Category Archives: Ask Bret Contreras (ABC)

“You’re All a Bunch of Pathetic Weaklings,” Says the Steroid Using Powerlifter

“Why is it, that weak lifters always have to make the claim that stronger people are using steroids?”

Recently, an anabolic steroid using powerlifting poked fun of me (a natural lifter) for being weak. When I asked him if he used steroids (I already knew the answer to the question), rather than answer me, the anabolic steroid using powerlifter replied with the question above.

I would now like to take the time to answer this question. Here’s why.

Anabolic steroids make the average lifter WAY stronger and more muscular. When steroids are added to the mix, it changes the rules.


For the record, I have no problem with lifters who use anabolic steroids. Dozens of lifting partners of mine over the years have used them, and I honestly couldn’t care less, as long as they went about it in a wise and safe manner. However, I have a HUGE problem with anabolic steroid using lifters who poke fun of natural lifters for being weak. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most deplorable things I see on the internet. Think about it – these individuals are taking substances that artificially make them bigger and stronger, then going around and bullying lifters who are natural. If you do this, it makes you absolutely pathetic.

Lately, I’ve seen an onslaught of comments from steroid-using powerlifters that are quite puzzling to say the least. Here are two of them: “Steroids don’t do the work for you, sure they help you recover faster but you still have to put in the work,” and, “Natural lifters love to play the steroid card, but 90% of it is hard work, nutrition, and consistency.” WHO DO THEY THINK THEY’RE KIDDING? Do these guys really believe this? Steroid-using powerlifters and bodybuilders don’t work any harder than natural powerlifters and bodybuilders. We all put in the work, it’s just that steroid-users have drastically altered physiology which causes them to see much greater gains.

In my experience, many steroid-users grossly underestimate the role that steroids play in their strength development. I’d have a lot more respect for the lifter who admitted that without steroids, he’d be pretty ordinary in terms of strength and physique. In fact, one of my lifting friends openly admits this, and it cracks me up. He’s a jacked cop (ironic, I know), and he’s said on numerous occasions that, “Man, before I took roids, you could barely tell I lifted weights. Now guys envy my physique and women flock to me.” This guy is honest to a fault, but he makes us all laugh.

Many steroid-using powerlifters don’t have a good grip on what transfers best for the natural lifter, and they don’t optimally understand program design for the natural lifter. Why? Because many of them have never controlled variables. Fluctuating drug cycles confound training/nutrition cycles. Because when the going got tough, many of them simply took more steroids. Many figure out quickly that taking another gram of testosterone or adding in trenbolone transferred very well to strength and got them through their training ruts. Because it came too easy for many of them. Most never spent 8 months hammering the bench press, only to gain a meager 10 lbs of strength. Many never took the time to learn the effects of different protocols. When they were stagnating, many simply took more juice.

It reminds me of this Robert DeNiro speech in Limitless.

As a consequence, I’ve found that many training programs written by steroid users are too harsh for natural lifters; some of these programs contain excessive volume which the average natural lifter could not recover from. This is why it’s important for lifters and coaches working with natural lifters to train naturally themselves (or at least cycle on and off for ample amounts of time) and to train or train with natural lifters.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I’d like to discuss some aspects of testosterone and androgen usage. There are several articles that I will call upon, which are linked below. Please click on them if you’d like to download the full papers.


Testosterone dose-response relationships in healthy young men


Testosterone Concentrations in Women Aged 25–50 Years: Associations with Lifestyle, Body Composition, and Ovarian Status

Testosterone Facts

The first thing you should know about testosterone is how much a normal person makes. Healthy men produce approximately 4.0–9.0 mg of testosterone per day, with blood concentrations ranging from 300 to 1,000 ng/dL (10.4–34.7 nmol/L). Females typically make 1/10 to 1/20 of this amount and have blood concentrations in the range of 15 to 65 ng/dL (0.5–2.3 nmol/L).

So, if you’re a male, your testicles pump out approximately 7 mgs/day of testosterone. In males, around 95% of this testosterone is made in the Leydig cells of the testis, whereas 5% is made via conversion in the adrenal cortex. Around 2% of this testosterone is free (unbound) in the bloodstream, whereas 35-38% is bound to albumin and 60-63% is bound to sex-hormone-binding-globulin (SHBG). In women, around 50% of testosterone is produced through peripheral conversion of androstenedione, with the remainder of production concentrated in the ovary (25 percent) and adrenal cortex (25 percent).

Quantities Taken by Elite Lifters

Now let’s look at what amounts the top lifters are taking. Here is a quote from a recent Ryan Kennelly video. For those of you who don’t know who Ryan Kennelly is, he used to be the strongest geared bench presser in the world, until he got put behind bars for selling steroids and other drugs. Here’s what Ryan had to say about steroid use and strength development.

“Basically later on in life instead of getting steroids from my friends and having to buy them, I got on the internet and realized that they can be purchased on the Internet in raw form. Basically testosterone powder and all the raw forms of the ingredients and it was much cheaper. So I invested in that because in 2003 when I benched eight hundred and knew I had to go for 900 I knew I needed a large amount of steroids.


The amount that I was taking like I referenced earlier, waking up to three syringes which was nine cc’s pointing up in the air in the bathroom when I woke up each morning. I also ended up going to the ranch home store because, why have three needles when you can buy a large syringe that were used for horses that had like 25 CC’s/25 milliliters and just fill that up? So the amount of steroids that I had were for personal use and not for resale or distribution.

Let me make a point, the amount that I was taking in 2003 consisted of at that time, going for 900 pounds, I was taking twenty five hundred milligrams of testosterone a week, eight hundred milligrams of nandrolone deconate a week, 75 milligrams of dbol a day and there was also fast-acting testosterones that I was taking upwards of a hundred milligrams of those a day.

The long-acting testosterone from my calculations the plasma half-life is about 14 days they kick in in about seven days but seven days wasted I need some that’s kicking in now. I would take testosterone propionate or testosterone no ester that I would make up myself in oil with sterile alcohol, sterile needles, sterile syringe filters. I would make bottles of it because I was going through upwards (bottle holds pan 10-13 milliliters of liquid) through roughly 10 bottles every 10 days at the time.


At that point it didn’t seem like a lot because if you know anything about injecting and how steroids work in the body, there are things your body called receptors. They are like flowers and after a while your flower start to will, meaning the amount you’re taking to 1500 milligrams and you’re not getting the desired effect. This is because your body is not accepting it so in return you take more. Or you take more of a different ester like testosterone cypionate is one ester.  You take twenty five hundred milligrams. Once your body gets used to that, you change to testosterone enanthate, which can attach it to a different receptor.

By juggling these things at the time you learn that you can only inject so much. Your body can only handle so much injected into itself. Then you start consuming these oral powders and using insulin as a transport drug. What insulin does is it unlocks the cells in your muscle and it is very dangerous taking insulin. People could die and it’s something you go to your local Walmart and buy a bottle of humulin-r insulin for twenty-five dollars. Basically what insulin does is it shuttle’s all what you consume in your body into your muscle.

So basically I was taking the steroid powders, taking a tablespoon of certain ones adding it with orange flavored tang and I would drink these throughout the course the day. I would inject this medium acting insulin that in my mind, according to other athletes I spoke with at the Arnold classic and other athletes from overseas, this a technique that they are using now. They claimed increased water retention increased size and increase strength.

images (1)

So on top of injecting 3- 4,000 milligrams a week I was also consuming orally as time went on. This upset my stomach, made me pale, and made me puke. That didn’t last very long because you cannot lift and gain weight when your pale sick and puking. In my mind that’s not going to be what benefits you in the long run.”

Ignoring the fact that Ryan was wrong about some of his steroid knowledge, he confesses to taking the following amounts of steroids:

  • 2,500 mgs testosterone enanthate per week
  • 800 mgs of deca durabolin per week
  • 75 mgs of dianabol per day (525 mgs/wk)
  • 100 mgs of testosterone propionate per day (700 mgs/wk)
  • 4,525 mgs of anabolic steroids per week

6dc6c_ORIG-Ryan_Kennelly_Double_BicepsWhen Ryan wanted to get to a 1,000 lb bench press, he knew he needed even more steroids. He didn’t mention that he needed another two years of solid training, where he’d periodize his training and implement strategic assistance lifts at various time points. It was all about the steroids. He knew that this amount would take him to this level, and to get to the next level, he’d need to take this amount. At any rate, let’s compare the milligrams of androgens for a natural lifter and world class bench presser:

Natural Lifter: 7 mgs testosterone/day
Ryan Kennelly: 646 mgs androgens/day

It has been reported that many top bodybuilders will take between 1,000-2,000 mgs/wk of anabolic steroids per week, with some reaching up to 5,000 mgs/wk (see HERE, HERE, and HERE). I’ve heard rumors of powerlifting gyms bragging that their main lifters take a minimum of 3,000 mgs/wk of testosterone as a base, while adding orals on top of it. As I mentioned earlier, normal blood levels of testosterone range from 300-1,000 ng/dL. It has been reported that pro bodybuilders tend to have testosterone levels of around 3,500 ng/dL, with a maximum of 21,000 ng/dL (see HERE), but keep in mind that they’re taking a lot more than just testosterone (they also might be taking steroids with names such as Deca-Durabolin, Dianabol, Winstrol, Primobolan, Equipoise, or Trenbolone, along with other drugs such as IGF-1, Cytomel, Human Growth Hormone, and Clenbuterol).

What Does Testosterone Do? 

Here are the various effects of testosterone:

  • Increases lean body mass
  • Increases cardiac tissue mass
  • Decreases body fat percentage
  • Increases isometric and dynamic muscle strength and power
  • Enhances recovery ability between workouts
  • Increases protein synthesis, accretion, and nitrogen retention
  • Decreases catabolism
  • Increases muscle cross-sectional area
  • Stimulates growth of the epiphyseal plate
  • Increases erythropoiesis, hemoglobin, and hematocrit
  • Increased vasodilation
  • Increases bone mineral content, density, and markers of bone growth
  • Regulation of osteoblasts, bone matrix production, and organization
  • Increases glycogen and creatine phosphate storage
  • Increases lipolysis and low-density lipoproteins and decreases high-density lipoproteins
  • Increases neural transmission, neurotransmitter release, myelinization, and regrowth of damaged peripheral nerves
  • Repression of myostatin
  • Behavior modification (i.e., aggression)
  • Acute elevations in skeletal intramuscular calcium concentrations
  • Decreases sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)
  • Increased androgen receptor density (depending on the androgen, the dose, the duration, the muscle, and the tissue)
  • Increased satellite cells and androgen receptors in satellite cells

Many are aware of some of these effects, but most aren’t aware of all of them. Testosterone works through a variety of anabolic, anti-catabolic, neural, and psychological mechanisms.

How Does Testosterone Effect Strength, Hypertrophy, and Body Composition?

Hopefully you downloaded the articles that I linked earlier and can explore the studies to a greater extent, but here are a couple of highlights from two of those papers:

In the following study, subjects were given either 25 mg, 50 mg, 125 mg, 300 mg, or 600 mgs of testosterone per week. The graphs below illustrate that testosterone’s effects on hypertrophy are fairly linear.


In the study below, subjects were given 600 mgs/wk of testosterone. In the group that exercised, this caused total testosterone levels to raise by approximately 800%, and free-testosterone levels to raise by over 600%. As you can see below, taking ample testosterone is better for hypertrophy than lifting weights, and taking testosterone on top of exercising is markedly better for strength than exercising-alone.


Anabolic Steroids are Used with Females Too

Most people assume that anabolic steroids are used only by males, but many top female powerlifters, top female bodybuilders, top female figure competitors, and even top female bikini competitors take anabolic steroids too. They do not openly discuss this, as they would be judged and ridiculed too extensively, but nevertheless it’s happening all over the world.

In this case, they don’t take testosterone as it’s more harsh for women and leads to too many undesirable side effects. Therefore, they’ll often take oxandralone (aka Anavar), which has a favorable anabolic: androgenic ratio for women. Because women typically possess 5-10% of the blood levels of testosterone that men do, they tend to respond very well to small doses of androgens such as oxandralone.

For this reason, often the routines espoused by steroid-using female lifters tend to not be progressive enough for natural lifting women.

It Goes Both Ways

While the steroid-using lifters need to be sympathetic of the natural lifters, the natural lifters also need to be sympathetic of the steroid-using lifters. Many natural guys tend to assume that if they did a steroid cycle, they’d blow up and be just like Dan Green. First of all, just like with natural lifting, there’s a large inter-individual variation in the response to steroids. Some guys blow up and other guys don’t grow too much. Second, these guys should certainly be respected as they’re putting a boatload of weight on their backs or in their hands every day. One minor mistake can lead to Snap City. When you’re squatting 3 hundy, you have more wiggle room with improper form, but with a grand, your form better be spot on. This is why bodybuilders often adjust their programs so they’re not using so much weight on big lifts, for example utilizing pre-exhaustion techniques, high reps, drop sets, ultra-strict form, and pause reps.

Finally, the life of a steroid-user is not as glamorous as it seems. Steroids are expensive and illegal. They can do jail time if caught, and there are a lot of ancillary drugs and supplements that must also be taken to minimize the damage to their organs or to keep certain hormones in normal ranges (ex: Nolvadex). Their bloodwork (hematocrit, cholesterol profile, etc.) and blood pressure is often atrocious. They battle with sleep apnea and fluctuating moods and sex-drives, and many have trouble performing simple daily task such as wiping their butts or washing their backs. Last, their caloric intake is much higher (and expensive), and it becomes a chore to meet calorie and protein requirements day in and day out. The grass is not always greener on the other side.



Most of us lifters couldn’t care less if our colleagues experiment with anabolic steroids. Personally, I don’t judge lifters who take roids. However, I do have a problem with steroid-using lifters who surf the net and poke fun of natural lifters, and with steroid-using lifters who deny or attempt to understate their efficacy. If you take anabolic steroids, remain humble and enjoy your expedited strength and hypertrophic gains. Ripping on natural lifters when you take steroids make you a pathetic, mentally-fragile bully.

Ten years ago, I did some MMA training for a couple of years. We had around a dozen gym rats come through our doors during this time, and most of them only lasted a day. They’d get choked out or pounded around by guys half their size, and the vast majority had egos that got the best of them which enticed them to quit on the spot. I can’t help but wonder if some of these same bullying powerlifters would poke fun of the much weaker MMA fighters if they were face-to-face. If so, they’d get their butts handed to them. I respect powerlifting strength very much, but I respect humility even more. At any rate, I hope this article sheds some light on why natural lifters “play the steroid card” when steroid-using lifters are talking smack.


How to Get the Bar Over the Thighs When Hip Thrusting

Hi Bret, I absolutely love the hip thrust, but to be honest, I loathe setting up the exercise because I struggle to get into position. If I use a bar pad, I can’t get the bar over my thighs and onto my hips, and if I don’t use a bar pad, it hurts like hell on my pelvis. I want to continue to hip thrust, but this problem is really bothering me. I thought I’d come to the Glute Guy for a solution. Do you have any suggestions? – Andy

Hi Andy, you’ve come to the right place. Many dudes share this problem, and I have just the solution for you. Place plates or mats where the barbell would normally touch when hip thrusting, and simply roll the bar up onto the plates/mats as shown in the video below. This is how my lifting partner Charles Staley does them, and it makes a world of difference for males with big butts and thighs.

Two days I ago, I posted the video below which shows mats being used in the same fashion. Either way works.

I hope that helps, BC

Hip Thrust

Deadlift Lockout Strength

Hi Bret, I’m a big fan or your blog and I appreciate your science-based approach. Recently, a popular Norwegian powerlifting coach stated the following:

“Missing a lockout is never about weak hip-extensors. If the person is strong enough to initiate a hip extension in the first place he should have no problem finishing it. If you stop close to full extension it is not about weak extension but weak grip or thoracic flexion”

I would love to know your take on this statement Bret. Thank you! – Andreas

Hi Andreas! Thanks for the compliment. Before I answer your question, I’d like to stress that I’m a huge fan of Norway’s strength & conditioning practices and their commitment to sports science. In fact, I’m probably more impressed with Norway’s efforts to understand the practical aspects of sports science than I am with any other country right now. I have no doubt that this coach in question works with some incredible athletes, and my response should not be misinterpreted as a sign of disrespect but as a way of pushing strength science forward.


That being said, this is an awesome topic and one that I’ve spent tons of time considering. Moreover, at Revolution Training System, I lift with some seriously strong deadlifters. Two are right at the 800 lb level, two at the mid-700 lb level, several guys pulling in the mid 600’s while weighing under 200 lbs, and a handful who can pull triple bodyweight. I think it’s important for fitness writers offering maximal strength advice to actually work alongside strong powerilfters as there’s tremendous knowledge to be gained.

Below are my thoughts. And by the way, many of the images used in this blogpost are from Chris Beardsley and my extensive Hip Extension Torque product which can be purchased HERE (read more about it HERE).

1. Deadlift lockout and grip strength

Many lifters indeed miss their deadlift lockouts due to weak grip strength. Here are some thoughts regarding grip strength:

  • A maximal pull can last less than 2 seconds for fast lifters and over 10 seconds for slower lifters (HERE is Konstantin with a 6-sec pull, HERE is Belaev with an under 2-sec pull, and HERE is some dude with a 13-sec pull). Therefore, the lifter must be able to hold onto the load for sufficient time to allow for completion.
  • Faster lifters are producing greater force due to acceleration (f=ma) in comparison with slower lifters, and they therefore need slightly stronger grip strength, whereas slower lifters need more grip strength endurance.
  • A stronger grip increases muscle activation throughout the body during the deadlift (or perhaps better put, a weak grip shuts down muscle activation throughout the body during the deadlift). Try pulling close to your 1RM without chalk or with a smoother barbell and you’ll know what I mean – your hip and knee extensors won’t contract forcefully because the body knows that if it pulls with too much acceleration, the grip will give out and you’ll drop the bar.

2. Deadlift lockout and thoracic flexion

Some lifters indeed miss the lockout due to excessive thoracic flexion. Lifters who are accustomed to pulling with a strict arch will find that it’s much harder to lockout the deadlift with some spinal rounding. When these lifters perform all of their training in a strict fashion and then attempt a maximal pull with a slightly rounded posture, you see them quaking and quivering at the lockout, and most often they miss because they lack the glute strength to push the hips forward.

When they pull in a strict fashion, however, the lockout is smooth and easy. The problem is, when going for a maximal attempt (usually seen on a 3rd attempt on the platform), most lifters can’t initiate bar movement off the ground with perfect posture; their legs aren’t strong enough. So they round a bit to get the bar moving, which causes problems for them when they need to lock the weight out.

3. Hip extension torque angle curve using isokinetic dynamometry

There’s more to the story then meets the eye, so let’s delve deeper. First, let’s examine the hip extension torque angle curve using isokinetic dynamometry. In other words, how strong are the hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings, and adductors) when moving from deep hip flexion to full hip extension?

Surprisingly, the hips are markedly stronger in hip flexion. This is likely due to increased contribution of passive forces (stretch) as well as increased adductor contribution to hip extension (adductor moment arms for hip extension are greater in hip flexion). In the graph below, you’ll notice that the hips are almost twice as strong at 90 degrees of hip flexion compared to at 180 degrees of hip flexion (neutral hips). This has been shown to be the case in a number of published studies (six to my knowledge). See HERE for one of the abstracts.

MA Hip Flexion

This shows that the adductors have better leverage as hip extensors in hip flexion, whereas the glutes have better leverage as hip extensors in anatomical position. Also, the sum of hip extension moment arms is greater in hip flexion compared to anatomical position. This indicates that hip extensor muscles have better leverage off the floor in a deadlift compared to at lockout.

HET Hip Flexion

This shows that the hips are stronger in hip flexion compared to in anatomical position. This indicates that hips are stronger off the floor in a deadlift compared to at lockout.


This is my isometric hip extension strength at four different ROMs using a Humac Norm (isokinetic dynamometer). Even though I do tons of hip thrusts and back extensions, my hips are over 2.5 times stronger as extensors in hip flexion compared to in anatomical position. This indicates that experienced lifters’ hip extension strength off the floor in a deadlift is markedly superior when compared to lockout position strength.

4. Hip extension torque angle curve in the deadlift

Now let’s examine the hip extension torque requirements in a deadlift. Does the deadlift match the hip’s natural strength curve? As you’ll see in the graph below, it does. This is due to the increasing mechanical advantage in the deadlift as the movement rises, which is due to decreasing resistance moment arms at the top range of motion. See HERE and HERE for abstracts of studies on this topic.


The resistance moment arms (not to be confused with muscle moment arms) decrease as the deadlift rises since the hips move closer to the load in terms of horizontal distance from the joint center to the bar.


Since the resistance moment arms diminish as the bar rises in a deadlift, it’s no surprise that the hip extension torque requirements diminish as well.

5. The effect of range of motion on isometric deadlift strength

Is this mechanical advantage reflected in isometric deadlift strength? In other words, does the vertical ground reaction force we can create near lockout reflect the mechanical advantage (smaller resistance moment arms for the hips and the knees)? Yes, it does. You can see in the graph below that lifters are stronger at the top of the deadlift compared to when pulling off the floor.The table below is from THIS paper, and HERE is a link to a similar experiment conducted at The Glute Lab.


Isometric pulling strength is stronger at lockout compared to from the knees or from the floor. This indicates that no lifter should fail at lockout (but they often do). Also, many lifters are stronger in the mid-thigh pull position (which utilizes the quads to a greater degree) compared to the actual deadlift lockout position.

6. Reasons for failed lockouts

So what does this all mean? Lifters should be stronger at the top of a deadlift compared to at the bottom. Why do they fail? Here are the various reasons:

  • Insufficient grip strength
  • Unusual posture
  • Unnatural bar path
  • Lack of synchronicity and poor coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Insufficient hip extension strength

I’ve already discussed grip strength and posture above, so below I’ll address the other reasons.

7. Unnatural bar path

If a lifter allows the bar to drift away from the body, it can easily cause a missed lift. The closer the bar is to the body, the lighter the load on the low back. When the bar drifts out in front, the lifter has to reign it back in, and this throws off the lift and prevents the lifter from locking out the load. Ironically, this often happens when the lifter lines up with the bar too close to the shins prior to liftoff. There’s a sweet spot in terms of shin-to-bar distance that is inherent to each lifter that allows for the best mechanics and greatest loading.

8. Lack of synchronicity and poor coordination

Sometimes the bar path is fine but the lifter’s kinematics are off. You want to see the body move up and then back (the trunk angle stays fairly similar from lift-off to the knees, and then the trunk straightens out from knees to lockout). You also want consistency from one rep to the next and from one set to the next. Lifters get more consistent over time through practice – beginners show huge variability.

Sometimes lifters will allow the shins to jut forward after the bar passes the knees by extending the hips without simultaneously extending the knees, which can cause a missed lockout. This is probably due to the fact that many lifters are stronger in a mid-thigh pull (MTP) compared to a deadlift lockout (see HERE for data on that, and see HERE for what a MTP looks like – but this vid is dynamic, not isometric). This is reversible through training.

9. Fatigue

Many people fail to consider the role of fatigue in a maximal deadlift. Some lifters are extremely neurally efficient  and can summon very high amounts of neural drive to all the body’s muscles at once. After a couple seconds of pulling with maximal loading, the body is drained and has trouble sustaining maximal contraction. When lifters are accustomed to pulling submaximal loads in training, they can find themselves unable to lockout maximal loads simply because they fatigue by the end of the lift and miss the lockout.

Think about it – the lifter possesses the top end strength to finish the lift (if the lifter was to perform a partial deadlift with the same load from the same joint angles, it would be a piece of cake), but he or she is too darn drained to complete it. Some lifters take up to 6 weeks to feel fully recovered from a maximal deadlift and be able to duplicate their strength demonstration, which indicates just how much demand is required of the central nervous system (CNS) during this task.

10. Insufficient end-range hip extension and glute strength

Now let’s discuss end-range hip extension strength. With lifters who either try to mid-thigh pull the weight up (and often end up hitching), or with lifters who find themselves rounded over a bit in the lockout but can’t quite lock the weight out, the problem is often weak end-range hip extension strength and glute strength. It can sometimes be caused by glutes overpowering the hamstrings in hip extension and also the quads failing to stabilize the knee to set the stage for hip extension.

At any rate, why can Konstantin lock out his deadlifts even though he rounds? Because his end-range glute strength is phenomenal. He can easily push the hips through.

Most lifters cannot do this as they don’t have gigantic glutes like Konstantin. Many lifters do better pulling with an arch so they can lock it out easier. However, if Konstantin pulled with a strict arch, he wouldn’t be able to get as much off the floor as he can when rounded, so his poundages would be lower. It all depends on the lifter.

11. Assistance lifts for different pullers?

As you can see, assistance lifts should be tailored to the individual. For the lifter who always pulls with an arch and does best with an arch – just keep squatting, front squatting, deadlifting, and block pulling with strict form. Leg presses and heavy kettlebell swings can help too.

But what about the lifter who round-backs the weight up? This lifter has two options. First – work on building strengths – do tons of American deadliftship thrusts and rounded back hip extensions. This will build end-range hip extension and glute strength so that the lifter can continue to lockout maximal pulls.


And second, the roundbacker can work on building weaknesses – more squats, front squats, strict deadlifts and block pulls, heavy kettlebell swings with strict form, leg presses, and trap bar deadlifts. These will increase leg strength and arched back hip extension strength that will allow the lifter to pull more weight off the floor, making the lockout easier to achieve. This strategy does not work for everyone though, as anatomy influences the hip extension torque angle curve, and muscular hypertrophy potential in the quads, hams, glutes, and adductors is highly genetic.

The lifter who turns the lockout into a mid-thigh pull might benefit from experimenting with RDLs with vertical shins, box squats with vertical shins, back extensions, hip thrusts, and glute ham raises.

Sometimes it’s good to alternate approaches – spend a month working on strengths, and then a month working on weaknesses. Other times a lifter might need to dedicate an entire year toward bringing up weaknesses. It all depends.

At the end of the day, not everyone will look, feel, or perform the same in the deadlift.

12. Different strokes for different folks

I hope you can see here that ideal deadlifting form, along with reasons for failure and optimal assistance lifts, are highly dependent on the lifter. Anatomy determines body segment lengths, muscle moment arms (leverage), muscle size, and spinal shape, which together highly determine deadlift form and tolerance to spinal injury.

Many coaches like to believe that there’s a one-size fits all approach to deadlifting form (and squatting, and benching, and every other lift). I hate to say this, but there’s not. A good coach works with his lifters to develop the ideal form that maximizes their strength potential and their ability to make consistent gains over the long-haul.

What’s the Best Single Leg Exercise?

“Hi Bret! I’ve got a question for you. You seem to write about single leg training quite often. What’s the very best single leg exercise out there? Thank you, Adam

Hi Adam,

First of all, the answer to this question depends on your goal and fitness levels. I’m sure you’re aware that there are many excellent single leg exercises and variations. But the various patterns are likely synergistic with one another in that you’ll get better bang for your buck by employing a few different single leg exercises rather than just one. Therefore, I wouldn’t try to narrow it down to just one. And don’t worry, with experimentation, nearly all lifters can find several unilateral exercises that suit their bodies very well.

Fitness Level

Great single leg exercises for beginners can include bodyweight reverse lunges and bodyweight Bulgarian split squats, whereas great single leg exercises for advanced lifters can include dumbbell deficit reverse lunges or weighted-vest pistol squats.

Muscle Group

Of course, one must consider the muscle group one desires to train. For example:

Great single leg exercises for the quads can include the dumbbell Bulgarian split squat, front loaded barbell forward lunge, and high step up.

Great single leg exercises for the hammies can include the single leg RDL, prisoner single leg back extension, and single leg gliding leg curl. 

Great single leg exercises for the glutes can include the barbell walking lunge, chain-loaded single leg hip thrust, barbell single leg hip thrust, and pendulum quadruped hip extension.

Injury History

One must also consider injury history. It’s hard to make blanket statements with regards to prior injuries, but I’ll provide some generalizations. Those who are prone to experiencing SI joint issues might not do well with exercises that involve considerable transfer through the SI joint, especially at end-range hip extension. These can include the single leg hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, and sometimes the single leg RDL (on the other hand, these all can be great exercises for this group of people…it all depends).

Those who are prone to experiencing knee issues might not do well with exercises that produce high knee extension moments along with considerable forward knee migration. Contraindicated exercises for this group can include the pistol squat or forward lunge (but using db’s for a counterbalance in the pistols or a long stride in the lunges might clear up any issues).

Those who are prone to experiencing anterior hip issues (FAI syndrome) might not do well with exercises that move the hip into deep flexion. Therefore this group might want to avoid high step ups, deficit reverse lunges off of a high box, and pistol squats and stick to movements that don’t go so deep into hip flexion.

Sled pushing is probably the most well-tolerated single leg exercise, and skater squats with a counterbalance (doing db front raises during the movement with light dumbbells) are pretty well-tolerated as well.

sled push

Transfer of Training

Finally, we have the issue of transfer of training to consider. This is tricky as there aren’t many studies to help us out in this regard, so we have to rely on logic and anecdotes. This is where analyzing joint ROM’s, force vectors, and torque-angle curves comes into play. For example, take the case of hip range of motion and examine the pictures below. The full squat and high step up exhibit the greatest hip ROM’s (and knee ROM’s), whereas the lunge exhibits the least hip ROM. One could stand on a block/step in order to increase hip (and knee) ROM if seeking maximal transfer to a full squat.

Joint Angles II

One can only speculate as to what transfers best to sporting movements and bilateral exercises. For transfer to acceleration sprinting, it could be the Bulgarian split squat or single leg RDL. For transfer to maximum speed sprinting, it could be the shoulder and feet elevated single leg hip thrust or prisoner single leg back extension. For transfer to squatting and deadlifting, it could be the B-stance squat or B-stance deadlift. Again, these are just hypotheses. In case you aren’t aware of these variations, here are some videos for you to watch:

B-Stance Squat

B-Stance Deadlift

B Stance Squat

B Stance Squat

B Stance Squat

B Stance Deadlift

B Stance Deadlift

B Stance Deadlift

B Stance Deadlift


As you can see, there are plenty of great single leg exercises. I recommend that you pick three of them to include in your training each month: a single leg squat variation, a single leg hip-hinge variation, and a single leg bridge variation. One example could be the barbell walking lunge, single leg gliding leg curl, and single leg hip thrust. Another could be the B-stance squat, B-stance deadlift, and barbell single leg hip thrust. If you liked this article, you’ll probably like THIS article as well. In case you’re looking for a reference for single leg exercises, my book Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy includes descriptions and illustrated pictures of most of these exercises (without additional load).