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Strength & Conditioning Needs More Grit and Fewer Cowards

By August 13, 2015January 13th, 2016Ethical Considerations

In watching these Presidential candidate debates, I can’t help but wish that the Strength & Conditioning industry could have regular debates amongst the experts. Debates are a healthy and productive part of the learning process; they’re vital for settling differences, they generate hypotheses which can be tested, and they remove the veils so that everything is transparent. They’re important in every scientific field, including sports science.

S&C will never have this because you don’t demand it. You make excuses for cowards and don’t hold your leaders to high standards.

If any of you have met me in person, then you know I don’t take myself too seriously. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I’m actively seeking knowledge just like you. However, I also know when someone out there is full of b.s., acting out of jealousy, or has ulterior motives. I know when someone hasn’t collected the necessary data, when someone hasn’t put in the toil that goes into adequately knowing something, when someone goes against the research, and when someone fabricates their own pseudoscience.

Over the past several years, I’ve challenged four individuals to debates – all guys who were publicly badmouthing me or pissing on the good name of science (see Grill the Guru archives). None of them accepted, and their excuses were utterly pathetic.

I want to show you how legitimate scientific experts operate. Today, I text messaged my friend Alan Aragon out of nowhere, challenging him to a debate. Exactly thirteen minutes later, he accepted the challenge. You can tell by his response that he welcomes the debate and would relish the opportunity to show off his knowledge. For the record, I don’t disagree with Alan on this topic, nor would I really debate him on it as he’s my go-to guy for sports nutrition research. But do you see how easy it is to interact with true professionals?

This is how men handle smoke, no mirrors, no ego.

This is how men handle things…no smoke, no mirrors, no ego, just a mutual desire for truth.

Whenever someone in the academia/educational world refuses a debate challenge, it almost always means that they’re a charlatan. They’re frightened to death that their ignorance will be exposed. If these individuals were confident and comfortable with their knowledge, and if they were truly interested in honing in on the truth and advancing science, they’d gladly accept the challenges. But instead, these types continue to run their mouths but then back down like common cowards when push comes to shove and they’re challenged by formidable opponents.

What baffles me is that their followers seem to accept backing down and don’t expect more. S&C doesn’t have debates because you guys don’t demand them. You’re okay with your experts running their mouths without having to back them up in a debate. It’s up to you guys to demand more. If someone you follow gets called onto the carpet because they were talkin’ smack, let them know that you expect them to man up and accept the challenge. If they back down, remind them of it incessantly. Don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors.

There are numerous badass coaches in the trenches doing amazing things in Strength & Conditioning. That said, the trendy/popular S&C expert scene is in dire need of more cojones and fewer namby-pambies. In the next couple of days, some needed grilling is going to take place here on my blog. I, personally, won’t ever back down in the good name of science – it’s not in my blood.

You won't find much of this in S&C these days...

You won’t find much of this in S&C these days…



  • Lena says:

    This post is awesome! Thumbs up:)

  • Jim hardie says:

    Any form of interaction will have conformational bias especially when money changes hands have some comfort in that most can smell the BS

  • kangax says:

    Thanks for preaching it, Bret.

    One of the problems I’m seeing is that these days there’s often a lack of good medium for proper discussion.

    Take, for example. Only about a year ago, you could post your comment and have a meaningful discussion, whether with an author or one of the other commenters. I remember posting comments on few articles of yours and getting great feedback and exchange going.

    This is a screenshot I took back in the days of the kind of discussion I loved seeing in the comments —

    This is a screenshot of the abomination that current commenting has become —

    Not only did the overall quality of the comments skyrocketed down, you can’t post a meaningful comment without getting shot down by their snarky “moderators”. How is one supposed to have debate and exploration in this kind stiffening, controlled, non-transparent environment?

    Only a few days ago, I read an article on t-nation by TC about whey vs. casein. I’m usually always interested to hear what TC has to say; he comes off as a reasonable guy, objective and easy to understand. However, this time it was a topic that seemed to go against the common knowledge. TC elaborately claimed that casein is better for muscle gain and performance than whey. Supposedly, “A good number of studies have confirmed that casein leads to superior gains of lean mass and strength.” including one where “… The casein group also increased bench, shoulder press, and leg extension strength by a collective 59% whereas the whey group only had a 28% increase in strength.”

    I didn’t want to toot the usual “marketing” horn (even though the article ended with a list of Biotest products). I really wanted to believe it. But this just seemed too good to be true.

    So I started looking online for the studies. I found the original study references by TC — Turns out the subjects were “overweight police officers” and the group that was on casein consisted of 14 of them. Turns out they were also on a hypocaloric diet. Unsure if this is relevant, I searched PubMed for more…

    And every single study I found was either showing NO difference between whey vs. casein supplementation or greater results in whey group!

    The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine.

    “The WI (whey isolate) group also achieved significantly greater (P < 0.05) improvements in strength compared to the C (casein) group in each assessment of strength. When the strength changes were expressed relative to body weight, the WI group still achieved significantly greater (P < 0.05) improvements in strength compared to the C group."

    The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes

    “There was no significant difference in performance markers between whey and casein.”

    The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes.

    “There was no significant difference in performance markers between whey and casein.”

    The effects of post-exercise whey vs. casein protein ingestion on muscular strength, muscular endurance, and body composition in older women (50-70 years of age)

    “When combined with 8-weeks of high intensity resistance training,there is no significant difference in whey versus casein ingestion in regards to their ability to enhance body composition, muscular strength, or muscular endurance in older females.”

    So there’s 1 study (!) of 14 overweight police officers (!) from 2000 that showed casein outperforming whey and now this constitutes as “a good number of studies showing superior gains”? This might have been an oddball result for all we know. Or some other unusual scenario. Or does this really constitute as a marketing pitch and results skewed in one’s favor? What about all the other studies showing no difference? Why not analyze them for finer details and perhaps instead find out what the real difference is? Why do these studies find no difference but that one study did find it? Is there something else in the equation?

    This is just one example. And the sad part is that people seem to be buying it. How are we to debunk this if there’s no chance to even speak out about it or get a meaningful debate going?

    I really appreciate you being a voice of reason 🙂

    • Sven says:

      @kangax: that was one of the really good features, and they purposefully got rid of it. The quality of the whole site has suffered immensely as a result.
      @Derrick : LOL! Couldn’t agree more.
      @Bret: I think you have a lot more to lose than to gain by writing for them now. By the way, you should check out what kind of publicity the local bros are making for you in the forum.

  • Chris says:

    A bit lengthy, but completely right! 🙂

    Forget T-Nation, theyre exactly a medium Bret should despise given his standards.

    Bret, you dont need T-Nation anymore as a platform to boost your popularity. Youre big enough yourself and respected throughout the fitness world where it matters. If youre really sincere with your standards even if that means missing a few “likes and followers”, you should stop co-operating with them.

    • Chris says:

      Forget the “a bit lengthy” part of my comment. You provided great evidence for your arguments.

    • Bret says:

      Chris, I totally disagree. I can’t remember the stats, but my blog reaches 20,000 readers on a good day (my all time best is something like 54,000 when I wrote “5 Things You Should Do Everyday”), whereas TNation reaches probably 200,000 people on a regular basis. My primary goal is to make the positively impact the way the world trains, so TNation (and FitnessRx for Women, and Men’s Health, etc.) help me achieve this goal. If I just stick to my blog, my work wouldn’t go nearly as far. TNation has never asked me to promote anything of theirs…they’ve been good to me. Hope that makes sense, BC

      • Chris says:

        So “bad means to a good end” 🙂 . Very skeptical that itll work that way – has it ever in history of mankind? You write on T-Nation, ppl know you, think its a good site. Then stick at that site, consume the other bullshit which is there – which in turn undoes the good info work you do. So youre shooting yourself into the knee. Its not that apparent, because most of your bread and butter articles – glute training – arent in much contrast to what the other articles say. I think it would be very different if you were in Alan´s shoes and with his specialty (nutrition). There you could see that dancing with the devil just didnt work.

        • Chris says:

          Ok, I read your response to Derrick. I think it can be a successful and wise way to do things the way you describe it. To be realistic in life rather than dogmatic or idealistic. Hell, Im unsure about being the former or latter in all kinds of decisions, so consider my comment modified in that way. 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  • Jon says:

    I think the idea that “this is how scientific excperts debate” is rather silly, especially when that debate is about epistemological disagreements. Scientists don’t use debates as a way to determine what is true. That’s what scientific experiments are for.

    I enjoy your blog and work, but this just seem like ego pumping to me…

    • Bret says:

      Jon, maybe I wasn’t clear. I don’t mean hardcore scientists. They’re busy in the lab conducting experiments and on the computer analyzing data and writing up their studies. I’m referring to the online guys in the industry who incorporate science into their articles and try to remain evidence-based. I’ve witnessed Alan Aragon debate Gary Taubes and Jeff Volek, and Brad Schoenfeld debate Fred Haun, and these were productive debates for those attending. And when someone is tee-ing off on another person online, I believe it’s common decency to accept a debate and give the person a chance to explain themselves. I would be very excited to debate any of the guys I’ve grilled as I would like to show my reasonable side in addition to my knowledge of the literature, etc. But I won’t get the chance because they’re not interested in learning or being fair; just convincing their readers that they’re all-knowing. It’s not good for the industry.

  • John Brooks says:

    Well stated, its unfortunate that many “gurus” do not conduct themselves in such a manner. I think at their core they lack confidence in their own knowledge, or they know they are full of shit.

  • Frank says:

    Always a great read Bret, but now I can’t help but wonder what your take on optimal protein intake is and how it differs from Alan “0.82g/lb” Aragon’s…

    • Bret says:

      Frank – I don’t disagree with Alan on this topic. It was a test to see if he’d accept, and as predicted he jumped at the chance. I like to hear Alan’s thoughts, in addition to Menno Henselmans, Stu Phillips, Lyle McDonald, etc., but at the end of the day I just advise my clients to go with 1 gram/lb of lean bodymass per day. Simple enough and has worked well for me over the past 18 yrs as a personal trainer.

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    I am absolutely delighted to see Testicle Nation brought up in this discussion. And how profit motive influences dialogue in any field, including strength and nutrition. Well done, glute guy blog readers. There may be hope!

    Here’s the uncomfortable 900-lb. elephant in the room; the stumbling block for intelligent and thoughtful debate? As far as overriding goals go, MAKING MONEY usually has a way of trumping FINDING TRUTH.

    Alan Aragon is mentioned in the article.

    In 2009, Alan was eager to have a robust and healthy discussion on the alleged fantastic claims made by one T-Nation, regarding the comic book style rollout of “Anaconda”, a $400 dollar a month supplement protocol, give or take a few Finibars. If I’m not mistaken, so was Lyle McDonald.

    As I recall, supplement watchdog T-Nation was not particularly interested in this healthy and constructive, science-based exchange of ideas.

    (Yes, T-Nation did in fact brand themselves as a “supplement watchdog” in their mission statement, circa 1998. Please take a moment, and consider the cojones needed to make that claim.)

    In fact, I believe Senor Aragon found himself banned from the Testicle forums right quick. Persona non grata, as they say.

    More cojones, and fewer namby pambies?

    Indeed, Bret. Indeed.

    • Bret says:

      How did I know you’d chime in here about this Derrick LOL?! Well, there’s politics in everything. It would be easy for me to go full Lyle McDonald mode on everyone and shout and scream about how stupid and wrong and corrupt everyone is, but eventually people would stop listening to me and I’d fail to make a big difference. So I pick and choose my battles and try to do so professionally. But we all have unique things that bother us. I hate when people condemn exercises – that’s my pet peeve. Or when people make up their own functional transfer of training b.s.. Others hate when people are misleading about supplements, etc., but I’ve been reading fitness magazines since I was 15 yrs old and I just learned to skip over the info and focus on the meat and potatoes. So that’s never bothered me too much. But I try to stay focused on what I can change and ignore the things I can’t. Hope that makes sense.

  • Andrew Dixon says:

    I’d like to see a debate between Bret and Lyle on the hip thrust, glute activation, validity of methods used to determine activation and why it should or should not be used.

    I demand it.

    • Chris says:

      Apart from that never happening, you could already decide that for yourself: While Lyle is very knowledgeable and excellent in his specialty areas (nutrition), with the topics you mentioned Bret has all the data, Lyle has none but a stubborn avoidance to admit he was wrong. EMG is a valid and reliable tool to measure muscle activation – the evidence is mounting.

  • Nicole says:

    While performing kneeling banded hip thrusts today, a fellow gym-goer approached me. He’d never seen the technique. I told him to look up Bret Contreras: the glute SCIENTIST. Word.
    As a dietitian, I especially appreciate this post. Nutrition, like S&C, is a field flooded with fear mongers peddling pseudoscience.
    Thank you from the bottom of my glutes for standing for science.

  • Monika says:

    I am a 38 year old mom of 5 beautiful kids and on my way to being in the best shape of my life. Thanks for all that you have done with your hard work and research. I found your article Squats versus Hip Thrusts Part II: The Twin Experiment very informative and helpful. I was actually wondering if you were planning on making an app for the Strong Curves workout. I would totally purchase it! I know you had been very busy with your thesis etc just wondering if you had any plans for that or making other apps. Thanks so much!

  • Richard says:

    Loved the article and well refered with great studies 🙂

  • Josh K says:

    Hopefully I’ve posted here enough to not appear to be a spambot, but I like how Brett at the ArtOfManliness(.com) just wrote an article about having “skin in the game” (not fitness related). Seems to be a theme in my usual internet haunts.

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