In a previous article I discussed the merits of the quarter squat. Simply put, the quarter squat is an excellent exercise that can help strengthen the muscles of the hips and legs, which in turn can help you improve your full squat numbers.
But as great as the quarter squat is, I believe there is another exercise that is even better at improving someone’s full squat numbers.
Enter: The Paused Squat.
The paused squat is an exercise that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the gym. Frankly speaking, it doesn’t look nearly as cool as someone squatting with chains or doing box squats, but in my opinion it can be more far more effective than either of those two methods in bringing up your full squat numbers.
What is a paused squat?
The paused squat is just like a regular squat but with the addition of a short pause at the bottom of the lift. That’s it. This pause can last anywhere from 1-4 seconds depending on how you do them.
What makes the paused squat so effective is that it more or less eliminates the advantage you get from the stretch reflex.
What’s the stretch reflex?
The stretch reflex (otherwise known as the myotatic reflex) is a pre-programmed response by the body to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. In other words, when a muscle spindle is stretched a signal is sent immediately to the spinal cord, which in turn sends a signal back to the muscle to contract. It’s sort of like when a rubber band is stretched – the immediate response is for it to snap back forcefully. This is essentially what is happening when you are coming out of the bottom position of a squat. In fact, when you watch any elite Olympic lifter squat you can clearly see them use the stretch reflex to their advantage.
Why would you want to eliminate the stretch reflex?
If the stretch reflex is so instrumental in helping someone lift such heavy weights, why would you want to eliminate it at all? While you can’t completely eliminate the stretch reflex with a paused squat, you can definitely dampen its effect. The purpose behind this is to make the surrounding muscles of the hips and thighs work extra hard instead of relying on the body’s stored elastic energy. In other words, by reducing the effectiveness of the stretch reflex through a pause, you overload the muscles of the hips and thighs in the bottom position. Needless to say, over time this will allow you to develop some serious power coming out of the hole.
How to perform paused squats
Paused squats are performed in the same way as regular squats but with a pause at the bottom position. My recommendation is just a 1 second pause. So as you come down into the hole with the weight pause for one full second (holding your breath and staying tight – i.e. using the valsalva maneuver), and then come up as explosively as you can. That’s one rep.
The best way to incorporate paused squats is to do them as your second squat workout of the week (if you normally do two sessions), leaving the remaining session as your regular squat workout. Sets and reps can be whatever you like, but I found doing 5×5 to be quite effective. However, if you train the squat 3x per week (e.g. medium, light, heavy), then I recommend doing paused squats on the heavy day and leaving your medium and light days as your regular squat workouts. The reason why I recommend keeping some of your regular squat sessions intact is because I don’t want your body to forget how to use the stretch reflex effectively. I have done nothing but paused squats for weeks at a time in the past and actually found it to be a bit difficult to move back into regular squats so just be aware of that.
I highly recommend incorporating paused squats into your routine. While they are hardly anything fancy, they can definitely help you blast through plateaus by developing extraordinary power in your hips and thighs. Paused squats have been used by many great athletes to build unreal strength, it’s about time you joined them.
Here’s to staying fit!