the how-to. So here’s the rest-pause training 101. There are several popular styles of rest-pause, but they do all follow the same general game plan. You first start with what’s generally called an activation set, which is where you push your muscles to failure or close to it. You then rest for a short period and you do another mini set, is what I call it. And then you repeat, number two, resting in mini-sets until you can no longer match the reps from your first mini-set.
[00:20:48] So let’s say you are going to do some rest-pause sets with your biceps curls, which is very easy to do because it’s not a very technical exercise, you can safely go to muscle failure and so forth. So let’s say that your activation set is ten reps. That’s where you fail.
You then rest 10 seconds and then you do another set with the same weight, this time getting five reps before failing. Then you would repeat the process of resting ten seconds and doing another set until you can’t get five reps. And that would be the end of that first round, at least of rest-pause sets.
[00:21:28] So here’s how it might look if you were writing them in your log or log them in your app or whatever, so it’d be, let’s say it’s 30 pounds for 10 reps and then you rest 10 seconds. And then it’s 30 pounds for 5 reps, rest 10 seconds. 30 pounds for 5 reps, rest 10 seconds. 30 pounds for 5 reps, rest 10 seconds. 30 pounds for 3 reps. Done.
[00:21:49] Now, that’s the gist of rest-pause training. But as I mentioned earlier, there are different ways of going about it, different ways of specifically programming it. So let’s look at two of the most popular methods.
[00:22:02] The first is the dogg crapp, interesting marketing, training style of rest-pause training. So that’s “dogg” with two G’s and “crapp” with two P’s. Now, this is actually named after the online screen name of its creator, a bodybuilder named Dante Trudel, and it’s basically a high frequency, low volume bodybuilding program that focuses on heavyweights, intense stretching, and rest-pause training.
[00:22:30] So in dogg crapp, the rest-pause sets looked like this: you start with a weight that you can do for 6 to 8 reps, which is gonna be somewhere around 75 to 80 percent of your one-rep max. And you stop about 1 rep shy of failure. Then you rest for 25 to 30 seconds and you do another set with the same weight for as many reps as you can get. Again, stopping just short of failure. And then this is followed by a third and final set, which you push to absolute failure. And that’s really it for the dogg crapp method of rest paws.
[00:23:07] Another popular method is the myo-reps style of rest-pause training. And this has been continually refined and updated since about 2006 by bodybuilding coach, Borge Fagerli. And the myo-reps style of rest-pause is one of the more scientifically supported forms. And that’s why it has quite an underground following, I guess you’d say, among competitive bodybuilders in particular.
[00:23:36] And here’s how it works. So first, you start with a lightweight, picking something that you can do for anywhere from 9 to 20 reps. And again, you want to be coming close to failure within, let’s say, 1 or 2 reps of at least technical failure, if not absolute muscle failure, depending on the exercise.
And I would say that if you are new to rest-pause training and you’re not sure where to start, go with about 30 percent of your one rep max, which you can easily calculate using one of the many calculators online. If you want to use mine, head over to muscleforlife.com and search for “1RM” and you’ll see an article I wrote 1RM and there’s a calculator in it, and so forth. Now if you are not new to rest-pause training, then 40 to 50 percent of your one-rep max should work well.
[00:24:25] Step two is you do your first set, and again, you want to take it to the point where you’re one to two reps shy of failure. And Fagerli also recommends that you reduce the range of motion slightly. So you are not locking out at the top or bottom of the exercise. And the purpose of that is to keep the muscle under constant tension.
[00:24:45] Step three is you finish your set, your rack the weight, and you rest for three to five deep breaths. And that means breathing in and out. So, you know, 6 to 15 seconds or so. Then you do another set with the same weight of 3 to 5 reps, stopping a rep or two short of failure, which should happen naturally if you have chosen your weights correctly.
You probably will not be able get more than 5 reps with good form. So anyway, you do your next set there of your 3 to 5 reps and then you rack the weight, and you wait three to five breaths and you repeat, and you stop when you hit three to five mini-sets or you lose one rep from your first mini-set.
[00:25:33] So, for example, this would be correct. Set one: 20 reps. Mini sets: 4, 4, 4, 3. Done.
[00:25:41] This would also be correct. Set one: 12 reps. Mini sets: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3. Right? Five didn’t lose a rep.
[00:25:51] And this to be correct as well. 18 reps, that’s your first set. And then mini sets, 5, 4. If you lost a rep, you stop.
[00:25:59] And just to make it crystal clear, the following examples would be incorrect. So let’s say your first set, you get 20 reps, and then on your mini sets, you go 4, 4, 3, 3. You should have stopped at the first 3.
[00:26:12] This would be incorrect as well. 18 reps, that’s your first set. And then your mini sets, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3. Too many. That’s overkill.
[00:26:23] This would be incorrect as well. So, let’s say, you get 16 reps in your first set and then your mini sets, 5, 4, 3, 2.
[00:26:30] Okay, so now let’s talk about how to get started with rest-pause training. The bottom line is rest-pause training is most effective when it’s worked into and around a generally well-designed workout program. Rest-pause training is not something that you want to do exclusively or too frequently, because if you get too zealous with it, it can be pretty easy to burn yourself out.
That’s why I think a good place to start is to plug some rest-pause training into your isolation exercises and your accessory work. And not into your heavy compound stuff, not into your squats or deadlifts or bench presses or overhead presses. And I also recommend that you do the accessory work, the isolation work and the rest-pause training at the end of your workouts after your main lifts, which require a lot more energy and focus are done.
[00:27:26] So, for example, let’s say you’re training back and you start with a few sets of deadlifts and then you do a few sets of barbell rows and then you move on to some one-arm dumbbell rose and you’re going to finish with some pull-ups. What you would want to do there is do your rest-pause sets with the dumbbell rows or the pull-ups or both if you feel up to it.
[00:27:46] Now, in time, you can increase the difficulty of your rest-pause training by doing rest-pause sets with your bigger lifts, but you would want to make sure that you are dialing down the rest of your workouts accordingly. Because if you, let’s say you start your lower body day with some rest-pause sets on your squats, chances are you’re going to have a very hard time doing all the rest of the stuff that you would normally do if you had started with just normal traditional squats.
[00:28:19] Now, I also need to say that if you do get to a point where you’re wanting to do some rest-pause training with the bigger movements, you need to make sure that you are very strict on your form. Remember, rest-pause training works because it fatigues the muscles far more than you’re used to with traditional sets, which is good for muscle growth. But it also means that it puts you at a higher risk of injury because it is much harder to maintain good form on larger technical movements when your biggest muscle groups are just on fire.
[00:28:52] Now, in terms of which method of rest-pause training to use, I would say try both and see what you like the most. I personally like the dogg crapp method a bit more for the compound lifts and the myo-reps method a bit more for isolation work.
[00:29:10] So the bottom line here is: if you’re a complete beginner to weightlifting, if you have six months or less of consistent weight lifting on your belt, then everything we’ve discussed here is not really for you. Not yet, at least. I think you are better off sticking to something simpler and more traditional, like my Bigger Leaner Stronger program for men or Thinner Leaner Stronger program for women, or maybe something like Starting Strength if you want to go pure strength and so on.
[00:29:37] However, if you are an experienced weightlifter, if you have at least a year or a year and a half of good weightlifting behind you, and you have gained a fair amount of muscle and strength, and you currently feel stuck, or you just want to try something new and interesting and see how your body responds, then rest-pause training is worthwhile.
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
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- Marshall, P. W. M., Robbins, D. A., Wrightson, A. W., & Siegler, J. C. (2012). Acute neuromuscular and fatigue responses to the rest-pause method. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15(2), 153–158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2011.08.003