The root of any strength program must be leg strength. Increasing your leg strength will help everything from your deadlift to your bench press. I am really disturbed by the number of new lifters who concentrate on the show lifts like bench press and arm curls and neglect to do any leg work. I fell into that same category when I was younger and it took me years to make up for the lost time.
I think everyone will agree that leg training, especially squats, is both difficult and painful. The great strongman and Olympic champion Paul Anderson could squat more than 1000 pounds and made squats the cornerstone of his leg program. Even though Paul did hundreds of sets of squat throughout his career he never liked the exercise, but he did them faithfully because he knew the incredible benefits of this exercise.
Why Pause Squat?
One variation of the common squat is a pause squat. Pause squats have several benefits that make them as good as, or superior to, regular squats. In pause squats an athlete comes to a complete stop at the bottom of the movement then explodes out of the hole. This builds explosive strength and takes some of the stress off of the knee caused by the sudden stretch reflex action of a regular squat.
In most strength sports you do not go down and then suddenly come back up. Football players come out of a knees bent stance; Basketball players are often in a knees bent stance for seconds before they explode up. In strongman competition we start most events from a knees bent position (farmers walk, tire flip, stones, etc.) so possessing explosive strength from the bottom position is a must. In powerlifting the deadlift movement comes from a knees bent position, if your deadlift is stagnant try pause squats for a while and watch as your deadlift poundage goes back up.
How To Perform A Pause Squat
Begin by setting the crossbars on the power rack to an appropriate bottom position height. To do this set the bar across your shoulders where it would normally ride during the squat movement. Squat down so that your thighs go below parallel and have someone mark your height. Now set the bars so that when you squat down the weight bar will rest on the power rack cross bars in that bottom position. When doing the actual squat set the bar on your back as you normally would and begin your squat decent. Work to maintain good squat position with you head up and a straight back.
When you feel the weight bar make contact with the crossbars of the power rack stop. When you reach this position pause for a second to allow the weight to come to a full stop. Explode out of the hole and maintain good form as you perform the ascension part of the squat. Repeat this procedure for the remainder of the repetitions in your pause squat set. It is vital that you do not bounce the weight off of the power rack crossbars. Remember every repetition must have the one-second pause if this exercise is going to be effective.
The pause squat can also be effetely performed on the smith machine. Most smith machines have pins or stops that can be placed at various levels. Set your pins on the smith machine the same way you did on the power rack. Pause squats on the smith machine will tend to stress the front thighs a little more than power rack pause squats because you are performing the lift in a very upright position in the smith machine.
Use pause squats in place of regular squats in your leg routine. I like to work up to 3 sets of 5 reps with the heaviest weight I can handle. When I can get 5 reps for all 3 sets I move up 10-20 pounds. Pause squats work well with hack squats, leg presses, leg extensions and leg curls.
When you put pause squats into your program be prepared for some incredible muscle soreness in your legs. If you have any questions about this routine or nutrition please e-mail me here at MD Labs.