Skip to main content

ABC: Advice for Aspiring Grad Students and Strength Coaches

By October 18, 2012January 11th, 2014Ask Bret Contreras (ABC)

Lately I’ve been receiving tons of emails from aspiring grad students and strength coaches – usually 1-2 every day. Usually these emails will include a basic bio and then ask for career advice regarding which schools to attend, where to intern, what certifications to get, and what research to conduct. Here is my generic advice:

If you want to excel in the field of S&C, then you need to sacrifice. You must learn more than your competition, and there are a bunch of skills you need to master involving exercises, program design, coaching, and evidence-based decision-making. Be patient; getting good takes time!

Which School Should I Attend?

I can’t answer this. I can, however, offer you some advice. You need to do some serious thinking and ask yourself a bunch of questions:

  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • What is your primary interest – S&C, exercise phys, biomechanics, motor control, physical therapy/rehab, sprinting, spinal biomechanics, etc.?
  • What are the best schools in the world in this area? For S&C, I like AUT in NZ and ECU in AUS, but these schools are half-way around the world if you live in the US.
  • Who are the best researchers in the world in your area of interest? If you’re interested in spinal biomechanics you want to study under Stu McGill if possible. If you’re interested in sprint running JB Morin in France is the man. If you’re into Strongman training then Justin Keogh is the best. Learn who the best researchers are for your specific area. You can do this by searching around on Pubmed…just check out topics that interest you and make note of the researchers (and which labs are conducting the research).
  • Did you check out the school’s labs? If you want to study sprinting biomechanics then the school should have good force plates, and even better a force treadmill. Make sure you’re happy with the lab before committing to a school.
  • Is the professor you like taking on new students? Is he retiring soon?
  • What is the cost of tuition of the school in question?
  • How much money do you have saved up? Will you be getting financial aid?
  • What is the cost of living in the region of the University? The tuition in Auckland, New Zealand was affordable but the cost of living there is quite steep compared to Phoenix, Arizona.
  • What is the weather like year-round in the region of the University? Does this matter to you? I’m the type who likes sunshine, so gloomy places aren’t for me.
  • Are you a mama’s boy (or girl)? Can you hack living far away from family/friends or are you better off attending a local/State University? I like living by my twin brother and don’t like being away. Know yourself before making a huge decision.

Where Should I Intern?

I only know S&C. Here are the best places to intern:

  • CP (Cressey Performance)
  • MBSC (Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning)
  • AP (Athlete’s Performance)
  • IFAST (Indianapolis Fitness & Sports Training)
  • Results Fitness
  • Not sure if Peak Performance, Parisi Speed School under Martin Rooney, IHPFIT under Juan Carlos Santana, and DeFranco’s Gym offer internships but if they do these would be great places too.

Realize that coaches and trainers don’t usually make the best scientists. The places I listed above provide world-class training, and the knowledge you gain via these internships will fast-forward your education/experience dramatically. However, you should learn more than one system and also experiment on your own to figure out the best practices. Furthermore, make sure you continue studying throughout your career.

What Certification Should I Get?

Again, I only know S&C. Without a doubt, get a CSCS from the NSCA. This is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. Here are good certifying bodies you can check out:

  • NSCA
  • ACSM
  • NASM
  • ACE

What Else Should I be Doing?

You should be:

  • lifting weights yourself – get results
  • training others – get results
  • studying – subscribe to Strength & Conditioning Research Review
  • reading other blogs (I link to good people in on my FB Fitness Page and in my random blogposts)
  • networking (attend conferences such as NSCA and Perform Better)

What Research Should I Conduct?

This is difficult for many students. How can you possibly know what questions are unanswered when you aren’t well-versed in the literature?

Lucky for you, I’ve been keeping a list for the past 18 months of study ideas I’ve thought up. I’m going to make the information below a separate tab on my blog since I believe it’s that important. There are some really important ideas contained here, so hopefully this gets you thinking. Bear in mind that there are an infinite amount of ideas for new studies – the questions I come up with relate to things that interest me. As you can see, I have a lot of interests – 72 ideas are listed below.

If you’re a current student, feel free to forward this list to your professors – there are many questions that need to be answered in S&C! The study ideas use my lingo and I haven’t put much thought into titles or methods, nor have I reviewed the literature on each of the subjects. Nevertheless, many of these are excellent ideas and need to be examined. I have my favorites, and some of these I’ll be looking at for my PhD. Here they are in no particular order of importance:

1. Does the Spine Have a Fixed Number of Flexion Cycles?


pre and post MRI’s, 20 subjects, 6 months of lumbar flexion exercise totaling 10,000 cycles (common dosage that creates herniations in pig spines in the literature)

Crunches – 30 degrees of total trunk flexion (as recommended in a several journal articles)

3 x 20 per day for 6 months – see if any evidence of degeneration occurs

* Could get ethics approval – folks are already doing this at gym – we just want to see if it’s safe of not.

Contreras & Schoenfeld article and associated references

* Requires 40 MRI’s!

2. Kinetics and Kinematics of 10 Advanced Core Exercises

EMG – RA, EO, LAS, P, QL, M, ES, LP Motion, Spinal Loading, etc.

ab wheel rollout from feet, heavy side bend, sumo stance Pallof press, landmine, half-kneeling cable anti-rotation press, weighted straight leg sit-up, hanging leg raise, weighted Swiss ball crunch, weighted spinal extension, cable woodchop

*Requires advanced spinal modelling and there are only a few of these in the world (McGill being one of them)

3. Kinetics and Kinematics of the Squat vs. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

McCurdy articles, recent Jones article

EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL, Dual Force Plate Analysis for front and back legs, Kinematics, Spinal Loading?

4. Kinetics and Kinematics of the Deadlift vs. 1-Leg SLDL

EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL, Force Plate Analysis, Kinematics, Spinal Loading?

5. The Effects of Machine Based Program vs. Free Weight Based Program on Performance

8 weeks, 20 subjects

Free-weights are far superior to machines, right? Maybe not. What if someone put together a kick-ass machine program? How would things stack up then? And even if free-weights were superior, how superior? This would be very nice to know.

Group One: squat, deadlift, Bulgarian split squat, single leg RDL, single leg hip thrust, bench press, weighted chin up, dumbbell military press, chest supported row, landmine, ab wheel rollout, side plank, hanging leg raise

Group Two: lever squat, hammer strength deadlift, hammer strength reverse lunge, hammer strength single leg RDL, 4-way hip extension, 4-way hip flexion, hammer strength chest press, underhand grip lat pulldown, machine military press, hammer strength row, Pallof press, cable crunch, cable side bend, cable 4-way hip flexion

Performance Tests: 30 meter sprint, vertical jump, broad jump, bench throw, T-test

6. Is it Possible to Alter Anterior Pelvic Tilt Through Training?

8 weeks, 20 subjects

Scannel & McGill article on lumbar ext

exercises: PPT hip thrust, RKC plank, American DL, hanging leg raise, erector stretch, hip flexor stretches, hip flexor stretches in PPT

7. EMG Activity of Lunges With Different Step Lengths and Foot Pressures

short stride, medium stride, long stride, push through heel, push through toes, EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL,

8. The Effect of Pelvic Tilt on Muscle Activation in the Romanian Deadlift (RDL vs. American Deadlift)

Hamstring Emphasis (APT/lumbar ext) vs. Neutral spine vs. Glute Emphasis (PPT/lumbar flex)

Recent Tateuchi article

Vakos squat article

Alvirn article PPT

Queiroz hip ext article

Chance-Larson and Oh articles abdominal hollowing (PPT) and hip ext

EMG: GMax (upper, mid and lower fibers), ST, BFl, ES (lumbar and thoracic)

9. Changing the Optimal Length of the Hamstrings

It’s been shown that it’s possible to shift optimal length to longer lengths, but what about shorter lengths? Position at peak EMG has been examined with different ham exercises as well.

Brughelli & Cronin review article in Sports Medicine

Clark article on bench throws

4 weeks, 3X/wk

Long-length exercises: seated leg curl, high foot position leg press, RDL, good morning (each could be performed bilaterally or unilaterally)

Short-length exercises: lying leg curl, back extension, hip thrust, slideboard leg curl

10. Resistance Training vs. Flexibility Training: Which Works Best?


15 minutes per day of static and dynamic stretching vs. 15 minutes of exercises that emphasize the stretch position (db bench, between bench push-up, RDL, good morning, goblet squat, deficit Bulgarian split squat, chin, dip, pullover, fly, calf raise)

Prior studies aren’t ideal – they don’t use the best RT exercises

11. Spinal Motion During Heavy Lifting


What happens to the thoracic and lumbar spine in heavy squats, deadlifts, farmer’s walks, KB swings, sled pushes, military press, bent over rows, bench press, hip thrusts, etc.

McGill articles

12. Immediate Effects of Spinal Flexion Exercise on IVD Nuclear Migration

One session of 3 x 25 reps of crunches, examine pre and post nuclear tracking

Tampier article

13. Annulus Strength and Disc Degeneration of Discs in PL’s vs. Untrained Individuals


Do powerlifters have stronger discs than sedentary folks? Are they more degenerated/herniated than sedentary folks?


14. Bilateral Deficit; RDL vs. Single Leg RDL, Low Box Squat vs. Single Leg LBS


Look at anthropometry!

Don’t forget to add in the torso weight for “system load”

I bet folks with relatively longer femurs have larger bilateral deficits


15. Hip Extension Torque; Hopping in Place vs. Max Sped Sprinting With Same Vertical Oscillation


This will examine vertical effects on hip ext torque vs. vertical plus horizontal effects on hip ext torque during sprint running.

This study would help determine the contribution of vertical vs. horizontal forces to hip extension torque at max speed sprinting.


16. Standing Exercises vs. Non-Standing Exercises on Performance


Bench press, chin, dip, one arm row, leg press, hip thrust, back extension, RLC, ab wheel rollout, etc.

Military press, bent over row, cable chest-press, cable one-arm row, squat, pull through, deadlift, Pallof press, etc.

Performance Measures: Sprint, VJ, BJ, shot put


17. Total Body EMG Activity in DL vs. SQUAT (choose 16 muscle groups to compare)


Compare total body muscle activity to determine “king” of big lifts.


18. The Influence of Neck Packing on Deadlift Strength and Stability (8 weeks)


Does neck packing lead to increased strength compared to a control group? Does it enhance spinal stability?


19. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Effects on Performance


Does a diaphragmatic breathing intervention on dysfunctional breathers improve HRV, strength, or power?

Recent SCJ article on diaphragm by Nelson


20. FMS Corrections vs. Well-Rounded Program: Effects of 4-Week Program on Functional Movement, Flexibility, & Strength Gains


Which is better for improving dysfunction – the specific FMS corrections tailored to the individual, or a basic, well-balanced generic program comprised of squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, chins, rows, hip thrusts?

Cite prior study by Frost on FMS


21. TRX vs. JC Bands: EMG Activation (Chest Press vs. Push Up, Row vs. Inverted Row)


Which is better for core and prime mover muscle activity – the TRX or JC Bands? Measure glute, abdominal, and upper body musculature.


22. General Strength Routine vs. Sports Specific Routine on Performance


Does a sports-specific routine tailored to the biomechanics of the sport lead to increased performance when compared to a generic strength routine consisting of squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and hip thrusts?

Sports specific routine can look at joint angles, force vectors, etc.


23. Limiting Factor in Squat/DL/Bench (highest correlating isometric joint torques at sticky points)(RME)


What joint limits performance in the squat? Knee extension torque? Hip extension torque? Spinal extension torque? What about the deadlift? Hip extension torque or spinal extension torque? What about the bench? Elbow extension torque, shoulder horizontal adduction torque, or shoulder flexion torque?

(prior study examining “RME” or “relative muscular effort” on squats by Bryanton)


24. Forces Involved in “Coasting” After Maximal Speed Sprint Running (what breaks down more; braking, vertical, or propulsive forces?)


This would be hard to control and might be a waste of time, but it could also help determine the forces lost per stride (and therefore what is required to maintain maximal speed)


25. The Influence of Tight Hamstrings on Squatting and Deadlifting Mechanics


I suspect that tight hammies won’t impair squat performance at all but will indeed impair deadlift mechanics and lead to spinal flexion. (prior study on cycling and tight hammies by Muyor)


26. Old School vs. New School Program on Strength Gains and Performance Measures


Has our programming improved over the years?

Squats, power cleans, bench, bent over rows, sit ups, broomstick twists


RFESS, hex bar jump squats, single arm db bench, inverted rows, ab wheel rollouts from knees, Pallof presses

Test hypertrophy, VJ, BJ, 40YD, 100MS, shot put


27. Lever Squat vs. Traditional Squat (EMG, Joint Moments, ROM)


Measure VL, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, Oblique, Erector Spinae

28. Deadlift vs. Hammer Strength Deadlift (EMG, Joint Moments, ROM)


Measure VL, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, Oblique, Erector Spinae

29. Hip Strengthening vs. Verbal Instruction on Jumping and Running Improvements in Dysfunctional Individuals


Does strength training work better than verbal cueing for improving jumping/landing/running form (knee valgus, etc.)?


30. Glute Max Muscle Moment Arms and PCSA in Competitive Sprinters, Correlates with Speed


Sprinters have muscular glutes. How much larger are their glute muscle moment arms and physiological cross-sectional area than sedentary controls? How does this affect the GMax force potential?


31. Ratio of Quad Dominant to Hip Dominant Strength and Injury Risk (Isometric Front Squat / Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull, Correlation to Injury, PTP, etc.)


Does a high ratio of isometric front squat/RDL correlate with increased risk of knee pain?


32. Does Resistance Training Alter Fascia Physiology?


Not sure how to set this up…


33. Changes in Kinematics and Kinetics in Kettlebell Swings Over a 12 Month Period (GRF’s, Power, Torso Lean, Lumbar Motion, Hip Motion, etc.)


When kettlebell swingers gain proficiency, how do they improve – more forward and backward lean? More horizontal and vertical force and power production? More hip and less spinal motion? More hip and less knee motion? More RFD? Greater muscle activation in the hip extensors?


34. HIT vs HVT vs HFT on Muscle Hypertrophy on Ten Primary Muscles


How do the different programs compare in terms of hypertrophy gains?

Don’t equate anything…just go by popular programs.


35. HIT vs. HVT vs HFT on Full Body Strength on Ten Full-Body Lifts


How do the different programs compare in terms of strength gains?

Don’t equate anything…just go by popular programs.


36. Average Strength Levels of Athletic Men and Women on Lower Body Lifts – Back Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, 45 Degree Hypers, Hip Thrusts, Back Extensions, Reverse Hypers


Coaches would find this information valuable – what are ballpark figures that their athletes should strive for on each of these lifts?


37. Bilateral Deficit: Torque Loading on Spine and Hips During Single and Double Leg Squats and Deadlifts


What places more loading on the spine and hips? Squats vs. single leg squats? Deadlifts vs. single leg deadlifts?


38. Joint Moments, EMG, and GRF’s in Kettlebell Swings (light, medium, heavy)


Use VICON to determine muscle activation, ground reaction forces, and joint torques during kettlebell swings of varying loads.


39. Lateral Forces and Power in Slide Board and Correlation with Agility Performance (force plate on edges of slideboard?)


Would need way to measure lateral forces and power – perhaps on edges of the slideboard? See how it correlates with agility performance.


40. Correlates to Rotational Power (squat, Keiser cable rotation, hip thrust, deadlift, bench press, band rotary hold isometric strength)


See what correlates best to rotational power (maybe a bat swing, or could use the Keiser cable station to measure rotary power) – perhaps it’s rotary strength such as a band isometric Pallof press, or lower body lift. Maybe hip thrust is best due to indicator of glute strength (which is the most powerful hip external rotator)


41. Shifting in Torque Curves Through Hip Extension Training: Short Lengths vs. Long Lengths vs. Both (bb glute bridges and lying leg curls vs. squats and RDL’s)


See whether you can make the muscles better at short lengths by performing exercises that stress short lengths (bb glute bridges and lying leg curls), see whether you can make the muscles better at long lengths by performing exercises that stress long lengths (full squats and RDLs), see what happens when you do both (stronger at all lengths?). Which transfers better to all lengths, short or long length exercises?


42. Hamstring EMG: Conventional Deadlift vs. RDL


It’s amazing that there isn’t a study measuring this…might as well get quad and glute EMG too in addition to hammie.


43. Glute EMG Partial Squat vs. Full Squat (use relative loading – 5RM for both)


Caterisano and other studies always use the same loading for squats, but everyone can quarter and half squat much more than they can parallel and full squat. Use 5RM loads and see what activates glutes best.


44. RKC Plank vs. Plank (Glute, Ab, Oblique EMG)


Brad and I are actually looking at this right now, but we’re not getting glute EMG. Need to get glute and ab/oblique data.


45. Hip Power Measurements in Explosive Barbell Glute Bridge, Power Clean, Power Snatch, Jump Squat, Hex Bar Jump Squat, and Kettlebell Swing


What exercise generates the greatest hip power? I suppose hip power would be hip extension torque multiplied by hip extension angular velocity?

*Would need VICON and would be complicated.


46. Heavy Kettlebell Training vs. Olympic Weightlifting on Jump and Sprint Performance (8 weeks of progressive swings 3x/wk)


See recent Manocchia article

Conduct better study with heavy swings, etc.


47. SpiroTiger and Deadlift Isometric Strength


Does high intensity respiratory muscle training enhance deadlift strength (through greater IAP)?


48. Foam Rolling Warm-Up and Subsequent Sprint Performance


Does SMR enhance sprint speed? Compare to other types of warm-ups: mobility, SMR, mobility plus SMR

MacDonald study


49. The Optimal Load for Kettlebell Swings (The Load that Produces Max Power Output, Expressed as % of Bodyweight)


The optimal load for power in a jump squat is bodyweight. With a power clean it’s around 85% of 1RM. But what is it for kettlebell swings? Express as a % of bodyweight as a 1RM swing isn’t practical.


50. Glute Hypertrophy Program vs. Traditional Power Program on Sprint Performance


Heavy weight/low reps with plenty of rest time along with explosive reps are optimal for power production, right? I’m curious to see how a heavy/explosive (with more rest time) program consisting of squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and Russian leg curls would compare to a medium-higher rep (with less rest time) program consisting of the same movements.


51. Internal vs. External Attentional Focus on Hip Extensor Activation and LPHC Kinematics in 4 Weeks of Horizontal Back Extension Exercise (4 sets 2 days/week)


Lately external attentional focus is all the rage. But is it best for every circumstance? The back extension is very difficult to teach in terms of lumbopelvic hip complex mechanics. Which results in better form and muscle activation adaptations – focusing on external phenomena or internal phenomena when cueing?


52. Loading on Single Leg Exercises on the Front and Back Legs in Individuals with Varying Anthropometries (Bulgarian Split Squat, Single Leg Box Squat, Reverse Lunge, Single Leg RDL, B-Stance Deadlift……Tall vs. Short, Long Femur vs. Short Femur, etc.)


Does anthropometry (body segment length, height, etc.) influence strength/loading/coordination on single leg exercises? With “true” single leg exercises (single leg box squat, single leg RDL), I’d expect this to be the case.


53. Spinal Compressive Loading: Deadlift vs. Heavy Sumo Pallof Press


The deadlift places more compressive forces on the spine than anything, right? I’m not sure. The overwhelming majority of compressive forces is due to the core muscles pulling together. When I perform a sumo Pallof press, my low back cracks (presumably due to the insane compressive forces). I should mention that I’m able to use the entire stack for this exercise. I’d like to see which creates/requires more compressive forces on the spine…

*Requires advanced spinal modelling and there are only a few of these in the world (McGill being one of them)


54. Glute Max Peak Activation Positions (Muscle Lengths) During Ten Glute Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Band Hip Rotation, Bulgarian Split Squat, 45 Degree Back Extension)


A recent study for the hamstrings looked at peak activation positions for a variety of exercises. We need a similar study for the gluteus maximus. In what position does each lift elicit maximum gluteus maximus activation?


55. Crossfit vs. Well-Rounded S&C Program on Performance and Athleticism (8 week program, test VJ, BJ, 10YD, 100MS, shot put, 400MS, 1 mile, etc.)


Crossfit is the end-all-be-all for well-rounded athleticism, right? Let’s put it to the test. Compare a typical Crossfit program (8 weeks) to a sound S&C program (progressive squats, dl’s, hip thrusts, ghr’s, plyos, sprints, etc.) on various performance measures (include strength, power, and endurance tests)


58. Best Ankle Dorsiflexion Improving Practices (Static Stretching vs. Mobility Drills vs. Resistance Training vs. Combined)


What is the fastest way to increase ankle dorsiflexion? Static stretching? Dynamic mobility drills? Resistance training (calf raises, seated calf raises, deep squats, lunges, sled pushes)? Or a combination of all? Equate volume.


59. What Causes Posterior Pelvic Tilt During the Deep Squat? (Pelvifemoral Anatomy? Hip Flexor Length? Erector Spinae Strength? Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility?)


Which factors play the biggest role in causing PPT in the deep squat? Is it due to anatomy? Is it modifiable?


60. Hip Thrust Program vs. Squat Program vs. Hip Thrust plus Squat Program on Performance (VJ, BJ, 10yd, 100MS)


What’s best for improving speed/power? Focusing on hip thrusts? Squats? Or doing a combination of each? Equate volume.


61. Vertical vs. Horizontal Plane Lower Body Exercises on Performance (squats/jump squats/oly lifts/verti plyos vs. hip thrusts/back ext/horiz plyos/sled pushes/sprints, test sprints, VJ, BJ, etc.)


Does focusing on vertical plane movements transfer better to vertical plane tests of power? Does focusing on horizontal plane movements transfer better to horizontal tests of power? Vertical program will consist of squats, dl’s, Oly lifts, vert plyos. Horizontal program will consist of hip thrusts, back extensions, horiz plyos, sled work, sprints.


62. Rolling Patterns vs. Standing Rotary Exercises on Rotary Stability and Core Function in Beginner and Advanced Lifters (Ground Rolling Patterns vs. Pallof Presses, Chops/Lifts, Band Hip Rotations, etc.)


Prone and supine rolling patterns have gained popularity, but do they improve rotary core function faster and better than standing rotary exercises? Does it matter if the subjects are beginner vs. advanced?


63. After-Effects of Glute Activation Exercises on Glute Activation During Gait and Sprint Running (Is there PAP, and if so does it help performance?)


Low load glute activation work can really ramp up glute activation on subsequent activity. Heavy hip thrusts can as well. But does this improve performance, or impair performance?


64. Resistance Training plus HIIT vs. Resistance Training plus LDC on Fat Loss, Hypertrophy, and Body Composition Changes


When performing heavy resistance training, does combining high-intensity interval training lead to better results compared to combining steady state cardio?


65. Recovery Rates of Max Effort Lifts (Deadlifts, Power Cleans, Back Squats, Front Squats, Bench, Close Grip Bench, Chins – how long does it take to match a maximum performance following a 1RM?)


It’s easy to bounce back from a 1RM chin up. It’s not easy to bounce back from a 1RM deadlift. Each lift has a different natural recovery rate, and this surely varies from one lifter to the next. On average, which lift requires the longest time to recover from, and which takes the least time?


66. Spinal Curvature Adaptations from Breathing Exercises


Prior study (Obayashi) showed that breathing training (with Spirotiger) improved lumbar and thoracic posture. I’m skeptical. This study needs to be replicated. If this is legit then it’s very important.


67. Hip Thrusts vs. Sprints on Glute Hypertrophy


Sprints are great for glute hypertrophy, right? How do they stack up to hip thrusts? Perhaps 3day/week for 8 weeks. Sprint group does undulating periodization with short sprints on Monday, medium sprints on Wed, and longer sprints on Fri. Hip thrust group does undulating as well with low reps on Mon, medium on Wed, and high on Fri.


68. Gluteus Maximus MVIC Position


Lots of positions used in literature (prone straight leg, prone bent leg, quadruped straight leg, quadruped bent leg, seated, flexed, iso back extension), but which is truly best for maximizing GMax EMG? And in reality, wouldn’t peak GMax activation be reached during an isometric hip thrust?


69. Glute Max Mean and Peak Activation During Ten Glute Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Band Hip Rotation, Bulgarian Split Squat, 45 Degree Back Extension)


Which exercises lead to highest average (mean) activation? What about highest peak activation?


70. Hip Extension Torque During Ten Hip Extension Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Reverse Hypers, Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extension, 45 Degree Back Extension)


Which exercises lead to highest hip extension torque requirements/production? Would require VICON.


71. What’s the Optimal Rep Range for Muscle Hypertrophy?


Low reps? Medium reps? High reps? Combination of reps?

Use advanced subjects, not beginners.

Use full body program with compound movements. Test multiple muscles.

Equate volume.

72. Hormonal Responses to HFT and LFT


I’d like to see short term (6 week programming) and long term hormonal adaptations (2 years) with high frequency vs. low frequency programs. Do they differ significantly in endocrine responses? Does HFT lead to more chronic alterations due to repeated stimulus? Does LFT allow for better recovery and a better anabolic status? I’m sure that duration/volume/intensity plays a role in this too.

73. Horizontal (or Vertical) Forces are More Highly Correlated with Faster Sprinters During Maximum Speed Sprint Running

Major argument in the sprint community right now.

Mann, Weyand, Young say that vertical force production limits top speeds in sprinting

Morin, Brughelli, Contreras say that horizontal force production does.

They have their research (Mann, Weyand), we have ours (Morin, Brughelli, Hunter, etc.).

But our studies have either examined acceleration sprinting, or have used torque/force treadmills for max speed running.

A study needs to be conducted on this topic using advanced sprinters and using overground force plates embedded into the ground.

74. Contributors to Increased Roundback Deadlift Strength Over Arched Back Deadlift Strength

Most people are stronger deadlifting with a rounded back compared to an arched back. Of course this is not the safest option – far from it!

But why is this so? Studies on the thoracolumbar fascia have shown mixed results (Gracovetsky, McGill, Vleeming, Gatton), but it’s likely due to a variety of reasons (see Contreras’ article on TNation on the topic).

Would be nice to see a % breakdown of the various contributions (more IAP, spinal erectors are stronger in flexion, TLF, ligaments, reduced hip moment, etc.)


  • Krista says:

    Where was this list back in August when I had to decide on my research area?!
    great list! I’m sure there will be a lot of appreciative students.

  • Joy says:

    Holy crap!! Great questions! I see several in there I would be so into finding out about. Thanks for this, I will keep it for when I get closer to the research side.

  • Roger says:

    Also make sure to do a lot of research on the job field in the area that you want to live after graduation. I didn’t do this enough and now I have a worthless Master’s in Exercise Physiology. Total waste of time and money!!!

  • Jeff says:

    Always enjoy peeking into your mind. Very insightful and valuable

  • Ted says:

    Bret, there is a typo: you misspelled Justin Keogh’s name. It’s actually no big deal, but some readers might want to look him up and may then have a harder time finding the information they are looking for. 🙂

    Do you have any affiliates/friends in Germany, if you don’t mind me asking? I am looking for a highly qualified strength coach in NRW and would like to know whether you can make a suggestion who to see. Thank you.

    • Bret says:

      Good catch Ted! I have a PhD friend from Germany but he’s still in Auckland. Sorry, haven’t met any other coaches from Germany…

    • Hey Ted,

      I know API has done some work in Dortmund with BVB and offer seminars there.

      I’m in Berlin so would love to connect with other strength coaches in Germany. It’s a bit tough over here in this industry! Add me on Linkdin or email me at….Bret, would also love to hear your take on schools in europe, what are the top schools you know about for a masters.

  • Teresa M says:

    On #71–how to measure hypertrophy? MRI cross-section? Neat list that I’m sure will only grow. I kept a list and if I thought of one while away from the list, I wrote it down or made a verbal recorded memo until I could add to the list.

    • Bret says:

      That’s something I’d have to look into…I imagine that circumference via tape measure would be the least valid measure, with MRI being the best. I don’t think you could use ultrasound or biopsy, so MRI me thinks. Great question!

  • Jamie says:

    Hey mate,

    Good post. Im finishing up undergrad and looking to go into masters, i was considering AUT but i have heard from a few people (practitioners and professors)that the calibre of research / it’s standing in the international exercise and sport science community wasn’t flash. Thoughts on this? Internships are important i’m in the middle of one now and it opens your eyes for sure.


    • Bret says:

      Hi Jamie, I’m not sure about that…it’s not like AUT professors are going to tell me that 🙂

      But this doesn’t matter to me; what matters to me is what education YOU can get there, and you have great professors at your disposal. Patria Hume, Will Hopkins, Matt Brughelli, John Cronin, Nigel Harris are all great professors. Not sure who is taking on new students. The new lab is incredible too. Anyway, I wonder what these folks say are the absolute best Universities for sports science…do you know which they recommend?

      • Jamie says:

        Cheers Bret, yeah that’s a great point. I definitely follow the work of the AUT professors and they put out solid stuff. I’m in NZ so for me I’ve been advised Otago University and if i head over to Australia (as an NZ’er i can pay domestic fees) ECU or Queensland. Going to be a tough decision ahead i think! Cheers for your thoughts.

      • Brian says:

        Can only think negative comments about AUT come from researchers & practitioners intimidated by Hopkins brilliant perspectives on stats and analysis. Brett, you spent one year in NZ right? Was that mandatory? I know from communication with Dr. Blazevich & Dr. Nimphius at ECU that they have a distance research program that includes Diss. Proposal and Defense over the web. Was that an option at AUT?

        • Bret says:

          I don’t think it’s mandatory but you pay and arm and a leg for foreign tuition ($28.5K) and have to be able to collect data (so need access to labs), etc. AUT does have a good online master’s program though, but the PhD is trickier I think. I’ve heard good things about ECU’s distance program. I think you have to fly out there a couple of times too, which makes sense.

        • Jamie says:

          I did not realise the distance masters option through ECU. Only heard good things about Will Hopkins from down here but i’m not sure might have something to do with it.

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Still don’t think Gracovetsky merits a little more study, huh? 🙂

    Of course what would the ethical considerations be? When you fill out the waiver: “There is a possibility that you may destroy your spine for life…just sign right here, please. OK, now hang by the thoracolumbar fascia as you pick up this heavy weight…Good!”

    #59 hypothesis: CNS inhibition due to a poor core bracing engram. (Why the body would choose to give up the spine before the hip is perplexing, except that possibly people just don’t move with much ROM at the hip, choosing to use the spine all day every day, and the hip becomes inhibited).

    Probably multiple causes relative to individual, and that may hold for a lot of these queries. I think that’s what makes studying exercise (and nutrition) challenging.

    You are a very obsessive guy, BC, and we are glad for that!

    • Bret says:

      DB – I added two more to the list, one that deals with the thoracolumbar fascia. Good call!

      And I’m not sure about #59; might be more anatomy-related??? Some folks can never seem to increase their hip flexion mobility (others work miracles). I’ve always wondered about this…

  • Anthony says:

    Start your own business Bret.

  • Great list of potential studies for sure! That should keep you busy for an acadaemic career or so! Good stuff.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  • Brian says:

    Love idea #39 similar (but more interesting) to the concept of Shimokochi and colleagues JSCR in press article on the relationship of lateral cutting moves, hip ext. , hip abd., and GRF.

  • Carl says:

    I think interning at a college would be a better move to a better coach rather than private facilities. Most private facilities don’t have anywhere the contact time strength coaches have with athletes.

  • Sam Leahey says:

    Springfield College & AUT. Nuff said.

    • Shaun says:

      Another AUT fan, Sam why do you say that? Not saying your wrong or anything but if it is well known in S&C circles it could be a good option and would like to know why.

  • Nice article, Bret!
    I think like you… we have to study more and more, never stop. Now, I’m in Institute of Physical Culture and Sports of Moscow attempting for my Master’s Degree and after my PhD, it’s a good option for those that been a good researcher and coach on the field of S&C.

    Good luck!

  • Great article Bret,

    Nice guidance. As someone in this position you speak well on the matter and I agree with your lines of thinking. Could you name some programs you like/know about throughout Europe? Really anywhere on the continent?

    I agree cost of living/tuition is a huge factor. One thing that goes hand in hand with that is part-time job availability (in situations where research assistant positions aren’t available or high paying). How much do you weigh that?

    For example, ETH Zurich is an outstanding school overall and the program seems very good but nothing special, yet there are many jobs in fitness in Zurich. On the flip side, Leipzig has one of the best programs in Germany, but there are no jobs in Leipzig. Thoughts? Thanks man!!

  • Mike says:

    Hey Bret, I am finishing up my undergrad in Exercise Science and am looking to do research my last year and a half. Would you mind I took a spin off of one of your questions? Thank you

  • Mike says:

    Hey Bret, I am currently trying to come up with a potential hypothesis with foam rollers and like ROM and athletic performance. Do you have any pointers or advice? This is definitely the hardest part

  • Kenny Croxdale says:


    You one of my favorites. However, I question your recommendation of training with Michael Boyle and Juan Carlos Santana.

    The two groups of individuals you learn from are those who excel and those who just can figure it out.

    What you learn from those who can’t figure it out is “What NOT do to”. Boyle and Santana’s batting average isn’t that good….meaning they often can’t figure it out.

    Both of these guys are “Functional Training” zealots. The foundation of their beliefs is build on the empahsis of “Statility Devices” as a means of increasing strength.

    Research has demonstrated that “Statility Devices” are ineffectitive method of developing Limit Strength.

    The real functional exericses are squats. You develop strength to get off the pot or sofa.

    Deadlifting enable to you pick up nickles and dimes you find on the floor.

    Boyle has been excumunicated from the NSCA. Boyle has whinned about it and put out some lame excuses.

    Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength) has blased Boyle for some of his thoughts on strength training.

    I have found it easer to discuss training with a brick wall than Boyle.

    Some of the information Boyle puts out is good. However, some his training method make little sense, be it in the academic world or real world of anecdotal data.

    Kenny Croxdale,C.S.C.S.

    Juan Carlos Santana was blasted by Dr Fred Hatfield on his board a few years ago for some of his “Cultist Functional Training” beliefs.

  • Promise says:

    Hi Bret! Do you have any advice for those of us without exercise science/kinesiology/etc. degrees interested in S&C coaching? I got my M.S. in human behavior! Is it necessary to get the degree or will community college classes and certs suffice? Also, most internships want current students, or at least they say they do. Any tips for someone like me on getting those first experiences?

    Thanks for writing this!! 🙂

  • Elias says:

    Hey Bret THANK you moucho for the research questions.

    I’m in the process of starting my MSc project.
    Since the barbell back squat is my wife 😉 I think I will go for the partial/ full- ROM squat EMG comparison with individual 5 RMs! In conjunction to that I will let the guys squat for 12 weeks and test performance to baseline in various tests 30m sprint/ jumps etc! Ill keep you updated!

  • wayne says:

    Do you offer online coaching in powerlifting?

    If not could you do an article on your training program used for the April meet?

Leave a Reply


and receive my FREE Lower Body Progressions eBook!

You have Successfully Subscribed!