The Real Rest-Pause

The most effective mass- and strength-building technique in the gym might also be the most misunderstood.
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Former inmate Jim “The Scranton Strongman” Williams served his prison time wisely. Given little more than three hots, a cot and a pile of weights, Williams, doing time for a string of youthful indiscretions, experimented with the iron and turned himself into the strongest inmate in the entire penal system.

Once out, Williams went on to become the first man to bench press over 650 pounds in competition, also totaling 2,240 pounds — squat, bench press and deadlift combined — in his first-ever powerlifting meet following his release from prison.

The “secret” to Williams’ immense strength levels? Rest-pause.

Williams never had the luxury of working with a professional strength coach, nor did he have access to a cutting-edge weight room. With few pieces of equipment in the yard, however, what he had was a desire to stay on the bench and not give up his spot to any other inmate.

That’s the story of the rest-pause method. You do as many reps as possible, take a short break, and then repeat — and you do it for as long as you can, because you never know how long you’ll have to rest before you can go again.

Rest-Pause Explained

The rest-pause method breaks one set into several subsets with a brief rest period between each. Depending on your level of intensity and your training objectives, there are multiple variations you can use.

For Strength: Williams would do a single rep with 90 to 95 percent of his one-rep max, wait 20 to 60 seconds, then perform another single. He’d typically repeat this process for the maximum number of sets he could do that day — usually six to eight singles. The adaptations for this variation are neurologically geared toward strength, not size.

For Hypertrophy: Load a weight you can perform for six to 10 reps, then do as many reps as you can. Take a 20-second rest interval, then repeat this process. You’ll likely only manage two to three reps for your second set. Repeat this process twice more, for a total of three subsets.

Since both forms of rest-pause are so taxing on both your central nervous system and your joints, you can’t make it your primary training mode. Cycle on and off it in order to “shock” your body into strength and hypertrophy gains.

Why it Works

Each individual is different, and it’s these differences that dictate how many reps and sets can be performed, how often you can train and how much weight you should be using. Rest-pause training can be customized to allow for these differences. Regardless of your ability to perform reps, maximal intensity is the factor that will induce your best size and strength gains.

Rest-Pause Bench Press Workout

Try this rest-pause protocol in place of your usual bench press sets. Do it for two to three weeks and then wait four to six weeks before implementing it again. Perform at least two warm-up sets before the first work set.

Set 1: As many reps as possible (AMRAP) at 85 percent of your 1RM, rest 20 to 30 seconds; 85 percent AMRAP, rest 20 to 30 seconds; 85 percent AMRAP

Rest two to five minutes

Set 2: 75 percent AMRAP, rest 20 to 30 seconds; 75 percent AMRAP, rest 20 to 30 seconds; 80 percent AMRAP