Aiming for 45-50% of my 1RM here. Shifting the weight to a high bar position to help help create new lifting patterns and responses with the pause.
As someone who has always struggled with depth on squats it became quite apparent that I’d need to find new ways to really target the bottom of the squat and feel comfortable getting my hips below my knees. Previous to my transition to a powerlifting style of training I liked to think I had a heavy squat but realistically it was a typical gym squat. A few inches above parallel, unstable, lots of lean.
Introduced to the pause squat it created an environment where I was forced to lower the weight (aiming for 40-60% of my max weight) and really focus on technique. A few of the benefits and outcomes are as follows:
Read any good article on paused squats and explosiveness is always identified as one of the outcomes. Sitting at the bottom of a squat prevents the typical recoil felt when driving out of the hole of a normal squat. The tendons and muscles normally used to recoiling out of the hole are now suddenly being held tight forcing you to drive hard out of the hole without the benefit of the bounce. By focusing on a lower weight paused squats can also be a good supplement to heavy work to begin with. Generally I add these in after working through the focused squat program whether its 5×3’s or 5×5’s. The weight doesn’t feel heavy so focusing on driving hard out of the hole doesn’t feel as difficult.
Sitting deep at the bottom of a paused squat has also helped the flexibility through both my hips and ankles. Generally my ankles are incredibly stiff (although ankle flexibility is something I’ve been working on) and in the past I’ve had issues with my hip-flexors. The lighter weight deeper has allowed me to focus on the stretch in both areas without triggering any pain in my hips and allowing the ankles to open up over time. Awareness of the tightness also becomes apparent with the lighter weight as form becomes that much more important.
Although not often talked about this really ties into focusing on the breath. Although the weight is lighter it still requires a strong breath and hold at the bottom so that proper form can be maintained while holding the weight deep and being able to drive. Whether you use a belt or not, focusing on the breath as you begin your descent is incredibly important because you will typically be holding it throughout the rep. Before I begin I like to take a deep breath before un-racking to feel the weight. Step back into position and let the air out while keeping my posture upright. Before descending with the pause I again focus on the in-breath filling my upper body with air and holding as I drop down into the pause. Focusing on the breath and keeping the air cavity tight will also help with form keeping the chest up and the back tight. I can tell rep to rep when I’ve taken a bad breath. Lean creeps in and the rib cage is allowed to drop.
Without a doubt squatting is one of the most technique driven lifts in the gym and awareness is critical. Foot placement, the bar, hip drive, knees, breath, head, back, etc. Paused squats add an extra element of awareness though and especially reaching the bottom of the lift. When the weight is heavy and you are descending it can be difficult to really notice how the body is positioned or if things aren’t working. You are likely just focused on getting the weight up! A lighter pause you can really begin to focus on how the body feels. Is your back tight, how does the bar feel against your shoulders, are your shoulder blades squeezed together, what are your knees doing. Each rep can allow you to see how your body is positioned in the hole and focus on correcting these aspects of your lift.
Next time you are thinking about variations to the squat and want to bring a little bit of mindfulness to the lift I’d suggest a pause squat. I encourage you to read a couple of other articles on the paused squat from individuals a little more qualified than myself on the actual anatomy of the lift:
Robert Camacho’s article on Breaking Muscle: “Get Stronger and Stay Honest With Paused Reps” brings a more scientific discussion on the topic.
Tony Gentilecore also has a great article and helpful video for those looking to incorporate these into your routine. “Paused Squats: The Key to Better Squat Performance?”
What other types of accessory squat work do people use? I know there are numerous variations but always interested in hearing about the unusual ones that have helped performance.