The general set-up for a Rest Pause Set is to do the first set, set down the weight and rest 15-30 seconds, then without changing the weight do a second set (the first mini-set).
Now set down the weight/rest again and complete another mini-set (for two total mini-sets). In the end you will have completed one full set and two mini-sets all using the same weight.
Although two mini-sets are commonly used, you can really do any amount. Two just seems to be the point at which you start to struggle completing enough good reps.
The idea is that you can get more total reps with a given weight than can be accomplished in just the one set by using the brief rest periods to create an extended Rest Pause Set. It’s a good way to increase workout density (accomplish more work in a certain time period).
By briefly resting after each set, the muscle is able to regain some strength and energy due to its ability to quickly regenerate phosphocreatine and ATP (required for muscle contractions). The brief rest periods also allow the blood to remove some exercise byproducts like lactate (the muscle burn).
With this extra energy the muscle can contract stronger, producing greater force and complete a few more muscle growth stimulating reps.
Rest Pause Training can be used for both hypertrophy (muscle growth) as well as strength gains. Doggcrapp training is probably one of the most popular muscle building programs to use Rest Pause Sets.
Rest Pause Training has many benefits but it is tough and draining on the central nervous system (which tells the muscle to contract). It can also be dangerous, especially as fatigue builds on each additional set since you are still using heavy weights.
Differences between a Rest Pause Set and Drop Sets
Rest Pause Sets are often confused with drop sets (especially triple drop sets). Although they are similar, they are very different in their goal and how they are used.
- During a Rest Pause Set the goal is to use the same heavy weight on each set even if it’s only for a few reps.
- Drop sets involve actually lowering (dropping) the weight on each additional set so that you can still get the same higher reps as you did on each previous set.
- Rest Pause Sets have a defined short rest (generally 15-30 seconds) between sets.
- Drop sets should have close to zero rest between each drop set (just long enough to change weights).
- The goal during a Rest Pause Set is to repeatedly stimulate a muscle (especially Type II muscle fibers) using the mechanical stress caused by heavy weights.
- The goal during drop sets is to fatigue and create metabolic stress in the muscle similar to occlusion training. The higher reps and lighter weights help to create a continuous muscle pump.
Rest Pause Training for Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)
When using Rest Pause Sets for muscle growth, the idea is to push towards muscle failure and fatigue with heavy weights.
The general recommendation is to use your 6-12 rep maximum weight (a weight you can do between 6-12 complete reps with). You will have to experiment to find the best target reps between 6 and 12 to use for each exercise.
- To start, try to use your 6 rep max weight (you can do 6 complete reps and no more) but if you find that you really struggle to complete the additional reps in the mini-sets, use a lower weight (higher target reps) on the first set the next time.
- Do the first set for the maximum number of complete reps you can (should be between 6-12 reps but do not fail on the last rep).
- Now rest 15-30 seconds and then do a second set (this is the first mini-set) for as many complete reps as possible (without changing weights).
- Rest again for 15-30 seconds and do another mini-set for as many complete reps as possible (two total mini-sets will be done).
So your Rest Pause Set may look like 6 reps max + rest + 3 reps max + rest + 1 reps max (total = 10 complete reps with the same weight).
You could then rest 1-3 minutes and do another Rest Pause Set (you will probably need to start with less weight now because of fatigue).
Rest Pause Training for Strength (Also Called Strength Cluster Sets)
Rest Pause Training can also be used to increase muscle strength. The idea here is to not necessarily get more total reps or reach a higher level of fatigue, but to optimize the force produced on each rep by stopping short of muscular failure.
To prioritize strength gains with Rest Pause Sets, you will use a heavy weight that only allows you to get 3-5 reps (your 3-5 rep maximum weight).
Instead of doing maximum reps on the first set (as you would for muscle growth), you will complete only 1-2 reps (stopping a few reps before failure).
- So if you pick a weight that’s your 3 rep maximum – You would do one rep, rest 15 seconds, and then do another rep.
- You would repeat this process until you’ve completed your maximum reps (3-5). That would be one Rest Pause Set (or cluster set).
- Now rest 1-3 minutes and then do another Rest Pause Set. 3-5 total Rest Pause Sets (with 3-5 reps in each set) work well for strength gains without causing excessive fatigue.
Exercises to Use During Rest Pause Training
Technically you can use any exercise during Rest Pause Training. However, you will be using heavy weights and taking the Rest Pause Set almost to failure (while fatigue increases) so some exercises are safer.
You can easily be injured, especially on exercises where you can be trapped with the weights such as bench press or squats. Always have a spotter or use a power rack for safety.
Exercises with built in safeties like the leg press also work well.
Personally, I don’t like using Rest Pause Training at the lower rep range (near 6 reps) with heavy compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. I use the higher reps (closer to 12) on the first set since I find it very difficult to complete many additional reps during the mini-sets. You have to experiment and adjust!
Rest Pause Training Using Unilateral Exercises
Unilateral exercises (those where you can use a single limb) can also be easily adapted to Rest Pause Training.
There are numerous exercises that can be used such as the single leg press, single leg curl, dumbbell curl, dumbbell lateral, dumbbell overhead press…
Really any exercise where you can use one limb at a time will work (especially dumbbell exercises).
The Rest Pause Set will be completed using the same set-up as discussed above except you will remove the brief rest periods. Each limb will get to rest while the other limb works.
Here’s an example using the single leg press for muscle growth (again the weight stays the same during all sets):
- Do the first set with the left leg for maximum reps.
- NOW instead of resting you will immediately do the right leg for maximum reps (the left leg will be resting during this time).
- Immediately go back to the left leg and do the first mini-set for as many reps as possible.
- Again without rest switch back to the right leg and do as many reps as possible.
- Finish by doing one more mini-set starting with the left leg and then the right leg so that you complete three total sets (one set plus two mini-sets).