What's Your Opinion on Deadstop Training? Should I Do It?
If you walk into a commercial gym on Monday, "International Chest Day," you'll typically see four or five guys bouncing the bar off their chests and then running around for high-fives. These are the same dudes who probably brag about the 405-pound, 5-rep deadlift they bounced off the floor. They might brag about some big numbers, but if you ask them to do pause-reps, their weight would probably drop by at least 50 pounds.
Bounce-reps work because of the stretch reflex, also called reactive strength, or the release of stored energy. Think of the small squat you do before you jump. That squat stores energy in your muscles and tendons so they can act like springs when you jump. Basketball players with short calves and long Achilles tendons are genetically gifted in reactive forces. Their legs are really good at storing kinetic energy. The bar bouncing from the chest or the floor gives your body time to store energy and use it to push or pull. It might be easier, but you're only cheating yourself.
Deadstop training, which basically involves a full pause at the bottom of any rep, removes reactive strength from your training. It cuts the bounce from your reps, and it can help you build a significant amount of force production power and raw strength.
Use the Force
To do a heavy lift well, it's crucial to increase your force output. Force = Mass x Acceleration, but how can we put that equation to practical use? There are two key components in force: your central nervous system (CNS) and motor units. The lighter and easier a weight is to move, the fewer motor units your CNS turns on to move the weight. We have to learn to retrain our CNS to fire all motor units at the same time. Every knuckle-headed trainer will talk to you about the mind-muscle connection and how you need to squeeze, but the truth is we are not training the mind, we are training our CNS to adapt to stimulation.
Whether you're lifting 135 pounds or 500, all your motor units should receive the "Go!" signal. Watch some of the top deadlifters doing their warm-ups. They never haphazardly lift the weight; they fire quick, fast, and hard even when the bar is loaded with only 135 pounds. No matter the load, the speed of the lift almost never changes. Your goal is to move the weight from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
Here's where force production and stretch reflex come to blows. If you use deadstop training techniques, your stretch reflex can't help you. What's left is just you, your muscles, and the force they can produce against the load. If you're at the bottom of a squat and count for three seconds before you try to stand back up, your legs have nothing to rely on but their force output. To some, that's the true measure of strength.
Even if you're not a strength "purist," you can benefit from deadstop training. Your muscles get bigger and stronger and your CNS gets a new challenge. Here are some ways to apply deadstop training to your regimen:
METHOD 1 Pin Press + Floor Press
Since we started with bench press, it's probably important that I mention it again. Both the pin press and floor press are simple, but they're important. The point of both of these lifts is to pause at the bottom of each rep so that any stored energy is eliminated. Because of this, you may have to drop the weight significantly. If this is the case, the unfortunate truth is you've been cheating yourself out of gains the whole time you've been training.
To do the pin press, set up a squat cage so the pins are just above your chest. The exercise is performed almost exclusively for concentric contraction. Once I am under the bar, I explode up as fast as possible and set the bar back down on the pins. Don't waste energy slowly lowering the bar—I pretty much do a controlled drop. After the bar is on the pins, release the bar, drop your hands to the side, and prepare for the next rep. Repeat until your set is complete.
The goal is to create power so there are no light sets of 12 or 15 reps. I do sets of four and work my way down to sets of one or two. I suggest starting with five sets and working your way to a heavy set of two reps.
Floor presses are slightly different. Lie on the floor in a squat rack and place pins so you can reach up and unrack the bar while flat on your back. Lower the bar until your arms are rested on the ground, pause for a count of three, and then explode up. Make sure that the pause is long enough to release the stored energy.
METHOD 2 Box Squats
These same techniques can be used very effectively on other muscle groups. Although leg training might come second to the almighty bench press for many gym-goers, it shouldn't. Set up a box at parallel depth and position it so you can sit on it without impeding your movement pattern. When you come down to sit on the box, keep your body tight, but stop completely. Wait a couple seconds to release your stored energy, and then power yourself back up.
The forces built up during a heavy squat are tremendous, and eliminating the stretch reflex will increase your power output tremendously. It will also increase the size of your legs because they will actually be doing a lot more work.
METHOD 3 Deadlift
It's called the deadlift for a reason: It's done from a dead stop! Just as the pin press and box squat, the point of this movement is to completely stop once the weight hits the floor. You can take a moment to re-adjust your grip, your stance, your back angle, and then pull again. If you have to go lighter, do it. Your CNS will function better and you'll see a lot better gains faster.
I only practice these principles on major compound movements, but there is no reason you can't apply them to any muscle group that needs a little kick in the ass. Remember, we are retraining our CNS to fire as many motor units as possible regardless of the weight. More motor units mean more power.
If you need more proof, look at the small Olympic weight lifters that can out-lift giant bodybuilders. Their explosiveness is off the charts. Now think what could happen if you combine the best of both worlds!