Bench press

For bigger pecs, you need to push more weight. To push more weight, you need to train smarter. And if training smarter is your bag, then it’s time to try this cerebral yet powerful approach to training. You may already be familiar with the tenets of rest-pause training but the key to exploiting it to the fullest is to understand why it works. So if you’re ready to get freaky strong (and big), read on…

At any given time, your body relies on three main energy sources – phosphagen, anaerobic glycolysis and oxidative metabolism – for exercise, but the one that weightlifters need to mainly focus on is phosphagen, the group moniker for ATP and CP.

Phosphagen is the body’s first, best and most readily available form of energy for explosive movement. It’s volatile and instant, making it a lifter’s best friend when going up against a loaded barbell. That kind of drive-thru, PayPoint access to power is great, but it does have a major drawback: These energy stores decline rapidly over the course of 10-20 seconds of muscular exertion. After that the other two energy systems, primarily anaerobic glycolysis, start to play a bigger part in your lifts.

Put simply, phosphagen nearly falls off the map near the end of an extended set. So if your average 10-rep set to failure takes roughly 40 seconds (an average cadence of two seconds up, two seconds down), you’re really only able to capitalize on that high-octane phosphagen for the first half because of the rapid decline in energy stores.

“Happily, phosphagen levels replenish rather quickly after a set,” says M&F Fitness Director Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS. “Once you rack the bar, those levels start rising again but not quite to where they were at the beginning of your workout. When training to near-failure throughout your routine, your available phosphagen levels get lower on each subsequent set. Rest-pause training flattens out that decline, keeping more phosphagen in the tank for longer.”

Peña says going heavier than normal for fewer reps and taking shorter rest periods will allow you to perform more total reps with that weight. “Now you’ll be able to push heavier weight for more total reps – you’ll just be doing it in several segments,” he adds.

More weight, better form, greater gains. What’s not to like? After a few in-house test drives (and a little homework on energy systems), we’re definitely sold on the freakish practicality of rest-pause training. We’re convinced that after trying it out for yourself, you’ll be a believer, too.

Bench press 1

Lift. Rest. Repeat.

Using this training technique properly requires paying close attention to weight load and rest. Observe the prescribed rest periods between set segments to fully take advantage of your body’s phosphagen stores and push more weight. To select the proper weight, we’ve listed the rep max (RM) for each exercise. (Note: Make sure that the weight loads you select are as close as possible the listed RMs.)

Each set is comprised of several smaller segments. For example, for the incline bench press, choose a weight with which you can do no more than five reps and complete two reps at a time, resting 15-19 seconds after two reps. Do that six times. That’s one set. Rest two minutes, then switch to the bench press. Since this exercise calls for multiple sets, simply complete your segments of three with the prescribed rest, then wait two minutes before doing it again. On the decline, you’d repeat this process once more.

While some advanced lifters use some form of rest-pause year round, we recommend that you try the following program for 4-6 weeks and measure your progress against that of your normal routine before doing so yourself.

Rest-Pause Chest Routine

Reps/Rest (sec.)
Incline Bench Press2,3
2/15, 2/16, 2/17, 2/18, 2/19,2
Bench Press2,3
3/15, 3/16, 3/17, 3/18, 3/19,3
Decline Bench Press2
4/15, 4/16, 4/17, 4/18, 4/19,4
Cable Crossover
20, 20


1Rest two minutes between sets and exercises. 
2Have a spotter present to help you during this exercise. 
3Make sure you’re properly warmed up before your working sets. 
4Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.