We have had some questions related to why we do pauses when Olympic lifting. I wanted to share some information to help you understand the importance of the drill and what you should be looking to accomplish when using pauses in our strength cycle.
Why do we pause?
Strength in Key Positions – Using pauses in key positions will strengthen you isometrically more so than with regular lifting. If you aren’t strong enough isometrically to hold the body in perfect form at the most important points in the range of motion, that’s where your form will break down when under maximal loads. For example, if you can’t maintain a tightly arched back when the bar is just below the knees in a pull, this weakness will manifest itself as a sticking point when you attempt maximal weights. The stronger you are isometrically at those potentially weak positions, the less likely you are to have a form breakdown. Now, when you lift regularly you build momentum gradually throughout the movement, and the momentum can help you blast through the key positions. Likewise, the use of light weights will allow you to compensate for being weak in those positions, but not so with big weights. The stronger and more solid you are in the key lifting positions in a movement, the better your performance.
Strength to lift the barbell – Most of your strength should be built via regular sets (no pauses) on the big lifts. However, the strategic use of pauses can help strengthen weak parts of the range of motion. When you lift submaximal weights (85% or less), you’re able to produce a lot of momentum from the start. As a result of this momentum, the body becomes “lazy” during some points in the range of motion. It ends up reducing muscle at those points because you don’t need maximal force production. As a result, the body learns to modulate muscle activation in such a way that you develop weak zones that end up being sticking points while using heavy weights. A lot of sticking points are due to suboptimal muscle activity at those muscle angles and that can be due to a habitual reliance on momentum. Pausing, however, will kill momentum and will force the body to recruit the muscles more throughout the whole range of motion. Your body will thus learn to maximize force at all points in the movement.
Optimal lifting mechanics – Pausing also allows you to do a mental check to see if your body position and lifting mechanics are optimal. As such, pausing is a great way to master technique. Paused variations of any lift are great accessory movements to build the full lifts in the most specific manner possible. I say that these variations are the most specific because they are in fact the exact competition lift, just with a pause at some portion of it, thus they will have the highest transfer to your full lift success.
Pause at the instant of separation (IOS). This variation is when the lifter pauses 1-2 inches off of the floor then completes the lift. Why? Most lifts are missed because of something that happened right after the lifter took the barbell off the floor. Usually, this variation is for a lifter if they have a tendency to shift their weight to their toes at the instant of separation rather than staying on their entire foot. The pause will force the lifter to concentrate on proper weight distribution. This pause has also help lifters begin their initial pull more smooth rather than ripping the barbell off the floor. Pausing right below the knees will help build postural strength and teach you to find your strongest position at this point in the lift. If you or one of your athletes is struggling in the recovery of the lift, pausing in the hole with the weight will help correct that. The jerk can also benefit from a pause in the bottom position of the dip will build strength and will help you excel when you can once again exploit the stretch reflex with a quick reversal.
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