Give it a Rest

Use rest-pause and cluster sets to eke out extra reps.

You can’t overstate the importance of rest. A break of a minute or more between sets allows you to regain strength for your next set, and days between working a body part foster recovery and muscle growth. There is also a third potential benefit of “loafing”—rapid recovery during sets. There are two ways to do this: the old but neglected technique of rest-pause and the trendy system of cluster sets. Rest assured, both will enable you to compile more growth-inducing reps.


Rest-pause has long been the most overlooked intensity technique. Maybe that’s due to bad branding. The name’s redundancy is confusing, and it sounds like a euphemism for a catnap instead of a way to crank up workout intensity. It certainly lacks the pizzazz of supersets or forced reps. Imagine if what we call rest-pause was instead known as a power pause or super-rest.

The other problem with restpause is that it’s always been associated with high-intensity training, and HIT has never been particularly popular. First, it was seen as another step up the HIT ladder in Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty system, and today it’s a key component of Doggcrapp. However, you don’t have to be a HIT man to benefit from rest-pause. Like supersets and forced reps, anyone can use it as a means of pushing sets beyond full-rep failure.

Let’s say you reach failure on a set of Smith machine shoulder presses at 10 reps. Rerack the weight, but keep your hands set on the bar, wait 10 to 15 seconds, and go again. You get two more reps. Repeat the process. You get one more rep. Therefore, rest-pause has not only allowed you to scrape up three extra reps, but those reps were all at near failure, and instead of one failure point (at 10 reps), you’ve had three (at 10, 12, and 13 reps), meaning you’ve extended your set by racking up the sort of reps that best stimulate growth. That’s why rest-pause should be in your workout arsenal.


Cluster sets share the concept of intra-set breaks with rest-pause, but they differ because they have only one true failure point. Let’s return to our example of Smith machine shoulder presses done with a weight that limits you to 10 continuous reps. Cluster sets break your set into subsets. So in our example, you’ll perform three subsets of four reps each. Do four reps, rack the weight but keep your hands set, wait 15 to 20 seconds, do another four reps, rack the weight again, and then do a final subset of as many reps as possible, typically getting three to five. If you get four reps on each of the three subsets, you’ve done 12 in an extended sequence with two breaks instead of 10 continuously.

Because you should always be able to get one to three more reps with cluster sets versus a typical set, clustering is an excellent way of breaking through strength plateaus. Your mind and muscles grow accustomed to totaling more reps with the same weight or the same reps with more weight. This requires a bit of planning. If you can get eight continuous reps, break your three subsets into three reps each. If you can get 10 continuous reps, try for three subsets of four reps. And if you can do 12 continuous reps, aim for three subsets of five reps. In each of those cases, push your final subset to failure.


To supercharge intensity, combine cluster sets with rest-pause. Let’s return to our Smith machine shoulder presses and that weight you can hoist 10 continuous times. Get four reps, rest 20 seconds, get four more, rest 20, go to failure (four), rest 15, do as many reps as you can (two), rest 15, and go to failure one last time (one). With 70 seconds of breaks, you’ve totaled 15 reps, 50% more than you could do without pausing. Combining cluster sets and rest-pause is a double-barreled assault, so utilize this no more than three times per workout. Resting may be the key to cranking up your intensity.


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