Are you curious about rest-pause squat workouts?
Do you wonder how to use rest-pause sets to build size and strength?
Then you’ve come to the right place.
In this comprehensive guide, I will show you how to use rest-pause sets to take your squat to the next level!
- Part 1: A High-Volume Rest-Pause Squat Workout
- Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8 Method”
- Part 3: A DC-Style “Breathing Squat” Workout
In this comprehensive guide I will show you 3 of the best ways to use rest-pause sets to improve your squat and build bigger, stronger legs.
Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity training method popularized by the bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel.
Rest-pause sets are one of the only training methods that let you build muscular size AND strength all at the same time.
Many of Dante Trudel’s bodybuilding clients used rest-pause sets to get incredibly strong on front squats and back squats.
For example here is Justin Harris squatting an incredible 6 plates per side for 8 reps!
What an unbelievable squat! Justin Harris trained his legs almost exclusively with rest-pause sets when this video was recorded. Need I say more?
Rest-pause sets are very simple to perform: you train to failure three times in a row on the same exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between each set. For example:
- Step #1: Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds
- Step #2: Train to failure a 2nd time (you might squeeze out 2-4 reps), rest 20-30 seconds
- Step #3: Train to failure a 3rd time (you might squeeze out 1-3 reps), done!
Rest-pause sets are so effective because they overload your muscles and your central nervous system at the same time.
This is why they work so well for building size AND strength.
In my experience, the quadriceps respond especially well to rest-pause sets. The quadriceps have a wide variety of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers which means you have to use many different rep ranges to make optimal progress.
Rest-pause sets are the perfect solution because you are training to failure in 3 different rep ranges in a row!
The only downside to rest-pause sets is they are very difficult to recover from. You probably only want to perform 1 rest-pause set per exercise. If you perform more than 1 rest-pause set per exercise then you risk overtraining.
In this guide I’m going to show you 3 completely different rest-pause squat workouts that you can start using today to blast through training plateaus in the squat.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting-edge information!
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: A High-Volume Rest-Pause Squat Workout
Rest-pause sets are one of the best training methods a bodybuilder can use. They force you to train very hard and they do a great job of building size AND strength at the same time.
Many bodybuilders shy away from rest-pause sets because they believe they are a “low-volume” training method.
In my opinion, these bodybuilders are wrong! It is very easy to design high-volume rest-pause workouts if you know what you are doing.
Here is an awesome way to design a high-volume rest-pause leg workout:
- Exercise #1: Hamstrings –> 1 rest-pause set
- Exercise #2: Quadriceps –> 1 rest-pause set
- Exercise #3: Quadriceps –> 1 rest-pause set
- Exercise #4: Quadriceps –> 1 rest-pause set
- Exercise #5: Hamstrings –> 2 straight sets
The key to designing a high-volume rest-pause squat workout is to use several exercises per body part.
The bodybuilding coach John Meadows likes to use this lower body template and it works ridiculously well for advanced bodybuilders who want to build bigger, stronger legs.
Your first exercise would be some type of leg curl to target your hamstrings.
You could use the lying leg curl machine, the kneeling leg curl machine, the seated leg curl machine or even the lying dumbbell leg curl. The choice is up to you.
Your 2nd, 3rd and 4th exercises would be any type of “meat and potatoes” quadriceps exercises.
If your goal was to boost your squat then you would use the back squat as your 1st quadriceps exercise. Your other 2 quadriceps exercises could be leg presses, hack squats, dumbbell lunges or any other good quadriceps exercise.
Finally you would finish the workout with 2 working sets on some type of compound hamstrings exercise.
Stiff-legged deadlifts or back extensions would be excellent choices.
Here is a sample high-volume rest-pause squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Rest-Pause Back Squat Workout
- A1: Lying bilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 1 x 7-10**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 7-10**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: 45 degree leg press, 1 x 10-13**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- D1: Walking DB lunge, 1 x 10-13**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- E1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 2 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, rest as needed
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1, Exercise D1, exercise E1.
Let’s do some simple math. Each rest-pause set is really 3 separate sets performed to failure. This means you are performing (3 exercises for quadriceps) x (3 sets per exercise) = 9 working sets to failure for quads!
If you are training with enough intensity to make Greg Doucette proud then this is a TON of training volume!
If you really want to get the most out of this workout, then I recommend you record all of your workouts in a training logbook.
Every time you repeat this workout you would look at your logbook and try to beat your old records on each exercise.
Here is what your logbook might look like the second time you perform this workout:
Joe Bodybuilder’s Training Logbook
A1: Lying bilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 1 x 7-10**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
- LT: 140 x 9/4/3 = 14 RP
B1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 7-10**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
- LT: 290 x 7/3/2 = 14 RP
C1: 45 degree leg press, 1 x 10-13**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- LT: 5 plates + 25 / side x 12/5/3 = 20 RP
D1: Walking DB lunge, 1 x 10-13**, 2/0/1/0, rest as needed
- LT: 30’s x 10/6/4 = 20 RP
E1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 2 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, rest as needed
- LT: 55 x 12, 10
The symbol “LT” stands for “Last Time” and the symbol “TT” stands for “This Time.”
Every time you perform this workout you would write down how much weight you lifted next to the “TT” symbol. Then on your next workout you would try to beat this number.
For example, if you squatted 290 pounds for 7 reps at your last workout then you would use the same weight and shoot for 8-10 reps on your next workout.
The training logbook is the single most important training tool you can use. It will tell you right away if your training program is working or not.
It also motivates you during your workout.
The last thing you want is to drive home from the gym knowing you didn’t beat the logbook!
Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8 Method”
Charles Poliquin was one of the world’s top strength coaches.
He mostly worked with Olympic athletes although he also worked with plenty of bodybuilders, powerlifters and strongman competitors.
Charles invented his own version of rest-pause training that he calls the “5 to 8 method.”
Here is how you perform the 5 to 8 method:
- Step #1: Perform 5 reps just shy of failure, then rest 15 seconds
- Step #2: Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15 seconds
- Step #3: Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15 seconds
- Step #4: Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, done!
There are a couple of BIG differences between Dante Trudel’s original rest-pause method and Charles Poliquin’s 5 to 8 method.
The first big difference is Charles wants you to train in lower rep ranges.
The initial set of 5 reps and the 3 extra singles are perfect for building maximal strength and functional hypertrophy. The 3 extra singles performed at the end of the set feel like maximal singles even though you are lifting your 5-rep max.
It’s just one of those things you have to experience for yourself to understand.
The other big difference with the 5 to 8 method is you are NOT training to failure on any of your sets.
The initial set of 5 reps and the 3 extra singles are all performed just shy of failure. These reps should be hard but you do not want to miss a rep.
This is a bigger deal than you think. Many coaches believe you should only perform 1 rest-pause set per exercise because training to failure is so taxing on your central nervous system.
With the 5 to 8 method you can perform several working sets per exercise because you are stopping short of failure. These extra sets are awesome for stimulating more strength gains and functional hypertrophy gains.
Here is a sample 5 to 8 method squat routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
5 To 8 Method Front Squat Routine
- A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-5 x 5/1/1/1**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (Poliquin method**** / feet pointing straight), 3-5 x 5/1/1/1**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Walking alternating DB lunge, 3 x 6-8 (each leg), 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform all three sets as Poliquin-style “5 to 8” rest-pause set as described above.
****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range. See the video below for more details.
Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.
For this routine I want you to perform anywhere from 3-5 of these “5 to 8 method” sets for the front squats and the lying leg curls.
The exact number of sets depends on how you are feeling that day.
Charles Poliquin likes to use something called a “fatigue drop-off” curve to figure out how many sets to perform per exercise. This means that Charles would track how much strength his athletes lost from one set to the next.
If his athletes lost too much strength then he would have them stop that exercise for the day.
Here are Charles Poliquin’s recommendations for the fatigue drop-off curve:
- Relative Strength: 7%
- Functional Hypertrophy: 10%
- Bodybuilding Hypertrophy: 20%
The 5 to 8 method is a functional hypertrophy training protocol so Charles uses a 10% fatigue drop-off curve for this training method.
This means that if your strength drops by more than 10% from your first working set to your last working set then you have to move on from that exercise.
Let’s look at an example:
Gym Bro’s 5 To 8 Method Front Squat Workout
- Front Squat Set #1: 300 pounds x 5/1/1/1 reps
- Front Squat Set #2: 285 pounds x 5/1/1/1 reps
- Front Squat Set #3: 270 pounds x 5/1/1/1 reps
Gym Bro uses 300 pounds for his first set of front squats. He gets all of his reps although the set is very challenging.
On his second set he drops the weight to 285 pounds and barely squeezes out all of his reps.
Gym bro decides to drop the weight to 270 pounds on his third set and again barely squeezes out all of his reps.
Gym Bro is 10% weaker on his third set of front squats compared to his first set so he decides to stop after his third set and move onto the second half of his workout.
If you are going to use the 5 to 8 method in your own training routines then I highly recommend you use the 10% fatigue drop off scale like Mr. Gym Bro.
The fatigue drop-off scale is an incredible tool for managing the number of sets you perform per exercise.
Part 3: A DC-Style “Breathing Squat” Workout
Breathing squats are one of the oldest and most effective bodybuilding training methods ever invented.
With breathing squats your goal is to perform 20 total reps with your 10-rep max!
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone insane. In order to do this you are going to take short rest breaks after every rep starting on your 10th rep.
Here is what a set of breathing squats looks like in the real world:
- Step #1: Perform 10 reps with your 10-rep max. Then lock out your knees and take 2-5 deep breaths.
- Step #2: Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take 2-5 deep breaths.
- Step #3: Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take 2-5 deep breaths.
- Step #4: Perform 1-3 more reps, then lock out your knees and take 2-5 deep breaths.
And so on. You keep repeating this process until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max without racking the weight.
Here is the bodybuilder Tom Platz giving a perfect demonstration of 20-rep breathing squats:
Talk about a widowmaker set! Tom Platz squatted an Earth-shattering 23 reps with 525 pounds – WOW!!
So why do widowmaker sets work so well for building size and strength? If you think about it widowmaker sets are really just a modified version of rest-pause sets.
You are training just shy of failure, then resting just long enough to bust out another 1-3 reps. The big difference with widowmaker sets and normal rest-pause sets is the number of extra reps you get after reaching failure.
A rest-pause set might look something like this: 9+3+2 = 14 reps. On the other hand a widowmaker looks more like this: 10+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1 = 20 reps.
One set of breathing squats is like a rest-pause set on steroids!
If you have the “guts” to use breathing squats in your workouts then you will be rewarded handsomely. Many bodybuilders such as Dusty Hanshaw and David Henry have seen the best gains of their life using breathing squats as the foundation of their training program.
In my experience one of the best ways to design a 20-rep breathing squat workout is to use the DC Training lower body template:
- Exercise #1: Calves (any calf raise)
- Exercise #2: Hamstrings (any leg curl)
- Exercise #3: Quadriceps (back squats)
For calves and hamstrings you can perform 1 rest-pause set to failure. For quads you would perform 2 working sets: a heavy set of 4-8 reps and the 20-rep breathing squat. I
n my experience the heavy set of 4-8 reps and the 20-rep set are like a 1-2 punch. The heavy set helps with strength gains and the breathing squat stimulates more muscle growth than you can imagine.
Here is a sample breathing squat workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
DC-Style Breathing Squat Leg Workout
- A1: Leg press bilateral calf raise, 1 x 7-10, 2/8/X/1, rest as needed
- B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing in), 1 x 7-10***, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 2 x (4-8, 20****), 2/0/X/0, 4 minutes rest
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
****Performed as a DC-style “widowmaker” set. You are going to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max. After completing your first 10 reps in normal fashion you will take standing rest breaks without racking the weight. Take several deep breaths then bust out as many additional reps as you can. Complete this process until you have completed 20 total repetitions.
Here are the sample training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise C1.
20-rep breathing squats are ridiculously effective for improving your squat and adding inches to your thighs. Unfortunately there is one big problem with them: they are one of the toughest training methods ever invented.
The strength coach Mark Rippetoe once said that you will “talk to god” before you finish your first true set of 20-rep breathing squats. Yes, they are THAT hard.
Your legs will scream, your lower back will say “WTF?” and your head will feel like it is going to explode. As Ben Pakulski likes to say, “you have to take your balls out of your purse” before you attempt a 20-rep breathing squat routine.
If you have the balls to perform this workout for 4-8 leg workouts in a row then you will experience some of the fastest gains of your entire life. It is easily one of the best rest-pause squat workouts ever invented.
Rest-pause sets are one of the most effective “high-intensity” training methods ever invented.
Christian Thibadeau has called rest-pause sets the best hypertrophy training method in the world while Josh Bryant has called them the “universal gainer” because they work well for almost everyone.
If you are looking to boost your squatting strength in record time (and wouldn’t mind some extra leg size to match!) then you have to give one of these rest-pause squat workouts a shot.
Just make sure you take your balls out of your purse before you leave for the gym!
“Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of yours.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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