Rest-pause sets are one of the most effective ways to train for size and absolute strength. This is especially true when it comes to training the upper back!
- Part 1: Advanced DC-Style Back Workout
- Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8” Method
- Part 3: Dorian Yates Style High-Volume Back Workout
In this workout I am going to teach you three of the most effective rest-pause upper back workouts of all time!
Rest-pause sets were of course invented and popularized by the former bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel.
The idea behind rest-pause sets is simple: you are going to train to failure three times in a row on the same exercise. The key is that you only rest 20-30 seconds in between each of the three attempts.
- Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds
- Train to failure again (you may get 2-4 reps), rest 20-30 seconds
- Train to failure again (you may get 1-3 reps), done!
Dante recommends that you take 10-15 deep breaths in between each attempt rather than counting to 20-30 seconds with a stop watch.
The idea is to get as much oxygen in your system during the rest breaks to help your muscles partially recover between attempts.
Rest-pause sets work so incredibly well because they actually allow you to make rapid strength gains while training in relatively higher rep ranges. It was not uncommon for Dante’s clients to perform machine hack squats with 6-8 plates per side or to deadlift 500-700 pounds for reps. Not bad considering 100% of his training clients were bodybuilders!
For example, here is Justin Harris machine hack squatting over 8 plates a side:
Justin was training under the guidance of Dante Trudel at the time this video was filmed.
On the other hand here is Dusty Hanshaw deadlifting a whopping 7 plates per side under the guidance of Dante:
Not bad for a couple of bodybuilders!
If you have a more dopamine-dominant or acetyl-choline-dominant neurotransmitter profile then you will likely make AWESOME progress on a rest-pause routine!
In this comprehensive guide we are going to cover three unique upper back rest-pause workout routines that you can start using today.
Please note that I clearly define all of the loading parameters of my routines. If you have any trouble reading the following workouts then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Advanced DC-Style Back Workout
Dante started most of his training clients out on an upper body / lower body split. This split was designed to pack as much muscle mass onto a trainee as quickly as possible.
However, he sometimes used an alternative split when his trainees had lagging muscle groups.
Here is an example of an advanced DC-style upper back rest-pause workout that Dante would use for a client with a lagging upper back.
DC-Style Upper Back Rest-Pause Workout
- A1: Rack Chin, 1 x 7-10**, 3/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: “Dante row” (with rope handle), 1 x 15-25**, 1/1/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Hanging lat stretch, 1 x 60-120 seconds, rest as needed
- D1: Barbell dead stop row, 2 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
On this type of workout Dante would normally have his clients perform 2-3 exercises for the elbow flexors either before or after the back exercises.
I will leave it up to you which elbow flexor exercises you want to perform here.
If this routine strikes you as a lower-volume workout then you would be right!
If you are able to perform multiple rest-pause sets per exercise then you clearly have no idea how hard you are supposed to push yourself during these sets.
After all, you are supposed to go to failure three separate times on your rest-pause sets! We’re talking real technical failure here where you actually “miss” your last rep, not “it’s starting to hurt so I guess I’ll stop the set now.”
If you are going to perform this workout then I highly recommend you record all of your workouts in a training logbook and try to beat your performance at your next workout.
Of course this is something that you should be doing anyways but it is especially important when doing a low-volume rest-pause style workout.
Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8” Method
Charles Poliquin was an incredibly creative strength coach. It seems like he was always looking for ways to tweak existing ideas to get better results for his clients.
The idea is simple: you are going to perform a set of five reps with your five rep max.
As Charles liked to say the set should be so hard that “your spleen should come out through your left eye on the fifth rep. Your left eye, not the right eye!”
After completing the fifth rep you will rest for 15 seconds and complete 1 more rep. This rep will be a total grinder but you will make it.
You then rest another 15 seconds, complete another rep, rest 15 seconds and complete 1 final rep.
- Perform 5 reps, rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 rep, done!
Unlike Dante’s version of rest-pause training you ARE NOT training to failure on the 5 to 8 method! It is OK to grind out the last rep on each set but it is not OK to miss here.
By avoiding technical failure you can perform multiple sets on a single exercise. This is simply not possible with Dante’s version of rest-pause training.
Overall the 5 to 8 method works slightly better for boosting strength and functional hypertrophy levels but is slightly less effective at boosting overall muscular hypertrophy.
Here is a sample upper back routine featuring the 5 to 8 method. Check it out:
5 To 8 Method Upper Back Routine
- A1: Shoulder-width supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x 5/1/1/1**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable face pull (with maximum external rotation), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as a Poliquin-style “5 to 8” rest-pause set as described above.
Do not let the low number of exercises in this routine fool you. If you perform this routine correctly then you will be completely exhausted by the end! After all, you are performing 3-5 of these “5 to 8” sets.
These sets are FAR more demanding on your central nervous system than regular old straight sets. However, if you have the guts to complete the routine then you will be highly rewarded.
Note: you may want to perform some exercises for your chest, shoulders, or triceps during this workout. A great strategy would be to perform this routine as part of a shoulders / back day on something like a Poliquin-style training split.
For example you could perform military presses as your “A2” exercise and 45 degree incline DB presses as your “B2” exercise.
This is just one possible suggestion. I will leave the final decision up to you.
Part 3: Dorian Yates Style High-Volume Back Workout
If there is one body part that Dorian Yates was known for it was his back. Dorian had one of the widest and thickest backs the bodybuilding world had ever seen!
To this day it is hard to think of anyone besides the legendary Ronnie Coleman who has rivaled Dorian in terms of his back development.
Dorian never used rest-pause sets in his training. Instead he relied on forced reps to build up his superhuman physique.
Of course it is entirely possible to borrow many of Dorian’s preferred upper back exercises and to perform rest-pause sets where possible. This is exactly what I have done for this routine. Check it out:
Dorian Yates Style Rest-Pause Back Workout
- A1: Nautilus pullover machine, 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Bilateral hammer strength machine pulldown (supinated grip), 1 x 710**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Barbell bent-over row, 1 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Unilateral hammer strength row, 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
Of course all of these training videos were taken directly from Dorian’s Blood And Guts training DVD. I want you to pay close attention to Dorian’s intensity level during all of these sets.
If you are going to perform rest-pause sets then this is exactly what your sets should look like! You need to know at the end of your sets that you left nothing on the table.
If you half-ass your sets on a low volume / high intensity training style such as rest-pause sets then you are never going to make any progress!
You are now fully equipped with three of the most results-producing upper back rest-pause routines that I have ever written.
Rest-pause training is definitely not for everyone. You have to be a bit of a bulldog at heart. It also doesn’t hurt if you have a “few screws loose” in the head!
No sane person would ever consider training this way. Of course if you are a long-time reader of Revolutionary Program Design then it is safe to say that you are not exactly “normal.”
In all seriousness if you are able to summon sufficient training intensity then I am confident these three back routines will help blow up your back in record time!
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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