Greetings fitness friends! I haven’t done one of these random posts for a while, so here it goes:
1. Gluteus Maximus Science
Want to Geek out on gluteus maximus science? Click on THIS link to quench your thirst!
2. Instagram – The Real Deal
I want my people to follow my Instagram Page for several reasons.
First, because any time I come up with anything creative or unique, I post it there first.
Second, to observe how my clients gain strength and regularly set PRs. Showing up to the gym is easy. Gaining steady strength month in and month out is not. But this is a big factor in terms of what separates the poor responders from the best responders.
And third, because I post videos of real training cilps…not canned video clips with ultra-light weight. Some trainers are obsessed with good form to their clients’ detriment – nobody ever gets stronger because the trainer is afraid of heavy weight or slight degradations in form. Other trainers are obsessed with progressive overload to their clients’ detriment – everyone gets stronger but their form turns to crap and their range of motion shortens over time. The best trainers are somewhere in the middle, and they have good instincts as to how to progress. It’s important to watch how various trainers tow this line, and I like to think that I do a good job of it.
3. Last Day to Get $50 Off of Eric Cressey’s HPH
Today is the last day to get EC’s High Performance Handbook for $50 off, so click HERE if you want it.
4. The Fitness Summit – May 1-2 in KC
I hope to see some of my people attending the Fitness Summit on May 1-2 in Kansas City. I’ll be discussing program design. Click HERE for details.
5. Epic Fitness Summit – May 15-17 in UK
I also hope to see some of my people attending the Epic Fitness Summit on May 15-17 in Birmingham, England. I’ll be discussing the program design as well. Click HERE for details.
6. My Boy Cem Training IFBB Pro Francesca Lauren
Here’s my friend Cem working with the lovely Francesca Lauren. Inspiring video!
This is my new dog. Found her roaming the streets of south Phoenix without a collar, so I took her in. Her glutes are incredibly weak at the moment, which I plan on rectifying.
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People
If you want plenty of friends and influence, you can do two things.
1. Buy the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and implement the advice, or
2. Have a badass garage gym. If you build it, they will come. Two nights this week I had around ten people over at my house working out! It’s more expensive than the book, but it requires much less effort in terms of self-improvement.
9. Strong Curves 2 Year Anniversary
10. Skelly Resurrected
Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t filmed any YouTube videos with Skelly lately. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to; it’s because Skelly is deceased. Shortly after I filmed THIS video for Brandon Campbell, Skelly fell off of the reverse hyper and plummeted to her death. However, I just ordered a new Skelly, so in a couple of weeks I can resume properly educating y’all.
I don’t thank my readers and fans enough. I’m so grateful that I have a platform of people who value what I have to say. It’s given my life tremendous meaning, and I don’t take it for granted.
I love that you guys enjoy my podcast. I love that pro sports teams are buying my Hip Thrusters. I love that I’m getting lots of likes and shares on my Facebook comments and gaining tons of followers on Instagram. I love that many of you care about science and value the literature. I love that I meet people on a regular basis who tell me that I’ve positively influenced their lives and the way they train.
These are the things that keep me ticking and make all the hard work worth it!
12. Recent Facebook Ramblings
Here are my Facebook ramblings over the past month:
At the thigh-parallel position of the squat, the combined knee and hip extension torque (turning force) that your muscles (quads, glutes, adductors, hammies) must produce in order to extend the knees and hips and raise the barbell is directly related to femur length. An individual with 30% longer femurs than average will have to produce 30% more knee + hip extension torque. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any long femured lifters out there who can squat heavy – there are indeed plenty. It just means that if you have long femurs, either by being exceptionally tall or by just having a unique body structure, you’re going to have to work harder than a normal lifter to hoist the same loads.
This is a pet peeve that applies mostly to male powerlifters, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past. It seems that whenever a lifter attains a new goal and hits a particular number, his next goal immediately becomes to lift 90-100 lbs heavier within the next year. For example, a lifter will squat or deadlift 500 lbs for the first time and you’ll see him announce that he wants to hit 600 lbs by the end of the year. For a natural lifter with several years of training under his belt, this is usually pretty far-fetched. Rep calculators aren’t always right on the money, but they can be surprisingly accurate. To hit 400 lbs, you’ll need to hit 300 lbs for around 10 reps, to hit 500 lbs, you’ll need to hit 400 lbs for around 8 reps, to hit 600 lbs, you’ll need to hit 500 lbs for around 7 reps, and to hit 700 lbs, you’ll need to hit 600 lbs for around 6 reps. In my opinion, a better goal is to go for 20-30 lb jumps each year and focus on 1 or 2 exercises at a time. Some years you gain more strength than others and some years one lift will skyrocket while others will stagnate or even plummet. But if you’re consistent, you remain injury-free, and you train intelligently, you can continue to gain steady strength year in and year out.
I have an interesting anecdote to share. I’ve been trying to convince one of my clients to consume more protein for the past six months. She weighs around 120 lbs and probably consumes 30-50 grams of protein per day. She couldn’t perform the same workouts as the other ladies because she would experience nausea and excessive fatigue; I had to scale back the volume in her sessions dramatically. Two weeks ago, she finally gave in and started supplementing her diet with an additional 30 grams of whey protein. She’s still not consuming optimal protein levels (personally, I like 1 gram per pound of lean bodymass per day, but .8 would suffice), but since this time, her stamina and strength have increased dramatically and her nausea has diminished. She’s now able to complete the same workouts as the other girls, she’s now setting PR’s every session, and I expect her physique to start making rapid improvements. Make sure you’re consuming adequate protein to support your training!
Beware the fitness expert that tells you that there’s only one way to do things. For example, there are numerous ways to properly execute a squat or deadlift, and many ways to design an effective program. Exercise selection, technique, and program design should be tailored to the individual depending on goals, fitness levels, anatomy/anthropometry, preferences, injury history, and logistics. Exercise science isn’t black and white; it’s many shades of gray.
If you have a nagging injury, you must find a way to let it heal. However, this rarely requires you to avoid the gym altogether, as you can almost always train around the issue. This is why it’s so important to possess a large toolbox of exercises consisting of bodyweight, barbell, dumbbell, resistance band, kettlebell, sled, weighted vest, cable column, and machine exercises. For example, if you have a knee issue, posterior chain assistance lifts come in handy, and if you have a back issue, single leg exercises come in handy. The body has many joints, muscles, and tendons, so if one is acting up, you can still train hard and focus on the healthy body parts. Quite often, you’ll learn something useful during these “down times,” implying that the nagging injury served a useful purpose and wasn’t all for naught. Training through pain is usually a terrible idea, but training around pain leads to greater results in the long run and is a vital skill for lifelong lifters.
A number of laws define the word around us. Although the truths that govern the cosmos are perfect, our knowledge and understanding of these truths are currently sorely limited. Science is the best method that exists in allowing us to understand the cosmos. Since humans are inherently flawed in terms of bias, greed, and ignorance, our attempts at furthering science are often misleading, wrong, or inefficient. Because science is self-correcting in nature, it converges on the truth over time. In our pursuit of truth, we must constantly strive to improve the methods we rely upon to advance science.
Progressive overload is the cat’s pajamas. But you won’t increase your strength 10 lbs per week on a regular basis. This equates to 520 lbs per year. Unless you’re a beginner or on serious drugs, you probably won’t gain 10 lbs per month on any particular exercise, since this equates to 120 lbs per year. A person who can bench press 200 lbs would be benching 440 lbs in two years if this were the case, but a raw 440 lb bench press is incredibly rare and usually takes many years to produce. You also won’t increase your strength by 1 extra rep each week. This would equate to 52 additional reps in a year. If you’re an established lifter, getting an extra rep each month is usually unrealistic. For example, if you can squat 405 lbs for 8 reps, it’s highly doubtful that by the end of the year you’ll be able to squat 405 lbs for 20 reps. There are many ways to set personal records (PRs). If you vary your set and rep schemes, change up exercises and exercise variations, track strength in a variety of set/rep schemes, fluctuate your training stress and effort, and manage your expectations, you can continue to gain strength month in and month out.
I honestly don’t like being the overly judgmental fitness guy, and I can almost always find some value in an exercise. But tonight, I witnessed something spectacular in the gym and I feel compelled to relay it to y’all. A male trainer had his female client performing vertical leg presses on the smith machine while lying on a Bosu ball. So picture this. She’s lying on her back on the flat portion of the Bosu ball (dome pointed down) with her feet in contact with the smith machine bar (note that it’s a slightly slanted version, not completely vertical), feet approximately shoulder width apart. There were four 10-lb plates loaded on each side of the bar (so 80 lbs total), and her knees were caving in so much on each rep that they were making contact with one another. For the first time in my life, I considered taking out my phone and secretly recording a video, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t even mad; just amazed. Is it even possible to top this?
Some of you experience hip pain when squatting. If so, try this before your next squat session. Do 2 sets of 20 rep lateral band walks and 2 sets of 20 rep band or barbell hip thrusts. Don’t crush yourself with these, just get the glutes activating and feel a burn. Probably 10-15 powerlifters over the years have emailed me reporting that this strategy works (I didn’t come up with the methods, they did). Hell, a few guys at Revolution Training (powerlifting gym in Tempe, AZ that I train at) swear by it, and they didn’t learn it from me. I can only speculate as to how it works, I just know that it does work wonders for some people, so it’s definitely worth trying.
There are several good reasons why you shouldn’t just copy the training program of your favorite athlete or model. First, you’re probably at a different stage of development than them, and they probably followed a completely different program when they were at your experience level. For example, one of the best powerlifters in the world, Andrey Malanichev, currently only performs three exercises – the squat, bench press, and deadlift, but earlier in his training career, he included many more exercises in his training. Second, their body structure is unique and they probably have different weak links than you. Third, they might be using performance enhancing substances which can alter the program design depending on the scenario. For example, if a bikini competitor is taking small amounts of Oxandralone, an anabolic steroid with milder side effects, then this would greatly improve upon her ability to build muscle, and she probably wouldn’t train certain body parts as hard so she didn’t get too muscular for the judges’ liking. And fourth, they have different genetics than you. Case in point – one of the most popular booties in the world belongs to Jen Selter. Her lower body training consists mostly of bodyweight squats, bodyweight quadruped hip extensions, and cardio. This clearly works for her, but it would miserably fail 99.9% of the population for glute development.
In my garage gym, if you get called a beast, it’s a good thing whether you’re a man or a woman. If you get told that your glutes look huge, it’s also a good thing. You’ll overhear a lot of banter about recent squat, deadlift, bench press, and chin up PRs. And you’ll witness a lot of thrusting, because the thrust is a must!
Every single day, I hear the craziest stories about personal trainers, especially local ones. One of my clients has a boss whose trainer told him he’s only allowed to eat 4 things: whey protein shakes, eggs, bananas, and strawberries. WTF? Another client had a former trainer that made her consume only tilapia for a solid month prior to a competition (combined with 2 hours of cardio per day in addition to weight training). I know these trainers are well-intentioned, but these tactics aren’t conducive with long term success, many are flat out dangerous, and some border on being criminal. When you overhear horror stories on a regular basis involving hair falling out like crazy and instigations of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you start valuing and respecting the people in our industry who advocate for well-rounded, progressively graded, flexible nutritional and training plans. Kellie Davis and I did our best to educate people about this in our book Strong Curves.
Here are the top three comments that were posted yesterday on my Facebook Fitness and Instagram pages.
1. You are my booty spirit animal!!!
2. My husband looked at my butt this morning and said “I’m so glad I got you that book” (referring to Strong Curves)
3. Thanks to @bretcontreras1, I no longer have to APT in my belfies (APT refers to anterior pelvic tilt, and a belfie is a “butt selfie”)
Fun fact: In the top position of the push-up, you support 69% of your bodyweight, but in the bottom of a push-up, you support 75% of your bodyweight. With the knee push-up, these percentages are reduced to 54% and 62%, respectively.
One of the biggest problems I see in many people’s training is the failure to plan for the long haul. I see it in newbies, I see it in bikini competitors, and I see it in powerlifters. We all want immediate results. But what’s most effective in the short run is rarely congruent with what’s most effective in the long run. Examples include: running yourself into the ground with endless cardio, starving yourself and depriving your body of important nutrients, failing to periodize and fluctuate training stress, grinding out progressively heavier weight with poor technique, and ignoring pain and discomfort. Delayed gratification isn’t sexy, but it’s necessary. You’ll see much better results if you can train hard year in and year out for many decades. Be good to your body and it will pay dividends.
“Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.” – Nido Qubein
I want to tell y’all a story about my year spent in New Zealand in 2011. This was a very important time in my academic development as I could finally download studies with my University login, print them, and read them before I went to sleep. The only problem was, with so much to learn and so much zeal, I didn’t sleep much. I probably read around 800-1,000 studies that year – they filled 4 big boxes. The studies pertained to strength training and biomechanics, but my main areas of focus were sprinting, glutes, and hamstrings.
I remember reading two review papers on sprinting published in Sports Medicine in 2001 by a lead researcher named Angus Ross (here are the links: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11394561 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11735686. I was fascinated with his work and made a long term goal to one day be as knowledgeable on the topic of sprinting as Angus. This fueled my desire so I pushed the pace.
Approximately 6 months later, I was invited to present at the SPRINZ conference (NZ’s biggest S&C conference of the year), and I was excited to find that Angus Ross (here’s his Twitter: https://twitter.com/AngusRossNZ) was a fellow presenter. Ironically, as I’m in the stands watching his presentation, he shows a slide of one of his female track & field athletes hip thrusting over 400 lbs, and he’s standing over her so he can push down on the bar and overload the eccentric phase. He tells the audience that he learned of the movement from a talented strength coach out of America named Bret Contreras, not knowing that I’m in the audience. Apparently we shared mutual respect for one another.
I approached him after his presentation and introduced myself, and we walked together to the next presentation (my talk on glute training). What followed was 15 minutes of incredible conversation regarding sprinting biomechanics, interesting recent findings in the sprint literature, and gaps in the research. We were nodding in agreement, finishing each other’s sentences, and citing studies off the top of our heads. It was the highlight of my day. It dawned on me that it didn’t take me 3-5 years to reach my goal; I reached it in 6 months.
Never underestimate your ability to make shit happen when you put your mind to it!
My friend Ben Bruno and I were recently discussing an amusing aspect of personal training. We love to examine the expression on clients’ faces when we first teach them the names of exercises, especially those that incorporate the names of exotic countries or cultures. “This is called a Bulgarian split squat.” “Here is a Romanian deadlift.” “Now we’re going to perform a Nordic ham curl.” Russia is well represented – the Nordic ham curl is also referred to as the Russian Lean, the good morning is also referred to as the Russian deadlift, and then there’s the Russian twist. We also have the Cuban press, the Hungarian core blaster, the Hungarian hang clean, the Turkish get up, the Roman chair leg raise, the Swiss ball crunch, and the Hindu push-up. My only wish is that more countries were represented in S&C jargon. For example, why can’t we have a Guatemalan glute ham raise, a Mongolian Muscle-Up, or a Cambodian calf raise – especially considering that the exercises rarely originated in the countries after which they’re named?
Here’s an interesting excerpt from a brand new study with Ben Lee and Stu McGill examining the effects of isometric versus dynamic training on core stiffness:
“Some coaches argue that performing compound load bearing exercises such as squats and deadlifts are sufficient for core activation but authors contend that an isometric core regimen is superior for creating three dimensional spinal stability. While these compound exercises require substantial activation of the core musculature the stability challenge lies mainly in the sagittal plane. Many athletic tasks involve stability about the frontal and transverse planes; consider a football player who sprints five yards forward and powerfully cuts left. If lateral core stiffness is insufficient, energy leaks causing buckling at the torso compromises speed and increases known injury mechanisms of spine bending under load and knee valgus buckling. In essence, when sufficient core stiffness is lacking athlete movement becomes inefficient and manifested by performance decrements and increased injury risk.”
Here’s another excerpt:
“The results suggest that Isometric core training is superior to Dynamic training for enhancing torso stiffness. Enhanced core stiffness allows the spine the bear greater loads, and express greater distal limb athleticism. The next step would be to examine specific changes in athletic performance.”
To bridge the gap between sports science and strength coaching, sports scientists and strength coaches need to 1) form better working relationships in order to improve lines of communication, and 2) respect, appreciate, and learn more about what the other does.
In particular, sports scientists need to 1) spend more time understanding the needs, dilemmas, and concerns of the strength coach, 2) conduct research that is practically relevant, whether in the short-run or long-run, 3) communicate their research findings in a manner that is understandable to the strength coach, and 4) strive to present their findings via avenues that best reach strength coaches, which includes conferences, guest blogposts, and podcasts.
Strength coaches need to 1) spend more time understanding research methodology (and its associated pros, cons, and limitations), statistics, and research jargon, 2) improve their understanding of common sports science tools and technology, 3) form bonds with the scientists that are interested in their sport, and 4) possibly assist in the process by allowing researchers to use their athletes for experiments.
You know that miracle supplement you’re searching for? Or those magnificent superfoods? Or that magical training method or combination of methods? Or that secret exercise, technique, or program? Or that perfect amount of cardio? Or that supernatural recovery method? Guess what? You’ll likely see much better aesthetics results if you quit searching and simply nail down your diet. Consume an ideal caloric intake and macronutrient split per your goals with most of your foods coming from whole and minimally processed sources for 3 straight months and watch your physique improve dramatically. Once you’ve gotten a handle on your eating and attained sufficient leanness, then shift the focus toward your training and start experimenting to figure out the best protocol for your goals. (This advice applies to those with physique/aesthetics goals, not to sport or strength athletes)
One aspect of research that is important to understand is that studies generally focus on reporting means. You may or may not respond like the average subject. Having been involved in plenty of data collection, it is fascinating to note the inter-individual variation between subjects. For example, a certain exercise may activate a muscle way higher in one individual compared to another, or one person may respond way better to a certain intervention than another. It is highly advantageous to appreciate and stay versed in the literature, but at the end of the day, you’ll always need to experiment to find what works best for you. Research will provide you with numerous clues and tips and will improve your hunches and instincts, but trial and error will always be a critical step in determining what works best for you.
Having trained in hundreds of commercial gyms across the world over the past decade, I have noticed that the prevailing method for personal trainers teaching the squat is to immediately place every client on the smith machine and load them up with 25-45 lb plates while having them perform quarter or half squats. This might indeed provide a challenge for the clients’ quadriceps, but it doesn’t make them good at squatting. A much better method is to start clients off with goblet squats, making sure they use a full range of motion (possibly squatting to a box if the client inherently tries to short change depth), then progressing to full range barbell front and back squats once goblet squats are mastered. This strategy creates better squatters and leads to greater hip and thigh development over the long run. Full range of motion = as deep as the individual can go while keeping proper lumbopelvic positioning. Due to individual differences in hip anatomy, some lifters should only go to parallel, but I have found that the vast majority of clients can learn to descend deeper than parallel while keeping good form. Some slight valgus collapse and buttwink is acceptable depending on the individual, but in general, keep the knees out and make sure the pelvis doesn’t posteriorly tilt too much at the bottom of the squat. The following strategies can allow for greater squat depth: tinkering with stance width and foot flare, engaging the gluteals more effectively, increasing ankle dorsiflexion mobility, using a high bar position, and increasing quad strength.
Sometimes there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to the results we see from our training and dieting. You can eat perfectly for a few weeks and see little to no progress, or you can specialize in a certain lift for a month or two and not achieve any noticeable strength gains. Other times you find that despite the fact that you’ve been slacking, your body is looking better and better and you’re consistently setting PRs. This happens because 1) human physiology is incredibly complex and unpredictable, and 2) we cannot see the changes that are occurring on a molecular level. One phase of training often paves the way for future success in a subsequent phase of training, and hormonal fluctuations likely explain some of the confounding results we see in with our diets. Don’t be deterred by “off weeks.” Progress is never linear; the body transforms in waves. Hard work and consistency ensures that the waves trend in a positive direction so that every few months, you’re leaner, stronger, and fitter.
30 Reasons Why You Should Exercise:
1. Maintain functional ability
2. Prevent osteoporosis
3. Prevent sarcopenia
4. Increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance
5. Increase metabolic rate
6. Improve glucose metabolism
7. Decrease systolic and diastolic blood pressure and arterial stiffness
8. Decrease body fat and central adiposity
9. Improve gastrointestinal transit time
10. Reduce the risk of diabetes
11. Reduce the risk of heart disease
12. Reduce the risk of cancer
13. Reduce the risk of falls, fractures and disabilities
14. Decrease cardiovascular demands of exercise
15. Decrease triglyceride, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels
16. Increase HDL cholesterol levels
17. Increase muscle and connective tissue strength and hypertrophy
18. Increase mobility and flexibility
19. Increase joint stability
20. Improve balance and coordination
21. Improve posture
22. Increase brain/cognitive function
23. Increase confidence, self-esteem, and happiness
24. Combat depression and anxiety
25. Combat metabolic syndrome
26. Combat frailty syndrome
27. Improve function in people with cancer, dementia, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, post-stroke disability, lupus, asthma, diabetes, ADHD, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, bipolar disorder, COPD, epilepsy, low back pain, neck pain, chronic headache, and erectile dysfunction
28. Increase strength, power, speed, and endurance
29. Prevent ACL, hamstring strain, lumbar, ankle sprain, and shoulder injuries
30. Improve quality of life and life-span
Whoever ends up reading this post…I urge you to always take your health and fitness seriously. It is human nature to not fully appreciate things until we lose them. Do not make this mistake. As a personal trainer over the past 20 years, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a client say something like, “Man, I wish I never stopped working out five years ago, I was in really good shape back then.”
It is also human nature to never be satisfied with our results and to constantly compare ourselves to the crème de la crème. Trust me, I understand this tendency. But if you are currently unsatisfied with the status of your musculature, your glutes, your leanness, your strength, or your athleticism, I promise you that quitting altogether will only make matters worse. If you could somehow see into the future and observe yourself after 5 years of sedentary behavior and uncontrolled eating, you would realize that your physique, strength, and athleticism is not so bad after all.
We all suffer from setbacks in the form of minor injuries, financial struggles, work overload, familial duties, relationship problems, random catastrophes, and general life struggles. Regardless of what is going on, the barbell will always be there for you. You can always find the time and summon the energy to train hard a couple of times per week. Exercise makes your life better in numerous ways. Never stop fighting the good fight.