April 22, 2012

Intra-Set Rest For Increased Strength + Hypertrophy

One variable that receives absolutely no attention in regards to strength training is intra-set rest. You may not realize it at first, but everyone at one point or another has taken a small amount of rest between reps, to help themselves get another rep.
For example, anybody that has performed an extension type of exercise (bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.) to failure has likely rested with their arms/legs extended for a second or two, before attempting the final rep. In this case the rest is taken at the most advantageous part of the rep.
This simple, but unintentionally utilized technique that we all have instinctively relied on at one point or another can help you break new ground in strength/size development, if used correctly.
There are four opportunities within a rep to implement intra-set rest. You could pause between the concentric and eccentric part of a rep, or during the concentric or eccentric part or a rep.
Each and every exercise has both an advantageous and disadvantageous position. For most exercises, regardless of whether or not they are flexion (ex. pull-ups, curls) or extension (ex. presses, squats) type movements, the most advantageous position is when the arms/legs are extended.
One way to determine which part of an exercise is the advantageous part is to think to yourself: “what’s the easiest part of this exercise”? On the other hand, to determine which part is the disadvantageous part you could think to yourself: “what’s the hardest part of this exercise”? Those two questions should help you figure out which part of any exercise is the most advantageous, and disadvantageous.
Two examples in which the advantageous position is when your arms are almost completely extended are the close-grip bench press, and close-grip chin-up. In these cases, when your arms are extended, regardless of whether you are pushing or pulling, you can move/support the most amount of weight, and when they are flexed is when you can move/support the least amount of weight.
Resting in the advantageous position of a rep, allows the muscles to rest, which permits the recruitment of higher-threshold motor units. This allows the nervous system to get a chance to recover before attempting another repetition. If you consciously planned to rest in the advantageous part of every rep, you could plan to use a slightly greater load, which will lead to favourable strength gains.
Resting during any part of the rep aside from the most advantageous position of any exercise will increase the intramuscular tension, and increase the time under tension. Both of these factors will result in a hypertrophic response as long as the total time under tension of the set is long enough (generally at least 20 seconds).
Resting in the most disadvantageous position, increases the amount of intramuscular tension as well as prolongs the duration of the rep, and therefore the set. Resting in the most disadvantageous position of extension type movements negates the elastic energy potential of the stretch-shortening cycle, and forces you to overcome inertia to complete the concentric range, thus creating more intramuscular tension. This technique is especially effective for those looking to increase their pressing strength, as more often than not lifters will bounce the bar out of the bottom position relying on elastic energy, not muscular force.
The major benefit to resting (pausing) during the concentric portion of the rep is primarily that it is just another way to increase the intramuscular tension, as well as time under tension. In my opinion there are better ways to accomplish the same result. With arm curl exercises, pausing in the concentric part between the beginning and middle phase (basically 90 degrees or less of elbow flexion) of the lift will increase the amount of work done by the brachialis.
Resting during the eccentric part of a rep however, not only increases intramuscular tension, but enables you to do so with above maximal intensities, which is one of the most effective ways to expose your neuromuscular system to high intensities, and increase strength levels for a given movement. Flexion exercises are best suited for this as most have a descending strength curve concentrically, and therefore an ascending strength curve eccentrically. To increase your strength for a flexion type exercise (arm curl, leg curl, chin-up, etc.) you could pause at up to three different joint angles throughout the range of motion during the eccentric contraction.
By consciously planning to take intra-set rest you can make better choices when selecting exercises, and intensities (amount of weight) to help accomplish your goal as fast as possible.
If you have any questions about intra-set rest, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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