Paused Squats: A Brutal Alternative For Leg Size & Strength

Steve Shaw
Written By: Steve Shaw
January 7th, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
119.6K Reads
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.

Posted on: Mon, 06/17/2019 - 23:01

I did paused squats for the first time today because I’m following a rugby training program. I decided to make sure I was doing them right and found your article. Boy we’re you right. My hammys were immediately sore as all hell and I couldn’t even pick up a plate to load it on the bar for bench afterwards. Brutal

Posted on: Tue, 12/19/2017 - 14:52

What do you think about doing nothing but paused full back squats for legs for someone without any interest in competing in PL who already has an over 500lbs traditional squat? Dimitri Klokov, for instance, seems to more or less only do his squats paused (Front and Back) and he actually has a silver medal in Olympic Weightlifting. Would the presumably necessary decrease in weight and better focus on technique (i'm assuming) result in reduced injury risk while still giving reasonably good strength and hypertrophy gains?

Posted on: Thu, 02/09/2017 - 09:10

Maybe I missed it, but what kind of percentage of max is recommended for 2 second pause squats?

Posted on: Sun, 07/26/2015 - 23:49

I've done pauses for 5 seconds... it seems by this article 2 seconds is enough...
Is there a good % based on one rep max? Like... if your 1 rep max is 200kg what should one be doing for paused squats?

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Posted on: Mon, 07/27/2015 - 10:11

It really depends upon the length of the pause, where the pause is happening (in the hole, halfway up, just short of lockout, etc.), and the entire volume accumulated during the session.

So, for example, if you've just gone heavy (90%+) with your normal squat work, then you're probably not going to do 6 sets of 4 with 85% of your 1-RM with 3 second pauses.

If you're just doing paused work then I would say you could use anywhere from 50%- 70% and focus on speed out of the pause or simply lengthen the pause.

Posted on: Sun, 04/12/2015 - 21:59

I only have lightweights to work with and 3 second pause squats have helped to overcome plateau for whole body.

Posted on: Thu, 02/19/2015 - 20:58

I started doing pause squats for a couple of weeks. On Sunday I did pause squats 4 sets of 10 reps. I was sore after doing them, I got on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Incline 2.0, 3.5 and 4.0. The morning after, I wanted to cry. I can literally feel I guess my hamstrings under each of my glutes, each side. My quads was sore. After my workout I had EAS Myoplex shake, I even put on a pair of compression pants because the did a study of it being helpful for soreness after workouts, it didn't help. U say by Tuesday it felt better. And it is a rush when you come up from the lower position. I love it. It hurts, but I love it.

Posted on: Mon, 10/13/2014 - 11:59

I'm doing my first ever 5/3/1 cycle and my last sets on my squat days seem too light so I've been doing them paused. Makes for a wild day, building up to heavy weight and then dropping the weight and pausing for 5 sets of 10. Maybe not the best idea but I've had to cut back to 3 days a week so I like to torch my body while I'm there

Posted on: Sun, 06/08/2014 - 16:01

I have been lifting now for almost 5 months, I was wondering is it better to isolate more or just stick to heavy lifting compound exercises to build up size and strength . I have been told both have benefits but i dont find im building any size isolating at all

Posted on: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 17:46

Thanks for the program. Nicely written. Not sure I caught up the pause squat. It says to pause for atleast 1/1000 of a second. Not sure I got real mechanics of doing the pause squat from the article. If you can elaborate on the real mechanics of the pause squat it will be really beneficial.

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Posted on: Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:57

Hi Geeman,

That's not for 1/1000th of a second, you pause while you think "one one thousand." This takes about one second.

Posted on: Sun, 02/23/2014 - 05:22

A question Steve - what are your thoughts on applying this principle to other exercises such as bench? I finished a bench workout the other day with paused set, burn was incredible. Any experience or perspectives on this?

Posted on: Fri, 02/07/2014 - 07:53

I'v been doing these for 5 weeks now and I must say that they have helped improve my conventional squat. Very good article!!!!

Posted on: Wed, 01/29/2014 - 01:29

I've started to incorporate these and have found them a great new challenge, a good substitution for my usual 20 rep 'burn' set, big dividends for a lower weight exercise. Between my routine of back, front, overhead and paused squats these have been a great addition to the leg repertoire (training legs twice a week), I'm enjoying mixing up weight and rep combinations - still getting the feel but this exercise is here to stay for me. As always, a great well written article - thanks Steve!

Posted on: Sun, 01/19/2014 - 12:32

I use long pauses, and my quads have blown up and I'm adding 5lbs per week no problem, and with a four plate squat, it's been a while since I've done LP like that.

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 15:30

Steve, which variation of the pause method are you using. Do you use a high enough weight where you do a couple reps then use the pause to finish out the last few reps?

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 13:30

I do pause squats every week on my light squat day since I squat twice a week for powerlifting. I don't know what I'd do without them.

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 12:19

I normally squat two to three times a week, normally three. Any rate, when I do paused squats I will pause up to ten seconds. It's easy to run out of energy quick doing this though,really takes it or of you. Of course doing it this way the rep range is lower. I would recommend doing it with light weight to get the feeling, you don't want to get stuck in the hole.

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 11:50

Hey Steve , first I wanted to thank you for the awesome training program that you posted back in 2012 "Bulldozer Training 4 Day Workout Split" which I follow religiously and has given me results , that being said I'd like to know if I should do this paused squats instead of the regular squats that I've been doing ? , considering I just train legs once a week I wanted to take advantage of this killer excersice

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 09:45

Another awesome article. Thank you! Maybe something of interest for you.

I recently saw a video of Dmitry Klokov's (ex-world champ and olympic silver medalist) squat training, and he was doing single rep 5-second paused squats up to 570 lbs (watch 8 minute mark: I'm guessing the extremely long pause also has some benefits?

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Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 10:37

Thanks BN.

Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 05:38

typical amateur trainer program. I cant take you seriously if you cant even recommend required rest periods between sets. you do realize how important it is to incorporate into a program dont you? bodybuilder mentality

Posted on: Thu, 01/09/2014 - 08:24

Derick - Comments like that ensure that no one takes you seriously. This article is for people who would typically already squat. Recovery times are going to vary for every person. 2 to 5 minutes of rest between these sets. It will all depend on the ability for your legs to recover enough to complete another set and how long it is going to take for your cardio to catch up with you. You head on back to the yoga ball my friend.

Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 20:56

I have found box squats with a pause on the box grueling as well. 8X2

Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 16:54

Hello, Steve. I have been using these for a few weeks. They were suggested by one of your forum members. They are very brutal, but have helped my squat and, I believe, my deadlift as well. They especially helped my speed/confidence out of the hole.

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Posted on: Tue, 01/07/2014 - 18:33

Glad to hear they are working well for you. Keep smashing!