How To Perform Rest-Pause Sets: Increase Intensity for New Muscle Gains

cable crossovers chest exercise

We all want to build muscle as fast as humanly possible. But you and I both know that song in Rocky IV was right…

“There’s no easy way out, there’s no short cut home”

– Robbert Tepper, Rocky IV Motion Picture Soundtrack

However, there’s one particular technique that works almost like magic. It’s called rest-pause sets.

In this post, you’re going to learn:

  • What rest-pause sets are
  • How to perform rest-pause sets
  • When to use this technique
  • Best exercises for rest-pause sets
  • Why you should do them (at least 2x a week!)
  • Workouts for each body part using rest-pause sets

What Are Rest-Pause Sets?

Rest-pause training is basically doing an extended set. But unlike drop sets or supersets, you stay on the same exercise and get this… you’re using the same weight with minimal rest between sets.

Sound tough? It is! In fact, it’s quite brutal!

There are a few different ways you can do rest-pause sets. I’m going to give you my recommended training method below because that has worked for me.

How to Perform Rest-Pause Sets

Here’s the simple rest-pause set formula for packing on more muscle:

  • Perform 1 set
  • Rest (minimal rest and I will explain more below)
  • Perform another set using the same weight

The rest between sets can vary, and you’ll hear many opinions on this. I typically rest 7-10 seconds between each rest-pause set. But it depends on the exercise.

**Here’s a video from Jim Stoppani, Ph.D. explaining rest-pause set. Again, my rest between these sets are a little shorter, 7-10 seconds, and that works best for me.

You can also continue the rest-pause sets by simply adding more sets. This makes for an extremely brutal workout!

Here’s an example of just adding one more set:

  • Perform 1 set
  • Rest (minimal rest and I will explain more below)
  • Perform another set using the same weight
  • Rest (minimal rest and I will explain more below)
  • Perform a final set using the same weight

When Should You Do Rest-Pause Sets?

You can use this technique for any exercise. But I find it best to do rest-pause sets for isolation exercises, and here’s why…

With isolation exercises, you’re targeting the muscle. And your goal is to exhaust that muscle for the sake of hypertrophy (aka making gains).

Rest-pause sets allow you to not only take it to the next level but beyond.

You may not want to use this technique for compound exercises as they are mainly used for strength. You want explosive power and you’re recruiting several muscles (these are exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench press). Not to mention there’s more risk involved if you’re trying to use this technique for these heavy lifts.

**It’s not that you can’t use rest-pause sets for strength gains. You’ll just need to be extra cautious and make sure you have a trusted training partner who can spot you. Massive Joe’s website covers some details in their article Rest Pause Training.

For muscle gains, I agree with Jim Stoppani’s video that I posted above – saving rest-pause sets for the end of your workout, and for the final set of that workout.

Because of the intensity, you’re not going to be able to do much more of anything after that final rest-pause set. If you still have ‘gas in the tank’ then you didn’t train hard enough!

Best Exercises for Rest-Pause

Here are some exercises that work awesome for rest-pause sets. You’ll notice that most of these are machines. This makes things flow smoother as you don’t need a spotter and you can focus on really pushing yourself.

Chest Exercises:

  • Pec Dec Flyes
  • Cable Crossovers
  • Dumbbell Flyes
  • Machine Chest Press (ex: Nautilis, Hammer Strength)

Back Exercises:

  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Seated Rows
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Machine Back Press (ex: Nautilis, Hammer Strength)

Leg Exercises:

  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Calve Raises

**Jay Cutler does rest-pause sets for leg press in the below video, training for the 2013 Mr. Olympia contest. He’s here with Haney Rambod as his training partner and spotter.

You’ll notice (about 00:45 seconds into the video) that Jay does this on a true horizontal leg press machine. This is far less risky as there’s no potential for the weight to come crashing down on you if your legs give out, which is bound to happen with rest-pause.

Shoulder Exercises:

  • Reverse Pec Dec
  • Lateral Raises (dumbbells or cables)
  • Machine Shoulder Press (ex: Nautilis, Hammer Strength)
  • Dumbbell Shrugs

Arm Exercises:

*You can actually use rest-pause sets for most any arm exercise. The ones that require a spotter would be something like close-grip bench press or skull crushers.

Rest-Pause Workouts

pec dec flyes chest exercises

Now let’s get to the ‘meat and potatoes’ – the workouts!

These are going to be standard bodybuilding workouts. You’ll start with a compound exercise to continue building your foundation of mass and strength. And you’ll then move to do more reps with a variety of exercises to pump more blood into your muscles.

Your rest-pause will be done on the final one or two exercises of your workout. This is a 4-day training split:

  • Monday: Chest and Biceps
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Shoulders and Triceps
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Chest and Biceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 6
Incline Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10
Pec Dec Flyes4 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3 x 10
Preacher Curls3 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set

Back

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 6
Incline Dumbbell Press4 x 8-10
Pec Dec Flyes4 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3 x 10
Preacher Curls3 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set

Legs

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats4 x 8
Leg Press4 x 12
Hack Squats4 x 12
Leg Extensions4 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set
Leg Curls4 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set
Calve Raises4 x 15 *rest-pause
on final set

**You’ll notice that you’ll be doing more overall volume on leg day. Legs are your largest muscle and require more attention than the other body parts.

That being said, I also encourage you to fit in another leg each and train legs twice each week. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits and get a full leg workout plan, read my post Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs.

Shoulders and Triceps

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 8
Bent-over Raises4 x 8-10
Lateral Raises4 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set
Skull Crushers3 x 10
Rope Pressdowns3 x 12 *rest-pause
on final set

Increase Intensity to Make New Muscle Gains

lat pulldowns for huge and ripped back

At the end of the day gaining muscle is all about increasing the intensity of your workouts.

ISSA (International Sports Science Association) further explains this process. In bodybuilding your goal is to breakdown your muscles so those muscles rebuild ‘bigger’ by creating more muscle fibers to protect themselves from the future breakdowns in the Bodybuilding.com article What Makes Muscles Grow?

Rest-pause sets have personally been the ticket for many bodybuilders, and I also notice ‘huge’ (yes, the pun was intended) differences in muscle size and shape when I use rest-pause sets.

Just remember to keep your form strict on these and don’t get sloppy. And only expect to get about half the amount of reps on that 2nd set. That’s realistic.

There are also other ways to increase workout intensity. I have another post that covers these called 7 Weight Training Techniques to Increase Intensity. Of course, rest-pause sets are one of the seven!

Have you used rest-pause sets before? If not, are you going to start? I want to encourage you to try them out. In fact, use the complete workout plan I gave you above.

Train with Passion,

Jason