Pause squats are no secret these days. Talk to any coach or athlete, regardless of sport (powerlifting, weightlifting, functional fitness, or strength and conditioning) and the majority will have a fond memory of performing these challenging, and highly effective squat variations.
The pause squat is employed in most strength, power, and sport training programs, whether to increase positional specific strength, enhance explosiveness capacities, or to elicit muscular development and hypertrophy.
In this article we will cover what truly makes pause squats a great squatting staple to implement into most training regimens, regardless of sport, goal, or ability level.
Break Through Sticking Points
The ability to accelerate through is critical at breaking through sticking points in the squat. Pause squats, often performed at various ranges of motion specific to a lifters sticking point, can be an amazing training stimulus to enhance positional strength. Furthermore, the ability to generate more concentric strength, improve bracing capacities, and restore sound patterning in the squat (see below) will all lead to increased performance.
Increased Concentric Strength
Pause squats are effective because they negate a lifter’s ability to use the stretch reflex (when paused long enough). By pausing at specific segments, or at full depth, a lifter can develop greater “starting/concentric strength”, which is a valuable strength attribute to have in weightlifting, powerlifting, and human performance. Improvements in concentric strength, when paired with enhanced utilization of the stretch-shortening cycle (trained using regular squatting protocols, plyometrics, or post-activation potentiation/PAP training) can fully maximize a lifter’s ability to generate, react, and overcome force.
Enhanced Core Stabilization
Bracing and breathing (or lack of, aka the Valsalva Maneuver) throughout the squat is important to remain rigid and stable throughout the torso. Pause squats challenge a lifter’s ability to stay braced throughout the full range of motion and sticking points. The great thing about pause squats is that they can be employed at various degrees throughout the range of motion, forcing lifters to stabilize at their weakest points or simply for longer periods of time, both of which will improve their ability to remain braced while grinding through heavy squat PRs.
Refine Movement Patterning and Technique
Pause squats can be used to slow the specific phases or a squat down to improve balance and stability across the midfoot and torso/hip angles. The usage of pause squats can be very beneficial to lifters who may lose rigidity and balance in the bottom of squats, or at a specific sticking point, which could lead to bar path/joint angles being manipulated to counter that weakness. Bar patterning and joint alignment, while in motion and in paused positions, is critical to overall development at higher loads. Any weaknesses in specific patterning of positions will be exaggerated the higher the loads are, making pauses a great tool to enhance movement patterning and technique.
Pause squats are meant to be tough. At higher loads, lifters may lack the confidence in the bottom positioning of a squat (or near their sticking points) to maintain rigidity and stay focused on positioning and alignment. Coaches and athletes can use positional specific pauses (whether full depth, or at sticking points) to increases a lifter’s confidence to stay tight and not rush through that specific segment of the squat. Pause squats can help lifters stay focused and build confidence to stay rigid and aggressive throughout the entire squat range of motion.
Recruit and Develop More Muscle
Performing pauses at full depth, specific sticking points, or anywhere in between can drastically increase the loading duration of a lift. For example, a set of six pause squats, each with a 3 second pause at parallel (assuming this is an athlete’s unique sticking point), would take roughly 30+ seconds, which is almost double the time spent under the barbell than a traditional set of squats. Time Under Tension training (TUT) is a highly effective means to increasing muscle mass, stimulating greater numbers of motor neurons, and ultimately stimulating new muscle growth. When paired with increased repetitions and tempos, pause squats can be an amazing assistance exercise variation to increase performance.
Pause squats are a valuable training tool that coaches and athletes can use to better individualize a squatting program. The ability to isolate positional specific limitations (not only pauses at full depth), can allow coaches and athletes to develop more muscle mass, increase neural output, and boost confidence throughout the entire range of motion in the squat.
Physique competitor Heather Owen had the following to add on her experiences incorporating pause squats into client programs of all types.
“Pause squats are an excellent tool in every trainer’s tool box. I use them regularly for the majority of my clients to maximize engagement, and to build strength and size. Having an athlete stop at those sticking points and hold for a few counts eliminates momentum through the movement allowing for great control and stability development.”
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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