Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity training technique invented by Dante Trudel. Rest-pause sets work for every muscle group but in my experience they are especially effective for building a big, strong back.
If you want to learn how to blast through training plateaus for the upper back then this article is for you!
- Part 1: An Advanced DC-Style Back Workout
- Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8” Method
- Part 3: A Dorian Yates Style High-Volume Back Workout
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 3 awesome rest-pause back workouts that you can start using today to build a bigger, stronger upper back.
Rest-pause sets are an advanced training method where you train to failure three times in a row on the same exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between each attempt. For example:
- Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds
- Train to failure again with the same weight (you may get 2-4 reps), rest 20-30 seconds
- Train to failure again with the same weight (you may get 1-3 reps), done!
Rest-pause sets are ridiculously effective for building both size AND strength.
The first attempt to failure is hard enough on its own. However, the second and third attempts with the same weight is where the magic happens. They extend the time under tension of the set and really overload your muscles and your central nervous system.
One of the best things about rest-pause sets is you can make rapid strength gains while training in higher rep ranges. Many of Dante Trudel’s clients who used rest-pause sets could hack squat 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:
And here is Dusty Hanshaw deadlifting an incredible 7 plates per side:
Not bad for a couple of bodybuilders!
There are many, many ways to design rest-pause back workouts. In this guide I will share with you 3 rest-pause back workouts that you can start using today to build a bigger, stronger back.
In this comprehensive guide we are going to cover three unique upper back rest-pause workout routines that you can start using today.
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: An Advanced DC-Style Back Workout
Dusty Hanshaw is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and one of the last bodybuilders that Dante Trudel has ever trained. When Dusty first started working with Dante his upper back was one of his weakest body parts.
Today Dusty’s back is easily his best muscle group on the bodybuilding stage.
How did Dusty Hanshaw do this? How did he turn his weakest muscle group into his strongest one? The answer is DC Training and rest-pause back workouts.
Here is how Dusty organized his back workouts when he was training for his IFBB pro card:
- Exercise #1: Back Width
- Exercise #2: Back Width Widowmaker
- Exercise #3: Hanging Lat Stretch
- Exercise #4: Back Thickness
Dusty’s first exercise is always some type of heavy back width exercise. Some of Dusty’s favorite back width exercises include rack chins, machine pulldowns and cable pulldowns.
These vertical pulling exercises primarily train the lats / teres major and are great for making your upper back wider. Dusty picks one of these exercises and works up to one heavy rest-pause set in the 7-10 rep range.
Here is Dusty performing a heavy rest-pause set on rack chins:
As you can see Dusty trains to failure three times in a row with the same weight. Talk about brutal! Dusty’s second back exercise is a key back width exercise that he calls his “widowmaker” set.
Dusty’s favorite widowmaker movement was the cable low row. You can click right here for a video of this exercise. Every workout Dusty performed his widowmaker exercise for one high-rep rest-pause set.
Dusty’s third exercise was a hanging lat stretch. The basic idea is to stretch out your lats by hanging in the bottom position of a wide overhand grip pull up. Dusty would hang with an extra 150 pound dumbbell around his waist and hold that position for as long as he could.
Finally Dusty finished his rest-pause back workouts with a back thickness exercise for 2 heavy straight sets. Some of Dusty’s favorite back thickness exercises are deadlifts, rack deadlifts, smith machine rows and t-bar rows.
Here is a Dusty Hanshaw style back workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
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 10-30**, 2/1/1/0, rest as needed
- C1: Hanging lat stretch, 1 x 60-120 seconds, rest as needed
- D1: T-bar row, 2 x 10-15, 2/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
Here is a great video of Dusty performing this workout:
Dusty Hanshaw says the key to getting the most out of this low-volume workout is to train with mind-blowing intensity. He says that there are two kinds of failure:
- Mental failure
- Physical failure
Mental failure occurs when your muscles start to hurt and your brain tells you to stop the set. Physical failure is completely different: it occurs when you ignore the pain and you push yourself as hard as you possibly can.
On your last rep the weight stops moving because you physically can’t move the weight another inch, NOT because you wimped out. It doesn’t matter if you are using a Dusty Hanshaw style back workout or any other type of rest-pause routine: you have to train to physical failure to get the most out of rest-pause sets.
Be honest with yourself: can you train this hard? If you can then your back will grow like a weed on this rest-pause back workout. If not then you need to be honest with yourself and pick a routine that you can handle.
Part 2: Charles Poliquin’s “5 to 8” Method
The strength coach Charles Poliquin invented his own version of rest-pause sets called “the 5 to 8 method.” It works extremely well for building strength and functional hypertrophy.
Here is how you perform the 5 to 8 method:
- Perform 5 reps just shy of failure, then rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, then rest 15 seconds
- Perform 1 more rep with the same weight, done!
The 5 to 8 method is very similar to Dante Trudel’s rest-pause method. The basic idea is to pick a weight you can lift 5 times and find a way to perform 8 reps with it.
First you perform 5 hard reps with your 5-rep max. Then you put the weight down and rest just long enough that you can perform 1 extra rep with the same weight. You then repeat this process until you have performed 8 total reps.
The 5 to 8 method is perfect for anyone who wants to get freaky strong and build a lot of fast-twitch muscle growth.
The extra single reps performed at the end of the set really overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers and force your central nervous system to become more efficient. They feel like maximal singles even though you are technically still using your 5-rep max.
One of the biggest differences with the 5 to 8 method vs regular rest-pause sets is you are NOT training to failure. Don’t get me wrong – you still have to push yourself on your sets. Charles Poliquin says the 5th rep should be so hard that “your spleen comes out through your left eye!”
One of the benefits of avoiding failure is you can perform more sets per exercise. Charles Poliquin often had his athletes perform 3-5 of these “5 to 8 method” sets per exercise. This extra volume is very helpful for stimulating more size and strength gains.
Here is a sample upper back rest-pause workout that you may want to try. 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, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Seated cable face pull (with maximum external rotation), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Reverse pec dec, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
**Performed as a Poliquin-style “5 to 8” rest-pause set as described above.
If you perform this workout correctly then you can expect some screaming-fast strength gains.
One of the things that I really like about the 5 to 8 method is it lets you perform a lot of high-quality work in a short period of time. In other words your training density is very high.
This is important because high-density training methods like rest-pause sets, cluster sets and mechanical advantage drop sets are often more effective than regular “straight sets.”
Charles Poliquin says that you should perform about 3-5 of these “5 to 8 method” sets per exercise. The best way to figure out how many sets you should perform is to use a fatigue drop-off curve.
A fatigue drop-off curve is a model that you can use to figure out how many sets of an exercise you should perform in a workout. Once your strength decreases by “X” percent on that exercise then you call it a day and move on to the next exercise.
Here are some easy fatigue drop-off curve guidelines:
- Relative strength: 5%
- Functional hypertrophy: 10%
- Bodybuilding hypertrophy: 20%
The 5 to 8 method is a functional hypertrophy training protocol so you want to use a 10% fatigue drop off curve for this workout.
Let’s say that you weigh 200 pounds and you perform your first set of pull ups with an extra 50 pounds around your waist. That means the total weight was (200 + 50) = 250 pounds. You are using a 10% fatigue drop off curve so you can continue performing sets as long as you can lift at least 225 pounds for 5 reps.
For example let’s say you use your bodyweight plus 25 pounds on your 4th set of pull ups. Your strength has already dropped by 10% so you would not perform a 5th set
Fatigue drop off curves are a very useful tool that you can use in all of your training programs. They are very helpful when you are performing more than 1 set per exercise. The bodybuilding coach and “train harder!” enthusiast Greg Doucette is also a big fan of fatigue drop off curves.
Part 3: A Dorian Yates Style High-Volume Back Workout
Dorian Yates won the Mr. Olympia contest 6 times in a row from 1992 – 1997 and is known as one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
Dorian was known for many things: his high-intensity training style, his monk-like discipline and his unrelenting desire to succeed. Of course Dorian was also known for his upper back development. Dorian had one of the widest and thickest backs the bodybuilding world had ever seen!
Dorian trained his upper back with many different exercises and always trained to failure. Dorian even trained beyond failure with his favorite “forced reps” technique.
Forced reps is a high-intensity training method where your training partner helps you perform extra reps after you reach failure.
For example here is Dorian helping a young bodybuilder perform some extra forced reps on the Nautilus pullover machine:
The bodybuilder performs 5 reps on his own. Then Dorian comes in and helps him complete an extra 5 reps with a little bit of help. Talk about an intense set!
Many bodybuilders would LOVE to use Dorian’s upper back routine if they had access to a training partner. If you train alone then I have the perfect solution: use rest-pause sets instead of forced reps!
On any exercise like the machine pullovers where Dorian would have performed forced reps you just perform a DC-style rest-pause set. Trust me, this strategy works like magic.
Here is what a rest-pause style Dorian Yates back workout might look like. Check it out:
Rest-Pause Style Dorian Yates Upper Back Workout
- A1: Pullover machine, 1 set of 7-10 reps to failure**
- B1: Hammer strength pulldown (supinated grip), 1 set of 7-10 reps to failure**
- C1: Standing barbell row to knees, 1 working set of 7-10 reps to failure
- D1: Seated 1-arm machine row, 1 working set of 7-10 reps to failure**
- E1: Bent-over rear delt machine, 1 working set of 10-12 reps to failure
- F1: Bent over rear-delt DB flys, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure
- G1: 90 degree back extension, BB on back, 1 working set of 8-10 reps to failure
- H1: Conventional deadlift from floor, 1 working set of 6-8 reps to failure
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set as described above.
Here is a great video of Dorian performing this exact workout:
I’ll admit that Dorian Yates’ upper back routine is a little complicated when you first look at it. However, once you understand it everything makes perfect sense.
Here is how Dorian organizes his upper back routine:
- Part 1: Two back width exercises
- Part 2: Two back thickness exercises
- Part 3: Two rear delt exercises
- Part 4: One lower back exercise
- Part 5: Deadlifts
Whenever you are training your upper back you have to be very careful about which exercises you use rest-pause sets and which exercises you use regular “straight sets.”
Dante Trudel says that you should NEVER use rest-pause sets on exercises that fatigue your lower back. For example you would never rest-pause your barbell rows or deadlifts. That is just asking for an injury.
On the other hand exercises like machine pullovers, pulldowns and machine rows are all perfectly safe to rest-pause. If you are looking for a great routine to shock your back into growth then this rest-pause style Dorian Yates back routine has your name written all over it.
Just make sure you take your post-workout shake from ___, ____ or wherever you get your supplements. You’re going to need it!
Rest-pause sets are one of the most effective training methods ever invented. They work incredibly well for building a big, strong upper back. In this guide I showed you 3 awesome ways to design your next rest-pause upper back workout.
Keep in mind that rest-pause training is definitely not for everyone. You have to be a bit of a masochist 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 I highly recommend you give these routines a shot. 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!
“Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith, there is no anxiety and no doubt – just absolute confidence in yourself.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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