Random Thoughts

By October 1, 2010 Random Thoughts

I try to create a “Random Thoughts” blogpost each week. I get emails from people saying that these, along with my “Good Reads” blogposts are their favorite things to read each week. So here you go, fifteen random thoughts:

1. Perfect push up bullshit


This study shows that the perfect push up does not increase muscle activation over the standard push up as it purports to do. I’ve been saying that all along. Some people feel like the perfect push up allows for a smoother, more joint-friendly motion, but I prefer regular push ups. Now, if it caused more people do push ups because they felt compelled to exercise on account of the fact that they purchased the product, then I’m all for it. But I feel that a ton of people were duped.

2. 2010 International Spine Symposium

Props to my good friend Nick Tumminello for going to the 2010 International Spine Symposium and being the only fitness professional there out of 150+ attendees. Had I know about it, I would have attended. Nick and I had a brief conversation about his experience, but from what I can tell it was very insightful.

3. Symmetrical training

If you want to train for symmetry, then it’s not all about unilateral training; it’s about bilateral AND unilateral training. One without the other is inferior. People may think they’re using the same kinematics while lifting unilaterally but they probably utilize slightly different tactics with single limb training. If all you did was single limb training, you’d probably develop slight asymmetries over time. On the same hand, if all you ever did was bilateral training you’d probably develop slight asymmetries over time as well. Bottom line – do both to ensure symmetry.

4. T-Spine extension

If you want to be a strong squatter and especially a strong deadlifter, you better have super strong thoracic extensors. I’m pretty convinced that most lifter’s weak link in deadlifting strength is their t-spine extension strength. In other words, their hip and knee extensors are capable of doing more, but the ability of the t-spine to hold an arch limits what the hips can do. For t-spine extension strength, you can do thoracic extensions, front squat holds, front squats, and all types of deadlifts. Here’s an assistance exercise I do from time to time with a safety bar; it hammers the thoracic extensors!

5. Spinal exercises while driving

When driving to and from Las Vegas last weekend, which is a five hour drive, I’d perform spinal exercises every 20 minutes or so to help stave off tissue creep and get some blood flow into the area. I feel that my strategy worked very well as my back wasn’t sore or fatigued from the driving, which is rare for me! What’s hilarious is that the exercises I thought up were similar to what you’d see Shakira or Beyonce do in one of their videos.

In other words, this was me on my drive home (picture my 230 lb frame busting out these moves you see at the end of the video below while driving. Good stuff!)


6. The first step in trying to re-establish glute imbalance

Some times people have an imbalance in gluteal strength. One glute contracts much harder than the other side. When I encounter this situation, the first step is re-establishing a powerful glute contraction in a static prone position. I have them practice brief maximum isometric holds for the weaker side off and on for several minutes, then I move into the regular workout. I’ve been doing this with my client Karli and we are seeing terrific results.

Basically she had a left side hamstring injury and right side quadratus lumborum pain which is textbook synergystic dominance (compensating) for a weak left glute. She even noticed different kinematics from one side to the next when she runs. Through palpation I was able to confirm her suspicions; one glute contracted way harder than the other. So we stuck to the procedure above for around five workouts and the imbalance is dramatically diminished.

After demonstrating symmetrical contractions in static postures, it’s time to move to dynamic movements of progressing difficulty. I like to move from prone to quadruped to supine, and then finally to standing with side-lying mixed in all the way through.

I’ve found that you can blend a corrective protocol with a conditioning protocol and the two roads converge in time and lead to optimum results.

7. I didn’t know I was a celebrity trainer!

I didn’t realize that I train J-Lo, Kim Kardashian, and Jessica Biel! That’s certainly good to know! Check it out here.

8. Safety and form continuum

I think some coaches take things too far as far as form is concerned. On the other hand, I think that most coaches don’t care enough about form. If perfect form is a ten and horrendous form is a zero, you want nines in my book. If you are so strict that you require tens then your athletes won’t ever be able to move any weight and get stronger. If you aren’t strict at all your athletes will get injured. Tens on warm up sets and the initial reps of working sets, and nines or even eights on the last couple of reps of a top set is ideal in my book. But form should never break down more than 20% or you went too heavy or took the set too far in terms of reps.

9. Davis’s Law

Davis’s Law is one of the most important topics in biomechancis and physical therapy, but most people know nothing about it. As a matter of fact, many Biomechanics professors and Physical Therapists have never heard of the law. I didn’t know much about it until I decided to do a bunch of research on the topic.

Most people have heard of Wolff’s law of bone, which was named after Julius Wolff (1836-1902) and states that bones will adapt to the loads under which they are placed. For example, an athlete who squats heavy will have strong bones to resist axial loading.

Davis’s Law is similar to Wolff’s law except that it applies to soft-tissue and deals more with tissue length than tissue strength (but still deals with tissue strength as well). Soft-tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia will adapt to the loads in which they are placed. If you sit all day long in a hunched position, you are stretching your back the entire time and all the soft-tissue that sits posterior to the center of the discs will be stretched and become lax over time. This is not a good thing. Similarly, the hip flexors will shorten as they are placed in a flexed position while sitting. This too is not a good thing, as it tends to inhibit the gluteals which throws everything out of whack.

Just who in the hell is Davis?

It took me around five hours of searching around but I believe I’ve found the answer. Now, you won’t find this on Wikipedia, nor will you find this in any textbook. Here is a link to a book written in 1867 called “Conservative Surgery” written by Henry Gassett Davis. Look at pages 138 – 139 and you’ll see the beginnings of Davis’ law.

Here is a link to another book, this one written in 1915, and you’ll see on page 157 it contains “Davis’s Law,” the same wording used 38 years earlier by Henry Gassett Davis. I was pretty proud of this discovery!

10. Massage table

My friend Keats Snideman knew I was looking for a massage table so he alerted me when a buddy of his was selling one for only $100! I got a steal on the table and now it’s one of my favorite tools. I’m an assessing machine lately; utilizing things I’ve learned from Keats and Patrick Ward, things I learned off of Bill Hartman, Mike Robertson, and Eric Cressey’s Assess and Correct, and some methods I’ve developed on my own or picked up along the way.

Here’s me modeling the new table! Move over Vanna White!

11. Phone conversations

I’m very lucky to have some great friends in the fitness industry. As a matter of fact, one way I can tell if someone is “for real” and in this industry for the right reasons is if they still like to “talk shop” and discuss various topics in strength training. No one even comes close to knowing it all…not the best professors, researchers, therapists, doctors, trainers, or coaches. Knowledge is so broad that we must specialize which leaves a ton of room for learning from other experts. I am very lucky; in the past week I’ve been privileged to speak to Nick Tumminello, Mark Young, Keats Snideman, Shon Grosse, and Ben Bruno. Each week is different but I try to speak to a couple of coaches each week. I like to speak to like-minded individuals and not-so-like-minded individuals as it’s good to try to learn from people who don’t agree with you about everything.

12. Core stabilization

When people think of “core stabilization,” they think of planks, side planks, Pallof presses, etc. Not many people think of racking weights and performing big lifts as core stabilization but it is. I get a ton of core stability work from carrying two plates at a time when I re-rack plates, racking heavy dumbbells back onto the rack after doing a set, etc. I also get tons of core stability work from chin ups, push ups, squats, deadlifts, military press, and even barbell curls. Think about it! We’re keeping a neutral spine (straight line form shoulders to knees) while moving limbs dynamically.

13. Chalk on chicks

I don’t know why, but I find it very sexy when a pretty girl has chalk all over their bodies from hardcore lifting. Just saying!

14. Glutes – a crazy muscle

Earlier in the blog I discussed a client of mine who had one glute that contracts harder than the other. Well I also have a client who can activate her glutes very well while squatting, lunging, deadlifting, doing good mornings, and hip thrusting.

However, in prone straight leg positions with anteroposterior vectors that have a core stabilization component such as back extensions, push ups, planks, and ab wheel rollouts she cannot fire her glutes at all. This is someone who has great glute development, but she can’t fire them or posteriorly rotate her pelvis in that position. I can regress her to a quadruped position or completely prone position and she does fine, but it will take a few weeks to get her firing all cylinders from this position.

Many clients can activate the glutes well in one position and not another. You have to practice, practice, practice until the client gets it right. You also have to know how to regress or progress a movement. The gluteus maximus is indeed a crazy muscle!

15. The unwritten laws of training like a man

I always enjoy teaching my clients and workout partners gym etiquette and “man laws of training.”

Some of these laws include the following:

I. You have to put plates on a barbell with the smooth edges on the outside and the indented edges facing inward. I tell clients that this “Keeps the Power in.” Lyle McDonald wrote an excellent article about this and it’s something that must be passed on from generation to generation. This alone tells you if a lifter is experienced or not.

II. Clips need to face the proper direction too. I’m always amazed when people can’t figure this out.

III. There’s even a special technique to placing or peeling 45 lb plates onto the bar while it’s on the ground when deadlifting. Idiots try to push the plates in at an angle and can’t figure out why the plates won’t glide over the barbell. This always amazes me too. I am very detailed in that I’ll show proper plate loading technique!

IV. A good lifter should know that a standard barbell can hold three 45-lb plates on one side even when there’s no weight on the other side. Newbies freak the hell out when you take plates off one side of the bar while there’s an uneven number of plates on the other side. They think the bar will tip but it won’t (unless the bar is shifted toward the loaded side in the rack but that’s another story).

V. A good lifter needs to have all the load-schemes committed to memory. A plate on each side is 135 lbs, two plates on each side is 225, then you have 315, 405, 495, and 585. With 25 lb plates in the mix, you have 95, 185, 275, 365, 455, and 545. Male lifters need to know these loads and I’m always grilling newbies so they memorize the combinations.

I could go on and on with these but I’ll end it here. Hope you enjoyed the blogpost!!!


  • JC says:

    bwahahaa. Dude, I remember reading about “keeping the power inside the bar” a long time ago on his forums. It’s funny because some people are like “you know, this really makes a lot of sense!”

    I lol’d at the idea of you dancing like Beyonce in the car. Brings back some memories of our inebriated swagger downtown KC this past May.

  • Meaghan says:

    Haha, thanks for the link, Bret. But I think maybe you misinterpreted that sentence… Just saying that YOU are now the one people seek out for advice on glute training INSTEAD OF celebrities like J-Lo, Kim Kardashian and Jessica Biel.

    • Meaghan, sorry for misinterpreting the sentence. Cut me some slack; I work long hours and stay up really late. I get delirious and my mind starts to interpret things the way it wants. Can you blame my brain for wanting to be their trainer? ๐Ÿ™‚

      I appreciate the shout-out on your blog. Keep up the great work!

  • Jon says:

    I enjoy these random posts Bret, great content as always.

    With regards to #15: 1, interesting concept but that goes against common powerlifting rules which usually require that the bar be loaded first plate facing inwards and the rest facing outwards (presumably so the lb/kg notations can be read).

    I always practice this and encourage fellow PL’ers to do it as well, I firmly believe a lifter should do everything she/he can to replicate meet conditions so they’ll be ready day of. Supersticious? Probably.

    • Jon, great point! Yes!!! There’s nothing wrong with some healthy superstition either. Research shows that the athletes who have superstitions perform better (deadlifter who does his pre-lift ritual, basketball player who does his pre-free throw ritual, etc.). Seriously, there is research to support it.

      I’ve never been a powerlifter but would love to learn all the rules and idiosyncracies of the sport. So in this case, plates outward, and you have to learn the loads in kgs!

      • Nick Horton says:

        I second the point about ritual. In my sport, it’s common to see lifters make a good clean only to miss the Jerk simply because they got psyched out by it.

        It is far less likely to happen if the lifter has a ritual in place. I actually teach my lifters on purpose to develop rituals. In this case, when they have stood up from the clean, I have them take in (and count) 3 breaths – not 2, not 4, 3. The last one, they take deep, chest up, and they GO!

        No matter what, they go. I don’t care if you feel ready or not, you go!

        It makes a big difference.

  • Matt says:

    Hey Bret,

    Insightful post!

    I’ve been checking out your posts lately and they are very well done. Keep up the good work!

    I am a personal trainer and strength coach, just starting to get my feet wet… Been training consistently for almost a year now.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned is that every time I begin learning new material, I find out I don’t know nearly enough as I should…

    If you have any advice or tips for a green independent trainer please shoot me an email help a colleague out!

    BTW, you really need to find a cheap place to rent, your garage gym is cooped and cramped! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks again!


    • Matt, the garage is cramped but I have no rent! That’s big for me in Phoenix as we have the 49th worst economy in the state. A bunch of my friends are dying financially and I’m doing just fine. I’ll get a place eventually, I just want to plan out my next move wisely and not rush into anything.

      Here’s what I recommend: 1) learn by training hard, training a bunch of other people, and learning from other coaches/experts. 2) read the NSCA journals, attend good conferences and try to network and meet good people, and keep reading good sites and blogs. 3) get FMS certified and buy Assess and Correct. This will pay dividends down the road. It’s just a small component to training as eventually you correct stuff and can focus on strength, RFD, reactive strength, etc. but many people up front have mobility, stability, or patterning issues that need to be taken care of and it’s important to know how to assess, how to regress or progress an exercise, etc.

      Best of luck!

  • I love the man rules of lifting! I want to hear more. I learned all of these very early on and agree that if a lifter wants to be taken seriously, they should live by them as well! And now I’m off to get chalked up….

  • Pete Bush says:

    Agree, chalk on a gal is hot.

    Coming up, our coach made us load the bar first plate with ridges in so the judges could see it, and all other plates facing out for the same reason (though some would be covered).

    In my head I know that bar will not flip but I ALWAYS stagger my break down, 1 off one side, then 2 off the other , then 2 off the otherand so on. Even when I am shot out from heavy squats or DL’s I will walk back and forth.

    My traing partners still have not mastered the deadlift load from the ground. One of them wants to put the bar up in the squat rack after EVERY set. Pain in the ass.

    Pete Bush

    • Pete, that’s fine that you unload this way (I often do too) as long as you “know” that the bar won’t flip. I had a training partner who lifted for over a decade who assumed that the bar would flip if there was a two-45 lb plate discrepancy. One day I showed him that you could have three more on one side than the other and he was amazed. He never thought that was possible. Out of habit, he still pulls them off one at a time in alternating fashion, but now he knows the truth! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bret, I’m happy to see so much T-spine information lately. One of my favorite topics!

    I’ve used a large stability ball placed under the rib cage with body prone for thoracic extension. The softer surface helps get the support higher on the torso. Depending on the body, the feet can hook under something to keep the lower bits on the ground, or the knees can squeeze the ball against the belly to inhibit the glutes(sorry!) and lumbar extensors.

    A pair of kettlebells or dumbbells can be rested on the shoulders with the hands in the prisoner position for load with trap recruitment.

    Another exercise is the lat pull-down with some backward lean and t-spine extension. Less load on the spinal extensors, but a completely different orientation and recruitment pattern.

    Making the world a straighter place one t-spine at a time,

    • Awesome tips Steven! And nothing wrong with inhibiting the glutes for that purpose ๐Ÿ™‚ I may be the glute guy, but if you strenghten a weak link and that link is the thoracic extensors it will allow you to deadlift heavier which puts more load on the glutes (so it’s good for the glutes in a roundabout way). I never thought about the lat pulldown spinal extension. I guess you could probably do something similar with the seated row and chest supported t-bar row but it takes good segmental motor control (which many people don’t have). Thanks!

  • Matias says:

    I have the same problem as Karli had. It’s been frustrating and my last workout felt like a failure. I prayed and asked God to help me solve this, then you post this!

  • Bret,
    Good stuff. My father was an OLer and always insisted on the plates facing in. It was for two reasons – that the weight would equally and evenly distributed, and so that partners could check each other to make sure that the weights were the same as they loaded the bar.

    Enjoy the blog. Lots of thought and love of S&C in here.


  • Mark Young says:

    Great post as usual Mr. Bret!

    Did you know that the thoracic extensors have the largest moment arm to produce extension at the lumbar spine?

    That picture of you on the table reminds me of that creepy picture of Jason Alexander. (http://img1.tvloop.com/img/showpics/42/f5/l33ca7baa0005_1_26877.jpg)

    Oh…and I like how you use the word “palpate” to substitute for the word “grope”. I really need to get that method down so my clients don’t get all fussy. lol.

    • Mark, I did know that. I read about that in Stuey McGill’s Low Back Disorders a while back and even included that info in my T-Nation article entitled “Inside the Muscles – Best Ab and Core Exercises.” You’d know that if you read my work but you don’t even care! ๐Ÿ™‚

      That’s hilarious re: the Jason Alexander comment, that’s what I was going for! I told my stepbro right before he snapped the pic that I was going for the Costanza look.

      And you just gave me a new idea for next random blog – I don’t just palpate, I molest. Seriously, I think all trainers should do so. More on next random blog.

  • Matt says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is the special technique to placing or peeling 45 lb plates onto the bar while itโ€™s on the ground when deadlifting that you allude to.

    BTW, recently found your blog and now read it every week. Keep up the great work.


    • Well the most important thing is to slide the plates on straight. I’ve had to “tutor” so many lifters who put the plates on at an angle and can’t figure out why the plates are jammed and not sliding properly. It never ceases to amaze me how little common sense is around these days! ๐Ÿ™‚ When peeling the plates off, you can kneel down and post the elbow off of your inner thigh to spare the spine a bit. It’s much more easy to demonstrate than to describe.

  • PolyisTCOandbanned says:

    Yeah, Lyle is not all bad. Well, neither was Stalin. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Peter says:

    Bret I had the same problem with
    My right glute not firing properly. So am I right in saying you started off with one leg bridge held isometrically for time. Then after this went on for the usual workout.? How do you progress from this stage? Should I avoid bilateral movements involving the glutes?

    • Peter,

      No! The one leg bridge is too advanced and you’ll resort to using hams and erectors. You just lie supine and squeeze the glute as hard as you can. You can have a straight leg or a bent leg (I don’t think it matters much) and you don’t even need to extend the hip…just squeeze the glute as hard as possible. Spend 2-3 weeks in prone, then move to quadruped for a couple weeks, then move to supine for a couple of weeks. Focus on static isoholds and over time move to dynamic movements. Have patience in getting your glutes to fire symmetrically…it will happen but don’t rush it. Every day you’ll be getting better so relax and know you’re on the right track.

      Just do this as a warm-up prior to your workouts and you can still do your bilateral lifting. Spend around 5 minutes working on the weaker glute prior to the workout.

      • Peter says:

        Thank you very much for the response. Yes it was hard for me to contract the glute with the one leg bridge. The isoholds make much more sense.

  • billydarrer says:

    Chalk On Chicks, sounds like a possiblity for a new DVD series!!

  • s2bfitness says:

    I haven’t researched this much but I believe to get true thoracic extension, you would have to find a way to stabilize the pelvis. I have seen machines in physical therapy such as the ATM2 http://www.backproject.com/ that have straps to achieve this. What are your thoughts in a non-pt setting?

    • S2bfitness – I respectfully disagree. In the exercise I showed you can get true thoracic extension, and it’s more natural than the method used in the backproject site. I don’t believe you have to stabilize the pelvis with straps…you can “lock it in” on the glute ham raise or with a Swiss ball while kneeling. Have you tried the stability ball thoracic extension while using a ball that’s just the right size to allow you to kneel on the ground and “suck” the ball into the hips?

  • Ha! Ha! Loved the random thoughts,
    especially women and chalk dust.
    While on one hand it is very sexy,
    it also makes me wonder (fear)
    if she would kick my butt if I
    stepped out of line.

  • Mike says:

    Anybody have a clue why we ended up using 45 lbs plates and not 50 lbs? Would have made counting total poundage so much easier.

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