Rest-Pause Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


rest pause

Rest-pause sets are an incredible bodybuilding training method. Many of the biggest and strongest bodybuilders in the world use rest-pause sets to take their training to the next level.

If you want to reach your size and strength goals as fast as possible then rest-pause sets are for you!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Low Volume Rest-Pause Training
  • Part 2: High Volume Rest-Pause Training

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to use rest-pause sets to build size and strength as quickly as possible.

Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity training method where you perform three sets to failure on an exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between each set.

Rest-pause sets are so effective because they overload your muscles and your central nervous system so you can build size and strength at the same time.

Here is what a rest-pause set looks like in the real world:

  • Step #1: Train to failure in the 6-15 rep range, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #2: Train to failure a second time with the same weight, then rest 20-30 seconds
  • Step #3: Train to failure a third time and that’s it – you’re done!

Here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating the rest-pause method on the incline bench press:

Dusty Hanshaw trains to failure three times in a row on the 30 degree incline bench press. He gets 8 reps no his first mini-set, 4 reps on his second mini-set and 2 reps on his third mini-set.

Dusty says that he got 14 reps rest-paused because he got 14 reps total between his three attempts. Talk about a high-intensity set!

Rest-pause sets were popularized by Dante Trudel and his incredibly popular DC Training program. Today many of the world’s top bodybuilders including David Henry, Cedric McMillan and Steve Kuclo use rest-pause sets as a core part of their training programs.

Rest-pause sets are so effective because they overload your muscles AND your central nervous system. In other words rest-pause sets tell your body that you need to get bigger AND stronger at the same time.

Rest-pause sets also maximize the three biological triggers for muscular hypertrophy:

  • Biological Trigger #1: Mechanical Tension
  • Biological Trigger #2: Muscular Damage
  • Biological Trigger #3: Metabolic Fatigue

Rest-pause sets are so effective that many researchers have started to perform scientific studies on them. Studies show that rest-pause sets result in 8-46% more muscle activation and 11% more hypertrophy gains compared to regular straight sets (1, 2).

It’s no wonder so many athletes use rest-pause sets in their training programs!

In fact the Canadian strength coach Christian Thibadeau calls rest-pause sets his favorite muscle building method. Check it out:

The only downside to rest-pause sets is they are very difficult to recover from. They create a ton of muscle damage and really fatigue your central nervous system.

The bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel says that you should only perform 1 rest-pause set per exercise.

You can perform as many warm-up sets as you need to get ready for your main working set. However, when you get to your heaviest weights for that exercise you should only perform 1 rest-pause set.

There Are 2 Main Ways To Design A Rest-Pause Workout:

  • Option #1: Low-Volume Rest-Pause Workouts
  • Option #2: High-Volume Rest-Pause Workouts

Your first choice is to use low-volume workouts. Dante Trudel’s original DC Training program is a perfect example of this. For each muscle group you perform 1 rest-pause set and an extreme stretch.

Dante Trudel uses this approach with an upper / lower split or a push / pull / legs split where you train each muscle group once every 5 days. This low-volume / high-frequency approach works extremely well for many people including David Henry and Steve Kuclo.

Another option is to use high-volume rest-pause workouts. You could perform 3-5 exercises and perform 1 rest-pause set per exercise. For example you could perform these high-volume rest-pause workouts with a bodybuilding bro-split where you train each muscle group once per week.

Many bodybuilders including Dusty Hanshaw and John Meadows have used this approach to blast through training plateaus.

Here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating a high-volume rest-pause workout:

As you can see there are a ton of different ways to design a workout using rest-pause sets. It is one of the most effective training methods ever invented

I hope you found this overview helpful. Now let’s take a closer look at the best ways to design rest-pause workouts.

Part 1: Low Volume Rest-Pause Training

Rest-pause sets were popularized by the DC Training program.

DC Training is a low-volume / high-intensity bodybuilding program that uses advanced training techniques like rest-pause sets and extreme stretches.

With DC Training you perform 1 rest-pause set and 1 extreme stretch per muscle group. If you are new to rest-pause sets then the DC Training program is a great option.

With DC Training you train your entire upper body (except for biceps) on one day and your entire lower body (plus biceps) on another day. For example:

The DC Training Split

  • Upper Body Day: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps / Back Width / Back Thickness
  • Lower Body Day: Biceps / Forearms / Calves / Hamstrings / Quadriceps

Here is what an upper body DC Training workout might look like. Check it out:

Rest-Pause Upper Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Flat DB press, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #2: Seated military press, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #3: Smith machine close grip bench press, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #4: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #5: Barbell bent over row, 2 x 8-12

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Your goal is 11-20 total reps from all 3 mini-sets.

Here is the training video from this workout:

The DC Training upper body workout uses 5 different exercises. You perform 1 exercise for your chest, shoulders, triceps, back width and back thickness.

The only muscle group that is NOT rest-paused is back thickness. Performing a rest-pause set on something like deadlifts or barbell rows would be too dangerous and increase your risk of injury.

The DC Training lower body workout is a little different: you perform 1 exercise for your biceps, forearms, calves, hamstrings and quads.

Only the biceps and hamstrings exercises use the rest-pause method. For the other exercises you use 1-2 straight sets.

Here is a sample DC Training lower body workout. Check it out:

DC Training Lower Body Workout

  • Exercise #1: Standing alternating DB curls, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Standing DB hammer curls, 1 x 8-12
  • Exercise #3: Seated calf machine, 1 x 7-10
  • Exercise #4: Machine hack squat, 2 x (4-8, 20****)
  • Exercise #5: Romanian deadlift, 2 x 6-12

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Your goal is 11-20 total reps from all 3 mini-sets.

****Performed as a 20-rep breathing squat. Perform 10 reps just shy of failure, then perform 10 extra singles with short rest periods without re-racking the weight.

Here is the training video for this workout:

The DC Training program uses a special type of rest-pause set to train quads. Dante Trudel calls it the “widowmaker set” but it’s really just another name for a set of 20-rep breathing squats.

Here is the exact protocol:

The 20-Rep Breathing Squat Protocol

  • Step #1: Perform 10 reps with your 10-rep max, then lock out your knees and take 1-3 deep breaths
  • Step #2: Perform 1-3 extra reps, then lock out your knees and take 1-3 deep breaths
  • Step #3: Perform 1-3 extra reps, then lock out your knees and take 1-3 deep breaths

And so on. You repeat this process until you have performed 20 total reps with your 10-rep max. Talk about a brutal training method!

Here is the DC Training guru Justin Harris demonstrating a set of 20-rep breathing squats:

Justin Harris gets 8 reps, then 2 more reps, then 2 more reps, then 2 more reps, then 2 more reps for a total of 16 reps. That is what a true widowmaker set should look like!

The DC Training widowmaker set for quads is basically an extreme form of rest-pause training. You are still training to failure and then taking short rest periods so you can perform more reps.

The big difference is you are performing more extra reps than normal. These extra post-failure reps are awesome for stimulating size and strength gains.

Some people find that training their entire upper body in one workout is too difficult to recover from. In that case you can use a push / pull / legs split. For example:

The DC Training Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Push Day = Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Pull Day = Back Width / Back Thickness / Biceps / Forearms
  • Legs Day = Quads / Hamstrings / Calves

Dante Trudel says that you should perform the push / pull / legs split 4 days per week so you can train each muscle group a little more frequently.

With the 4 day push / pull / legs split you train each muscle group once every 5-6 days. This is an awesome training frequency that works for a lot of people.

Here is a DC Training push workout that Jason Wojo performed while working with Dante Trudel. Check it out:

Jason Wojo’s Rest-Pause Chest / Shoulders / Triceps Workout

  • Exercise #1: Hammer strength incline press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Seated DB overhead press, 1 x 20-30 RP**
  • Exercise #3: Smith machine reverse grip bench press, 1 x 11-20 RP**

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Your goal is 11-20 total reps from all 3 mini-sets.

Here is the training video for this workout:

Don’t let this low-volume workout fool you: your chest, shoulders and triceps will be destroyed if you train with Jason Wojo’s level of intensity!

Keep in mind that you have to perform an extreme stretch after each exercise.

Some advanced DC Trainees will throw in an extra “finisher” exercise after their main rest-pause exercise to stimulate even more growth.

Dante Trudel says this is a great way for advanced bodybuilders to break through training plateaus.

Here is one of Dusty Hanshaw’s advanced triceps workouts. Check it out:

Dusty Hanshaw’s Advanced DC-Style Triceps Routine

  • Exercise #1: Dead skulls, 1 x 20-30 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Hammer strength dips, 1 x 10-30
  • Exercise #3: Triceps extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Your goal is 11-20 total reps from all 3 mini-sets.

For this workout Dusty performs his main rest-pause set on dead stop skull crushers. Then he performs a high-rep finisher set on the hammer strength dips. Finally he performs an extreme stretch for his triceps.

This is a great way to design a low-volume bodybuilding workout using the rest-pause technique.

There are a million different ways to design a low-volume workout using the rest-pause technique but the DC Training program is probably the way to go.

But what if you respond best to high-volume workouts? Can you still use the rest-pause technique? The answer is yes!

Part 2: High Volume Rest-Pause Training

The rest-pause method isn’t just for low-volume guys! Many high-volume bodybuilding coaches like John Meadow have used the rest-pause technique in their workouts to blast through training plateaus.

If you are going to use the rest-pause technique with your high-volume workouts then you still want to perform 1 rest-pause set per exercise. The big difference is you perform several different exercises per muscle group to get in the extra volume.

Here is a high-volume rest-pause leg workout that John Meadows used to annihilate his legs. Check it out:

Mountain Dog High-Intensity Leg Workout

  • Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Machine squat, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #3: Machine hack squat, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #4: Machine leg extension, 1 x 25 RP***

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Perform 8 reps to failure, rest 20 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time, rest 20 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time, done!

***Here are John’s exact words: “These might not be 25 full reps – it’s whatever you have to do to get to 25 reps.” In other words perform as many full range of motion reps as you can, then start busting out partials to get to 25 total reps.

Here is the training video for this workout:

John Meadows performs a total of 4 exercises for his legs. On each exercise he performs several warm up sets followed by 1 all-out rest-pause set.

On the last exercise he performs a modified widowmaker set: he gets about 10 reps on his own and then starts busting out partial reps until he gets 25 total reps! Talk about an intense set!

If you want to perform high-volume rest-pause workouts like John Meadows then you probably need to train each muscle group once per week using a bodybuilding bro-split. Here is one example:

The Bodybuilding Bro Split

  • Day 1: Chest
  • Day 2: Back
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders
  • Day 5: Legs
  • Day 6: Arms
  • Day 7: Off

The bodybuilding bro split is a great choice for these high-volume workouts because you can train each muscle group with 3-5 exercises. This is a strategy that some advanced DC Trainees like Dusty Hanshaw will use from time to time.

Here is a high-volume 5-exercise workout that Dusty Hanshaw performed to bring up his lagging chest. Check it out:

Dusty Hanshaw High-Volume Chest Workout

  • Exercise #1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 11-20 RP**
  • Exercise #2: Machine pec dec, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #3: Decline hammer strength press, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #4: Flat DB press, 1 x 11-20 RP
  • Exercise #5: DB fly extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds

Here is the training video for this workout:

For each exercise Dusty Hanshaw performs plenty of warm up sets followed by his 1 all-out rest-pause set to failure. Talk about a brutal high-volume chest workout!

If you are an advanced bodybuilder and respond well to high-volume workouts then this can be a great way to train. The rest-pause sets will allow you to build strength while training like a bodybuilder and “hitting each body part from many angles.”

If you are a true masochist then there are ways to make rest-pause sets even more effective for building muscle mass. One of those techniques is called “rest-pause drop sets.”

Here is the exact training protocol

How To Do Rest-Pause Drop Sets

  • Step #1: First perform a rest-pause set. Then reduce the weight by 20-30% and rest 20-30 seconds.
  • Step #2: Perform another rest-pause set with the new lighter weight. That’s it – you’re done!

Rest-pause drop sets are a hybrid between 2 brutal training methods: rest-pause sets and drop sets. This training method was popularized by the bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant.

He says that rest-pause drop sets are very taxing but they can be a great way to blast through a hypertrophy training barrier.

Here is one of Josh Bryant’s top-secret rest-pause drop set workouts. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Rest-Pause Drop Set Arm Workout

  • Exercise #1: Bench press against chains (shoulder-width grip), 1 set of 7-10 reps
  • Exercise #2: 75 degree DB spider curl (hammer grip), 1 set of 7-10 reps**
  • Exercise #3: Dead stop DB triceps extensions, 1 set of 7-10 reps**
  • Exercise #4: Machine preacher curl, 1 set of 7-10 reps**
  • Exercise #5: Machine tricep dips, 1 set of 7-10 reps**

**Performed as a rest-pause drop set as described above.

Here is the training video for this workout:

For this workout Josh alternates between tricep exercises and bicep exercises. In other words he performs 1 exercise for his triceps, then 1 exercise for his biceps, then another exercise for his triceps and so on.

This is a great way to reduce the fatigue build up in your arms and to help you lift more weight throughout the workout.

The bottom line is the rest-pause method isn’t just for low-volume guys! A lot of top level bodybuilders have used high-volume rest-pause workouts to blast through training plateaus.

This strategy works extremely well for building size AND for building long-term strength gains.

If you have good recovery ability and respond well to high-volume workouts then I highly recommend you give it a shot!

Conclusion

rest pause

The rest-pause method is one of the greatest high-intensity training methods ever invented. It works unbelievably well for beginner, intermediate and advanced level bodybuilders.

In fact the bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant calls rest-pause sets the “universal gainer” because almost everyone makes progress with it!

If you are stuck in a training rut then you have to give the rest-pause method a shot. It is one of the only training methods that builds size AND strength all at the same time.

Just make sure you bring the intensity to the gym. Rest-pause sets are more intense than Ron Burgundy when someone makes fun of his hair!

Here is Dante Trudel reminding you of what you should *really* worry about as a bodybuilder:

“Worry about making yourself the strongest bodybuilder you can become. I’m not talking singles here. I’m talking 9-15 reps rest-paused. A brute. A behemoth. A human forklift!”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

References:

  1. Marshall, P., et al. Acute Neuromuscular and Fatigue Responses to the Rest-Pause Method. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2012. 15. 153-158.
  2. Prestes J, A Tibana R, de Araujo Sousa E, et al. Strength and Muscular Adaptations After 6 Weeks of Rest-Pause vs. Traditional Multiple-Sets Resistance Training in Trained Subjects. J Strength Cond Res. 2019;33 Suppl 1:S113-S121. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001923

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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