BOOSTING REP INTENSITY WITH A BREAK IN THE ACTION
by Jerome Telle (1989)
Most of us are familiar with the concept of proper technique in so far as cheating, bouncing and throwing the weight is concerned. But what most trainers do not realize is the possibility of cheating even when using strict form
For instance, if you are doing dumbbell bench presses with 100 lbs, you can move the bells up much faster (more power) if you do not pause at the bottom of the rep. As a matter of fact, the faster the weight drops and the direction changes, the easier and more powerful the movement is -- if, of course, you do not dislocate your shoulders in the process!
If you use the same 100 lb dumbbells and briefly pause at the bottom (for about one second), the weight is much harder to move back up. It is impossible to move it as fast as the rebound method.
So it would seem the "quick (muscle) rebound method" is best, since it provides the most power, right? Wrong. Researchers have measured the neural activity and the amount of oxygen used during both types of movement, and they have found that more muscle fibers are stimulated to move a weight from a pause than from the muscle rebound method.
Since a muscle fiber is activated to contract by electrical impulses, the more electrical activity there is, the more fibers are being stimulated. Pause training causes more positive electrical activity, plus more oxygen is also used, further proving the effectiveness of this method.
Speed is still as important as ever. The faster you get the weight moving after the pause and accelerate it, the more fibers you will stimulate. Remember not to jerk the weight into motion, as this can be extremely dangerous. Acceleration is the key.
This force/power enhancing effect of muscle rebound training is caused by the "stretch reflex" phenomenon. (See Ironman, August 1988, page 72). Basically, this occurs when a weight is lowered and quickly stopped. For a very short period of time, energy (or force) is stored in the muscle structure like a rubber band. If the weight is immediately started back up, this force, or elastic energy, can be utilized to help the muscle fibers with the return movement. The longer you wait, the less energy is available. After 0.5 to 1.0 seconds this stored energy is lost.
Another advantage of pause training is safety. Not only do you stimulate more fibers to grow, but it is much easier on your joints and connective tissues.
The force at the bottom of the rebound movement is almost 50% higher -- 50% more force that your joints and connective tissue have to handle.
In all fairness, rebound training has its place in developing speed and power for sports requiring those necessary qualities. Plyometrics, the extreme in rebound training, carries with it many cautions:
- proper strength base
- gradual acclimation period
- chance of immediate or delayed injury
During a powerlifting meet you may see a bench presser or squatter slightly and very quickly dip the bar after pausing at the bottom position. The athlete is initiating the stretch reflex to help start the upward movement.
For bodybuilders, rebound and pause training are techniques that can be used with forced reps, stutter reps and other forms of variety. How much any one technique should be used is open to debate. Obviously, the safest training would take priority if it in fact produced the best or equal results. Powerlifters can also use this technique effectively.
Powerlifters find that using a strict pause on their assistance exercises helps the start of their competition lifts. A combination of slightly overload negatives and underload pause positives do wonders for their main lifts. In reality, a number of techniques have to be used. This keeps new and various stresses on the muscle. Hopefully, the safer pause method proves to be the best, therefore comprising the majority of training time.
There are two main disadvantages to pause training. First, you cannot use as much weight. This obviously is hard for those who place main emphasis on poundage. Second, this type of training hurts. It feels unnatural, uncomfortable, and (bodybuilders take note) causes an accelerated burn and ache in the muscle.
The following are considerations for those interested in pause training:
1) Do not try this type of training if you have any doubts. I do not know of any training method that works if you are not excited about it, especially if you are in top shape.
2) Do not use this method if you suspect that you are near an overtrained state. Take an active layoff and then come back to it.
3) Start with a weight that is 75 to 80 percent of what you normally use. When you can do more than the prescribed repetitions, add weight of reduce time between sets.
4) Lower the weight under control, pausing at the bottom and keeping tension on the muscle.
5) Do not let the weight drop the slightest but farther. Start the weight back up and accelerate it as fast as possible. Remember, do not jerk the weight into motion.
6) Do not use anything but the intended muscle to initiate the movement and keep it moving.
7) Rest long enough between sessions so that you can feel the recovery process is completed.
8) Switch exercises and/or techniques when results plateau. Any technique will sooner or later lose its effectiveness.