Quick Thoughts – Forces, Glutes, Airdyne, Eccentric Strength, Leaning Lunges, Box Squats, Fat Gripz

By September 1, 2010 Random Thoughts

Sorry folks, I’m super busy this week! Trying to do a million things at once. I try to shy away from really long blogs these days (well, I try but I don’t always succeed :)) but it was very convenient for me to do another “random blog” this week. This week is packed with good stuff so I’m sure you’ll forgive me. I’ve got a good blend of practical stuff and research stuff in this one. Here are fourteen thoughts:

1. Vertical vs. Horizontal Forces in Sprinting

The interview I posted last week with Matt Brughelli created quite a stir in the strength & sprint communities. Many sprint guys and speed coaches are attempting to discredit the data. Some are saying that you can’t use a Woodway treadmill to make conclusions about overground running. I’d like to say two things about this. First, the study by McKenna et. al 2007 showed that torque treadmills were strikingly similar in kinematics to overground running; more so than motorized treamills. However, if you still don’t want to believe that, then consider this. Nummela et al. 2007 had the same findings as Brughelli, but they did overground running. They used several force plates in a row (i.e. a total of 9 meters of force plates!!!). Kuitunen et al. 2002 also used overground running (i.e. a total of 10 meters of force plates). They were both done in Finland at very prestigious institutes by some very intelligent researchers. I implore you to take this research seriously.

2. Airdyne

After reading about how much Mike Boyle likes the Airdyne, I picked one up for my garage. The other day one of my female clients said, “That crappy bicycle you got is actually the greatest piece of equipment you have in your gym.” Now, I’m a meat-head through-and-through, so I obviously don’t agree with her. But she loves it because it’s joint friendly and kicks her ass! It’s so effective because it works the upper body pulling and pushing musculature in addition to the lower body musculature all at the same time. You can get very creative with the intervals depending on the client. I might prescribe a beginner something like 4 rounds of 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 2 rounds of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. I might prescribe an intermediate 6 rounds of 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 3 rounds of 30 seconds on, 20 seconds off. I might prescribe an advanced exerciser 8 rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, or 2 rounds of 60 seconds on, 30 seconds off. I try to mix it up to prevent boredom.

3. Eccentric Deadlift Strength

I’ve heard a lot of statistics regarding eccentric to concentric strength ratios. I’ve seen studies show that eccentric strength is 14% higher than concentric strength, another showing 20%, and yet another showing 33%. The point is that eccentric strength is supposed to be greater than that of concentric strength. Now, one could argue that one is fatigued following a concentric 1RM, but I believe that everyone should be able to lower a 1RM deadlift under control. I see many females who can lift a certain weight concentrically with great form yet fail to be able to lower the weight eccentrically with good form. After concentrating on the eccentric portion of the lift for a couple of weeks I’m usually able to restore the proper concentric : eccentric strength ratio which will reduce the likelihood of injury. Your eccentric form is important too and should mirror your concentric form. Don’t lose the low back arch.

4. Weak Glutes

I was training a guy the other day who was an active male (he ran and did circuit training several days per week) and I was quite amazed. This guy appeared to be physically fit but he trembled like a leaf at the top of his bodyweight glute bridges. I’m going to vigorously attack his glutes to bring them up to speed. In a month things will be very different for this guy. But if you’re a grown man there’s no reason why I should be able to hold 400-500 lbs at the top of a bridge for longer time than you can hold your own bodyweight. Sweet baby Jesus! Get some glute strength people!

5. Leaning Lunges

I once had some strength coaches come after me on a message board after I posted a video of one of my clients using a forward lean while they lunged. Their position was that lunges must be performed with an upright trunk. My position was that it’s okay to vary, especially when it leads to increased glute activity. Sometimes I have my clients perform lunges in a more upright manner, while other times I have them do them with more of a lean. In a study entitled Trunk position influences the kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activity of the lead lower extremity during the forward lunge exercise, researchers showed that performing a lunge with the trunk forward increased the hip extensor impulse and the recruitment of the hip extensors. In contrast, performing a forward lunge with the trunk extended did not alter joint impulse or activation of the lower extremity musculature.

If the client has tight hip flexors, then they’ll be forced to lean forward while lunging (which is not a good thing). In this case you need to either lengthen the hip flexors or reduce their hypertonicity (or simply get them accustomed to better stretch-tolerance) so they’re able to produce proper upright lunging mechanics. However, assuming the client’s hip flexors are functioning fine, then there’s no reason why you can’t lunge with forward lean in order to increase hip extensor (glute, hamstring) activation. As to how much you can lean? In this study it almost looks like a lunge/deadlift hybrid. Check out the pic below. I don’t have my clients lean this much, just a slight lean. Bottom line, there are lots of good lunge variations. You can toy around with bar placement (high bar, low bar, manta ray, front (racked), goblet, Zercher, neutral (db’s), etc.), stride length (shallow, medium, long), trunk lean (upright, moderate lean, severe lean), lunge-type (static, forward, reverse, walking, Valslide/slideboard, etc.), etc.

My buddy Nick Tumminello is a big proponent of what he calls the “anterior reach lunge” which is a knee-friendly hybrid lunge/dl. Check it out.

6. Joe Kenn

Joe Kenn stopped by on Saturday and visited my garage. We ended up talking shop for 4 1/2 hours! Joe is extremely passionate about strength training and is about as nice of a guy as you’ll ever meet. I love speaking to such experienced strength coaches as you can pick up a lot of quality information and ideas just by asking them questions and letting them speak. I was very glad to see that Joe and I saw eye-to-eye on numerous topics (all the big rocks). I’m now a huge Joe Kenn fan. Thanks for the visit “House”!!!

7. Garage Gym

Having a garage gym fucking rules! I’m writing this blog in between sets of heavy singles of low box squats with a 3 second pause on the box. Talk about “active recovery!” Actually the best part about having a garage gym is my deadlift lever and chalk bin from Elitefts. No missed deadlifts due to a slick bar and/or slippery hands, and no more peeling 45 lb plates off the bar when it’s on the ground.

9. The Box Squat Effect

I tell all my clients that as they become more proficient in the box squat they’ll start getting up from their chairs at work with perfect box squat form. It never fails, after around a month of training people they all tell me that they have fallen pray to “the box squat effect.”

10. Mind-Muscle Connection in the Gluteus Maximus

New clients fall into three categories: those who already have great glute activation, those who have decent glute activation, and those who have no glute activation. Most “athletic” clients feel their glutes working very well the very first time they come to my gym. Some clients feel their glutes working during some exercises but not during others. And some clients can’t feel their glutes working no matter what they try. You can palpate their glutes and they don’t have much mass there in the first place, so of course their synergists (hamstrings, erectors, adductor magnus, etc.) are going to be picking up the slack for the weak glutes.

Without fail, within six weeks even the clients who couldn’t feel their glutes doing anything develop unbelievable mind-muscle connections with their gluteus maximus. Literally every client I have remarks about how they feel their glutes working very well during every lower body movement. It just takes focus, consistency, and patience (and a good trainer).

11. Fat Gripz Holds

If you have fat gripz from Elitefts, try fat grip holds! They’re badass! They work the hand musculature much more than regular holds, plus you don’t have to strap extra weight around your waist via a dip belt. Bodyweight works just fine.

12. Front Squat Holds

This might be the toughest core exercise I do! It works the hell out of my upper back and core musculature. I believe it transfers over to the deadlift very well and helps you stay more upright via increased thoracic extensor strength. The trick is to avoid leaning backward. Stay in neutral and make it hard! When I do full front squats I can only work my way up to 275 lbs. With the holds I’m able to use 405+ lbs.

13. Glute Reeducation: Score One for the Glute Activation Pioneers

Admit it! When you first saw Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Mike Boyle, and Mark Verstegen talking about glute activation you thought they’d “turned sissy,” didn’t you? Well I’ll admit it, I was pretty skeptical. I got down on the floor, got my “Jane Fonda” on, and tried to decide whether these low-load drills were worth my time. I liked the movement patterns and felt my glutes working very hard but the meat-head in me wanted extra ROM and loading (hence the hip thrusts and pendulum quadruped hip extensions).

A case report in this year’s February edition of The Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) entitled Strengthening and Neuromuscular
Reeducation of the Gluteus Maximus in a Triathlete With Exercise-Associated Cramping of the Hamstrings
describes a situation where a triathlete who suffered from hamstring cramping during running was able to “reeducate” his glutes and decrease the relative contribution of the hamstrings while running, thereby eliminating his hamstring cramping. The athlete followed a three-phase program that progressed from low load glute activation, to low-velocity glute integration, to dynamic integration. The quantitiative outcome measures were pretty remarkable for this case study so I definitely recommend taking a closer look if you get a chance. Although this was just a case study, to me this research is huge as it lends support to Shirley Sahrmann’s synergistic dominance theory and alerts researchers to conduct more research in this area. Hopefully we’ll see more studies on this topic on the future.

14. Women Need More Glute and Hamstring Strength!

Well, most men do too, but numerous studies show that women need increased glute strength to prevent Valgus collapse. Some studies indicate a need for increased glute medius strength, some studies indicate a need for increased glute maximus activation, and some studies show a need for increased hip abductor and adductor coactivation. Furthermore, studies show that women’s H:Q ratio (concentric hamstring to concentric quadricep strength) is lower than that of men at angular velocities that approach speeds seen in sports. Women don’t seem to increase their hamstring contribution as speed increases. Whatever the case, it’s quite obvious that increased single leg stability and posterior chain strength is exactly what’s needed to help “bulletproof” females and prevent them from experiencing knee pain and injury.

That’s all for this week folks! Hope you enjoyed the content.

36 Comments

  • Some people have a problem with a forward lean while lunging? Stupid. As you mentioned, as long as they are capable of performing upright lunges (b/c the hip flexors are NOT too tight), I have no problem incorporating forward lean lunges… been doing bulgarian DLs (torso leaning forward) to compliment bulgarian SS (upright torso) for years.

    Nice blog Bret!

  • Daniel says:

    What’s the music in the front squat hold?

  • Cian Lanigan says:

    you never fail to get the brain thinking. great job again Bret.

  • Hah, writing in between sets! I usually try to convince myself I will read or study but it never pans out that way.

  • Mark Young says:

    “I’m going to vigorously attack his glutes…”

    LMAO. Nice Bret.

    Great blog.

  • Joanne says:

    More good thinky thoughts from you, Bret. I’ve just come back from my physio who wants me to start right back at glute activiation work to fix my over-reliance on hams for hip extension….that & some bad technique on deadlifts but it all explains the source of my irritated hamstring attachments.

    Will be racking up some mileage on your info here on the web, and getting the rehab work done so I can resume some weightier training. Thanks for the efforts you make in educating people in this stuff – badly needed.

  • paul says:

    Afternoon all! I went to my gym today and my membership is up for renewal and worked out how much it’ll cost for 1 whole year. This part of my day sucked!

    My knowledge of exercise selection and periodisation has grown significantly after reading blogs like this one and books like your advanced glute techniques, and i cannot perform all of my new training program. Actually theres not a single pendulum/glute ham raise stand in a 20 mile radius, thats about 20 gyms. Do you know how much it would cost to buy new/2nd hand pendulum machine to do reverse hypers e.t.c. and a glute ham raise/adjustable back extension machine to incoorporate back extensions and glute ham raises with straight/bent leg variations. Also a cable machine would be very beneficial. Supplementary equipment such as a harness, bands and sled pulls for sprints would also be useful. Where do you get this stuff from?

    • Paul, being that you’re in the U.K., I recommend trying to find a supplier over there. It would cost an arm and a leg to ship. I got mine from Elitefts which is awesome. I think it would be hard to find them second-hand but there are probably a lot of gyms that have shut down due to the poor economy so you might get lucky. I think reverse hypers are around $1,400 and glute ham raises are around $1,000 these days. I like the Prowler from Elitefts too. I got my bands from the as well. You can take a look at Perform Better and Power Systems and Sorinex as well. Best of luck!

  • saij says:

    Diggin’ on the front squat holds. Back in my Powerlifting days I’d do rack walk outs with the back squat. But, I’ve never done this similar exercise with the fronts.

    My goal is to ass-to-grass front squat around 400 in 1 year (a bit over the top, but I think it’s at least on the horizon). I’ve full front squatted 330 fairly recently. But, I can see how just standing there with 405 would be a great psychological aid, on top of the core work.

    I’ll keep you posted

  • Nick Horton says:

    oops! So, that “saij” guy is me. I forgot I was logged in under my wordpress.com ID. 🙂 I live a double life as a science/politics blogger (and I have Math podcast … yes, math.)

  • jaime says:

    Your short blog post are my week long thoughts and writing. Great stuff

  • PolyisTCOandbanned says:

    Airdyne is a very nice warmup piece. Get pulling and pushing muscles of both ub and lb. Good as you get older and find that lifting heavy loads goes better if the joints are a little warmed.

  • Lee Remick says:

    Bret,

    Do you also mix up torso angle for step-ups in those who are already able to perform them with an upright torso / don’t have any length, tonicity, or stretch tolerance issues? Sometimes I toy around with more simultaneous action between hip/trunk extension and knee extension during step-ups. Some might say that higher step-ups are more than enough for more contribution of the hip musculature and that I am simply getting “cute” by adding in more of a hip hinge component. But I’ve always been of the mind that if technique is optimal, then there’s no reason why adding torso angle as a variant to step-ups can’t be a worthwhile and productive tweak.

    Another potential criticism that may be directed my way is that adding a forward lean to step-ups might partially defeat one of the main reasons for performing them, namely another leg training option with less lower back emphasis. Additionally that crowd would likely say that high step-ups are sufficient for more emphasis of the hip musculature and that any added stress from incresing trunk flexion would be offset by calling on the spinal erectors to bump up their relative contribution to the party.

    To avoid overthinking, I am simply curious if you ever twak step-ups in this manner (i.e. manipulating torso angle), and if so, has it been moved to your “keeper” pile or relegated to the “it sounded great in theory” pile?

    As always, thanks for the knowledge and food for thought!

  • Rich says:

    When it comes to Weyand, Goodwin, Brughelli and vertical vs horizontal, the big question is what program design changes would be made based on this information? Some coaches may just be critical of those who suggest this info is the key to huge gains in sprint performance.

    Good point on the importance of eccentric strength. The influence of program design on the widening and/or narrowing of the strength deficit at the appropriate time needs more discussion.

    I believe Dan Pfaff has a good morning-lunge combo type exercise in his general strength routines.

    Do we know what the triathlete was doing for posterior chain work before he became the subject of this case report?

    Have you played around with doing short duration heavy front squat holds before you front squat?

    Good stuff!

    • Rich, good points/questions. I think the solution is to just add in hip thrusts. People are already squatting (axial strength) and doing plyos (axial power/elasticity). They’re also already sprinting (anteroposterior power/elasticity). The missing link is hip thrusts (anteroposterior strength). This is of course my opinion.

      I don’t think the triathlete was doing any strength training.

      Haven’t played with the holds before front squatting. I like to think of it more as a deadlift builder. Some powerlifters believe the front squat to be better at building the dl than the squat. For me I have trouble maintaining my upper back arch when going super heavy, and this seems to help.

  • paul says:

    is it ok to combine power with max strength training for sprinters, because i read in your book that gains in one area txes another? i train linearly except in transition phases whereby i do 1 day of power and 2 days of maximal lifting!

  • Jaime Ward says:

    Hey Bret, Question: I’ve been lifting alot over the summer and have put on about 10lbs of muscle which is great, and I love my muscular body (except when my husband tells me I look like a dude!), however now that I’m back into the boxing season my coach is livid with me as I still have to make it into the lower weight class and the added muscle has made my punches “slow”, however they are a hell of alot harder. I’ve started back with sprints and lifting light weights at high reps in a circuit, but I’m still not loosing the mass or the weight. I know this is such a backwards ass problem, but what would you suggest? I’ve considered just stopping weights all together for a while and just doing plyos and glutes (cause I aesthetically can let my ass go to hell!). Thanks!

    • Jaime, I think you should try to lose the 10 lbs through slight caloric deprivation and slight increase in total caloric expenditure. Just eat less and exercise more. I would not stop lifting weights as strength plus power training maximizes power production. Also, like you said you need to keep your glutes! Best of luck!

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