It was brought to my attention that although I’ve written about the benefits of paused squats, several different types of paused squats, and commended paused squats to people in basically all the social media networks I’m active on, I haven’t actually said anything about HOW to implement paused squats. Well, there are several ways. Here’s a quick and dirty rundown:
1. Diagnostic tool.
Do you want to know what’s limiting your drive out of the bottom of a squat? Put a light weight on the bar (135-225 works well for most). Squat all the way down. Then bounce up and down between full depth and your sticking point (just above parallel). Do so about 50 times. What’s the first thing that really starts burning/fatiguing? Congratulations, you’ve discovered what needs work.
2. Building torso rigidity
Here’s where breathing paused squats shine. Instead of worrying about weight or time, focus on your breathing. Squat all the way down with (initially) very light weight. Tense your abs hard. Exhale completely. Inhale completely. Repeat for 5-10 breaths. Move up in weight. Again, focus on inhaling and exhaling COMPLETELY. As soon as the depth of your breath suffers, it’s because you’re too weak to keep full thoracic extension without the aid of intra-abdominal pressure (and consequently you can’t inhale as deeply because the volume of your thoracic cavity is decreased), or your abdominal musculature (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominus, obliques) isn’t strong enough to brace while you exhale (if you find yourself unable to exhale fully). Drop back about 5% from that point and do 2-3 sets of 5-10 breaths before you do your heavy sets (fewer breaths and not as close to failure – using it more as an activation drill), after your heavy sets (more breaths – make it more challenging), or on an off day (scale the difficulty to whether you’d doing it for extra work or active recovery). To progress, increase breaths until you hit a goal number, then increase weight slowly over time. Quality matters MUCH more than weight.
3. Horsepower out of the hole
I like using plain old paused squats as my primary squatting movement for 4-8 weeks at a time (until I start to plateau). I’ll start with a weight I can pause for a short amount of time (2-3 seconds), and increase the time of the hold to 8-10 seconds in subsequent workouts, then I’ll move up in weight. By increasing the duration of the pause, you dissipate more of the stretch reflex, and fatigue your muscle more prior to the concentric. On these, you’re NOT exhaling since you ARE focusing on increasing in weight. For more volume, you can do a regular squat or two (straight down and up) after a long pause, since odds are if you can pause a rep, you can hit it for a couple regular reps, even if you are a bit fatigued. I rarely do more than one paused rep in a set because I don’t want rep quality to suffer. If you use them as a supplemental exercise, I’d recommend avoiding failure. Your hips will get PLENTY of time under tension before you even have to think about missing a rep.