Category Archives: Ask Bret Contreras (ABC)

How to Be a Popular & Successful Fitness Authority

Fitness Expert

Hail to the King, Baby! A Typical Day at Revolution Training Systems

“Hi Bret, I Want to One Day Be a Popular/Successful Strength Coach/Personal Trainer/Fitness Authority, What Should I Be Doing?”
– Dozens of youngsters with aspirations every month

I’ve received this question three times this week so it warrants a well thought out answer.

First, you need to figure out your own path. All of the top dogs in the industry took a different road, but through talent, persistence, and effort, each eventually arrived at the top. Moreover, each of the higher ups in the fitness industry would give you markedly different advice as to how to succeed. In this article, I will present to you a list of ideas that I believe will help you grow your career, but you’ll need to put your own spin on it.

Second, the terms popular and successful are ambiguous. You can get popular and rich by just spouting out pure pseudoscience, stirring up controversy, and guruing the shit out of everyone. But you won’t speak at any conferences and you won’t be taken seriously by the movers and shakers in the industry. To me, integrity, power, and influence are more important than money. Money is certainly nice, and you should definitely strive to steadily improve your financial disposition over time. However, if tomorrow I inherited $10 million, my day to day life seriously wouldn’t change drastically. My number one goal is to help make the S&C industry a better place than when I entered it. This is what I love doing, and I’ll be doing it until the day I die.

If you just want to make money and scam people, read THIS and THIS. Some strategies that have worked magically for other gurus are: 1) start off legit, train a bunch of Olympians, and provide valuable content in order to establish trust, then all of a sudden become a total dick and start pushing bogus methods in order to further your profit, all the while constantly reminding people how many Olympians you trained two decades ago, constantly deleting negative/skeptical social media confrontations to give the illusion that you’re perfect, and constantly ignoring challenges for debates from industry leaders, 2) take every anabolic steroid in the world and get jacked beyond measure, scoff at all the other experts and call them pussies, then tell everyone to just do your special protocol, and 3) claim to have a direct line of communication with the God of Movement, then label every popular form of training as dysfunctional, all the while informing them about your special methods that will allow people to realize their true functional potential.

Hopefully you don’t care to go these routes. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you share the same values as I do. I’m guessing that you want to eventually 1) have a waiting list for clients, 2) have a highly popular blog or social media presence, 3) be making ample profit to sustain your lifestyle and allow you to save for your future, 4) be speaking at prestigious conferences, and 5) be making a positive difference in the lives of thousands of people around the world without selling your soul to the devil and compromising your integrity.

If this is the case, then you need to focus on three key areas: 1) understanding the art of strength training, 2) understanding the science of strength training, and 3) understanding the politics and marketing in the industry. Almost everyone interested in fitness is really good at one of the three key areas. Some are proficient in two of the three key areas. But the folks that are solid in all three key areas are far and few between. Here is my best advice in no particular order of importance.

How to Be a Popular & Successful Fitness Authority in 15 Steps

1. Get Certified and Become an NSCA Member

Get your certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS) from the NSCA and regularly read the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (JSCR), Strength & Conditioning Journal (SCJ), Personal Training Quarterly (PTQ), and NSCA Coach. A master’s degree or PhD will obviously help you, but it’s not mandatory. Think of advanced degrees as icing on the cake.

2. Subscribe to S&C Research Review

Subscribe to Strength & Conditioning Research Review and carefully read it every single month.

3. Subscribe to AARR

Subscribe to Alan Aragon’s Research Review and carefully read it every single month.

4. Investigate and Research

When you don’t understand certain terms or concepts that you stumble upon in the research reviews, further investigate them and figure them out. Eventually you want to be able to decipher and scrutinize the literature on your own, but the research reviews will suffice for many years. If you one day publish your own original research, this would be some serious icing on the cake, but it’s not realistic for everyone.

5. Attend Conferences & Seminars

Attend two conferences per year every year. In addition to popular seminars held by NSCA, ACSM, and Perform Better, consider attending a seminar held by a top powerlifter or group of powerlifters (Layne Norton, Dan Green, Chris Duffin, Mark Rippetoe, and Sorinex all provide seminars). Regardless of your specific area of interest, if you intend on making a living in the fitness industry, you should be exposed to a wide variety of speaker views and opinions. I recommend attending a presentation by Mike Boyle, Mark Verstegen, JC Santana, Martin Rooney, Dan John, Pavel TsatsoulineGray Cook, Dave Tate, and John Berardi.

6. Read Good Blogs & Websites

Obviously you already follow me, but make sure you follow other prolific individuals and websites in strength training and sports nutrition such as Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, Chris Beardsley, Layne Norton, Eric Cressey, Greg Nuckols, Sohee Walsh, Ben Bruno, Tony Gentilcore, Nick Tumminello, Jordan Syatt, Jen Sinkler, Chad Welsley Smith, Molly GalbraithJon Goodman , Armi Legge, and Dean Somerset (there are plenty more awesome people, these folks came to mind first). Also read T Nation and Elitefts and go back and read many articles from the archives.

7. Find Your Niche

Determine a focus/niche/specialty and figure out (and follow) the top researchers (HERE is a list of experts), coaches, and athletes in that particular area.

8. Intern

Intern at an S&C facility such as Cressey Performance, Mike Boyle’s MBSC, or Exos (formerly Athlete’s Performance). Everyone benefits from working with athletes.

9. Train Hard

Implement what you learn in your own training, and also with clients that you train. Work hard to increase your strength and improve your physique. Experiment and pay close attention.

10. Be Frugal

Be frugal in your everyday life so you can afford to pay for everything listed above. You’re investing in your career.

11. Be Consistent

Maintain this level of work ethic for many years in a row. You are a student of strength & conditioning – this will never change. Never stop learning.

12. Create Systems

Learn to think for yourself, and develop your own system of training based on everything you’ve learned along the way.

13. Know Thy Roles

When you’re ready, start up a blog and pay attention to your audience – serve your niche. Get on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Take pride in your craft and continuously strive to improve the quality of your work on all fronts. You’ll likely be a one man army, and your roles for your “company” will be: chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, chief science officer, chief technology officer, chief visionary officer, and chief operating officer, chief networking officer. You’ll be in charge of training clients/athletes, training any trainers/coaches, staying up on the science, writing and editing blogposts and articles, filming and editing videos, promoting yourself and responding on social media, creating products, sending out newsletters, creating presentations, speaking at seminars, and more. The greater popularity you attain, the greater the criticism and expectations. People will essentially expect you to be a top notch strength coach with a mastery of biomechanics and physiology while regularly pumping out tons of free content that is error free and well presented and formatted. You’ll need to be tech-savvy and have good writing and speaking skills, in addition to good instincts concerning what’s important and relevant to the field and what’s not.

14. Be a Professional

Act like a professional, not a little baby. No whining, complaining, bitching, griping, lying, excessive negativity, drama, over-the-top self promotion, or endless selfies. Be prudent with what you post and make sure everything you do has good intentions. Strive to elevate your industry and profession. You want to be taken seriously? Act the part, at least online.

15. Create Value

You need to make money in order to sustain your career, so take your time creating valuable products and services that people will proudly promote for you on social media when they see great results from your work.

If you follow these steps, congratulations in advance! You’ll have arrived.

BC

Squats and Deadlifts Aren’t Panning Out the Way I Hoped

Hey, Bret, I have been your blog fan for a while and incorporated a lot from your advice in my training routine. However, I encountered a very severe problem in my training that is now making me lose the will to continue regular trainings since everything seems wrong.

I had lean legs and small, weak glutes. I was working out almost a year to achieve better physique, using mostly squats, different styles of lunges, deadlifts etc., body pump classes and total body workouts following my trainer’s advice, I wasn’t aiming for the huge booty, just a firmer, slightly more developed one. But it seems that only my legs were firing up. Upper glute is completely underdeveloped no matter what I do. Now I ended up with a really big hamstring muscle, quads developed as well, but glute is now even more ‘eaten’ in this muscle domination. I developed more severe case of anterior pelvic tilt now since i stopped training. I start again, then I get upset after feeling the pain only in my hamstrings after glute exercises even if I concentrate as much as I can on activation. So, bulked legs and no glute improvement. You maybe understand my disappointment and frustration after all the hard work. It’s impossible to find even jeans that fit me now. I am 56 kg, 172 cm, and I am all firm in my upper body, bulked in legs and weak in glute and lower back. Not the look I was aiming for.

Now I intend to run to somehow at least slim down my legs and give up on glutes. Do you have any suggestion on how I can solve this problem? When I consult trainers in my gym they just tell me more squats and deadlifts, so I am completely lost. And, well, i don’t trust them anymore. If you have time or will or any piece of advice I would very much appreciate. If not.. thanks for reading at least. Cheers! Maria

Hi Maria, I didn’t get any pictures from you or any video clips showing your form, so I’m going to assume that 1) you do in fact have large thighs with poor gluteal development, and 2) your form on squats, deadlifts, and lunges is sound. I’m assuming that you’ve heard of this definition of insanity before, right?

Insanity

I don’t know why these trainers would be telling you to just keep doing squats and deadlifts if they’re not working for you. This is one thing that really irks me about certain trainers. Many of them seem like robots who have been programmed to provide only one default answer and are unable to think outside the box or come up with creative solutions. Doing just squats and deadlifts for building the glutes works well for many lifters, especially men. One female powerlifter I tested in EMG a few months ago had some of the best glute development I’ve ever seen, but she also does plenty of glute assistance work. But relying solely on squats and deadlifts for glute development also fails many lifters, and it won’t maximize glute size, especially in the upper region. I have had to come up with unique strategies for many of THESE ladies, so you’re not alone. I recommend trying a completely different approach. But first, let me link to some previously written articles that you might like:

Growing Glutes Without Growing the Legs
Do More than “Just Squat”
What Builds the Glutes Best?
What Are the Best Glute Exercises?
The Jane Fonda Experiment
Quadruped Leg Swings
Don’t Be Donald Duck

As for what program you should try, Strong Curves would be a good idea, and Get Glutes would be even better. However, if I were you, I would leave out squats, deadilfts, and lunges, since you have already mentioned that these only build your legs and not your glutes. If I was in your shoes, I also wouldn’t do any leg presses, hack squats, leg extensions, leg curls, glute ham raises, or Nordic ham curls. Instead, I would focus mostly on 1) hip thrusts, 2) back extensions, 3) quadruped leg swings, 4) reverse hypers (preferably loaded, but bodyweight is okay too), 5) standing hip abduction (ankle weight, cable, or band), 6) RKC planks, and 7) hollow body holds.

Keep focusing on improving your mind-muscle connection, start off each workout with 5-10 minutes of low load glute activation exercises (lateral band walks, glute bridges, quadruped hip extensions, side lying clams, side lying hip abductions, bird dogs, quadruped hip circles, fire hydrants, side lying hip raises, side lying clam raises), do mostly medium and high reps with shorter rest periods for producing high levels of metabolic stress, go up in weight over time but make sure you’re always feeling the glutes doing the job, and make sure to incorporate loaded standing hip abductions to target the upper glutes. I would make sure you train glutes at least 3 times per week, but in your situation, 5 days per week would likely be ideal.

Sticking to this plan should help you start: 1) growing your glutes, 2) shrinking your legs, 3) improving your glute : thigh size ratio, and 4) improving anterior pelvic tilt. Best of luck to you, don’t give up!

Booty

Too bad this lady can’t donate some of her glutes to you…

Always Be Thrusting

Hi Bret, I’m so discouraged. I just checked the dimensions of the hip thruster and I just don’t have enough space in my tiny San Francisco apartment. I belong to a small gym that only has a smith machine (no barbells). Can I still get awesome results with a smith machine for hip thrusts? Thanks, Maria

Hi Maria,

First off, the Hip Thruster can be rolled underneath a bed (with just the back pad sticking out) stacked in a closet, or stacked against a wall on the balcony, so you might be okay in that regard.

But please don’t sweat this. Just make sure you’re doing some sort of hip thrusting. Please click on:

The Evolution of the Hip Thrust (updated)

…to see all of the different hip thrust variations. There are so many possibilities now (the link includes over 100 videos of hip thrust variations). With all the different options, you can always be thrusting.

We could argue about what type of hip thrust is best, but I suspect that the differences in EMG activation wouldn’t be that significant between all of them. The important thing is that you’re regularly performing hip thrusts.

If you have a Hip Thruster, you can do band, barbell, or single leg hip thrusts from home.

Hip Thruster

If you’re at a gym that has a power rack, you can do band hip thrusts out of the rack.

band hip thrust

If you’re at a gym that has sturdy benches or aerobic steps, you can do barbell hip thrusts.

hip thrust

If you’re at a gym that just has a smith machine, you can do smith machine hip thrusts.

smith

If you’re at a gym that only has leg machines and no free weights, you can do hip thrusts off of the leg extension or lying leg curl machine.

leg ext

If you’re at home or on vacation, you can do single leg hip thrusts or partner hip thrusts off the couch (I’ve had my girlfriend straddle me while I hip thrusted her for 3 sets of 20 reps while on vacation, and I recently told a client to glute bridge her husband for 3 sets of 10 reps when she was on vacation).

Partner hip thrust

Partner hip thrust

Band hip thrusts can be performed daily. Barbell hip thrusts can be performed 3 times per week to hit low, medium, and high rep ranges. Single leg hip thrusts can be tossed into the mix once per week for variety. In summary, just make sure that you’re hip thrusting frequently for maximal results.

 

What Are the Best Glute Exercises?

Hi Bret, what are the best glute exercises that I should be doing? Thanks, Cindy

This is a question that I receive very often – everybody wants to know what the best glute exercises are. This question is difficult to answer. First of all, in order to be confident, I’d need for there to exist approximately twenty high-quality training studies for me to examine – longitudinal studies that compared the gluteal hypertrophic gains between various exercises, using different combinations of glute exercises, and using different types of subjects (genders, training age, etc.).

This research does not exist. In fact, there is only one training study to my knowledge that measured gluteus maximus hypertrophy – it was a Russian study that examined the lying machine squat exercise. At this point in time, we don’t have any RCT’s to reference in order to help us answer the question. Therefore, we must go down the line in terms of the hierarchy of knowledge and examine acute studies (mechanistic research), pilot data, anecdotal data, and bro-science.

manly glutes

Second, the best exercise for one person might not be the best exercise for another person. For example, if a particular exercise consistently causes pain or injury, it’s not worth doing, no matter how popular or trendy the exercise is. Anatomy plays a large role in determining exercise tolerance, and not every hip is designed to full squat heavy, not every spine is designed to deadlift heavy, and some lifters don’t tolerate the hip thrust very well. Moreover, some lifters don’t feel popular exercises working their glutes very well no matter how hard the concentrate and focus on using the glutes – this applies to squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and back extensions.

Training age must be factored in too – a beginner needs to master the box squat, hip hinge, and glute bridge (and also the goblet squat) before adding more load. Moreover, logistics must be taken into consideration. Three of my favorite glute exercises are the band hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, and horizontal back extension, but most lifters don’t have access to a Hip Thruster, a reverse hyper, and a glute ham developer.

Ask the vast majority of lifters what the best glute exercise is and they’ll likely reply with the squat. Some might say the deadlift, others the lunge, and most of my fans would say the hip thrust. In fact, around 60% of my readers feel that the hip thrust (40%) or barbell glute bridge (19%) is the best glute exercise (see HERE for the results to a poll), with the remaining 40% coming from the squat (8%), deadlift (7%), Bulgarian split squat (6%), kettlebell swing (5%), single leg RDL (4%), lunge (4%), single leg hip thrust (3%), and back extension (3%). I’m sure if you polled primarily Olympic lifters or powerlifters, they’d reply with the squat, but I’d argue that most of these lifters don’t have ample experience with the hip thrust and they’re goals are centered around strength performance and not the hypertrophy of the glutes.

So how do we know what’s best? The answer is, we don’t. The research just isn’t there yet. We can speculate, but we can’t be certain. During my lifetime, I hope to compile a lot of this research and help us hone in on optimal glute training practices over time. In the meantime, we can utilize various tools to help us answer these questions. For example, we can look at electromyography (EMG) data. EMG looks at muscle activation. But there’s more to the hypertrophic picture than activation. While activation broadly mirrors active muscle force, especially during isometric contractions, it gets skewed when dealing with dynamic movements and under fatigue. While EMG is a good tool for estimating mechanical tension, there are three primary mechanisms of muscular hypertrophy – mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage (see HERE for a comprehensive article on this topic).

An exercise can have fairly low activation but move through a considerable stretch and produce a good amount of muscle damage. Muscle damage is more related to strain than activation. Similarly, an exercise can have moderate activation, but if it’s constant and doesn’t let up, then it can produce high levels of metabolic stress.

Nevertheless, an exercise that exhibits very high levels of muscle activation will be well-suited for all three mechanisms of hypertrophy, you just have to tinker around with the manner of execution. For example, let’s consider the hip thrust. Perform 4 sets of 6 reps with a brief isometric pause at the top and you’ll get high levels of mechanical tension. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps with no rest in between reps (constant tension – not touching the bar down to the floor), only waiting 60 seconds in between sets, and you’ll get high levels of metabolic stress. Perform 4 sets of 8 reps with an emphasis on the eccentric component (4-sec lowering count), using a higher bench so the hips move through a greater ROM, and you’ll get decent levels of muscle damage.

Hip Thrust

Now, I’d argue that different exercises should be used to target the different mechanisms of hypertrophy. For example, moderate to heavy hip thrusts for mechanical tension, high rep band hip thrusts or back extensions for metabolic stress, and walking lunges or Bulgarian split squats for muscle damage. This is why the best glute building programs involve sufficient variety. Moreover, some folks might have a particular physiology that makes them respond better to certain types of stimuli (for example, the lifters whose butts blow up from high rep hip thrusts and back extensions might respond better to metabolic stress, whereas the lifters whose butts grow substantially from squats and lunges might respond better to muscle damage), but I digress…

For the past few months, I’ve been collecting extensive EMG data for my PhD thesis. I’ve tested some very strong and fit women. In fact, this year alone, I’ve examined 10 powerlifters, 2 Olympic lifters, and 8 bikini competitors. While my thesis primarily examines the squat and the hip thrust exercises, I’ve also compiled a ton of data on other glute exercises.

I’ve looked at different types of back extensions – arched back, neutral, roundback, bodyweight, dumbbell, and band. I’ve looked at kb swings, kb deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and pendulum quadruped hip extensions. I’ve examined several types of squats (full, parallel, front, goblet) and hip thrusts (barbell, American, band). I’ve looked at different lateral band movements, and I’ve even looked at various combined movements (for example, banded goblet squats).

Band Goblet

And, I’ve looked at upper and lower glute activity during these movements. While I’m not allowed to release the data just yet as I intend to publish it, I want my readers to know a few things:

  1. Hip thrusts kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  2. Back extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes
  3. Pendulum quadruped hip extensions kick ass for upper and lower glutes

In future studies, I would actually like to pit the hip thrust, back extension, and pendulum quadruped hip extension against each other with equal relative loading with advanced subjects. It would be very close, but based on what I’m seeing, the hip thrust would probably be best for mean glute activation, but I suspect that the back extension might elicit the greatest peak upper glute activity and the pendulum quadruped hip extension might elicit the greatest peak lower glute activity.

At any rate, here is my advice in terms of best exercises for glute training:

  1. Variety is ideal, so don’t just rely on one exercise for glute building. Tinker around and figure out the variations of each movement pattern that suit your body best – everyone is unique.
  2. Make sure you’re regularly performing at least one type of hip thrust movement (barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, band hip thrust, American hip thrust, single leg hip thrust)
  3. Make sure you’re regularly performing a back extension movement (bodyweight for high reps, band or dumbbell for medium reps, single leg, 45 degree or horizontal)
  4. Make sure you’re performing a couple of squatting movements (bilateral or unilateral) that feel right for you. This can include goblet squats, front squats, back squats, box squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, or pistols.
  5. Make sure you’re regularly performing a deadlifting movement that feels right for you. This can include kettlebell deadlifts, American deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, block pulls, deficit deadlifts, or single leg RDLs.
  6. When possible, try to add in an open chain hip extension movement (pendulum quadruped hip extension is best, but many gyms have machines that allow for this – HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the leg curl machine, HERE is a lady doing kickbacks with the smith machine, and HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE are various butt machines. If you find one that feels right, then go really hard on these and make them a staple movement and go for progressive overload over time. If you can’t find a variation that feels right (you don’t feel the glutes working hard), then don’t do them and don’t sweat it. The 4-way hip machine can work well, as seen HERE. They can also be done with a cable column (HERE), bands (HERE) and ankle weights (HERE) fairly effectively, but in this case, I would do them at the end of a workout for high reps. The pendulum underneath the reverse hyper is best, but again, very few people have access to this machine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the article and have gained some insight as to what glute exercises are best for building a solid booty. Train glutes a few times per week for best results, and make sure you’re getting stronger over time.

Gluteos