When we first take an interest in fitness, the most popular reason is to make changes to our physique. We crave strength. We crave athleticism. We crave feeling as invincible as we can be in our human form.
As a skinny young man, my goal was to have a physique that resembled a superhero. I wanted that look. I had no idea how to achieve that goal but I was determined to find out how.
Enter Rest Pause Training
I have used many different training methodologies in my life. But the one I keep coming back to is rest pause training. The combination of relatively heavy weights and short rest periods does something special to your physique and performance. It makes you a beast.
There is no perfect training program in the world, but my goal with my rest pause program is to help you unleash the greatness that lies inside of you.
Father of Rest-Pause Training?
Trainees have been using rest pause principles for a long time in the fitness game. The greatest master of physique, the Iron Guru Vince Gironda advocated training in this fashion back in the 1950s.
“The combination of relatively heavy weights and short rest periods does something special to your physique and performance. It makes you a beast.”
Gironda’s most famous training program is 8×8. This is pure rest pause training. A trainee would perform 8 sets of 8 reps while utilizing a 15-30 second rest between sets. I have done 8×8, and let me tell you when you perform it correctly it is absolutely unrelenting. With a program that hard, there is no mystery to why Gironda produced great bodybuilders. In the early days of training, the only way for you to achieve a great physique was to put in John Henry-like work!
RP-21 Training System
Say you normally squat 225×5 for 4 sets, and then you rest 3 minutes between rounds. That is 12 minutes of rest and about 15-30 seconds of work per set. You are probably near 13-16 total minutes to complete those 20 reps.
But what if you did 235×3 for 7 sets (3×7=21) while resting only 1 minute between rounds? That is 6 minutes of rest plus about 10-15 seconds of work per set. This puts us at 8-10 minutes to complete those 21 reps while using a heavier load. You to get more done in less time. Do you think your legs would respond differently if you trained them in this fashion? I know they will.
I call this approach RP-21, for rest pause 21. This scheme allows you to keep the weight used moderately heavy. I have worked with many percentages and have found you benefit the most by using a weight at 70-80% of your estimated one-rep max.
My personal recommendation is to always start on the low end of the percentages. If you are not comfortable starting at 70%, you always have the option to start lower and build up from there. We are only chasing progress. Your pride must be left at home if you want to become great.
The opening sets and weight may not initially feel tough based on the weight you choose. The goal is to have a starting point to build on. As each week progresses, the weight will get heavier and the rest will feel like it is getting shorter.
“Without a challenge, you are wasting time in the gym. Your body requires and welcomes a new stimulus in order to grow stronger.”
You will be guaranteed to run into a wall of pain and doubt soon. It will sneak up on you like Clubber Lang did on Rocky in their first fight. But don’t worry – that wall is temporary and you will eventually leap over it.
Without a challenge (increasing load or reps, shorter rest times, etc.), you are wasting time in the gym. Your body requires and welcomes a new stimulus in order to grow stronger.
For example, let’s look at Barry Bench:
- Barry goes to the gym every week and does 135lbs/185lbs/225lbs for 8 reps on the bench press.
- The rest of his session has no flow as it takes Barry two hours to train chest with eight different moves.
- In between his ten-minute rest periods he loves to tell others that he is “bulking.”
- He never challenges himself.
Can you guess what happens to Barry’s physique? Barry ends up with a chest that has seen no growth since Arnold won his last Mr. Olympia.
To avoid being like Barry, I suggest a 2.5-10lb increase each week based on the movement. For major lower body movements a 5-10lb increase is standard. The typical increase in a major upper body movement a 2.5-5lb.
If you fail – you’re doing the squat and your total rep number is 15 for that day -you will simply try to improve on that the next week. If you cannot reach 21 reps at a certain weight within three workouts, you will sub out that move for a different one that targets the same muscles.
Regardless of what happens each week, you must be consistently accountable. RP-21 is built on accountability. Without it you cannot progress.
You will perform the RP-21 base scheme as:
- 2 days on
- 1 day off
- 2 days on
- 2 days off
There will be two lower-body training days and two upper-body training days. Your main exercise of the day will use the RP-21 scheme.
Recommended RP-21 Movements:
- Squat Variations: Barbell Hack Squat, Full Squat, Front Squat
- Deadlift Variations: Conventional, Sumo, Romanian
- Bench Press Variations: Flat, Incline, Dumbbell, Close Grip
- Overhead Press Variations: Standing, Seated, Push
- Pull Ups Variations: Pulls, Chins, Hammer
- Cleans: Hang, Power
- Hip Thrusts
Note: In time you will need a weight belt for chins and dips if you are not already there at the moment.
Watch the video below and read on to learn about the nuts and bolts of the program:
While you will begin every session by doing 21 reps of an exercise (7×3), after that you will switch to a 6×5 scheme. The 6×5 sets are muscle incinerators as they are also performed with a moderate load and a 30-second rest between sets. The 6×5 sets are where you earn your conditioning, character, and toughness.
“The load being used should be moderate or you will have zero chance to complete the series.”
I remember the first time I used the barbell hip thrust with 6×5. I overestimated my strength and underestimated my own scheme. By set three, the pump was deep and beyond unbearable. When set six was over, I struggled to stand. But when I looked in the mirror, I saw a Minotaur! The pump was serious!
The load being used should be moderate or you will have zero chance to complete the series. Once you reach 30 reps in a given move, then the next time you perform the move you will progress by adding slightly more weight.
A Sample RP-21 Program
You will need to have an idea what your max is in each exercise so that you know where your starting point will be on week one. If the weight you chose winds up being too heavy or light, then you can make adjustments.
A sample mesocycle follows. This should be run for at least three weeks before deloading if needed.
Day 1-Lower Body
- Barbell Hack Squat 7×3
- Barbell Hip Thrust 6×5
- Glute Ham Raise 6×5
- Seated Calf Raise 6×5
Day 2-Upper Body
- Chin Ups 7×3
- Dips 6×5
- One Arm Rows 6×5
- Skullcrusher 6×5
- Barbell Curl 6×5
- Conditioning – Track Sprints, Bodyweight Complexes, etc.
Day 4-Lower Body
- Barbell Full Squat 7×3
- RDL 6×5
- Dumbbell Walking Lunges 6×5
- Weighted Burpees 6×5
- Standing Calf Raise 6×5
Day 5-Upper Body
- Overhead Press 7×3
- Pull Ups 6×5
- Gironda Neck Press 6×5
- Preacher Curl 6×5
- Dumbbell Flat Tight Press (elbows tucked in) 6×5
- Hill Sprints, Bodyweight Complexes, etc.
Deloads are very individual. I have experimented with numerous deload schemes to find what works for me. You can deload when you feel it is necessary for your body.
People make nutrition seem harder than learning rocket science. Your nutrition simply needs to match your goal. The easiest way to do this is too match up your macronutrients with what you are trying to accomplish.
- To gain muscle size with RP-21 you will need to increase your total calories and increase your carbohydrate consumption.
- To lose fat with RP-21 you need to decrease your calories and lower your carbohydrate consumption. The best way to do this would be to cycle your carbohydrates.
One or two days of conditioning per week while on this plan is a great idea. True conditioning is often overlooked or performed in lame fashion (see “cardio” machines.) Sprints (track, grass, or hill) and bodyweight conditioning are my two preferred ways to increase your athleticism while eviscerating body fat.
Whichever one you choose make sure it is brief, intense, and to the point. Leave the two-hour treadmill sessions to the Chloe Cardio in the “cardio” section.
Training schemes give the game rules and structure. Make rest pause training part of your yearly training split to reach new levels of strength, performance, and confidence.
More Like This:
- 10 Strength Training Principles That Will Make All the Difference
- Rest Between Sets: How Much Do You Need?
- The 7 Sneakiest Rest Strategies in CrossFit
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photos 1, 2, 3, and 5 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 4 by ablight, via Wikimedia Commons.