Just about every athletic movement utilizes the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC), and strength training is no exception. The SSC is the active stretch of a muscle followed by an immediate shortening of that same muscle. During the eccentric phase, the muscle stores elastic energy. This stored-up energy is then used during the concentric phase.
The SSC increases the efficiency of the movement. In other words, it makes everything easier.
Eliminate the SSC and everything changes. Let’s talk bench. Pausing during bench press makes the lift exponentially harder. For those of you who have never tried it, prepare to be humbled.
3 PHASES OF SSC
- Eccentric Phase/Active Stretch: As you lower the bar to your chest, the muscles lengthen. During this movement, potential energy is being stored in the elastic components of the muscle.
- Amortization Phase: This is simply the change of direction - you touch your chest and start pressing the weight up. The shorter the Amortization Phase, the greater the amount of stored energy.
- Concentric Phase/Immediate Shortening: As you begin pressing the weight, the muscles contract or shorten.
If you PAUSE during the amortization phase (when the bar is on your chest), this becomes an isometric exercise. Isometric simply means the muscle remains a constant length - no lengthening or shortening. Pausing causes the stored elastic energy to dissipate, and the exercise becomes more difficult.
Multiple studies have shown that isometric training:
- Improves both muscle fiber recruitment and activation as well as increasing muscle fiber size and strength.
- Improves the elastic potential or “stretchability” of muscles and ligaments. This can increase power production.
- Improves technique. A pause at the bottom of the bench gives you the opportunity to “check” your technique/positions.
WHO SHOULD PAUSE?
EVERYONE. Even if you’re NOT a competitive powerlifter, you can still benefit from implementing pausing during the bench press. You don't need to pause on every rep, and you don't need to include pauses during every training cycle. But pauses should be programmed from time to time!
If you are a competitive powerlifter, then you know - the bar must be motionless when making contact with your chest - so pauses need to be programmed frequently!