It is worth it. It is as simple as that.
Ok, I’ll tell more of the story. The fitness industry today seems to be obsessed with the latest gadget, the trendiest toy, the coolest program, and or the most grandiose scene. However if you look to every gym in the world (I’m assuming), you’re going to find at least one of these two staples: Barbells and Dumbbells. They have stood the test of time and have been proven to elicit the best results for almost any fitness or athletic goal.
These two pieces of equipment owe its success to its design. The adaptability of Dumbbells and Barbells are second to none. With the advent of modern strength and conditioning, the options for use for these marvelous inventions are ever expanding, especially for the humble squat. From grip, bar position, and stance, to adding chains, bands and boxes, the squat has near limitless modification options. However, there is one modification that I find myself returning to and programming on a regular basis for all of my athletes; the pause squat.
This simple modification is adding a pause or a stop at the bottom range of a squat i.e. below parallel (N.B. It is not bad for your knees. IF you squat like shit it is bad for your knees. I don’t want to get bogged down by the logistics of squat depth in this conversation. That is a topic for another blog).
You can perform any type of squat with this modification of the timing variable: overhead, kettle bell, dumbbell, goblet, front, back, etc.: my personal favourites being the latter two. With whatever squat variation you are using, using good form, you squat to your bottom range, maintain your balance and stability (tension/”core activation”) and come to a complete stop. It is at this point you choose the amount of time you pause. Between 1-3 seconds you can still make use of the muscles’ stretch-shortening cycle, however if you pause any longer (e.g. 4 – 7 sec) you will completely remove this reflex entirely. The length of your pause should directly relate to your goal, as with any programming choice you make.
Purposes of the pause squat are numerous.
- Firstly, it helps train rate of force development. As mentioned the before, pauses around 3-5 seconds eliminates the stretch-shortening cycle/reflex and thus you will rely less on the muscles’ elastic properties and use more contractility (generating more force as opposed to momentum).
- Secondly, pause squatting will improve trunk strength, postural strength, and improve flexibility and comfort in the bottom of a squat. This will also lead to improvements and corrections of movement deficits in squats such as leading with the hips or collapsing the chest.
- Thirdly, there is a high transferability of training effects to other lifts, in particular, Olympic lifts. Olympic lifts require the athlete to drop extremely low to receive the weight, recover and stand up. Pause squatting replicates the sensation of being “in the hole” and greatly assists in the recovery phase of the lift. On top of that, awareness of balance will dramatically increase. By performing pause squats, an athlete will become highly sensitive to where the weight is transferring to in their feet. This means they will develop a sense of the weight coming too far onto the toes or on the heels and thus be able to correct it. At Ascension Performance Labs, our athletes have seen their Deadlift PB’s dramatically increase by performing pause squats.
- Finally (for this article only), there is a high transferability of training effects to sports in general. There is a myriad of sports that require explosive force development from a bent-knee position. Think about a rugby player driving forward from the scrum (See Alex’s article for more information on this topic) or perhaps a BJJ fighter using a sprawl and then a take-down. As I have mentioned many times before in this conversation, pause squatting trains your stability and ability to explode out of the sticking point of a squat. Getting better at this means you will become more explosive in sport.
You can integrate and program pause squats as you would normally program squats, however reps above 5 are not recommended. Try 5 sets x 3 reps at 70% with a 3 second pause.
To answer the initial question posed at the start of this article once again: Pause squats, worth it or wasteful?
Worth it. It’s cheap and effective. So why wouldn’t you?