Let's talk about why your squats are failing.
Picture this: you are loading your bar for a squat PR. You got your tunes on, ammonia in the air, and the adrenaline pumping through your veins. You unrack and it feels light, you are confident as you descend but as you hit the hole your hips shoot up.
You are struggling to good-morning the bar up, and you miss the rep! Then you stand there, thinking to yourself, “Man, but that felt light and I know my legs are strong… wtf happened?”
I’ll tell you what happened, you were unable to maintain tension out of the hole which led to total technical failure. This is the most common error for beginner powerlifters, and it still catches intermediates from time to time too.
So, what's the most effective way to refine your technique while under load? Easy. Pause squats.
See also: Our comprehensive guide to paused deadlifts
The Pause Squat: Explained
A pause squat is a regular squat with a pause added to it. This forces you to fight for positioning in the part of the squat you usually lose tension on.
Pausing at the Bottom
A lot of lifters lose tension at the bottom of the movement. By adding a pause at the lowest point of the rep range, the lifter will be forced to fight for positioning. In order to have this translate to your competition squat as closely as possible, you should do the paused squat with your competition stance.
If you are pausing at the bottom, make sure to not go excessively deep and solely rely on the end range of motion to pause the weight. Instead, focus on keeping maximum tension at your competition depth. Due to the more difficult nature of this variation, you will have to use lighter weights compared to what you regularly squat when you come to a complete stop at the bottom.
Pausing on the Ascent
The second most common part of the squat most lifters lose tension on is right above the hole on the way up. This will lead to subpar technique and pounds left on the bar. For lifters with this problem (myself included), I usually program a pause squat right above the hole. This forces lifters who rely on a very aggressive rebound at the bottom of the squat to either control the rebound more or stop relying on the rebound as much.
I wholeheartedly do not believe that having a very fast, uncontrolled rebound is the key to a big squat. The problem with rebound is that it is unpredictable and not replicable in training. If you are one of the few lifters who can get away with an aggressive rebound out of the hole for a regular back squat, you are one of the lucky ones.
Keep in mind that if you get thrown forward on some reps you are not one of the lifters who can rebound successfully. If you are relying on a rebound at a powerlifting competition, just know there is a low chance for you to be able to replicate it. Regardless of if you are great at getting a controlled rebound or not, you would benefit from a pause squat above parallel. Adding a pause to your squat therefore can force you to focus on control during your sets and reps.
Pausing on the Descent
Lastly, if you are one of the few lifters who struggles with maintaining position on your descent, a pause on the way down could be beneficial. This pause on the descent can be combined with a pause in the bottom position or even a pause on the way up.
To find the best variant for you, work through the different pauses step by step and assess which helps you the most. If you have no idea where your issues lie, you can always combine multiple pauses into a rep, creating a very difficult but incredibly useful variation.
In Conclusion: Just Try it!
If you lose tension at any point of your squat you would benefit from adding a pause to your variation work. Depending on where your issues lie in the squat a pause at the bottom, ascent, or descent will force you to maintain position and keep good technique. Due to the harder nature of the pause squat, you will have to use lighter weights compared to your usual working weights. By increasing the time under tension with a pause squat, lifters can improve their form and lift even heavier.