Benefits Of Pause Squats That Are Overlooked
Probably everyone reading this right now has done a pause squat at some point. And most likely you are understanding of the typical benefits of pause squats which can include improving bracing and control in the bottom position, improving depth, self limiting the competition squat, or acceleration during the initiation of the concentric. While all these are true, I believe that are some other overlooked benefits that many people do not realize. In my opinion, pause squats may be the king of squat variations. Almost everyone can benefit from them in some way and they have very little cons but many pros. In particular, I find they can reduce the negative impact of a mis-grooved rebound, they can help with foot and ankle strengthening, and are easier on the knees. Let’s dive into each one of these points further.
1.) I consider rebounding out of the bottom of the squat a technique. The better we can control that position and maintain tightness, the more we can be consistent with that technique. But the more we rely on a fast eccentric and large rebound affect, the more we put ourselves in danger of mis-grooving. This used to be me. I used to rely so much on that rebound that if I got out of position just slightly, my strength would drop 10% or more. I had to hit that rebound perfect or it was a night and day difference. I find pause squats as a way to reduce this issue though. And not because it helps with creating control and stability at the bottom, but because it increases our ability to squat out of an isometric position rather than a quick eccentric to concentric rebound. My athlete’s who have strong pause squats in relation to their competition squat 1RM have less of a distinct strength drop off when they slightly misgroove the rebound. They are able to recover easier from this because they can squat almost the same from an isometric hold at the bottom. So when they find themselves just slightly out of position they can quickly recover and still accelerate out of the bottom without a large rebound effect.
2.) A fairly common technique for improving ankle mobility is taking one of your lighter warm-ups and just holding that bottom position to stretch into deep ankle dorsiflexion. While I don’t prepose intentionally doing this with heavy pause squats, at the same time you are involuntarily getting this effect. This is especially true when we perform legitimate pause squats, not the ones that look like you are rolling through a stop sign, but rather strong isometric pauses at the bottom. And we can further this on technique or tertiary squat days with long pause work of 3 second holds at the bottom. I typically would program something like this for the reasoning of improving bracing and control in the bottom, specifically thinking of the core and hips, but the inadvertent benefit is it also can help to strengthen the foot and ankle. We have to hold a solid arch and ankle position while pausing, and this helps to create improved strength and control at the most flexed position of our squat.
3.) This final reason will have opposition, but I believe from experience and analytical breakdown that pause squats are easier on the knees. Find anyone with chronic patellar tendonitis, and I would put money on there is a direct correlation to high competition squat specificity and frequency, ex: “The DUP” from 2014-15. Now I am not saying everyone that does high specificity squatting will have knee issues, just that there is a correlation. The more we rely on a hard rebound in the squat, the higher the compressive forces are on our knees. I don’t have exact numbers for these, but the greater the elastic rebound effect, the more force those tissues have to absorb to decelerate and reverse the direction of your movement. When we pause, those forces decrease. If throughout our training year we can decrease force on the knee while still doing a variation that can have a direct strength impact on our competition squat, there is reason to believe we can sustain higher intensities and training volumes doing so. Injuries are caused by the overloading of a tissue past its tolerable limit. If we can reduce that overload on the knee joint through variations like pauses, analytically I can come to the conclusion that it may be easier on our knees in the long term when used at the appropriate times within our training.