Paused Squats: A Brutal Alternative For Leg Size & Strength

Paused squats are a brutally effective variation that might just give 20 rep squats a run for their money. Learn how to incorporate paused squats for added size & strength.

For a very long time I was a hardcore advocate of 20 rep squat sets. I thought they were the most brutal and effectively idiotic thing you could do in the gym.

Many of my late beginner to intermediate base building routines included a set of 20 reppers. I would often program 2 squat sessions per week. Day one would be a squat rep day, such as 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, and day two would focus on 1-2 sets of 20 rep squats.

Then I stumbled upon paused squats.

The first time I attempted paused squats I was overconfident. It was my plan to hit the gym, knock out 5 sets of 8 reps, and then go eat a well-deserved post-workout feast. But something funny happened after the first set...instant hamstring DOMS (muscle soreness).

In fact, the soreness was so immediate and painful that I had to shut down my leg workout. I was completely done for the day. Walking to the barbell was painful, and crawling upstairs from my basement gym was a test of will.

It was at this point, after one meager set, that I knew I had stumbled upon an important squat variation.

You might be thinking that my muscle soreness was no big deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've been squatting for nearly 28 years, and have spent the last 3 years closing in on a 700 pound raw squat.

I never get leg soreness anymore. Not from low rep heavy sets, and not from 5x5 protocols or 10-12 rep sets. In fact, these days it's hard for me to make any muscle sore. So when one set of paused squats sent me scurrying for a wheelchair, I knew it was time to take this squat variation seriously.

So now that you have been introduced to this potent exercise variation, let's talk about form and programming.

Paused Squats

Paused Squats Form & Tips

When performing paused squats there are 2 important things to remember:

Pause Duration - When in the hole there is no need to pause for an extended period of time. A simple one-thousand-one count will suffice. I do not recommend pausing longer than this.

With that said, if you've just spent the last several months using paused squats and want to experiment with a slightly longer pause, have at it. I can't say that an extended pause is as important as progressing in weight with paused squats, but it may be worth a try.

Stay Tight - It is essential that you remain tight in the hole. This will require concentration and practice. Getting loose in the hole can lead to lower back rounding and falling forward during the concentric aspect of the squat.

Keep your upper and lower body tight. Maintain a death grip on the bar, and make sure your upper back and arms do not get loose.

How to Use Pause Squats

The following are general recommendations. You can really use paused squats anyway you'd like. My main advice is to ease into them. Take a few workouts to practice paused squats with a slightly lighter than normal weight, and start progressing when you feel comfortable with the mechanics and your form.

Paused squats and full body workouts

I typically only structure 2 squat workouts per week when using a fullbody approach. Here is a sample schedule:

  • Monday - Paused squats, 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Wednesday - Deadlifts, no squats this day
  • Friday - Regular squats, 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps

Paused squats on Monday will work best. You will have 3 complete days of rest and recovery before your next squat session. Start with only 2 sets of paused squats for a few weeks, and then eventually add a third. The fourth set is optional, and only recommended for trainees with good recovery abilities.

Paused Squats

Paused squats and upper/lower muscle building workouts

If you are strictly looking to build muscle, and working with conventional hypertrophy rep ranges, I suggest the following upper/lower schedule:

  • Monday - Paused squats, 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps (Lower body day)
  • Tuesday - Upper body day
  • Friday - Regular squats, 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, or 20 rep squats if you are a glutton for punishment (Lower body day)
  • Saturday - Upper body day
Paused squats and upper/lower powerbuilding workouts

If you are an intermediate lifter who is looking to build both strength and size, I suggest the following upper/lower schedule:

  • Monday - Paused squats, 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps (Lower body day)
  • Tuesday - Upper body day
  • Friday - Heavy squats using your pre-existing structure (Lower body day)
  • Saturday - Upper body day
Paused squats and muscle building split workouts

If you are training legs once a week, here is a sample workout you could do using paused squats that will hammer your legs:

  • Squats - 2 sets of 5 reps, heavy work
  • Paused Squats - 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • 20 Rep Squats - 1 set of 20 reps
  • Leg Press - 4 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Hack Squats - 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts - 3x4 sets x 6-12 reps
  • Leg Curls - 4-5 sets x 10-15 reps
  • Seated Calf Raise - 5 sets x 10-15 reps
Paused squats and strength building training splits

If you are training squats once a week, here is a sample workout you could do using paused squats that will help enhance your strength building workouts:

  • Squats - 4 sets x 2-3 reps, heavy work
  • Paused Squats - 4 sets x 6-8 reps
  • Romanian Deadlifts or Glute Ham Raise - 3-5 sets x 6-8 reps/8-12 reps
  • Abdominal Work - Ab wheel rollouts, planks or cable crunches, 5 sets

You may choose to alternate between paused squats and leg presses for quad power, or between paused squats and speed squats.

Final Notes

If you give paused squats a try, please let me know in the comments section below.

As with all things, lifters tend to think "more is better." If you decide to give paused squats a run, focus on adding weight whenever possible instead of adding volume. If you can get brutally strong on paused squats I guarantee they will help build quad size and assist your one rep max strength.

It should be noted that I have never tried the combination of paused squats with a wide stance. If you are a wide stance squatter, it might be worth your time to bring your stance in and use a conventional squatting style for paused squats. Make those quads work.