Author Archives: Bret

How to Hip Thrust

The first rule of hip thrusting: Never make direct eye contact while hip thrusting or when someone else is hip thrusting…things can get awkward rather quickly.

Don't Be This Guy!

Don’t Be This Creep!

At this point, many lifters, especially my readers, believe the hip thrust to be the best glute development exercise.  However, the hip thrust also activates the hamstrings, quadriceps, and adductors very thoroughly as well. Therefore, it will help develop the entire thigh musculature. Throughout the movement, the glutes stay under constant tension, and back strength is not a limiting factor, which cannot be said of other popular glute building movements. This allows for maximal loading of the glute musculature.

Tim Tebow single leg hip thrust

Tim Tebow knows what’s up

The hip thrust can be performed for a variety of different reasons. Although the popularity of the hip thrust is rising, I still feel its importance is underrated for aesthetics, athletic development, and absolute strength.

The four primary reasons one should perform hip thrusts include:

  1. Improve the size, strength, and appearance of the glutes
  2. Increase acceleration and sprint speed
  3. Increase bottom squat and deadlift lockout power
  4. Improve functioning of the entire body since the glutes influence foot, ankle, knee, hip, pelvic, and low back mechanics

Ways to load the hip thrust 

Below are the most common ways to increase the challenge of the hip thrust after mastering bodyweight:

  1. Barbell
  2. Band
  3. Sandbag/Chain/Kettlebell/DB (chain variation shown)
  4. Single Leg Variations
  5. Shoulder and Feet Elevated Variations

Left: Bodyweight, Center: Chain Loaded, Right: Single Leg with foot elevated

The Set Up

Bench Height

Through experimenting with different bench heights, I believe the optimal bench height is around 16 inches. This is what most clients feel most comfortable with which is why I designed The Hip Thruster to be this height. Taller individuals might feel more comfortable with a taller bench and shorter lifters with a shorter bench. In general, a range of 13″-19″ will satisfy 99% of lifters. I recommend that you experiment to figure out a height that allows for an easy set-up and a height that allows you feel the most activation in the glutes.

For the regular hip thrust, set up in a position with the bench lined up at around the bottom of the shoulder blades.

For the American style hip thrust, the pivot point is lower on the back. With the American style, many lifters will find that they can lift heavier weights. However, some lifters won’t be stronger with this variation and must use lighter weights. With the American version, you are going to set up with the mid back on the bench. With this variation, many find that less pressure is placed on the back, and most feel more loading on the glutes. The movement is performed with a posterior pelvic tilt which natural occurs when placing the back on this position. We’ve tested three lifters so far in gluteus maximus EMG and have found in all three individuals that glute activation is higher with the American version.

american vs regular

Left: American Hip Thrust Set-up, Right: Regular Hip Thrust Set-up

For both variations, make sure your back acts as a pivot point around the bench. Do not allow your back to slide back and forth during the movement!

Bar Position

To the get the bar in proper position, simply roll it right over the feet if using standard size Olympic plates.  For those who are just starting out and cannot use 135 lbs, it makes it difficult to get into the starting position. This is where bumper plates become useful since they are the same diameter as standard Olympic size plates, which allows the lifter to roll the bar right over the thighs to get into position.  The smaller plates make it impossible to roll the bar over the legs onto the hips. If this is the case and you do not have access to bumper plates, you have two options. First, you can have a partner lift the bar and gently place it over the hips for you. Second, you can deadlift the bar up and sit on the bench, then move down to the ground. Kellie Davis does a great job of demonstrating solutions in THIS blogpost.


Left: Improper Shoulder Position Shrugging, Right: Shoulders Relaxed

The bar should be positioned in the crease of the hip with the hands holding the bar into position throughout the movement so the bar does not move forwards or backwards. Be sure to keep the shoulders down and prevent shrugging when holding the bar. Some feel more comfortable with a supinated grip (some claim this helps improve lat function which subsequently leads to better glute function), while others prefer a pronated grip. This is entirely up to you. Do not let the bar slide forward or backward during the hip thrust – keep it centered over the hips!

Band placement is going to be the same as bar placement on the hips. For those of you who are lucky enough to have access to a Hip Thruster, the band placement is simple. For those of you who aren’t so lucky, you have to become a little bit more creative. Below are two possible options to set-up the band hip thrust without using the Hip Thruster. Options include using the band peg placements in a power rack and looping a band around a bar and then stepping on the band (obviously this requires band plus bar tension, and since the bands aren’t centered at the hips, it’s not as effective). I have also seen a set up whereby heavy dumbbells anchor the band down, but this option limits the band tension to the sum of the dumbbells used, so if 120 lb dumbbells are used, then the band tension cannot exceed 240 lbs or else the dumbbells will rise off the ground.

band options

Protecting Your Hips

Heavy hip thrusting is brutal on the hips. While some lifters can tolerate hip thrusting without any padding, most will find the lift excruciatingly painful if padding isn’t used. Even worse is that pain will shut down muscle activation and prevent the glutes from receiving an optimal training stimulus.

There are a few different ways to protect your hips and make the hip thrust comfortable. Below I have listed the most popular ways to pad the bar. If you currently do not have access to any of these, I recommend investing in one of them, as it makes the movement much more comfortable. Many lifters are shocked when they finally decide to purchase padding and remark as to how much better their glutes fire when they hip thrust pain-free.  Other options such as rolling up a exercise or yoga mat or using a thick towel wrapped around the bar can indeed work, but they are not as effective. You can find these items on Amazon or through a Google search:

  1. Hampton thick bar pad
  2. Airex Pad
  3. Squat Sponge (this is currently our favorite option – it should be called the hip thrust sponge!)

Left: Airex Pad, Center: Squat Sponge, Right: Hampton Thick Bar Pad


Once the bar is set over the crease of the hips you will need to get your feet set in the proper position. Bring your feet up towards your butt and “screw” the feet into position. This may be difficult depending on the thickness of the pad you are using and depending on your body size, but you want to “get tight” by wedging the body into proper position. Set your feet so that at the top of hip thrust, when the hips are fully extended, your shins are vertical. Sometimes the shins won’t be vertical and will have a slight angle, but in general you want to limit this. Toes can be pointing straight ahead or turned out slightly. Thinker around to find the foot position that allows you to feel the most glute activation.

shin angle

Left: Correct Vertical Shins,   Right: Incorrect Negative Shin Angle


While performing the hip thrust, it is important to make sure you do not jerk the weight off the floor but use a fluid motion instead. I can’t stress this enough – you want a smooth hip thrust, not a spastic hip thrust. Once you follow the steps above and are in the correct starting position, take a deep breath, brace the core, and drive through the heels, keeping the knees in line with the toes

  1. Focus on moving the weight with the glutes and not the lower back or hamstrings
  2. When you approach the top of the movement, finish the lift by contracting your glutes hard and pushing your hips forward. Do not overextend the lower back
  3. Finish the movement with your hips as high as possible while maintaining a neutral spine. At the top of the movement your torso should be parallel to the ground with hips pushed through
  4. Lower the weight under control keeping tension on the glutes
  5. Repeat for desired number of reps

Repetitions can be performed by touching the floor on each rep or by reversing in mid-air. There are benefits to both options. By touching the floor on each rep, you can “reset” each rep and you ensure that you’re using full hip ROM. However, by reversing in mid air, you keep constant tension on the glutes which can lead to greater burn and a better glute pump. Some lifters, especially shorter lifters or those with shorter torsos relative to their leg length, will find that the mid-air reversal is much more comfortable for their bodies. There’s nothing wrong with reversing in mid-air. Many women prefer this option, whereas many men prefer to touch the ground on each rep. Tinker around to find what works best for you.

Common Hip Thrust Mistakes

Excessive arching of the low back

This usually occurs because the weight is too heavy.  The glutes aren’t strong enough to lock the weight out so the lifter substitutes by arching the back. A more detailed article on this topic can be found by clicking HERE.


Left:Poor Overextended Spine, Right: Good Neutral Spine – Notice Flat Torso

Quick Fix: Reduce the load and brace the core throughout the whole range of motion. Focus on only moving at the hips and on not allowing movement to occur at the lumbar spine.

Improper neck positioning

Going into cervical flexion can be problematic for some lifters, causing cramping and neck discomfort.

neck position

Left:Poor Flexed Neck, Right: Good Neutral Neck

Quick Fix: Be sure to maintain a neutral neck position throughout the movement

Insufficient hip extension

Failing to reach full hip extension is also usually due to the load being too heavy. This can also happen on account of extremely tight hip flexors.

not full ext

Left: Poor – Failure to reach full hip extension, Right: Good full hip extension

Quick Fix: Drop the weight, allowing you to completely lock out and finish the movement. Also some static or dynamic stretching of the hip flexors (especially the rectus femoris) before or in between sets can help.

Rising up onto toes

This typically occurs with people who don’t know how to perform the movement properly and with those who are very quad dominant


Left:Poor – Rising onto toes, Right: Good – Feet flat driving through heels

Quick Fix: Keep your toes on the floor and focus on pushing through the heels throughout the set (you can also dorsiflex and lift the toes if this helps)

For a more in longer in depth look at the hip thrust check out this video:

To see the evolution of the hip thrust, including all the different exercise variations possible, click on THIS link. To read up on the science behind the hip thrust, click HERE.

At this point, you should have a sound understanding of how to perform the hip thrust and of what is considered proper form and technique. There should be no more excuses for a lack of glute development. Pick your glute building poison and get to work.

Random Thoughts

Hi Fitness Friends, I’ve got some great articles, videos, rants, and before/after pictures for you to check out. Just helping out so you can stay on top of things!

Fun Game

People slow to react are more likely to die prematurely

I was reading THIS article in the LA Times which discusses the link between reaction times and premature death. In the article, they linked to a fun little game that had me hooked for a solid half an hour.

Click HERE to find out how fast your reactions really are! The lowest score I got was .1668 (rocketing rabbit). Can you beat me?

Glutes copy

Good Articles

Does repetition speed affect hypertrophy?

Click HERE to see Chris Beardsley tackling the topic of repetition speed in relation to muscle hypertrophy.

Does eccentric training lead to more hypertrophy than concentric training?

Click HERE to find out whether eccentric training really does seem to be better for hypertrophy than concentric training.

My Experience at the Assessing Movement Conference

Check out THIS detailed write-up of the ‘Assessing Movement Conference’ between Gray Cook and Stu McGill. Kasey Esser took some great detailed notes on this one.

Review-Stanford Summit with Stuart McGill and Gray Cook

HERE is another review of the meeting between of the minds with Stu Mcgill and Gray Cook.  Another great write-up and fantastic performance by both presenters.

Interview with Mike McGuigan

Check out THIS interview with Mike McGuigan one of my professors at AUT.

It is not just the brain that changes itself – time to embrace bioplasticity?

Click HERE for a good read on bio-plasticity and the brain by Lorimer Moseley 

Why the lats are so important in the bench press

HERE is an article discussing the importance of the often overlooked lats during the bench press.

Resistance Training Promotes Increase in Intracellular Hydration in Men and Women

Check out THIS Superhuman radio podcast with my good friend Brad Schoenfeld speaking about resistance training protocols to increase intercelluar hydration in men and women.

Is your Vitamin D supplement helping or hurting you?

HERE is an article on many things related to Vitamin D supplementation. Take a look.

Q&A: Brad Schoenfeld on Maximizing Muscle Growth

Take a look at THIS Q & A with Brad Schoenfeld on speaking about maximizing muscle growth.

Strength training: Barbell hip thrust

HERE is an article on the hip thrust for Athletics Weekly by Anthony Robustelli and yours truly.

CARB CONTROVERSY – Why low-carb diets have got it all wrong

HERE‘s a great article from Brian St. Pierre on the science of low carb dieting.

Good Videos

Valentin Dikul – Strongest Glutes Ever? 

I never saw this until recently. This dude Valentin is insane. His strength was so far ahead of his time, and he did it all…squats, deadlifts, bench, kettlebells, gymnastics. Click HERE to read more about him. Below he’s doing a pyramid (crazy glute bridge isohold maneuver) with around 2,000 lbs – no big deal.

The Animal Underground: Andrey Malanichev Squats 926 lbs x 3

These can almost be considered speed squats!

Kent Fleming 970 RAW w Wraps

Check out Kent Fleming riding out a smooth 970lb back squat RAW with wraps

Andrey Malanichev All Time WR Squat – 1,014 lbs

Watch Andrey Malanichev break the all time WR squat at 460kg (that’s 1,014 pounds raw – no briefs, and no squat suit). Check out that speed!

498 lbs Raw Bench @ 148

Lei Liu breaks the all time WR parapeldgic bench press with an easy 498lb bench at 148lbs. Amazing.

Eric Lillebridge UPA Nationals 2014

Eric Lilliebridge doing what he does best and throwing ridiculous amounts of weights around with seemingly little effort – he set several records here.

Shanghai Tower (650 meters)

Does this video give you a panic attack? Take a trip up to the Shanghai tower…I hope your not afraid of heights.

SK Energy TV Spot, ‘A Trabar’

I don’t really know exactly what is said in the commercial. What I do know is that there is some grocery bag lunges and hip thrusting of cars.

FB Rants

Here are my Facebook rants from the last week or so:

“Son, lighten the load and do it right. You ain’t buildin’ muscle, you just strokin’ your ego.”

“There isn’t a single serious lifter I’ve ever known who doesn’t experience minor injuries or bouts of minor pain (low back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, etc.) throughout the course of the training year.

As a younger lifter, I trained through the pain, and this usually led to more problems. As I’ve matured as a lifter, I learned to train around the pain, which has led to much better outcomes.

Knee acting up? Maybe I can do RDL’s and back extensions pain-free. Back acting up? Maybe I can do walking lunges and high step ups pain-free. Shoulder acting up? Maybe I can do rows pain-free.

I’ve found that it’s much better to go to the gym and do what I can while listening to my body than to stay home and wait for the issue to completely clear up. I can work on weak links, train other bodyparts/movements, get the blood flowing, and maintain fitness, all while building confidence and signaling my brain to chill out with the pain response.

The area in question receives a dose of therapy because while at the gym training other regions, the joint moves through a range of motion and the muscles contract isometrically, which promotes recovery.  When the issue starts clearing up, I use a graded approach in training the area directly, and quite often I’m back in business very quickly.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to serious injuries, and it’s darn near impossible to make broad recommendations pertaining to injury and pain. But the point of this post is to inform you that these setbacks happen to every lifter. Over time, you learn how to deal with them more efficiently by paying close attention and making wise training decisions.” 

“Building an impressive physique is NOT just about going to the gym and “putting in the time.” One could easily go to the gym 5 days per week and see lackluster results. In fact, you see this with the majority of commercial gym-goers. What are typical commercial gym-goers failing to do properly? 1) Performing the best exercises for their goals, 2) Getting stronger over time (this is paramount), 3) Following a intelligently-planned program that pushes the intensity but still allows for optimal recovery, and 4) Eating properly for their goals. Each of these components are critical for long-term progress. For maximum results, train hard, train smart, and eat smart.”

 “Crummy training days usually don’t indicate that you’ve lost strength; they typically indicate that your strength is being masked by fatigue. When the central nervous system (CNS) is drained, your muscles will not contract maximally. However tempting it may be, avoid training “harder” on crummy days and instead ease up on the gas pedal. What you’ll commonly find is that your body will recuperate and your strength will rebound.”

“The glutes prefer a stable environment for maximal activation. If the goal is to develop the glutes, there’s no need for instability training. Hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts, back extensions, and lunges will give you the most bang for your buck. Lateral band work will give you some extra upper glute development. If you want to develop better balance, single leg RDLs and pistol squats can be employed. Notice that these are all performed on stable ground – no stability balls, suspension systems, Bosu balls, core boards, wobble boards, dyna discs, or Airex balance pads needed (actually, the Airex pad can be used as a cushion between the bar and the hips during hip thrusts).”

“Just because you bought some food from Whole Foods or a similar type of store – it doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy. Make sure you read nutritional labels to see ingredients, calories, and macros.”

“Doctors are not the experts of strength & conditioning. There are some who know a ton, and some who know zilch pertaining to our field. If you receive some advice that doesn’t seem accurate, don’t be afraid to question it or obtain a second opinion. Better yet, educate yourself on the topic and form your own opinion based on research and expert opinion from the medical and S & C fields.”

“I used to not see the point of low load glute activation work. What’s it going to do that heavy hip thrusts, squats, and deadlifts won’t do? Over time, I realized that I was wrong, after dozens of lifters emailed me informing me that doing some light glute work prior to heavy lifting augmented their mechanics and improved the way they felt during the session. If you haven’t experimented with it yet, give it a try. Conversely, if you have experimented with it and don’t find that it helps, don’t be afraid to drop it. But the way I see it, a couple sets of x-band walks, glute bridges, and multi-directional lunges before the workout won’t hurt you, and it just might improve your performance. Remember, the goal of glute activation work is quality, not quantity.”

 “I can’t understand for the life of me why so many fitness professionals tell their followers to just squat for glute growth. For years I’ve been advising my followers to employ a variety of glute exercises including hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts, barbell glute bridges, lunges, back extensions, and more, and the response I’ve gotten has been phenomenal. If you want to maximize the shape of any muscle, you’ll get better results from performing several exercises compared to just one.”


Glute Lab: Where Glutes Go to Grow

Glute Training Feedback

Bret, gotta say these hip thrusters are very useful, not only do they help with performance and size but they are like rehab for my lumbar spine. Sometimes when I Squat and Deadlift the old back can be tweaked or stained and every time (which is all the time) I do Hip Thrusters it takes all the pain away and makes my back feel great. Thanks for a great exercise – Jeff.

Bret, you come out with better content in one week than 99% of online fitness professionals do in an entire year. Thanks for all you do for the industry! – Jake

As I was finishing up my work out yesterday I had a big muscled up fella stop me.  He told me he had been lifting for over 40 years and that I had some of the best form he had seen in any guys or girls throughout the years.  I dropped your name of course and told him you had VERY high standards when it came to form :-)  He went on to say that the great form had obviously paid off based on how I looked.  He was very sincere and not creepy in the least as he was telling me this–a rare find at the gym. 

Anyway, I just wanted to say that the high I got from that compliment ranked right up there with some of the PRs I have set.  When I first started GG it took some time before I felt comfortable and confident in the weight room with all of the guys around and yesterday I felt like I had earned some respect and admiration. 

I have often talked about how this program can give you so much more than a better backside when you take the focus off of where you want to be instead of where you are and this is just another great example of that.  Good things come with consistency over the months.  I know to some this may not seem like the biggest or best compliment but to me it was awesome. – Tammy

Bret when I first found you I was desperate, I emailed you asking for advice because I had all the sudden started walking 4-5 miles daily and dropped weight fast. My husband who used to complain I was to big, now started saying you completely lost your butt, and to much weight, now I do have to say though it wasn’t muscle it was just big. So I went on a search found ” the glute guy, saw the picture of the girls and thought thats what I want, round teardrop bottom.I wanted one that sits up and is firm and round, so I emailed you asked you for advice and you encouraged me, that walking didn’t make me lose my butt, but I lost the fat, I simply needed to start building the muscle. So I followed you like a groupy that was obsessed, I hit it hard, I started with nothing simple no weights, just add butt exercises to my walking, and am now proud to say I am in a gym using heavy weight, however am limited to some exercises because of a bad car accident I shattering all of the cartilage in my right knee, and shifted disk in my lower back, this is very frustrating because deadlifts, single leg lunges on smith machine are out of the question -.-. None the less I don’t let it slow down my progress, I persevere and do what my body allows me to even pushing through the pain in some exercises, my husband LOOOOOVVVEEEESSS my butt, he couldn’t be happier, my workout partner is now hooked on your site as well. She wants my butt, I want her waist. Anyway I simply hadn’t had the time butt 😉 I wanted to thank you so much, you have been a hugh inspiration in my workouts, and I am always watching for new videos. I can’t send you my undies pictures, but I will be buying a bikini soon and sending you pictures. I hope you like what I have accomplished, you gave me the instructions and now I have a butt I have only dreamt of having. I can’t wait for summer. I will be sending you pictures soon. Once again thank you so much for being so kind, for guidance when I needed it most and for being such a caring person. Your the best and yes you should proudly post pictures and label them “butts by Bret” this is your baby and nobody, and I mean nobody as long as the other part is ok with it should tell you how to run it. Thankfully yours La Tasha

2 17

“Follow @bretcontreras1 and read his blog! Very informative! He’s the glute guy haha”

"Trying to reshape and add more muscle. Concentrating on my glutes. Now week 8 into the gorgeous glutes program and eating more food. Pic on the left was taken today and pic on right was 1 month post comp last year (same weight as well) Thanks so much @bretcontreras1 - rocifit"

“Trying to reshape and add more muscle. Concentrating on my glutes. Now week 8 into the gorgeous glutes program and eating more food. Pic on the left was taken today and pic on right was 1 month post comp last year (same weight as well) Thanks so much @bretcontreras1 – rocifit”


“I’ve been told you cannot work out your glutes alone…it’s not possible…better to just squat…but I added hip thrusts to my workout and will keep it. I’m still almost the only one doing them in my gym. – Elin”


I love #reposting this pic because in my life I’ve either been skinny/curveless or kinda thick with no distinct curvature lol. 9 months is not a lot of time at all to build a shelf you can be proud of. I became obsessed with glutes last year and 1 of the major influences on my training was @bretcontreras1 blog. He introduced me to hip thrusting among many glute activation exercises and opened my eyes that lightweight/bodyweight exercises shape the glutes – Jessica

Hi Bret. I have just received a copy of Strong Curves and after a quick browse Im blown away by its content. It has way more information than I expected and the descriptions and quality is outstanding. Im not normally into blowing someones trumpet so much but you have done a great job on this.

I have purchased so many products from more than likely some of your mentors in the past and although the content is excellent I feel there could be a bit more bang for your buck. I understand this is a living for them also but some of the prices are a bit high. 

Im so grateful to guys like yourself providing quality material at an affordable price for most. I have recently included some of your training principles in my own training and my clients. Im excited about the prospects they will bring. 

After suffering long term lower back pain and hamstring strains, I have found targeting the glutes specifically for the past 3 months has yielded great results. Strength in the glutes and relief in the lower back. A bit of a butt lift also! If it wasn’t for you Id still be suffering. Actually Im suffering in a different way because of you now. Thanks again Bret. You’ve gone to the top of my Go To Guy list for training related information. Keep up the excellent work. – Graeme.

Hey Bret, I inboxed you some time ago on your page in regards to a back injury I had (a disc herniation) that was causing me pain and preventing me lifting. You advised that I look into chronic pain and how to deal with it, and made some suggestions. To be honest that inbox changed me life. I read the article on your Blog about pain, and the story was identical to mine. I have gone from squatting nothing to now doing 140kg for reps in a few months. I just wanted to thank you for your help and the contributions you make to the industry. Thanks, Bret. – Brent

Hi Bret, I have attached a couple of pictures. I wish I had taken some “before” pics, but unfortunately i don’t have any.  Let me just give you a brief history: I am a mother and a personal trainer, 30 years old, and my butt and my thighs used to be my worst body parts. I used to be very insecure about them. I started training hard about 8 years ago, but never really knew how to go about transforming my legs and butt. My husband, who’s Brazilian from Rio, helped me a lot by introducing heavy squats, deadlifts, sumo squats, kickbacks with cables and ankle weights…etc and I improved a lot, but, I was always looking and searching for more ways to enhance and improve the glutes.

About 5 years ago, I came across one of your first articles on T-nation, and I could not believe that there was a professional out there who knows everything about butt training, EVERYTHING!! Since then, I started reading your articles and following you, you became my reference and source of information when i train myself and my clients.  Then I bought Strong Curves, and that was it, my progress just leaped!!! Not just the looks of my butt improved, but also my athletic performance. My overall strength increased. I can squat, deadlift and hip thrust much heavier! 

My advice to every woman (and even man), whether you are genetically gifted with strong glutes, or not, whether you want to transform, improve or just maintain your overall physique and body strength, is to get Strong Curves!!! 

Thank you Bret for your continuous research and passion.  – Missy 


I ordered your book to strong curves the barbell bridges really changed my glutes and I now have lovely curves and bigger bum. Nataska


Before and After

Love your program first time in 20 years of working out that my butt actually changed shape, got smaller and tightened up. – Melanie


Instead of posting a glutes pic, here was yesterday’s side effect of #hipthrusts. – Craig


Thank you for all that you do Bret! #️4glutes


I can’t believe I for real used to look like that…not so long ago. Whew. I’m now completing 6 reps of glute bridges at 425lbs! – vannahlee

I have been doing your exercises for only a few weeks and my butt has lifted dramatically. I never thought I would have a nice butt. Thank u soo much for all the time and research u have put it has really helped me a lot. Thanks bret!!!! Oh and my boyfriend loves the results too lol – oceangirl

Hi Bret, I just want to say a big THANK YOU for Strong Curves!  I started the beginners program on January 2., and now, after 7,5 weeks, I have better results on glutes and hamstrings than I’ve ever had, and I’ve been lifting, on and off, for 25 years! Looking forward to seeing the results for the months to come Thanks again – Anne


I wish I had taken a before picture. It was all hip thrusts. thanks for your page – Katie

It was a great feeling when I pulled my self up with 10kg extra weight during a chin-up. I never dreamt of being able to do that. GG isn’t just great for the lower body, my upper body has never been this strong and looked as good as it does now. I’ve been lifting weights for years and always wanted defined arms and back. And yesterday, my 17 year old daughter said to me, “mom, your arms have gotten defined.” Proud moment! Oh how I love this program and this community of strong and encouraging women and the best coaches ever. – Irene

What’s the Difference Between a Romanian Deadlift, American Deadlift, Stiff Legged Deadlift, and Straight Leg Deadlift?

Deadlifting oozes strength and functionality. There’s something to bending over, grabbing a hold of heavy weight, and standing up with it that makes you feel like a primal powerhouse. In a previous post, I discussed how to increase your deadlift. But what about various deadlifting variations such as Romanian deadlifts (RDL’s), American deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts (SLDL’s), and straight leg deadlifts? How are these performed, and what are the key differences between them?

Deadlift variations are loaded hip hinge patterns, and the hip hinge is an essential skill to master in the weight room. Learning how to stabilize the spine and pelvis under load while bending over forms the basis of many popular strength training exercises such as bent over rows, squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, good mornings, t-bar rows, and bent over rear delt raises. Even bending over and picking up dumbbells off the floor or out of the lower rack requires a proper hip hinge, as does picking objects off the floor and assuming an athletic position in sports.

Learning the hip hinge is also one of, if not the most, difficult movements to teach beginning lifters. Heck, most lifters with years of experience tend to screw this pattern up on a regular basis. This is partially due to the fact that the movement requires strength and coordination throughout the entire posterior chain, as many lifters have trouble ‘feeling’ these muscles in the first place. The glutes, erectors, and hamstrings must work in unison to allow the torso to drop forward while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis.

Since stoop lifting can be achieved via myriad combinations of ankle, knee, hip, and spinal motion, it’s of no surprise that lifters will often choose the most economical bending pattern – one that uses less active muscle and more passive elastic forces via stretching of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. This is achieved through rounding of the spine, and while this might be fine during activities of daily living, under heavy load in the weightroom, it’s recipe for disaster. Therefore, you’ll want to learn to keep the load on the active components (the muscles) as much as possible. One way to groove this is by performing deadlift variations using lighter loads, as is the case with the four mentioned in this article.

Screenshot 2014-02-06 13.07.36

Poor RDL form

When performed properly, the RDL is an excellent way to build the posterior chain, but unfortunately many lifters limit their leg training to squats, leg press and leg extension variations. While these exercises will certainly develop the quads, they neglect the hamstrings which are key in developing a strong and powerful physique. In this post, I will discuss the proper execution of the RDL and review some common variations of the movement.

Romanian Deadlift

For the standard RDL, you want to start standing erect, holding the bar with a double-overhand grip. When going heavy, you may use a mixed grip, but I suggest sticking with a double overhand grip during your lighter sets to build up your grip strength. One option for getting into the RDL starting position is to deadlift the weight up from the floor, but ideally you’d have a squat rack with the pins set to just below hip height. This way, you can simply take the bar off the rack and step right back into position.

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Unracking the bar for an RDL

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Grip is set just outside the hips

The stance is going to be narrower than a squat, about hip width apart, with the toes pointed straight ahead. Some lifters like to flare the feet a bit but this should be minimal – no more than 15 degrees of foot flare.

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Stance is narrow, about hip width apart

At the start, the bar should be resting against the thighs, and for the descent you want to sit the hips back allowing the torso to drop down. The knees will bend slightly but the shins remain vertical throughout – the bar should continue to drag along the thighs the entire time. During the negative, you want to maintain a slight arch and tension in your low back. This tilts the pelvis anteriorly and puts a greater stretch on the hamstrings. However, the lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt should be slight and not excessive. Moreover, do not allow the lumbar spine to round or the shoulders to be protracted during the RDL. Keep the chest up and the shoulders back.

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Lumbar spine remains neutral, shins remain vertical

Most lifters will find that if they perform the movement with proper pelvic positioning, they will feel a big stretch in the hamstrings as the bar reaches the kneecaps. However, individuals with superior hamstring flexibility will be able to descend to mid shin level (some very flexible individuals can descend all the way to the floor this way). Even so, I recommend that lifters reverse the movement once the bar reaches just below the knees, as this is the range of motion with which we are primarily concerned.

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Stop the negative once the bar reaches the knees

American Deadlift

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American deadlift: Neutral spine at bottom, Rounded upper back and posteriorly tilted pelvis at top

Here at The Glute Lab, we’ve found that it is possible to perform the RDL with almost no glute activity when focusing primarily on the hamstrings, at least with lighter loads. This is not a good thing. It is therefore critical to understand how to utilize the glutes in a hip hinge pattern. The American deadlift is very similar to the RDL, however you are going to incorporate some pelvic motion. On the way down, you want to utilize the erectors to hold slight anterior pelvic tilt. And on the way up, you want to use the glutes to produce slight posterior pelvic tilt. It is important to note that posterior pelvic tilt is accompanied by a glute squeeze and not by lumbar rounding. At the top of the motion, the bar might move forward as your glutes push the hips forward, you can think of the American deadlift as simply a glute-centric RDL. Again, the glutes tilt the pelvis and the lumbar spine remains stable.

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At the top, the glutes are squeezed but the lumbar spine is not rounded

Dimel deadlifts were popularized by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell Club years back. These are akin to American deadlifts for high reps. Use 30-40% of your 1RM deadlift and bust out 15-30 reps for maximum glute pump. If you do these right, it feels a bit like a hip thrust.

Stiff Legged Deadlift

Many lifters feel that the RDL, stiff legged deadlift, and straight leg deadlift are synonymous with one another, and if you talk to ten different strength coaches, you’ll probably get ten different descriptions of these variations. However, I believe that these are 3 distinct variations and are performed quite differently from one another. Here’s how I distinguish between these variations (again, these are my descriptions, which will differ from other coaches’ exercise descriptions). While I already discussed the RDL (and ADL), I will now discuss the stiff legged deadlift, then the straight leg deadlift.

The stiff legged deadlift is simply a deadlift performed with high hips while trying to target the hamstrings. Ideally you will perform this lift out of a rack and you will use a lighter load compared to your regular deadlift. Simply back out of the rack using a double overhand grip and bend over while trying to keep tension on the hamstrings. The knees will bend, the shins will stay vertical, your hips will sit back, and you will try to keep the hamstrings as stiff as possible throughout the movement. With this variation, you can descend all the way to the floor or stop just short of the floor. Both ways have their benefits. You can also start from the floor if you’d like rather than taking the bar out of the rack, however, most lifters use better form when starting with a negative action first.

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Left to Right: Bottom of stiff legged deadlift, Top of stiff legged deadlift

Straight Leg Deadlift

In the straight leg deadlift, you keep the legs straight – there is no knee bend. The spine will be kept in neutral and the bar will drift out in front of the lifter slightly. The range of motion will be very short because the lifter will quickly run out of hamstring flexibility. I’m not a big fan of this variation, however, it does stretch the hamstrings very well and you don’t have to use heavy loading to receive a training effect. Many old school lifters would stand on a bench and perform these while rounding their backs to full flexion and descending all the way until the bar touched their shoes. While this may be fine using submaximal weight of around 20-40% of 1RM, problems will quickly arise when heavy loads are used. Therefore I do not recommend this variation and instead recommend the stiff legged version discussed above.

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In a straight leg deadlift the bar drifts away from the body during the negative

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Poor form: Old school lifters used to perform straight leg deadlifts like this

Instructional Video

Here is a ten-minute instructional video that discusses the key differences between each variation.

Beginner Hip-Hinging Drills

What if you’re a beginner and would like to practice hip hinging before you grab a hold of a barbell – what are the best drills to perform? Below are four different exercises you can experiment with. One is from yours truly and the other three are from my colleague Tony Gentilcore. Click on the links for instructional videos.

  1. Wall tap hip hinge
  2. Dowel rod hip hinge
  3. Cable pull-through
  4. Sit back drill


The RDL and it’s variations are great exercises for the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors. Learning how to hinge at the hips properly while maintaining a neutral spine under load is a crucial component to weight training. A strong RDL will enable you to keep better form during bent over rows, kettlebell swings, back extensions and countless other posterior chain exercises. At The Glute Lab, we stick solely to American deadlifts and stiff legged deadlifts simply because we feel that the ADL is superior to the RDL and the stiff legged deadlift is superior to the straight leg deadlift. Experiment to find the variations that work best for you. Remember to utilize lighter loads in relation to your maximal deadlift when performing these exercises as you’re grooving motor patterns in addition to promoting muscular adaptations.

10 Keys to Optimal Strength Training

By Eirik Garnas

When looking back at the start of my lifting career about 9 years ago I find that the biggest obstacle was that I didn’t have a basic structure to build my training on. Without a set of principles to guide the way, it’s easy to get lost by changing program every couple of weeks, trying various supplements, and not thinking about the long-term progress. While 9 years is a relatively short time compared to the most experienced lifters and strength coaches, I’ve learned a thing or two from training myself and clients during these years.

Perhaps the most important thing this journey has taught me is that it’s important to be humble in the sense that there is no optimal program or exercise technique that fits everyone. People have different needs depending on anthropometry, goals, mobility, and strength, and just prescribing the same program to everyone is a recipe for disaster. However, I’ve also learned that there are some basic ‘rules’ that set you up for successful training. Regular strength training isn’t only great for building the body and improving general health, but it also teaches the value of hard work and discipline. So, one could argue that progressive resistance training is as much about building the mind in the sense that mental toughness can be transferred into all other aspects of life.

mental toughness

Train your mind to be tough

The average commercial gym is a heart wrenching place for strength coaches and personal trainers. Poor technique is the rule rather than the exception, and people generally do a lot of weird stuff. Most folks seem to go into the gym with no real plan or purpose, and end up simply going from machine to machine and then finishing of with a couple of minutes on the elliptical trainer to ‘burn the fat’. Recognizing the difference between exercise and training is very important. While exercise focuses on the benefits of a specific workout, training is about achieving a long-term goal. The workout in itself is basically seen as a small part of a longer journey.

exercise vs training

Exercising vs training

While exercise is perfectly acceptable for the average joe, training is what really brings the best results. I’ve summarized my experiences as a lifter and coach into a set of the basic principles that I believe are the foundation of successful strength training. Here are 10 of them…

1. Base your training around a couple of compound lifts

While this might seem unnecessary to mention for experienced lifters, a lot of beginners tend to forget this point. The deadlift, bench press, press, squat, clean and jerk are the core lifts that really bring the long-term progress. Chins, hip thrusts, dips and push-ups are also valuable exercises that target big muscle groups. While you don’t have to perform these exact lifts to build muscle and get stronger, a variation of the most basic human movements should always be a part of the program.

squat and bench press 1

Squats and bench

2. Technique, technique, technique

This point can’t be stressed enough. Only a fraction of strength trainees at most gyms show anything that resembles good technique. While some people learn the basic compound lifts by simply doing the movements over and over again with little added resistance, others have to perform additional exercises and mobility work to really get a grasp of things.

bad clean form

How NOT to catch a clean

3. Focus on getting stronger in the major lifts

One of the primary reasons to strength train is of course to get stronger. Progressive overload is one of the basic principles of strength training and basically means that you have to increase the weight, intensity and/or number of repetitions/sets to create an adaptive response. However, this basic rule of strength training is something a lot of people seem to forget. It’s not uncommon to see folks at the gym doing the same lifts with the same amount of weight every training session. Although an experienced lifter can’t expect to get stronger every workout, the weights should increase over months and years.

4. Train the compound lifts multiple times per week

Although some very effective strength programs such as Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 only hit every compound exercise once per week, training each muscle group and core lift multiple times per week is optimal for most people. Frequent training brings the fastest results as long as your programming, diet and recovery are all taken care of.

5. Keep track of your progress

A training journal is a great tool for keeping track of your progress, and it also increases your efforts in the gym by motivating you to beat previous records. Keeping score is especially important for lifters who are primarily interested in strength gains, but bodybuilders also benefit from tracking their numbers in the major lifts. One of the key benefits of using a training journal is that it allows you to look back at your lifting career and analyze the results from the different programs you’ve tried. However, it’s important to not lose the joy and spontaneity that exercise brings by following a rigid program every workout. Keep score of the major lifts, but don’t be afraid to try out new things and rotate around on some of the secondary exercises.

training log

Sample training journal

6. Try to get in the zone

Although socializing can enhance the experience of going to the gym, it’s also important to try to block out all unnecessary noise and just do the work.

7. Eat like a champion and sleep like a baby

Like all experienced lifters know, training is only part of the work. Eating a lot of high-quality food and getting enough sleep is essential for building muscle and strength.

clean eating

8. Make sure you target your weak areas

Most people like to train muscle groups and exercises where they are already strong, but focusing on the weaker parts of your body is clearly essential to building a well-balanced physique. Weak glutes are especially common and typically result in a poor movement pattern in the squat, deadlift, and other exercises that focus on lower body strength. Inability to properly activate the glutes during these exercises stalls progress and increases the chance of injury. Doing isolated glute work and strengthening the muscles that produce posterior pelvic tilt is very important for lifters with weak glutes and excessive anterior pelvic tilt.

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Excessive anterior pelvic tilt

9. Do mobility work and assistance exercises that are appropriate for your needs

This point can’t be stressed enough. Many lifters don’t have the necessary mobility and strength to harvest the full benefits from the compound lifts. It’s important to note that just doing some random stretching has little benefit. Everything you do in the gym should be done with a purpose, and mobility drills and assistance work should target the specific needs of each lifter. Upper- and lower crossed syndrome are especially common and should be addressed in order to avoid injury.

back to wall shoulder flexion cressey

Eric Cressey demonstrating back to wall shoulder flexion, a drill for shoulder mobility

10. Don’t beat yourself up over a bad workout

Even if you sleep 8 hours each night and eat the best possible diet, you will experience the occasional workout where you feel weak and fatigued. Don’t panic. Just lower the weights and/or remove a couple of exercises and come in stronger the next time. Remember that strength training isn’t about one single workout, but the accumulative effect of all the training sessions performed over weeks, months, and years.

Klokov going light

Even Dmitry Klokov goes light sometimes (for him)

Bonus: 11. Don’t make fitness your entire life

Whether it’s an essential part of every successful strength training program is up for debate, but I feel it’s perhaps the most important rule of them all. While you have to be dedicated to really see great result in the gym, it’s easy to get obsessed with eating and training and forget that everything doesn’t revolve around fitness. Going out with friends, drinking the occasional beer and skipping a day of training won’t kill your progress. Remember that strength training really is a marathon, not a sprint.

mazzeti curl beer

Don Mazzetti enjoying his gains and a beer

About the author

eirik-garnas_organic-fitness-authorName: Eirik Garnas

Besides studying for a degree in Public Nutrition, I’ve spent the last couple of years coaching people on their way to a healthier body and better physique. I’m educated as a personal trainer from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and also have additional courses in sales/coaching, kettlebells, body analysis, and functional rehabilitation. Subscribe to my website if you want to read more of my articles on fitness, nutrition, and health.