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Many people in the gym are conditioned to simply "get the weight up." As a result, training programs become stale. Even some die-hard gym-goers remain skinny and un-athletic. Others struggle with muscle imbalances, chronic pain and injuries. Enter dead-stop training—an exercise tweak that will get you back on the road to making gains.
Dead-stop training involves letting the weight settle at the bottom of an exercise. The stop eliminates the stretch reflex (i.e., the stretch-shortening cycle), which normally allows you to use stored energy and momentum to transfer between the lower and upper part of the rep. You can see this in action when people bounce the bar off their chest during the Bench Press, or off the floor during the Deadlift. (See the stretch reflex on the Bench.)
Removing the stored elastic energy is humbling. It forces you to use your true strength, and you won't be able to lift as much weight. However, it will challenge your muscles' max strength and increase your gains from training.
There are several exercises to which you can apply the dead-stop method, but I will focus on the biggest and, in my eyes, the most important.
Lower the bar under control, and let the weight settle on your torso for a full second before pushing for the concentric portion of the rep. If it's too difficult to stay tight while doing this, set your bench up in the squat cage, and lower the bar to pins located about three inches higher than chest level. Focus on sets of six reps or less.
The Box Squat is the easiest way to use the dead-stop method with this movement. Use a wider than normal stance, open your knees and squat down until your butt grazes the top of the box. Hold there for a one-count, making sure to stay engaged; then drive up off the box. Use a knee-high box so that your pelvis is tilted forward and your back is arched. A box that's too low will put your body in an undesirable bottom position, which can lead to injury. Focus on sets of six reps or less.
Dead-stop Deadlifts allow your back to reset between reps. As with the above lifts, it gets substantially more difficult with the dead stop. Take a second to ensure that your spine is straight, ribcage raised and the bar positioned over your shoe laces. (Learn how to master the Deadlift.)
Standing Press (with pause on collarbone), Rack Pulls and Dead-Stop Pull-Ups (with a full hang at the bottom). All of these exercises are great for recruiting newfound muscle.
For good measure, I've added a few supersets to help you incorporate dead-stop training into your workouts.
This is an example of a contrast set. The unloaded version of the same movement "excites" the muscle fibers, allowing the body to recruit more fibers since it's "tricked" into thinking it still has to move a loaded bar.
A1) Box Squat - 4x6
A2) Unloaded Squat Jumps - 4x10
Same explanation as above. The muscles of the posterior chain will work overtime with an explosive version of the exercise that has the same muscular involvement.
A1) Dead-Stop Deadlift - 4x6-8
A2) Standing Broad Jump - 4x6-8
A Pin Press shortens a lifter's range of motion, focusing on the end portion of the rep. Following with the DB Bench Press will allow you to move through your full range of motion, work the stretch reflex and work all of your chest muscle fibers.
A1) Barbell Pin Press - 4x5
A2) DB Bench Press - 4x10
Let the weight settle so your gains don't have to. It's a simple concept that deserves an introduction (or a reintroduction) to your program. Use dead stops wisely; don't do them every week or you will overwork your muscles. If you do them right, you'll see a spark in your performance.