In the struggle against gravity, dead-stop training will bring your sets to a grinding halt. That may sound counter-productive to your goals, but pausing between reps (popular in movements like the Pendlay row) is a potent tool for breaking stubborn strength plateaus and bolstering your power.
Dead-stop training will also quickly humble you into greatly reducing the weight on the bar. If you find your training on cruise control, plodding through endless sets and reps, dead-stop training will make time stand still. Here’s what it is and how to use it.
- What is Dead Stop Training?
- The Phases of a Repetition
- Tempo Training vs. Dead-Stop Training
- Benefits of Dead Stop Training
- Best Exercises for Dead Stop Training
- Who Should Use Dead Stop Training
- How to Program Dead Stop Training
Dead-stop training describes a rep cadence where the lifter pauses between reps, resting the weight on the floor.
For example, instead of continuously moving through all 10 repetitions, you would stop with the weight fully supported on the ground before initiating the next one. Allowing the load to be entirely dissipated will kill any momentum before you start the next repetition. Using a dead stop allows you to reset your technique each time, making each subsequent repetition more grueling as the set drags on.
Typically, this style works best with movements where one can rest the weight completely to take tension off of the muscle. Deadlifts and different rows are all great choices. Exercises such as the bench press and pull-ups — where your muscles are under load, even in the bottom position — aren’t ideal.
To better understand the power of dead-stop training, it’s useful to understand the different phases of a repetition. Each rep within a set breaks down into the concentric, eccentric, and isometric phase — which can then be folded into a tempo training style.
The concentric phase of repetition is when your muscle shortens or contracts against the weight, aka the lifting phase.
During a biceps curl, this phase would be when you produce force to complete the first half of the curl. Typically, you want to lift as explosively as possible during the concentric and lower the weight with control.
Speaking of control, the eccentric phase of a contraction is the lowering portion or the descent from the end of the concentric phase.
Once your muscle has fully contracted, the eccentric phase allows it to lengthen under tension without simply letting gravity take the wheel. Controlling your eccentric phase is a powerful tool in improving technique and maintaining tension throughout a lift.
The isometric portion of a lift is where you intentionally pause between the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) phases. Isometric contractions are very common in core exercises. For example, a plank is an isometric exercise focused on maintaining a position.
The isometric is known for being a detailed strategy to boost performance. Think about a paused squat — while extremely difficult, they can be just as rewarding. An isometric pause is a close neighbor to dead-stop training but keeps tension on your muscle for the duration of the pause.
Tempo training and dead-stop training are close cousins. Tempo training is when you manipulate the speed you lift during one or multiple phases of a lift. For example, you may lift a weight as quickly as possible but lower it to a three-second cadence and pause for one second before initiating the second rep.
Dead-stop training has you remove all tension from your muscle between reps, so you have to produce maximal force during the next rep.
Using tempo training can be an excellent method to perfect technique, build positional strength, and make light weights even more effective. Dead-stop training is about executing a lift with as much force as possible to build maximum strength and power.
Knowing the benefits of each phase of a single repetition helps establish why dead-stop training is so effective. Dead-stop training is great for building starting strength, foundational movement patterns, improving positional strength throughout many exercises, and creating technical refinement.
Many exercises benefit from eccentric loading into the first repetition. For example, a squat allows you to resist the weight on the barbell as you descend into the hole — enabling you to make adjustments based on how the bar feels as you move. You can also benefit from a minor bottom rebound to help kickstart your ascent.
However, dead-stop training forces you to get as tight as possible before starting the repetition. If not, you may fold under the weight and miss the lift completely. Instead of reacting to the load, you will be forced to develop maximal tension each time.
Depending on your exercise selection, you can manipulate where your dead stop occurs. A block pull can change the height of your deadlift; a pin squat can select the exact position for your dead stop in the squat pattern. Loading up these ranges of motion and forcing a dead stop can build some serious strength in specific sticking points.
One of the best ways to get strong and stay safe is to improve your technique. Dead-stop training breaks your setup into numerous single attempts instead of a continuous effort. Instead of accumulated fatigue potentially changing how each repetition looks, dead-stop training allows you to complete a series of repetitions with the most similar execution possible.
Dead-stop training can be applied to any exercise where you can safely release the weight onto the ground, a weight stack, or any other support. Deadlifts, rows, squats, and pressing variations are particularly effective when performed with a dead stop.
Deadlifts are the quintessential dead-stop exercise. There is a big difference between the touch-and-go style of deadlifts and dead stop — and the first time you try it, you’ll be hooked (well, humbled and then maybe hooked).
Instead of allowing the weight to rebound off the floor, you’ll let the plates settle on the ground, reset your hips, and initiate your next rep. Be mindful of allowing the load to settle on the ground before completing your technique checklist each time.
Both barbell and dumbbell rows are perfect for dead-stop training. The single-arm dumbbell row can be a powerful back, arm, and core exercise when you’re forced to re-brace between repetitions. Grab a platform to rest the dumbbell if the ground is too far away to retain clean form.
With a barbell, the Pendlay Row is an iconic dead-stop training exercise. Line up on your barbell with it resting on the ground. Hinge to the bar, grip it, brace, and row. Each time you complete a single repetition, lower the weight to the floor and disengage your muscles before initiating your next rep.
Pin squats are your go-to dead-stop squat variation here. Line up the squat rack safety bars at the height you would like to initiate the lift from.
Get under the bar, emulating your standard setup and positioning to the best extent possible — generating full body tension before standing the bar up. Squat back to the pins and allow the bar to rest before establishing full body tension for the next repetition.
Dead stop pressing can be a powerful strengthening tool for the upper body. Both vertical and horizontal presses can take advantage of the pin-style press, lining up in a squat rack and either dead stop bench or military pressing off of the safeties.
Like the squat, you can choose various points in the range of motion to emphasize by lining up your safety bars with your target.
Dead stop training is a great option for new lifters looking to refine technique, strength athletes building brute strength, and bodybuilders looking for a new challenge.
One of the best things you can do as a new lifter is prioritize your technique. Strength, muscle, and overall training longevity are all hugely important, and using dead stops can reinforce strategy to enhance these goals. Employ dead-stop training for your fundamental movement patterns and set yourself up for an enormous runway of progression.
Once you’ve exhausted the more conventional exercises and periodization methods to get strong, adding dead stops can be an absolute plateau smasher.
Technique and brute strength will go a long way towards keeping you strong and safe under maximal loads, and employing dead stops will provide just that. The critical difference is that a dead-stop exercise will allow your body to take some time away from the absolute heaviest loads due to the grueling nature of the method.
Bodybuilding is a game of building as much muscle as possible, and dead-stop training can breathe new life into many of your favorite exercises. Use dead stops to reinforce your starting position and keep the tension on the muscles you want to work the most. Try adding dead stop repetitions on your next chest press and see how many fewer repetitions it takes to reach failure.
Dead stop training is best utilized at the beginning of a workout. Major barbell or dumbbell movement patterns such as squats, presses, or rows all take a significant amount of strength, concentration, and energy to execute correctly — even without adding a dead stop. Choose your first exercise of the day and apply dead stops before moving into the remainder of your workout.
Beginners should choose a moderate weight to perform with dead-stop training. Perform three to five repetitions for multiple sets (three to five) to best enhance your skill with the technique.
Although using moderate weights is usually accompanied by repetitions between eight to 12, you’ll want to maintain as much skilled execution as possible while avoiding failure. Therefore, pair the moderate weight with fewer repetitions.
Building raw strength with dead-stop training will look very similar to building skill, with one noticeable difference. Select a weight that you can safely perform for five or fewer repetitions for about three to five sets. Similar to training for skill, strength requires perfect technique. Use dead stops to dial everything in but don’t be afraid to load it up.
Programming a dead-stop exercise for hypertrophy training should take the target muscle close to failure. Aim for a weight that you can complete for eight to 12 repetitions and three to four sets to cook the muscle group properly. Afterward, head back to some regular cadence exercise to finish your day.
Knock ‘Em Dead (Stop)
It’s often the most innocent-looking changes that make the most significant impact. Simply breaking up your lifting cadence and putting everything you have into dead-stop training can wildly impact your gains.
Without an eccentric phase, you will have to be in the zone to execute any of your dead stop techniques properly. This amount of focus and tension will blast your body into uncharted territory of strength, skill, or muscle gain. From deadlifts to bench press and everything in between, if you’re looking to go far, dead stop the bar.
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