One of the best squat accessories is the pause squat. It is used to develop explosiveness out of the hole, increase quad strength, and improve balance and positioning. The pause squat is a staple in all of my athletes’ training.
How do you perform the pause squat? The pause squat is set up exactly the same as the squat, except you will pause for 2-seconds at the bottom range of motion. You want to have your hips motionless in the paused position without sinking any lower before returning to standing. The goal is to drive straight up from the paused position with as much power as possible.
In this article, I’ll explain the step-by-step technique for performing the perfect pause squat, the benefits you’ll get by doing it, the muscles worked, and more.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can read our full guide on the best squat accessories.
Pause Squat Technique
The only differentiating feature of the pause squat compared with the regular squat is that there is a pause at the bottom end of the position.
Implementing an effective pause is difficult though, and should not be underrated. Here are some technique tips for implementing a perfect pause:
1. The pause should be measured when the hips are motionless
An effective pause is when the hips are motionless. A major fault is when lifters assume they’re pausing, but the hips are still moving downward.
2. Don’t slow down into the hole to execute the pause
You should be maintaining the same eccentric tempo that you normally would when performing a regular back squat. You should not slow down as you get closer to the hole just because you know you have to implement a pause. Advanced lifters can control the bar efficiently enough where they can use the same eccentric tempo and then ‘stop’ the bar on command when they need to pause.
3. Understand where you should be pausing
For most people, the pause should be at the deepest end range of the squat. This is going to vary person-to-person based on levels of mobility, but you should aim to pause at the bottom position. For powerlifters, this is going to be ‘below parallel’, where the crease of the hip is below the plane of the knee.
4. Drive straight up after the pause
Once you’ve paused for your desired length of time, you want to drive straight up from that position. Another major fault is when lifters dip their hips further down after the pause, then drive up. When this happens, lifters are leveraging a ‘stretch reflect‘ rather than using the strength in their quads (explained further below).
5. Produce as much force as possible out of the bottom position
Once you’ve committed to driving out of the hole, you want to produce the maximum amount of force to stand up. You don’t want to stand up lazily or else you’ll risk failing the rep if the load is too heavy. Additionally, it’s a good habit in strength training to always think about moving the barbell as quickly as possible throughout the concentric range of motion.
Benefits of Doing Pause Squats
You may be wondering how pause squats help and why you should even implement a pause squat into your training routine.
Well, here are some tangible benefits that you’ll get from pause squatting:
Benefit #1: It teaches you how to remain over your centre of mass
One of the most important aspects of your squat technique is to maintain the load directly over your centre of mass in the bottom position. If you don’t, this will cause you to feel off-balance, and in order to prevent yourself from falling forward or backward, you’ll need to expend more energy than necessary to stay upright. Therefore, the squat will be a lot harder.
You’ll know if you’re over your centre of mass if you draw a straight line from the barbell to the floor while you’re in the bottom position. If the line is centered on the midline of the foot, then the load is over the centre of mass properly.
The pause squat can teach you where the barbell load is in relation to the midline of your foot. If you feel like you’re falling forward while pausing, you know you need to shift your weight back on the foot. Conversely, if you feel like you’re falling backward, you know you need to shift your weight more toward the toes.
Benefit #2: It removes the stretch reflex
The stretch reflex refers to an involuntary contraction of a muscle when it’s stretch. You can use the stretch reflex to strengthen your lifts. For example, if you squat down quickly and stretch your muscles by ‘bouncing in and out of the hole’, then this will help you change directions by giving you initial upward momentum.
While the stretch reflex is an advantage in the squat, some lifters rely on it too much and don’t adequately develop the muscular strength required to stand up out of the hole otherwise. You’ll know if you have this problem if you bounce in and out of the hole, and then fail the lift just past parallel.
By implementing a pause squat, you are taking away the stretch reflex, and thereby forcing your muscles to generate force from a dead stop. This will be a much harder squat, and your legs will need to work a lot harder. However, the idea is that once you go back to regular squatting, you’ll have stronger legs, which combined with the stretch reflex, can improve your sticking point.
Benefit #3: It can facilitate bottom-end weakness and place greater emphasis on the quads
If you find yourself failing the lift in the bottom end of the squat, then you’ll want to address either the positional or muscular weaknesses in this position. I already mentioned one of the key positions you want to achieve — keeping the bar over the midline of the foot. However, if your position is already effective, then you may have a muscular weakness preventing you from getting a stronger squat.
The bottom end of the squat relies a lot more on the knee extensors compared with the hip extensors. As such, your quadriceps, which are responsible for knee extension, will have more loading demand in the bottom position. Therefore, pause squats are an effective exercise choice if you want to develop stronger quad muscles. This is because you’ll be placing more time under tension on the knee extensors where they are being challenged the most.
Benefit #4: You don’t have to lift as heavy in order to get a meaningful training effect
With a pause squat, you’ll be lifting less load compared with a regular back squat. In other words, you won’t be able to do the same sets and reps at the same target weights. However, by implementing the pause, you can still achieve a highly meaningful training effect with a lighter load. This can be beneficial because it’s a way to feel like you’re training hard, but not have the risks associated with constant heavy loading. If you squat more than once per week, then implementing a pause squat on the second training day will allow you to have a hard training day without requiring as much weight as a regular squat.
Muscles Worked In The Pause Squat
The muscles worked in the pause squat are similar to the muscles worked in the regular back squat:
- Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
- Abdominals and Obliques
- Upper Back and Lats
One of the primary differences in the muscles worked in the pause squat compared with the regular back squat is the emphasis on the quadricep muscles.
During the pause squat there is greater time under tension when the knee extensors are in their most compromised position. As such, the quads will need to work a lot harder to generate force from a dead stop.
If I recognized that an athlete had a quad deficiency then I would program the pause squat as a way to build strength. You can recognize if someone has a quad weakness if either (1) they’re failing their squats consistently in the bottom range of motion, or (2) their hips shoot up first out of the hole whereby their torso comes into a ‘good morning’ position (this is a sign that the lifter’s hip extensors are compensating for a lack of quad strength).
You can read my full guide on muscles used in the squat HERE.
How to Program Pause Squats
The best way to start implementing pause squats into your program is to have a minimum of two squat days per week. The first squat day would be regular back squats, and the second day would be pause squats.
At first, you’ll want to keep the volume and intensity on the first squat day quite high (as you normally would) and use the second squat day for technique purposes only. Once you become more efficient in the pause squat technique (mastering the principles above), then you can slowly start to increase the volume and intensity on the second squat day as well.
Here are some commonly asked questions I get about programming pause squats:
How long should the pause be for pause squats?
Pause squats should be programmed at 2-seconds. This ensures that the stretch reflex has been mitigated and that the lifter is not ‘rushing the pause’. Some lifters like to perform pause squats while listening to a metronome so that they know they’re not shorting the length of the pause.
How much should your pause squat be compared with your back squat?
The average lifter should be able to pause squat about 90% of their 1 rep max back squat. 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 back squat.
Here is an example:
Let’s say your workout calls for 5 sets of 5 reps at 70% of your 1 rep max. If your 1 rep max back squat is 200lbs, then the workout would be completed at 140lbs (200lbs X 0.7).
If you wanted to do that same workout using the pause squat, then you would use a rep max that is 90% of your 1 rep max back squat. In this cause, you would use 180lbs as your pause squat 1 rep max (200lbs X 0.9).
Now when you calculate your 5 sets of 5 at 70% for pause squats, it will be 125lbs (180lbs X 0.7).
How many reps should you do for pause squats?
I would keep most of the reps for pause squats within 3 to 5. A common progression for my athletes is week 1 (5 reps), week 2 (4 reps), and week 3-4 (3 reps). Over this 4-week time period, I would increase the load linearly, but ensuring they’re still leaving 1-2 reps left in the tank by the time they get to the end of the rep range.
The pause squat is a staple exercise among all of my athletes. I will program it specifically for athletes that have a bottom-end weakness or quad deficiency, but I’ll also use it as a tool when teaching athletes how to maintain the load over their centre of mass. The most important part about the pause squat technique is to be strict in its execution, ensuring the hips don’t sink any further after pausing, and using maximal force to drive to standing. Pause squats can also be an effective front squat alternative. Click to read my full guide.