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Random Thoughts

By October 7, 2010October 29th, 2014Random Thoughts

1. Molest the Glutes

My friend Mark Young likes to make fun of me for finding creative ways to “palpate” my clients’ glutes. The truth of the matter is I don’t just palpate, I molest the bejezus out of their glutes during their first couple of sessions while I’m putting them through different movements. How else are you going to know if their glutes are firing during the various exercises? Seriously, I predicted much of my glute EMG results before I conducted the experiments because of the considerable amount of palpation I practiced while my clients were exercising. I’ve also learned that many women have trouble contracting their glutes in a certain position. It could be prone, quadruped, side lying, supine, squatting, or hip hinging, but many have glutes that work very well in most positions but don’t fire properly in one particular position.

Let’s say that I assume that a client’s glutes fire well during bridging patterns and I load them up with heavy hip thrusts. If they don’t have good glute activation in this pattern, they’ll just compensate with their hamstrings and/or substitute lumbar extension for hip extension by overarching their lower backs. This will not improve matters, it will feed the dysfunction and make matters worse. You have to get the glutes to fire properly with bodyweight before loading a particular pattern, and the only way to know if their glutes are doing their job is to palpate (unless you want to spend a fortune on EMG or MRI technology).

I first ask the client if they mind if I palpate their glutes. Since I’m confident and the clients trust me, I’ve never had a client that minded. They usually welcome the palpation because they realize I’m trying to be thorough. Then I put them through a ton of different movements while palpating the entire gluteus maximus, as well as the erector spinae and hamstrings, to get an accurate picture as to what’s occurring. Since the upper gluteus maximus and lower gluteus maximus fibers function uniquely, I make sure I palpate both regions. I put them on the massage table and roll through prone straight leg and bent leg hip extensions, quadruped straight leg and bent leg hip extensions, side lying clams and abductions, double and single leg glute bridges, and then move off the table and have them do back extensions, front planks, squats, static lunges, and deadlifts. All the while I’m poking and prodding.

Now, when I had Lifts and employed two different trainers, I would not have advised them to utilize this same methodology as I wouldn’t have wanted to assume the liability for sexual harassment claims. However, if you really want to be the best trainer possible, then you need to feel the glutes to make sure they’re contracting properly during movement.

2. Waterfalls in Relation to Back Pain and Performance

I’ve come up with a unique way to explain my philosophy of posterior chain biomechanics during lifting.

Obviously we could get really technical and describe the moment arms for the various hip extensors and discuss all the muscles that come into play during various movements, but I tend to keep it simple and suggest the following analogy.

Let’s say you have a river with three waterfalls in sequence. The three waterfalls represent the erector spinae, the glutes, and the hamstrings. You want an equal amount of water going to each of the waterfalls. A beginner will often have 50% of the water flowing to his or her erectors, 30% flowing to his or her hamstrings, and 20% flowing to his or her glutes.

This sets up the lifter for back pain very quickly. However, if you can redirect some of the water to the hip extensors and particularly the glutes, you’ll spare the spine and set up a much safer motor pattern for safe and effective lifting technique.

By utilizing proper form and focusing on hip dominant movements such as deadlifts, hip thrusts, and back extensions, you’ll re-route the water very quickly in order to see the proper flow – 33% erectors, 33% hamstrings, and 33% glutes.

Now you have proper core stability and shared load-distribution which will prevent back injuries and increase performance.

3. ACL Biomechanics and Split Lines on Articular Cartilage

Here is some stuff I recently learned in my KIN 512 course at ASU on the ACL and Articular Cartilage. Pretty cool!

4. Huge Genetic Component to Tendon and Ligament Injuries

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about tendon and ligament injuries and whether there exists a genetic component to the injuries. It appears that there is! Here are some links to abstracts I recently stumbled upon. Basically, some individuals are predisposed to soft-tissue injuries due to specific genes.

Tendon and ligament injuries: the genetic component

Genetic risk factors for musculoskeletal soft tissue injuries

Type I collagen alpha1 Sp1 polymorphism and the risk of cruciate ligament ruptures or shoulder dislocations

Variants within the MMP3 gene are associated with Achilles tendinopathy: possible interaction with the COL5A1 gene

Genetic aspects of tendinopathy

5. Reverse Hyper and Thoracic Extensors

Have you ever palpated people’s thoracic extensors while they perform reverse hypers? Holy macarole! I’m always amazed at how well the movement targets the extensors musculature. I recommend that you palpate the erector spinae of the thoracic spine so you get an idea as to how hard they contract during this movement. Even with just bodyweight they contract very hard, but loaded reverse hypers cause even harder contractions. I like that in the reverse hyper you grip the handles very hard to get some transfer through the hands, arms, and torso. You’d think that this movement worked primarily upon the hip extensors but this is simply not so. Reverse hypers are excellent erector spinae builders too. I have my clients do reverse hypers from time to time and have found them to be dangerous as long as you stick to certain rules, which are: 1) extension-based back pain clients don’t do them, 2) only do them once every two weeks, 3) make sure you keep lumbar extension in check up top, 4) prevent lumbar flexion at the bottom, 5) mainly use them for variety, don’t focus on progressive overload, and 6) prescribe them for high reps if a client complains of slight back soreness due to exercises that create spinal flexion moments such as squats and deadlifts.

6. Lever Squat

I have a lever squat machine from Tuff-Stuff and I really like having it. I know that machines aren’t popular in training these days but the fact of the matter is machines can be very useful and some machines are better than others. Even when it comes to lever squat machines, some are great and some suck. There was one at my gym that allowed me to load up with 8 plates per side which equals 720 lbs. That was ridiculous. The lever squat I own feels very similar to a regular squat and I love using it with new, weaker clients. Often new clients are too weak and unstable to perform bodyweight full squats but they are able to perform bodyweight box squats and bodyweight parallel free squats. I have these clients squat every session, alternating between box squats, parallel free squats, and lever full squats. The lever machine allows them to go rock bottom and get accustomed to using full range, which creates stability down deep and leads to quicker performance of bodyweight full squats. Yes, a machine can actually be beneficial for free weight training. This may be contrary to what you’ve heard but I’ve had much success using this method.

7. Genetic Component to Flexibility

Lately I’ve also been wondering from a physiological standpoint why some clients (usually females) can sit around for a couple of years and stay mostly sedentary yet upon embarking on a training regimen they demonstrate perfect mobility. Then you have certain athletes (mainly males) who regularly move their joints through considerable ranges of motion yet still demonstrate insufficient mobility. Obviously we could get into the various factors…are their muscles tight and they need more length, are their muscles hypertonic and firing due to protective factors to compensate for poor stability, do they just need to increase their stretch tolerance and get accustomed to various movement patterns, etc. But clearly there is a huge genetic component to flexibility.

I was surprised that I couldn’t find much research on this topic. My guess is that as time goes on, we’ll realize that specific genes responsible for encoding proteins or processing enzymes that influence the production and proportions of collagen, elastin, fibrin, and/or tenacins. We also know that hormones such as estrogen and relaxin can attach to receptors on connective tissue in order to increase flexibility. Obviously we need more research to better understand this topic. Here are a couple of full papers:

Heritability of lumbar flexibility and the role of disc degeneration and bodyweight

The Genetic Epidemiology of Joint Hypermobility

8. Progressions/Regressions

Want to be a great trainer? Then you need to understand progressions and regressions. This is such a critical component to being a successful trainer…definitely one of the most important aspects.

Often it involves common sense. Example: if someone can bench the 45-lb bar 30 times, you add weight. Another example: if someone can perform 20 step ups from a certain height, you increase the height of the step. Often you just add load and/or range of motion. However, sometimes it requires creativity. For example, if someone can’t perform a proper push up you could either 1) have them perform push ups from their knees, or 2) have them perform push ups with their upper body elevated onto a secured bench, table, or bar. The second strategy is wiser because often core-stability is the weakest link in a push up…not shoulder power. If you do push ups from the knees you eliminate most of the core stability component, whereas if you do push ups with the upper body elevated you keep much of the core stability component while still targeting the pecs, front delts, and triceps. Over time you decrease the height of elevation until the person is on the ground and able to perform proper push ups. So you can also change the angle, use implements to provide assistance, etc.

If something is too hard for the client then take responsibility for the mistake and say, “man I’m an idiot, I meant to start you out with this version…” and then regress the exercise (find an easier variation that the client can do well) and compliment them for their effort and technique. This builds self-esteem and encourages clients to enjoy lifting and be consistent.

9. Yoga

I always love when I get clients who have been participating in yoga. These clients are very easy to train because they already have good mobility and core stability. I don’t have to do any “corrective work,” I just have them do the various movement patterns and utilize progressive overload. Yoga provides for an excellent foundation of fundamental movement and involves quite challenging drills in terms of mobility and stability. I will say that their glute activation leaves much room for improvement but this is not difficult especially if hip mobility and core stability is up to par.

10. Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) Tools

I’ve been using my rumbleroller a lot lately and I absolutely love it. One of my newer clients just brought over her gadgets from . At this link they sell some really cool products such as the footballer, the quadballer, the massageball, and the grid. I thought that these products were pretty gimmicky but after using them I love them. There’s something to their density and shape that really helps with trigger points.

A basketball is very effective for self-myofascial release as sometimes slick medicine balls cause you to slide off (whereas a basketball has texture), plus you can inflate the basketball to your desired level of compliance. I also like the Tiger Tail massager and a lacrosse ball, as well as the Yamuna products such as the foot saver balls.

11. Personal Trainers are Lucky to Have Clients

Although I love training people (and I know I’d totally miss it if my days were exempt from training others), I prefer reading, watching videos, listening to podcasts, studying, etc. I’m a life-long learner! However, I’m always reminded of how lucky I am to have personal training clients. For one, they keep my communications skills up to par. If I didn’t train people I’d hide out in my cave all day long and forget how to talk to others. They also teach me things…I’m always lucky in that I train some unique people who have certain insights, wisdom, or perspectives. And finally, my clients tend to be positive people who rub off on me as positivity is contagious. Bottom line – it’s cool being a trainer.

12. Training Around Injuries

All lifters get minor tweakages here and there. After around a decade of lifting, a lifter finally “wises-up” and starts listening to his body and training accordingly. If your adductors are sore and feel like they’re going to pull, avoid full squats and opt for narrow stance high box squats. Avoid deadlifts and perform rack pulls. Don’t do any single leg work. The adductors come more into play as hip extensors in deeper ranges of hip flexion so you need to limit the ROM so you can still receive a training effect while “training around the injury.” You can usually find things that don’t hurt, for example often people with various types of shoulder pain can still do neutral grip dumbbell floor press and row variations but not full range bench press and chin ups. The secret is to get some blood-flow into the area but not go too hard to where you make matters worse. If something hurts don’t do it. Stop right there and try again at a later time.

I always ask my clients how they’re feeling and whether or not they have any muscles that are sore prior to their session so I can make proper adjustments if need-be. I’m amazed at how long it took my stubborn ass to fully comprehend this concept but I’m always sure to teach my clients and training partners to not repeat mistakes I made quite often earlier in my lifting career.

13. Check Back Tomorrow for Good Reads

Sorry for not posting a “good-reads for the week” blog last week, I was super-swamped and my computer also lost all the tabs I had saved once again. One of my readers even showed me a way to save my tabs but I’m too much of an idiot to follow through with the advice. Anyway tomorrow I’ll have a post for you that will contain good reads from last week and this week.

I hope you enjoyed the random blog!


  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Bret, I know of a great product for SMR release. It’s called a PVC pipe, available at Home Depot for 5-bucks.

    One small downside is that it is a tad bit uncomfortable… and by that I mean it hurts like a malicious bitch!

    It REALLY works, though. Way, way, better than a foam roller.
    My experience has been that there’s really no “soft” way to break up tough adhesions. You wouldn’t go to an ART guy, and tell him to work on you with foam gloves..

    Ah well, the good news is that when the knots are released, and the tissue is healthy, it really doesn’t hurt anymore. Results.

    • Mark Young says:

      Personally, I do understand the need for more specific SMR tools (eg: tennis/golf ball) to address a certain area, but I don’t really buy into the PVC pipe idea.

      I think this is just a way for tough guys to seem tougher or just a product of a “more is better” mentality. What’s next, steel posts with spikes?

      I’m not sure more pain necessarily equals greater effectiveness. In fact, I think that with SMR it is more a function of frequency than intensity.

      • Nick Horton says:

        You’re probably right, to some degree. But, I often find it hard to even feel it when I use implements that are too soft.

        (You can also make a PVC pipe seem softer by simply pushing less hard)

        Similarly, even though my girl friend is a competitive weightlifter and very strong, even she has a hard time giving me a massage that does anything at all. Without a stiff or hard implement, I’m not going to get much out of a lot of this.

        I think, though, that it depends also on which part of the body we’re talking about. Some places are just more of a pain in ass … like the ass. ­čśë

      • I was going to say the same thing in response to Derrick’s comment. I know some guys swear by the PVC pipe (and my current female client likes it too), but I don’t think you have to dig or press that hard for trigger points and I’m not sure about breaking apart adhesions. Here’s a good article by Patrick Ward on the topic:

      • Derrick Blanton says:

        The last thing I’m worried about is “seeming tougher”.

        The first thing I’m worried about is solving a problem. I found a foam roller helpful. Then I tried a PVC pipe. It worked better.

        The argument is not whether more pain equals more effectiveness, but simply what works the best.

        • Derrick, there are plenty of individuals like you who feel that the foam roller works best, so I’m not accusing you of trying to “seem tougher.” But some people do take things too far (not you) and feel that the more painful the better.

    • Ron says:

      There are two problems with using PVC pipe for SMFR. The first is that the hard surface can cause localized injury and additional inflammation in the muscle, especially if you roll close to bony areas — e.g. knee, pelvis, spine. This problem can be partially overcome by putting less pressure on the roller and/or only rolling the muscle belly.

      The second problem is even more limiting to your success. The surface of PVC pipe isn’t flexible enough to conform to many areas, such as around spinal processes and muscle attachments (where adhesions tend to accumulate). In simple terms, the roller surface gets high-centered and doesn’t put enough pressure on the low spots.

      So rolling with PVC pipe might look and feel manly, but it’s not very productive.

      The RumbleRoller takes a fundamentally different approach. Its flexible bumps penetrate deeper into the muscle, but deflect around bone. It gets in places that other rollers, sticks, and balls don’t touch, and is the way to go when you need more aggressive SMFR.

    • Matias says:

      I’m a soccer player. I concur with the PVC pipe usage. It’s a life saver. Most times I need pressure that I can no longer receive from the foamy counterparts. The PVC pipe gets right in there an encourages my muscles to let go. I could not go with out it.

      That and cycle showers!

  • Matt Green says:

    Bret –

    Great point on kneeling push ups vs. elevated push ups and the core implications of both – I hadn’t thought of the issue from that perspective yet. I train primarily younger females athletes so proper push up technique is always a big hill to climb for many of them. I often find that they struggle to keep their heads up and elbows tucked (i.e. insufficient upper back activation/strength) but can execute core bracing activities (planks etc.) without a problem. To “groove” correct push up technique in the UB for the long hall, I have found putting them on their knees to be pretty effective bc it lessens bodyweight load and better technique. However, as you mention, how much transfer to real push ups does this provide?

    Classic chicken/egg question – which would you prioritize teaching the push up to a newbie, core or correct UB?

    • Matt, I used to use the knee push up extensively with female clients. It’s a great tricep exercise. But if they’re ever to progress to regular push ups they’ll need the core stability, so now I use the decreasing-elevation method where they eventually reach flat-ground.

  • nigel p says:


    Interesting stuff on palpating but the thing is I’ve never palpated the glutes before and was just wondering is there a unique technique to doing it right?


    • Nigel, I just poke around in different regions and sometimes place the edge (blade) of my hand across their lower glutes. You get better from just doing it, as you’ll get a sense over time as to how the glutes normally contract. Maybe I’ll try to film a video if I can get one of my clients to volunteer and can find someone to help film. I’m sure Karli would be willing to help out. Thanks!

  • Chris Krattiger says:


    Awesome stuff once again. I really like your waterfall analogy and think it will help my clients better understand what I’m trying to do.

  • craig hirota says:

    try, it’s a free site that lets you mark articles to “read later”. Much easier than saving a bunch of bookmarks on your computer if you just need a reminder to go back and read something and it does have the ability to export your list of saved articles in .csv or html formats.

  • Simon says:


    A lot of females (and myself :-/) fall along the hypermobility syndrome spectrum, as I’m sure you know. From my research, it appears that in people like us collagen is not as heavily produced or is more flexible. This is actually due, in several cases, to the same COL5A1 gene that you spoke about in your other point!



    • Awesome Simon! I would have thought that it was less collagen and more elastin but it’s probably different types of collagen as you suggested due to genetic influence on production. I appreciate the comment.

  • Nick Horton says:

    This quote:

    “Often new clients are too weak and unstable to perform bodyweight full squats”

    both jives with my own experience and is a frightening indictment of the health of the people in our country. How do they get out of bed every day?

    The video about ACL’s was great. I remember learning some similar stuff in my A&P class a number of years ago (I was lucky to have a teacher who was really into exercise). But, I’d not thought about the problem of the angled tibia in jumping. Just goes to show, the human body was not *designed* for sports. We just gotta do the best we can.

  • Glutes: After doing massage for about 8 years, I’d say my palpation skills are pretty good. I’m a bit more subtle in my touch though(OK, I know you’re kidding. I think.) My advice to others is to first touch the spot, then squeeze. No grabbing!

    Pushups: Couldn’t agree more. If someone wants or needs to do a particular exercise, I find a way to do the exercise with less load but still with the correct form. One of the few things a Smith machine is good for is pushup progressions.

    Lever Squat: I’m not convinced on the value of this gizmo, but I’ll try to keep an open mind. (see the previous comment)

    Yoga: The other advantage is a yoga practitioner learns good awareness and control of their body parts. Most people don’t even know where their glutes are(couldn’t find their ass with both hands as we used to say.)

    SMR: Good and I recommend it, but I retain some skepticism about how good it is and why(the 8 years of professional massage practice.) My favorite implement is tennis balls in a sock.

    Lucky trainers: Very, very cool to be a trainer indeed!

    • Steven, agree with most of your points. I’ve always said that SMR works mostly (not all) on the placebo effect which is fine with me as it gets people feeling positive and in control of their soft-tissue quality nonetheless.

  • Andrew says:

    Hey brett,
    another great article. I can’t wait to see the new content every day. Keep it up. Very cool and informative blog.
    On the topic of SMR. i saw the TP therapy tool at the Aussie fitness expo. But i bought this one instead. Expensive but awsome none the less. Best money i have ever spent. Its predominantly for trigger points. Sure has worked on me. i Feel a million bucks after using it. I should be their salesman HA!
    just thought you should check it out. Made by a couple of aussie physio’s. website is great too.


  • Ad says:

    Hey Bret, how would you compare the Rumble Roller to one of those black hard foam rollers. I have the black one and its fairly hard, just possibly thinking of purchasing the Rumble if you feel its much better. Thanks. Always enjoy reading your articles on here and elsewhere.

  • A.H.A. says:

    Damn, Bret, you are so MONEY! Always posting great info, I love it!

    Are you familiar with the Myers Briggs test? What’s your type? I have a pretty strong guess but would like to hear from you first ­čÖé

  • Michael Gray says:

    I have to totally agree with Mark Y. on the SMR stuff. Of course, I’m speaking solely from my own experience with myself and clients, but I haven’t ever needed anything more than a foam roll and a lacrosse ball to get great results with soft tissue. And like Mark said, frequency seems to be much more important that intensity.

    Loved the ACL video Bret. Keep it up!

  • I like your comment with #8: “If something is too hard for the client then take responsibility for the mistake… then regress the exercise (find an easier variation that the client can do well) and compliment them for their effort and technique”. As someone who has worked with several personal trainer, it is refreshing to hear this.

    Keep up the great posts!

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