Pause Squats: How-To, Benefits, & Muscles Worked

Pause squats are some of the best squat accessories. They are 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 the same as the squat, except you will pause for 2 seconds at the bottom. You want your hips to be motionless in the paused position without sinking any lower before returning to standing. The goal is to drive straight up with as much power as possible.

In this article, I’ll explain the step-by-step technique for performing the perfect pause back squat, the pause squat benefits, the muscles worked, and more.

If you’re interested in improving your squats, you can read our full guide on the best squat accessories.

What Are Pause Squats?

Pause squats are a squat variation in which you are motionless at the bottom of the squat. Instead of starting the ascent and trying to “bounce” out of the hole as soon as you get to the bottom, you hold it for a designated time.

You can do paused squats with several squat variations. You can use them for either high bar or low bar squats. You can do a paused front squat. While a barbell pause squat is the most common, you can even do paused squats with dumbbells.

CrossFitters and Olympic weightlifters can also add pauses to overhead squats to build strength and stability in the overhead position.

How To Do Pause Squats: Step-By-Step

1. Adjust the Height of Your Squat Rack

Adjust a squat rack so the barbell is at about shoulder height.

2. Step Under the Bar and Create Tension in Your Upper Back

Step under the barbell and create tension in your upper back by pushing your chest out and keeping your shoulder blades down and back. Rest the barbell along your traps (for a high bar squat) or on your rear delts (for a low bar squat).

3. Unrack the Barbell and Step Backward

Unrack the barbell and take two to three steps back.

4. Stand With Your Hip- To Shoulder-Width Apart and Get Into Your Starting Position

Keep your feet at least hip-width apart or shoulder-width apart if a wider stance is more comfortable for you. Point your toes out slightly.

5. Brace Your Core

Brace your core by taking a deep belly breath to create tension in your entire midsection.

6. Squat Until You Reach the Bottom of Your Usual Range of Motion

Breaking the hips and knees at the same time, squat at least until your hip crease is below the knee. If you usually squat deeper than that, squat until you’ve reached your normal depth.

7. Pause Completely at the Bottom

Once you reach the bottom, pause for at least two seconds or however long your program calls for.

8. Stand Back Up Without Bouncing Out of the Hole

Without using a bounce to gain momentum, drive through your foot to stand back up.

Pause Squat Technique Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

As you can see, the only differentiating feature of the pause squat compared with the regular squat is a pause at the bottom end of the position.

Implementing an effective pause is difficult, though, and should be considered. Here are some technique tips for doing pause squats correctly:

Start Measuring the Pause When the Hips Are Motionless

In a paused squat, 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.

Don’t Slow Down Into the Hole To Execute the Pause

You should maintain the same eccentric tempo as 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 in a paused squat where they can use the same eccentric tempo and then ‘stop’ the bar on command when they need to pause.

Pause at the Bottom

For most people, the pause should be at the deepest end range of the squat. This will vary person-to-person based on levels of mobility, but you should aim to pause at the bottom position. For powerlifters, this will be ‘below parallel,’ where the hip’s crease is below the knee’s plane.

You can also do a pause while doing a box squat. Learn more in my article comparing the box squat and back squat.

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 leverage a stretch reflex rather than using the strength in their quads (explained further below).

Produce As Much Force As Possible Out of the Bottom Position

When pause squatting, you want to produce the maximum amount of force to stand up once you’ve committed to driving out of the hole. You want to avoid standing 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.

Read my other article on Why Are Pause Squats So Hard?

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 of pause squats:

1. It Teaches You How To Remain Over Your Center of Mass

One of the most important aspects of your squat technique is maintaining the load directly over your center of mass in the bottom position. If you don’t, you’ll lose balance in the squat, and 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 center 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 center 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.

Related Article: The Ultimate List Of 55+ Barbell Exercises (By Muscle Group)

2. It Removes the Stretch Reflex

The stretch reflex refers to an involuntary contraction of a muscle when it’s stretched. 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, 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.

Learn more about the pause squat in my article on Is The Pause Squat Harder?

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.

Related Article: Can’t Feel Your Quads While Squatting? Try These 8 Tips

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.

Read my complete guide on How To Fix Losing Tension At Bottom Of Squat (8 Tips).

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.

Related Article: 1.5 Squats: How-to, Benefits, And Should You Do It?

Muscles Worked In The Pause Squat

The muscles worked in the pause squat are similar to the muscles worked in the regular back squat:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
  • Hamstrings
  • Erectors
  • Abdominals and Obliques
  • Upper Back and Lats
  • Calves

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.

quad muscles in the pause squat

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

How Often Should You Do 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), you can slowly increase the volume and intensity on the second squat day as well.

To switch things up, you can instead do a pause front squat on the second squat day. To increase volume without increasing intensity, you can also do back off pause squat sets after your regular squats.

Here are some commonly asked questions I get about programming pause squats:

Where Do You Pause During Pause Squats?

It’s most common for lifters to pause at the bottom of the squat. But “bottom of the squat” is different for each lifter. For some, it will be right below parallel. For others, it may be way below parallel and closer to the ass-to-grass position.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to pause at whatever depth you usually squat to. If you squat until your hip crease is right below the knee, pause there. If you do more of a weightlifting squat and squat deeper than parallel, pause at whatever the bottom range of motion is for you.

Some pause squat variations have you pause at about halfway up from the bottom, though these variations are less common.

How Long Should You Pause Squat?

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 Weight Should You Use for Pause Squats?

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 of 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 I 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 these 4 weeks, 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.

If you feel like you’re falling backward in the squat, performing pause squat will help you correct this issue.

Who Should Do Pause Squats?

Pause squats are good for nearly any lifter, but some specific types of athletes who would benefit from them are:

  • Those who have weak quads
  • Those who need to improve their squat technique
  • Those who have trouble getting out of the hole in squats
  • Those who often lose their balance when squatting
  • Those who want to break out of a squat plateau
  • Those who are unable to lift heavy but still want to work on their squat strength

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Paused Squats Harder?

Paused squats are harder because they increase your time under tension, meaning your muscles are under stress for a longer time. They prevent you from “bouncing” out of the hole and make your leg muscles work harder as you stand up. As well, pause squats force you to stay motionless in a difficult part of the squat.

Do Pause Squats Help the Regular Squat?

Yes, the paused squat helps the regular squat. Pause squats’ benefits include improved quad strength, improved positional awareness, better technique, increased power coming out of the bottom position, and breaking through a squat plateau. All of these have excellent carryover to regular squats.

Other Helpful Squat Guides

Final Thoughts

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 center 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.