Rest-Pause Training—Low on Time, High on Results
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Check out the Rest-Pause Method in Action
100 miles due west of the Big Apple lies the blue collar, no-nonsense town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scranton is home to Rockview Penitentiary, which in the 1960s housed “Scranton Strongman”, Jim Williams. Jim Williams turned his prison sentence into an opportunity through trial and error to transform himself into the strongest con on the yard. Williams was more than a jailhouse weight pile sensation, he became the first person to surpass a 650-pound bench press in competition. Williams wasn’t a one-trick pony, totaling an astounding 2240 pounds in a full meet following time served.
Unlike “Penn State”, the “state pen” does not boast laboratories or Exercise Physiologist PhDs running around testing and collecting data. Regardless of limited time, resources and equipment, the jailhouse weight pile championship physiques and innovative training methods have evolved out of these barebones conditions. A failed experiment in the lab, worst case scenario means losing a grant; behind bars it means losing your manhood.
Think about it.
Jim Williams never had a high-profile strength coach, a Twitter account or even bands and chains, but he became the strongest man in the world training with the rest-pause method.
According to numerous interviews Adam benShea and I piloted for our best-selling book Jailhouse Strong, prison bodybuilding legends Michael Christian and Tookie Williams trained with a high-rep variation of the rest-pause method. It’s very logical the rest-pause method evolved out of the jailhouse weight pile: You can’t give up your weights with a limited supply on the yard. So cons do as many reps as possible………take a short break……….repeat.
Rest-Pause Training Explained
Rest-pause training breaks down one set into several sub-sets with a brief rest between each. Depending on the intensity level and training objectives, several different variations may be used.
If hypertrophy is what you’re after, lighten the load, but maintain the training intensity.
Select your chosen exercise and load a weight you can perform for 6–10 repetitions. Lift the weight for as many reps as possible, take a 20-second rest interval, and do the same weight again; this will probably be two to three repetitions. Repeat this process twice, for a total of three mini sets.
A practical application of this method in a chest workout could look like this:
- Reverse Grip Bench Presses—4 sets x 8 reps @75% of one-repetition max (perform last set in a rest-pause style as described above)
- Weighted Dips (Forward Lean)—12, 12, 8, Rest-Pause (3 total sets @ 80% of one-repetition max)
- Floor Pause Dumbbell Flyes—12 reps/Dumbbell Pull Over—20 reps (3 super sets)
- Time Under Tension Incline Cable Flyes (45 seconds) x 3 sets
If limit strength is your priority, follow Williams’ lead.
“The Scranton Strongman” took 90–95% of his one-repetition max, then waited 20–60 seconds and then performed another single, and repeated the process for the maximum amount sets he could do that day.
Typically, six to eight singles were done. This method is extremely taxing on the central nervous system, so be careful! Keep in mind, this variation gets you better at lifting heavy weights but does not spark a huge degree of muscle hypertrophy.
A practical application in a chest workout of this method could look like this:
Bench Press Workout
- Bench Presses—1 rep @93% of one-repetition max , do as many sets as possible resting 45 seconds between sets
- Wide Grip Bench Press Paused-2 sets of 6 reps
- Weighted Dips (Forward Lean)—3 sets of 5 reps (work up to a 3-rep max)
- Chest Supported Incline Dumbbell Rows-4 sets of 6 reps
- Tate Presses-3 sets of 12 reps
Why it works
Each of us has differences that eventually dictate how many reps and sets we can perform, how often we can train, and how much weight we should be using while training. Rest-pause training is custom tailored to individual differences! Regardless of one’s ability to perform reps– maximum intensity is the ingredient which induces size and strength gains. If you are good at reps you do more, if you are poor at reps you do your best—intensity is the ingredient!
The Rest-pause method is intense! DO NOT use it every single exercise, every single set, every single workout. Use it sparingly for a couple exercises as cited in the provided examples.
I have used this method with Johnnie Jackson, when he had best year ever in pro bodybuilding in 2012. Furthermore, I train a bushel of world-class strength athletes and using variations of this method, some have gone from good to great, while others from great to world records.