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Pause Squat 101

To Pause, or Not to Pause Your Squats?

Do you find yourself losing position into and/or out of the bottom of a squat? Does squatting scare you or give you anxiety? Do you dive bomb into the hole just so you can get out as fast as possible? Do you just want more variety in your training? Do you just want to become a squat connoisseur? If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, then consider adding Pause Squats to your training.



Why Pause?

There are multiple reasons to pause your squats, all of which reinforce the other to create some interesting synergies. Below are the 5 main reasons I like to include them in my programming. If you agree with me or have other reasons, let me know in the comments!


Reason 1 - Develop Comfort in Uncomfortable Positions

I’d bet that 9 out of 10 lifters hate the bottom position of the squat. The thought of getting “stapled” to the floor, having to bail a failed lift with the whole gym staring at you after, or your quads blowing out as you crumple to the floor, are all legitimate and some maybe even irrational fears, but I am definitely one of those 9 lifters. Pause squats can help you build more strength and confidence in that bottom position because you are forced to use lighter weights that you can control.


Reason 2 - Develop Positional Awareness

Since you need to pause, you’ll have to use a tempo that is slower than your normal squat movement, unless you already squat at a slow tempo to begin with. Executing a pause squat at a higher velocity would make the pause more challenging as you would need to do more work to decelerate if pausing during the descent or at the bottom of the movement.

Accelerating out of the hole as fast as possible would make pausing during the concentric (on the way up) more challenging and less consistent as you may pause at different points of the concentric. Since you are forced into a more controlled tempo, you are able to learn what positions and joint angles work and which don’t. Each repetition will give you feedback and provide insights into how to optimally move your body through space in each portion of the movement which will provide some carryover to your normal squat movement.


Reason 3 - Provide Novel Stimulus at Reduced Loads

At some point in your training career, executing your main squat pattern will stop leading to continued improvement, even if you execute the movement with different repetition ranges and intensities multiple times per week. Pause Squat variations, when programmed properly (See Note 1), will provide novel stimulus that will still carry over to your main movement. Due to the required tempo and control of the pause, a lifter is forced to use reduced weights relative to their competitive or normal squat pattern.


Reason 4 - Increase Time Under Tension

Since pause squats are typically executed at a slower velocity than an athlete's main squat pattern, the prime movers are exposed to increased Time Under Tension (TUT). Increased TUT can lead to increased muscle hypertrophy. If your normal squat movement is already pretty slow from a tempo perspective, than you can increase the tempo before or after the pause. For example, you could do a 5-3-0 Pause Squat where the eccentric (downward) portion of the movement is executed with a 5-count, followed by a 3-count pause at the bottom position, followed by the concentric (upward) executed as fast as possible. This could be used for someone who normally squats with a 2-0-0 or 3-0-0 tempo for additional TUT.


Reason 5 - Reduce Anxiety and Expectations

If you rotate pause squat variations, rep schemes, and intensities into your training, you will have reduced expectations. This can help reduce anxiety associated with chasing numbers like you would experience with your main squat movement. Most lifters who train a main squat pattern week in and week out always have numbers in their heads of what makes it a good training session or bad one. Since the pause squat is a variation or the main movement, the lifter will have reduced expectations and less immediate experience to compare performances with. This can help a lifter focus more on the MOVEMENT and less on the PERFORMANCE.


Where to Pause

There's some debate here and it depends on your specific strengths, anthropometry, technique, and style of squat. For people with inconsistent bottom positions, entry angles, or exit angles, pausing at the bottom is a good option. However, some lifters may also benefit from pausing on the way down, before reaching the bottom, while others may benefit from pausing during the concentric portion on the way up.


How Long to Pause

There’s no hard and fast rule, but I typically start with a 1-count or a 2-count. Pausing much longer than a 2-count could provide potential benefits but becomes further removed from the main squat movement. I usually recommend counting in “Mississippi's” or “Chimichanga's”. For example, a 2-count pause would be "1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi" or "1 Chimichanga, 2 Chimichanga."


How Often to Pause

Depending on the the experience of the lifter, I would program pause work once a week in addition to their main squat movement for one training cycle. As the lifter develops I would continue to introduce other squat variations in lieu of or in addition to the pause squat in future training cycles. If you want to keep pause squats in multiple training cycles in a row, then consider changing the pause location or pause length to reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.


Which Squats to Pause

There's no reason to only pause your main squat pattern. Adding pause squats to any squat movement can be beneficial. For example, my competitive squat pattern is a low bar squat, but I typically also train high bar back squats with and without pauses and tempos. The possibilities are endless. Just keep in mind that the further away the squat pattern is away from your main movement, the less direct carryover it will have to the main movement. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider pausing other squat variations for long term development.


DM me on Instagram @Crafted_Strength or e-mail me at bryan@craftedstrength.com with any questions or for coaching inquiries.


Notes

  1. Programming pause squats as the only variation of your main squat movement will work for a period of time, but only using pause squats could hinder continued progress.


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