Author Archives: Bret

May Strength & Conditioning Research Questions

Hi fitness folks! Do you know the answer to the May S&C research review questions? If not, you ought to subscribe to our research review service. To subscribe, just click on the button below and follow the instructions…


Strength & Conditioning, Power and Hypertrophy

  1. Are single-joint exercises necessary for maximizing strength and size in trained individuals?
  2. Are heavy loads better than light loads for strength and size in trained individuals?
  3. Is repetition failure necessary for increasing strength and size?
  4. Which type of periodization is better: block or weekly undulating?
  5. Is variable or constant-load resistance better for strength and size gains?
  6. How can tapers be best structured to maximize muscular strength?
  7. How does crunch exercise frequency affect abdominal muscle endurance?
  8. Is isometric or dynamic training better for improving core stiffness?
  9. How does inter-set antagonist static stretching affect number of reps performed?
  10. Does limited hamstring flexibility affect athletic ability?
  11. Which is better for pre-season soccer training: half squats or jump squats?
  12. What is the optimum jump squat velocity for strength and speed gains?
  13. Can sport-specific training increase throwing velocity in throwing athletes?
  14. Is peripheral heart action training a viable alternative to HIIT?


Biomechanics & motor control

  1. Which muscles drive track sprinters out of the blocks?
  2. What physical performance tests are closely related to 100m track sprint performance?
  3. Why is the biceps femoris muscle most commonly injured?
  4. How do knee wraps affect the contribution of different muscles to the back squat?
  5. Which joints require greater flexibility in order to increase squat depth?
  6. How does instability affect the contribution of different muscles to the back squat?
  7. Does isometric training at different muscle lengths lead to differences in strength gains?
  8. Does regional hypertrophy differ with difference in relative load?
  9. How does bench angle alter upper body muscle activity during the bench press?
  10. Are there differences in the EMG-force relationship between trained and untrained males?
  11. Do single-joint exercises take longer to recover from than multi-joint exercises?
  12. Do cues affect drop jump performance?
  13. Do weightlifters and short-track speed skaters jump in different ways?
  14. Can muscle fascicle length changes explain differences in DOMS?


Anatomy, Physiology & Nutrition

  1. Can extracellular matrix remodeling explain differences in DOMS?
  2. How important are central mechanisms for recovery?
  3. Does mental fatigue affect maximal anaerobic exercise performance?
  4. Is a high-protein or a moderate-protein diet better during dieting for trained individuals?
  5. Does endurance training affect peak fat oxidation irrespective of weight loss?
  6. Can neuromuscular electrical stimulation improve recovery?
  7. Is HIIT better than moderate exercise for improving vascular function?
  8. Does post-exercise cold application reduce adaptations to training?


Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation

  1. Can the Nordic hamstring exercise reduce hamstring injuries?
  2. Is low eccentric hamstring strength a risk factor for hamstring injuries?
  3. Is neurodynamic sliding better than stretching for improving hamstring flexibility?
  4. Is low-frequency electrical stimulation beneficial for improving hamstring flexibility?
  5. Are neural sliders and neural tensioners beneficial for improving hamstring flexibility?
  6. Are Achilles tendons back to normal, 2 years after surgical repair?
  7. How do tendons adapt in response to mechanical loading?
  8. What interventions can be used to prevent tendinopathy?
  9. Can core stability training alter landing movement patterns?
  10. Can core strength training improve chronic low back pain?
  11. Can movement-specific exercise alter movement patterns?
  12. How can physical therapy best reduce central sensitization pain in osteoarthritis?
  13. Is talocrural joint mobilization useful for improving ankle dorsiflexion?
  14. Could loss of range of motion of the hip joint be causing sports hernia?


May Research Round-Up: Hamstring Strain Injury Prevention Edition

Every month, Chris and I write the S&C Research review service. In this article, Chris has written a preview of the May 2015 edition. The next edition comes out on Friday. As always, it covers a broad range of new research but this edition has a special theme of preventing hamstring strain injury! So if you are interested in preventing hamstring strains in your athletes, you should definitely sign up in time for this one!


Can training using the Nordic hamstring curl prevent hamstring strain injury?

The study: The preventive effect of the Nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccer players – a randomized controlled trial, Van der Horst, Smits, Petersen, Goedhart, and Backx, in Injury Prevention (2014)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers carried out a 13-week study to assess whether training using the Nordic hamstring curl can reduce the incidence and severity of hamstring injuries in male amateur soccer players. They randomly allocated subjects into either a group that performed the Nordic hamstring curl or a control group who just performed normal training. The Nordic hamstring curl group performed 25 sessions of a workout including the exercise, training 1 – 2 times per week, for 2 – 3 sets of 5 – 10 repetitions.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that the control group were 3.5 times more likely (calculated as an odds ratio) or 3.4 times more likely (calculated as a relative risk) to incur a hamstring strain injury compared to the Nordic hamstring curl group. This difference between groups was significant and is likely to be practically very meaningful. The researchers therefore concluded that regularly performing the Nordic hamstring curl exercise during training can reduce hamstring strain injury incidence in amateur soccer players.


Is low eccentric hamstring curl strength a risk factor for hamstring strains?

The study: Eccentric hamstring strength and hamstring injury risk in Australian Footballers, by Opar, Williams, Timmins, Hickey, Duhig, and Shield, in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2014)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers tested whether low eccentric hamstring strength in the Nordic hamstring was a risk factor for hamstring strain injury in elite Australian Football athletes. They tested the athletes before the season and then recorded the incidence of hamstring strain injury afterwards.

What happened?

The researchers found that low eccentric hamstring strength in the Nordic hamstring curl (knee flexion force of <256N at the start of preseason) was associated with a 2.7 times greater relative risk of hamstring strain in the season. Similarly, having low eccentric hamstring strength in the Nordic hamstring curl (knee flexion force of <279N at the end of preseason) was associated with a 4.3 times greater relative risk of hamstring strain in the season. The researchers concluded that having low eccentric hamstring strength in the Nordic hamstring curl was associated with an increased risk of future hamstring strain injury.

Get the full review!

The Preventing Hamstring Strains edition comes out on Friday. It is packed full of 50 study reviews covering a range of topics relevant to strength and conditioning and physical therapy professionals alike. It only costs $10 per month. Sign up by clicking below!



Band Glute Exercises for the Win: Erin McComb’s Intriguing Training Methods

This interview is going to blow some of your minds. Remember Erin McComb from Operation Strong & Sexy? To make a long story short, she hurt her hand and couldn’t grip anything. Rather than give up, she trained through the ordeal and won her first bikini competition, taking her division and the overall. Her glutes and legs looked incredible. How did she do it?

Not through conventional means. Although I wanted her to do plenty of barbell and band hip thrusts, safety squat bar squats, safety squat bar good mornings, safety squat bar lunges, back extensions, and various other glute exercises, Erin did her own thing. She went rogue and trained glutes every workout with her own random glute exercises, all involving bands, bodyweight, or light dumbbells for high reps not to failure. These glute workouts ranged from 5-60 minutes and she’d do them around 6 days per week.

You will see a video of these glute exercises at the end of this interview. To be clear, she did no heavy squats, no heavy deadlifts, no heavy hip thrusts, no heavy lunges, and no heavy back extensions. Many of you would assume that these exercises are “sissy” movements, but Erin’s glutes looked better than when she was deadlifting 245 lbs at a bodyweight of 100 lbs. I’m definitely not telling people to quit going heavy or abandon progressive overload. But clearly there’s something to high volume/high frequency/low load glute training. Enjoy!


1. Erin, big congratulations are in order! Please tell the readers what you just accomplished this weekend.

Thank you- it still feels so surreal. The competition in California is so fierce and there were so many strong competitors! Two weeks ago I won my class at Jon Lindsay’s Grand Prix. I also won the overall which means I went up against the other class winners for a sword/division title.

2. Is this the first time you’ve finished first? How many competitions have you entered so far?

This is the fourth time I have placed first in a total of 7 regional competitions. I never do well nationally.


3. You had team Zero Gravity doing your nutrition for this comp, right? What was the general strategy – you were carb cycling, right?

Yes, Zero Gravity does my diet and we are still trying to figure out what works well for me. When I met the team I was vegetarian (formerly vegan) so every prep has been totally different as I incorporate new protein sources, but I always like their outcome. We carb cycle the entire prep and instead of giving me a generic meal list of “eat this at this time” we plan around foods I can have and I just pace myself (or gorge on high carb days) based on what day of the cycle I am on. As a competitor I will probably always be hung up on food and portions, but this makes me less neurotic so I’m grateful.

4. Now let’s talk strength training. What did your training split look like over the past few months, and what were your main areas of focus?

My training has always been a bit unconventional. I will try basically anything once to see if it works for me (and I totally encourage that in others). For this prep I was coming off a hand injury so until mid-February I was unable to consistently lift. I severed the tendons, an artery and the nerves in one of my fingers and took almost two full months off as even moderate activity got my blood moving too much and I didn’t want it to affect my healing. When I hit the 12 week mark of my surgeon telling me I would no longer be at risk to rupture my tendons, I was able to lift more consistently. We use our hands for so much, I really had to modify training. Given that I took so much unplanned time off I more or less did full-body workouts for my prep. Thank goodness that our bodies are so smart and can recover lost strength so quickly! I would focus on a muscle group and at the end of my workout I would get in a few sets of something else, usually legs. My biggest areas of focus were my shoulders, glutes and quads so they got the most regular attention.


5. You jokingly called yourself “The Crazy Band Lady,” but there’s some serious truth to that name – I’ve never seen anyone train like you did. Your lower body training was based almost entirely on bands. What was your strategy with the bands – progressive overload, or just feeling the glutes doing the work?

In our time together, I’ve learned a lot about how my glutes activate which has also helped me connect with my other muscles. Given that my previous training emphasized overall strength (deadlift based, you couldn’t keep me from deadlifting ever) it was hard to come to terms with atrophied strength and limited grip. I was frustrated I couldn’t train in my comfort zone. And then I remembered how you described working with Nathalia and my perspective on training changed. Nobody has time to feel lethargic or overtrained. We have often talked about how my band work gives me a great pump, but it doesn’t make me sore so I started focusing on what I could do with bands. I wanted to train glutes every day. So every day I would spend time, whether it be 5 minutes or an hour, with my bands. I’ve done some weird stuff too, and some of it seemed like a great idea and did nothing, and some of it I have no idea how I would do without. Angles this way, weight over here, and I wouldn’t stop until I felt it in the area of the glute that I wanted. Bands have allowed me to tailor exercises to how my own body moves, not how a machine tells me how to rotate around a given point. There was really no structure to my training except to get in there and feel it- slow and controlled. Yes I’m the chick at the gym grabbing her own butt or foam rolling glutes in the middle of a set. I did band progressive overload, I always sought more reps or an extra set or a bonus band to keep my body from getting adjusted.

6. So you mean to tell me that for the entire competition prep, you never performed any heavy squats, deadlifts, or hip thrusts? Just high frequency band work along with the seated abduction machine with the occasional leg extension, leg curl, and machine hip thrust for high reps?

Yup- nothing heavy at all for lower body except the hip abduction machine. My “heaviest” lift would involve up to a 50 pound barbell which is definitely not my normal go-to weight. If someone had told me last year that I would train this way in 2015 I would have laughed. But my overall strength is still there. I really didn’t hip thrust for several weeks as I was experimenting with bands. Yet I could still almost lift what I did when we trained regularly. A couple weeks of dedicated thrusting and I’m fairly certain I could push 300 (challenge accepted?). After my next competition I would love to see how much my band work has improved my strength for other lifts.


7. Do you feel that this is the best you’ve ever looked on stage?

This is hands down the best I’ve ever looked on stage and better than I ever thought possible. We are all so critical of ourselves, but I can truly say I am very proud I was able to come in this way that day.

8. Methods used during the week before the competition are fiercely debated in our industry. How did you peak for the competition in terms of water, sodium, and carb manipulation?

As I said before, we are still learning how my body responds as this was my first prep as a non-vegan/vegetarian, etc. We definitely tweak my water, sodium and carbs, but it’s been different each show. I have no idea how Ryan decides what to do (he has everyone do different things), but I’ve learned to listen. A lot of people dislike the water thing and they sure let me know, but let’s be real, it’s not a big deal. I’m not refusing water and then running a marathon, just layering on tanner and makeup, though walking in heels when you want some fizzy water is annoying. There are people who cut for days and days but I’ve never gone more than a day. Besides, when you drink as much as I do then sit on your bum for a day, I don’t perceive it as a problem. It just gets hard to blink lol.

9. Did you miss any workouts or fall off the wagon in terms of diet adherence during your prep?

No prep is perfect. I started earlier so I had more time for the “practice makes perfect” thing. I did travel to Hawaii twice during prep so that made training tricky, but in general I was pretty obedient. And this is where I admit that I am a terrible human being and I lied pretty much my entire prep about doing cardio. I absolutely loathe it, even if it’s just walking. I have never been a devout stairmaster princess. I am very good about making time for weights, but cardio equipment may as well have barbed wire because I just can’t.


10. What’s next for you – to go for a pro card? If so, what do you think you need to do in order to make it happen?

I have always enjoyed the sport and I can’t imagine quitting. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pursuing a pro card, but it really is a fun experience just training for these shows and making new friends. Currently, I am training for a national show which is a pro-qualifier. If I were to receive first or second I would earn pro status and be able to step on stage with the gorgeous ladies I watched turn pro (heyyyy Karey Grabow and Sarah LeBlanc). That would just be incredible. I feel that my physique last show was great for me, but I know I have more to give. Obviously I want to continue to grow and shape the booty, but I also will be focusing on shoulders to keep symmetry. I have about three months to train, so wish me luck! :)

Squats and Deadlifts Won’t Make Your Waist Blocky

Preface: Because this topic is highly controversial in various fitness circles, I decided to back up my writing with anecdotal evidence in the form of photographs. I’m not just some geeky arm chair expert, I’m an actual personal trainer (Instagram page HERE) with 18 years of professional experience. Therefore, throughout this article, you will see pictures of clients I’ve actually trained in person, each of whom performed squat and deadlift variations throughout the course of their preparation. 

For the past couple of decades, bodybuilders have been cautioning fellow bodybuilders, advising them to avoid squatting and deadlifting on the premise that they add mass to the midsection and create a blocky appearance. This advice is especially doled out to female competitors, since it is of even greater importance for them to maintain their curvy, feminine appearance.

But is there any truth to this claim? Let’s delve deeper into this matter to see if it holds up under scrutiny. The first problem with the claim that squats and deadlifts make your waist blocky is the subjective nature of what entails “blocky.” From the side view, larger erector spinae and rectus abdominis muscles could cause an individual to appear blockier, but it is unlikely that this is what people making the claim are referring to. It is more likely that these people are referring to the front view, which would be most impacted by the size of an individual’s internal and external oblique muscles.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Katie Coles a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Katie Coles a blocky midsection

The second problem with the claim is the complete lack of longitudinal training studies investigating the effects of squats and deadlifts on abdominal wall hypertrophy or comparing the core muscle growth associated with squats and deadlifts to that achieved via single joint exercises such as supermans, crunches, and side crunches. Since there are no training studies to go by, all we can do is speculate based on acute mechanistic studies.

This leads us right into the third problem with the claim – squat and deadlift naysayers never seem to pinpoint a mechanism as to how squats and deadlifts lead to excessive growth in the midsection. Since they haven’t narrowed down a mechanism, one can only guess as to how they believe this happens. I imagine that they believe that squats and deadlifts create excessive core muscle hypertrophy due to very high activation in the abdominal and oblique musculature.

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Erin McComb a blocky midsection

It is indeed true that squats and deadlifts highly activate the erector spinae muscles. Interestingly, squats activate the lumbar erectors to a greater degree than deadlifts, whereas deadlifts activate the thoracic erectors to a greater degree than squats.[i] However, several studies to date show that abdominal and oblique activity during the squat and deadlift are not substantially high, and that basic ab/core isolation exercises outperform squats and deadlifts in abdominal and oblique activity.2-5

Through EMG experimentation in my own lab, I’ve found that many common exercises match or exceed squats and deadlifts in rectus abdominis and oblique activation, including chin ups, military press, hip thrusts, reverse hypers, push ups, pullovers, tricep extensions, and curls. In addition, I’ve found that most targeted abdominal/core exercises exceed (sometimes far exceed) squats and deadlifts in abdominal and oblique activation, including RKC planks, side planks, bodysaws, hollow body holds, ab wheel rollouts, weighted crunches, straight leg sit ups, hanging leg raises, dragon flags, lying leg raises, suitcase carries, side bends, cable chops, and landmines.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Sammie Cohn a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Sammie Cohn a blocky midsection

I propose a multifaceted alternative reason for why bodybuilders believe that squats and deadlifts create a blocky appearance. First, due to increased knowledge pertaining to training, nutrition, and supplementation, bodybuilders have gotten exceedingly larger over the past couple of decades. Bigger bodies require larger organs in order to carry out their necessary processes. Therefore, bodybuilders’ entire midsections are growing larger, but this doesn’t apply to women that strength train, since women generally avoid intentionally growing their bodies 25-50% larger.

Second, many bodybuilders regularly take a variety of performance enhancing substances including human growth hormone, which is believed to lead to increased organ growth and a distended appearance in the belly region in bodybuilding communities. Obviously, this factor also doesn’t warrant consideration from women because they generally avoid taking human growth hormone in concordance with other anabolic drugs. Heavily drugged bodybuilders experience a wide range of side effects that natural lifters don’t need to concern themselves with, including acne, expedited hair-loss, and distended bellies.

It can't be the drugs, right? It's gotta be the squats and deads!

It’s gotta be the squats and deads…it can’t be the drugs, right?

And third, bracing the core during squats and deadlifts requires considerable intraabdominal pressure (IAP) to properly stabilize the spine. Though the diaphragm muscle is largely responsible for this increase in IAP, humans are by nature quite poor at relating sensation to proper physiological actions. Therefore, bodybuilders confuse high diaphragm activity and subsequent outward pressure in the midsection with high levels of abdominal and oblique activity.

Old school bodybuilders believed that “drawing in” the abdominal wall through vacuum poses helped keep the midsection tight through transversus abdominus (TVA) strengthening. One could plausibly make the argument that frequent bracing of the core leads to growth in the midsection due to pushing outward on the abdominal wall via IAP production. Even though abdominal and oblique activation is low during squats and deadlifts, the midsection could grow due to increased connective tissue extensibility due to persistent stretching. However, bracing the core doesn’t involve maximal expansion and stretching of the abdominal wall, so this is doubtful.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Chelsey Mcallister a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Chelsey Mcallister a blocky midsection

Having trained numerous bikini competitors, I can tell you that midsection appearance is largely related to genetics. Although my clients train in the same fashion and perform the same exercises, some of them step on stage with narrow, tapered waists while others aren’t quite as lucky. However, not a single bikini competitor ever showed up on stage appearing blocky, despite including squat and deadlift variations in their prep. If a woman is concerned with obtaining a blocky appearance, I would recommend ditching targeted abdominal and oblique exercises rather than avoiding squats and deadlifts.


Squats and deadlifts highly activate the erector spinae to prevent flexion of the spinal column. The abdominals and obliques cocontract along with the erectors in order to enhance core stability, but the levels of activation reached in these muscles is on par with many common strength training exercises. Furthermore, most popular isolated core exercises, both static and dynamic, activate the abdominals and obliques to a much greater degree than squats and deadlifts. Therefore, on the basis of abdominal and oblique activation, if lifters should avoid squats and deadlifts to prevent becoming blocky, then they should also avoid most other popular exercises, which is ludicrous.

Women do not need to fear that squats and deadlifts will cause them to develop a blocky midsection. This phobia has been generated by well-intentioned but misguided bodybuilders who use squats and deadlifts as a scapegoat to explain the excessive midsection growth that they experienced when they packed on dozens of pounds of muscle mass in concert with human growth hormone, insulin, and anabolic steroids. What these bodybuilders experience doesn’t apply to the masses. This conclusion is anecdotally supported by the fact that most top-level bikini competitors regularly include squat and deadlift variations in their training.


  1. Hamlyn et al. 2007 | Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities
  2. Bressel et al. 2009 | Effect of instruction, surface stability, and load intensity on trunk muscle activity
  3. Aspe & Swinton 2014 | Electromyographic and kinetic comparison of the back squat and overhead squat
  4. Willardson et al. 2009 | Effect of surface stability on core muscle activity for dynamic resistance exercises
  5. Escamilla et al. 2002 | An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts