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The No Barbell Experiment on Squat and Deadlift and Hip Thrust Strength

I’ve decided to conduct a little experiment on myself. For no good reason aside from curiosity and pure passion for strength training science, I am going to perform zero barbell squats or deadlifts or hip thrusts (also no barbell good mornings or hex bar deads) for the next eight weeks (this will be torture for me) and just do machines, single leg exercises, and posterior chain exercises and see how it impacts my barbell strength.

My all-time best ass-to-grass back squat is 445 lbs, my all-time best sumo deadlift is 620 lbs, and my all-time best hip thrust is 815 lbs.

In the past couple of months, I’ve been training beltless and my bests are a 405 ass-to-grass high bar back squat, a 585 lb beltless sumo deadlift, and a 675 x 3 hip thrust. So I’ll compare my strength to these lifts since they’re my baseline.

So these things are okay for now:

– smith machine back and front, lever machine, belt, hack, and goblet squats
– leg presses, leg extensions
– lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, skater squats, pistols
– lever, smith machine, db, db stiff-leg, db Romanian, and single leg Romanian deadlifts
– straddle lifts, smith machine good mornings
– smith machine hip thrusts, band hip thrusts, single leg hip thrusts
– 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, kettlebell swings, sled pushes
– glute ham raise variations, leg curl variations, Nordic ham curls

And these things aren’t allowable for the time being:

– barbell back, front, box, and Zercher squats
– barbell conventional, sumo, Romanian, and stiff-leg deadlifts
– barbell good mornings, barbell hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, hex bar deadlifts

I’m excited to see how it turns out. I’m going to put my weekly workouts on Instagram with the #gluteguyexperiment hashtag, so follow the journey if you’d like.

Last night, I did this workout (numero uno):

I've decided to conduct a little experiment on myself. I am going to perform zero barbell squats or deadlifts (also no good mornings or hex bar deads) for the next six or eight weeks (this will be torture for me) and just do machines, single leg exercises, and posterior chain exercises and see how it impacts my barbell strength. So these things are okay: – smith machine back and front, lever machine, belt, hack, and goblet squats – leg presses, leg extensions – lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step ups, skater squats, pistols – lever, smith machine, db, db stiff-leg, db Romanian, and single leg Romanian deadlifts – straddle lifts, smith machine good mornings – hip thrust variations – 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, kettlebell swings – glute ham raise variations, leg curl variations, Nordic ham curls And these things aren't allowable for the time being: – barbell back, front, box, and Zercher squats – barbell conventional, sumo, Romanian, and stiff-leg deadlifts – barbell good mornings, hex bar deadlifts I'm excited to see how it turns out. Tonight, I did: Smith machine full squat 365 x 1, 385 x 1 Lever half squat 540 x 5, 540 x 5 Hack squat 410 x 3, 410 x 3 Bench press 275 x 6, 315 x 1 Incline press 245 x 4, 245 x 4 Machine shoulder press stack x 15, stack x 10 Lying leg curl 160 x 12, 180 x 8 Chest supported row 160 x 5, 160 x 5 I trained at Independence Gym for 6 years back in the day when I taught high school math and lived nearby. But I haven't been there in 10 years. They still have much of the same equipment but they expanded. Badass gym in Scottsdale, I may join there (they're open until midnight M-Th too!) and make it an honorary Glute Lab since my garage is too damn hot to train in. #gluteguy #independencegym #gluteguyexperiment

A post shared by Bret "Glute Guy" Contreras PhD (@bretcontreras1) on

11 Comments

  • Jason says:

    Are tracking any other variables aside from max strength?

  • Taylor says:

    Hi Brett,
    First off, let me say I really enjoy all your posts, interviews, and articles. Having said that, the results of this are entirely predictable and my hope is that this “experiment” is not being done to demonstrate that barbell exercises are more “functional” and produce “real” strength. That discussion just needs to end IMO.

    Also, I was unable to determine if your bests over the last couple of months are the numbers you threw out, or what you are currently able to achieve as of today. Baseline= today.

    Enjoy the new exercises. Variety is the spice of life.

    Best regards.

    • Taylor, why do you think they’re predictable? What do you predict? Do you think I’ll lose strength? Or maintain it? Or build strength? My hypothesis is that I’ll lose 10% of my strength, which will quickly return within a few weeks. I am not measuring functional performance so I do not intend to go down that path. Nor do I plan on discussing “real” strength. I simply want to know if I can maintain my BB strength without doing the lifts. Would be pretty cool if I could!

      • Taylor says:

        Yes, your BB lifts will decrease. Specificity is king. The only way they wouldn’t is if you are overreached/overtrained, injured, or the opposite, deconditioned right now. The percentage decrease will vary relative to how the new exercises match the motor skill requirements of the barbell exercises. You are still Smith Squatting and Smith Glute Thrusting so those barbell exercises will take a smaller hit than your Sumo deadlift. I have intentionally avoided using the phrase “lose strength.” You may very well be stronger at the end of this training phase. But you will not be able to demonstrate that strength immediately in the BB lifts. What I am most interested to see is after you have regained the neural/motor skill strength back, will you continue to see an increase in those BB lifts? If so, that indicates you truly did become stronger on this program. That would be even cooler IMO.

        Always enjoy your content- one of my top 5 go to guys. Keep up the good work.

  • Tenille says:

    Looking forward to hearing your results. I recently took out BB Squats and deadlifts for 6 weeks (kept hip thrusts but kept load light and reps high). And after not being able to increase my lifts for 5 months I finally hit a High bar squat PB beating my last by 5kgs.
    I’m hyper mobile so not sure if I was over doing the strength training ūü§Ē

  • Konstantinos says:

    For someone really interested in keeping his numbers up there , i would be a little ”scared” to try something like that , not at all in terms of body composition , but technique. Smith machine just alters something compared to my free squat , something just doesn’t seem fine , like i have different patterns of joint involvement , like i can’t get my hips to contribute as much. I blame research for that , all those studies saying that smith is more stable , thus u can lift heavier , without worrying about stability , bs ….

  • alex says:

    smith machine squats are superior compared to barbell squat for quad development.
    i know it because i’ve tried both approach

  • Trish says:

    Bret, I recently strained my back deadlifting, so your list of “okay” exercises has given me some good alternatives to experiment with while I heal.

    P.S. I think your articles and videos are awesome, but I want to say that you’re also a very good writer. Not every fitness expert is so informative, readable and entertaining, so thank you.

  • Naomi says:

    I injured my rotator cuff and can’t load a barbell on my back, it’s just too painful, so looking for alternatives. Leg press is the alternative, and great one too, as one can load a lot of weight and single leg presses are awesome. My partner built a leg press machine for me and it’s angled in such a way that I use not only my quads but my hamstrings and glutes and are also engaged. My butt is sore the next day!
    Looking forward to seeing your results, Bret!

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