One of the best deadlift variations is the pause deadlift. It is the single most effective exercise to build a stronger bottom position and emphasize driving off the floor from the legs first. The pause deadlift is a staple in all of my athletes’ training.
How do you perform pause deadliftS? The pause deadlift is set up exactly the same as the deadlift, except you will pause for 2-seconds somewhere between the floor and knee. The bar needs to be motionless throughout the pause without dropping down again when driving to standing. The goal is to pull explosively from the pause, and not compromise technique or proper positioning throughout the process.
In this article, I’ll explain the step-by-step technique for performing the perfect pause deadlift, the benefits you’ll get by doing it, the muscles worked, and more.
Pause Deadlift Technique
The pause deadlift is simply a regular deadlift with a pause somewhere between the floor and knee.
Even though this might seem like a small difference, the impacts of a pause while deadlifting can change the empahsis of the movement drastically. Furthermore, implementing an effective pause can be difficult if you don’t understand the mechanics of how the ‘bottom-end’ position should look like.
Here are some technique tips for implementing the perfect pause deadlift:
1. The pause should be measured when the bar is motionless
An effective pause is when the barbell is motionless, which should last for 2-seconds.
A major fault is when lifters start counting the pause when the barbell is still traveling upward. This looks like the barbell slowing down, but not stopping entirely. This would be considered ‘cheating the method’ and should be avoided.
2. The pause should be implemented somewhere between the floor and knee
One of the common questions about the paused deadlift is where should you pause within the range of motion.
The exact place is going to differ on an individual basis, but for most people, the pause will be implemented somewhere between the floor and knee. Typically, you’ll pause wherever you have a sticking point, which is where you either feel the weakest or fail under maximal loads.
If you struggle to break contact with the floor, then you should bring the bar up about 1-2 inches and then pause in that position. Alternatively, if you struggle to bring the bar into the lock-out position, then you should pause either just below the knee or at the knee.
Very few lifters will pause the deadlift above the knee because there are other deadlifting variations to improve the lockout that are more effective.
3. The bar should remain on your shins
One of the key positions in the deadlift is to keep the barbell as close to your body (shins and thighs) as possible while executing the movement.
Having the barbell stay on your body is primarily controlled by the strength and tension in your lats. If your lats are not engaged, then it’s much easier for the barbell to drift away from the body. When this happens, the load will pull you forward, and it will require a lot more strength and energy to keep your balance.
Since the paused deadlift creates more time under tension in the bottom position, your lats will need to work harder to maintain the bar on your shins. If you find the bar drifting away from the body as you cycle through reps, then it might be a sign that your lats need to get stronger.
4. Focus on the position of your torso and shoulders
When implementing the paused deadlift, your torso and shoulders should keep a very similar angle related to the barbell compared with your start position.
In the start position for a regular deadlift, your shoulders should be slightly in front of the barbell, with your torso about 45-degrees to the floor.
Some lifters might have their shoulders more or less in front of the barbell, and their torso angle more or less horizontal to the floor in their start position. But, the key aspect is that when you implement a pause these angles shouldn’t change all too much. This is especially true if you are choosing to pause just off the floor.
A common fault for some lifters who struggle off the floor is their hips will rise too fast out of the bottom position. In other words, their hips travel faster than the barbell, and their torso becomes more parallel to the floor as they initiate the movement. This is something you want to avoid when pause deadlifting.
5. Cue yourself to ‘drive from the legs’ first
In order to maintain the position of your torso and shoulders, you want to cue yourself to drive from the legs first.
If you begin the deadlift using your glutes and spinal erectors as the prime mover, then you’ll end up changing your torso and shoulder position to favor those muscle groups.
Instead, the deadlift should be initiated using the knee extensors to drive the barbell from the floor to knee position. Since the quads are the primary knee extensors, you want to think about ‘pushing the floor away’ by using the quads and extending from the knee.
This is a cue that also helps prevent your hips from rising too early in the bottom position of the deadlift.
6. Be explosive out of the paused position
Once you’ve paused, and you’ve committed to driving up to standing, you want to produce the maximum amount of force to stand up. You don’t want to pull from the paused position lazily or else you’ll risk failing the rep if the load is too heavy. Additionally, it’s a good habit in any movement to always think about moving the barbell as quickly as possible throughout the concentric range of motion.
Additionally, you want to ensure that after you’ve paused the barbell travels upward. What you want to avoid is the barbell dipping down after the pause before traveling up again. This is helped if you be ‘aggressive’ pulling from the paused position.
7. Be consistent with where you pause
If you’ve decided to pause the deadlift 2-inches off the floor, then every rep you do should be paused in this position. You want to create consistency in where you pause so that you’re working your weaknesses in the most specific way possible. The more precise you are in where you pause, the better results you’ll get from doing this movement.
The paused deadlift was named one of my top 10 deadlift alternatives. Check out the others in my article!
Benefits of Doing Pause Deadlifts
You may be wondering how pause deadlifts help and why you should even implement a pause deadlift into your training routine.
Well, here are some concrete benefits that you’ll get from pause deadlifting:
Benefit #1: It reinforces the angles for your torso and shoulders
As mentioned before, the angle of your torso and shoulders is important if you want to use your mechanics to leverage the movement more effectively.
If you struggle with keeping your shoulders over the barbell, or your hips rise too fast out of the bottom position, the paused deadlift can help reinforce where your torso and shoulders should be within the range of motion.
I like to implement paused deadlifts for beginners in order to teach them what it feels like to have their torso and shoulders in the correct position.
Benefit #2: It can improve bottom-end weaknesses and place greater demand on the quads
If you find yourself failing the lift in the bottom end of the deadlift, then you’ll want to address either the positional or muscular weaknesses in this position.
The bottom end of the deadlift relies a lot more on the knee extensors. Since your quadriceps are responsible for knee extension, they will have greater load demand in that position. The muscles in the back and glutes will start to take over at the lock-out, but if they are used too early in the range of motion to compensate for weak quads, then your lock-out will suffer.
This is why paused deadlifts are important to strengthen the quadriceps. You’ll be placing more time under tension on the knee extensors at the bottom position where they are being challenged the most.
Benefit #3: You can get a high training effect without lifting as heavy
With a pause deadlift, you’ll be lifting less load compared with a regular deadlift for the same sets and reps. This can be beneficial because you can still achieve a meaningful amount of relative intensity without having the risks associated with constant heavy loading.
This is a benefit for lifters who deadlift more than once per week. By implementing a pause deadlift on the second deadlift day, it will allow you to have a challenging workout without as much weight as you would need for an equally challenging workout when doing regular deadlifts.
Benefit #4: They will have a large transfer effect to your regular deadlift
The pause deadlift is the most specific way to train the bottom-end of the deadlift. While there are other ways to train the muscles responsible for bottom-end deadlift weaknesses, the paused deadlift mimics the regular deadlift on each aspect of the technique. As such, lifters will be able to transfer the strength developed from the paused deadlift to the regular deadlift more effectively than training other exercises.
Muscles Worked In The Pause Deadlift
The muscles worked in the pause deadlift are similar to the muscles worked in the regular deadlift:
- Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
- Abdominals & Obliques
As mentioned, one of the primary differences in the muscles worked in the paused deadlift compared with the regular deadlift, however, is the emphasis on the quadricep muscles.
During the paused deadlift, you are placing the quadriceps under a greater time under tension. The quadriceps will be working a lot harder throughout the isometric contraction of the pause, in addition to generating force from a dead stop to drive toward standing.
If you have a quadricep weakness in the deadlift, then implementing paused deadlifts will help strengthen the overall movement.
You can recognize if you have a quadricep weakness if either (1) you’re failing deadlift reps consistently below the knee, (2) your hips rise before the barbell leaves the floor as you initiate the pull, or (3) your torso angle becomes more parallel to the floor as you drive from the floor to knee (this is a sign that your hip extensors are compensating for a lack of quadricep strength).
You can read my full guide on muscles used in the deadlift HERE.
How to Program Pause Deadlifts
If you are deadlifting more than once per week, then the best way to implement pause deadlifts is on one of the additional deadlifts workouts throughout the week. The first day would be regular deadlifts, and the second day would be pause deadlifts, focusing on your ‘weak point’ within the range of motion.
If you are new to pause deadlifts, then I would use the additional deadlift day for technique purposes only. You should aim to master the principles above before doing any significant loading for the paused deadlift. At the same time that you’re practicing the paused deadlift, you should continue to progress the regular deadlift day to build both volume and intensity.
Here are some commonly asked questions I get about programming pause squats:
How long should the pauses be for paused deadlifts?
Pause deadlifts should be programmed at 2-seconds. This ensures that the lifter is not rushing the pause and that there is a meaningful amount of time under tension in the most compromised position of the movement. Some lifters like to perform pause deadlifts while listening to a metronome so that they know they’re not shorting the length of the pause.
What is the double pause deadlift method?
The double pause deadlift is an advanced version of the pause deadlift.
This is where you would implement two pauses at two different points at the bottom end of the deadlift. Lifters doing the double pause method will pause 1-2 inches off the floor, and then bring the bar up to the knee and pause again before pulling to lockout.
I would only program the double pause method for athletes who seriously struggle with where their torso and shoulders are within the bottom end of the deadlift. The double pause method is only programmed for technique purposes and is done with lighter loads.
How much should your pause deadlift be compared with your regular deadlift?
The average lifter should be able to pause deadlift about 90% of their 1 rep max deadlift. Therefore, if you are using percentages to base your training numbers, then you’ll want to use a rep max that is 90% of your regular deadlift.
Here is an example:
Let’s say your workout calls for 4 sets of 4 reps at 80% of your 1 rep max. If your 1 rep max deadlift is 400lbs, then the workout would be completed at 320lbs (400lbs X 0.8).
If you wanted to do that same workout using the pause deadlift, then you would use a rep max that is 90% of your 1 rep max deadlift. In this cause, you would use 360lbs as your pause deadlift 1 rep max (400lbs X 0.9).
Now when you calculate your 4 sets of 4 at 80% for pause deadlift, it will be 290lbs (360lbs X 0.8).
How many reps should you do for pause deadlifts?
I would keep most of the reps for pause deadlift within 3 to 5.
Here is a sample program:
Week 1: 4 sets of 5 reps @ 70%
Week 2: 4 sets of 4 reps @ 72.5%
Week 3: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 75%
Week 4: 5 sets of 3 reps @ 77.5%
The load is increasing literally over the weeks, but you should still feel like you’re leaving 1-2 reps left in the tank by the time you get to the prescribed rep range.
The pause deadlift is one of the best deadlift accessory exercises for developing bottom-end strength and emphasizing driving off the floor from the legs first. The most important part about the pause deadlift is to be strict in its execution. You should keep the shoulders and torso in the correct position throughout the pause, keep the barbell on your body the entire time, be consistent with where you pause, and ensure you’re exploding out of the pause position to lockout.