Are Unweighted Curls Legit? & More Questions with Bret Contreras

I recently sat down with Ian McCarthy of Lifting for Life to discuss a wide range of topics including high frequency training, training volume, hypertrophy, bro splits, and more. You can use the time stamps below to jump to your favorite topic but I recommend checking out the whole video if you have time.  Hope you enjoy!

Timestamps

0:55 What does Bret think about high frequency training?
1:35 The importance of being open-minded
2:05 Back to high-frequency
5:23 Does high-frequency training require that you only do one set per exercise, or is that just what works best for Bret?
7:10 Bret on distributing volume throughout a training week
8:26 Does the first set of any given exercise really give you 80% of the results you’ll obtain?
10:10 The influence of genetics on optimal training volume
10:40 As a practitioner, how does one account for differences in genetics?
11:40 How does Bret make general recommendations in light of such a large range of individual variability when it comes to training?
15:45 Bret’s thoughts on higher rep training
18:40 Questioner can deadlift 800lbs and doesn’t feel their glutes working; how can they train to feel their glutes more in the deadlift?
20:33 Is there an evidential basis for thinking that a better mind-muscle connection yields better growth?
24:35 Pre-exhaustion
26:50 What is the most practical way of quantifying volume within a given muscle group? Is all volume created equal?
31:00 Volume when multiple exercises are involved
35:57 How does Bret suggest people who don’t have the same training experience as him structure a balance of volume among multiple exercises?
37:49 To what degree does, or should, scientific evidence influence ‘real-world’ decision-making?
38:50 How old is Bret?
38:55 Back to the science!
41:30 Why would someone not value science?
42:46 What does Bret think the evidence-based community is doing wrong?
47:55 To what degree do hip thrusts carry over to powerlifting?
49:33 How well does Bret think hip thrusts transfer to squats (discussion of ‘the twin study’)?
57:55 How much exercise or movement variation is too much?
1:02:06 Given interindividual variability, when is something considered ‘bad’ for Bret as opposed to just ‘good in a different context’?
1:04:53 Given different people may have different goals, what are common elements Bret sees in program design that makes them good?
1:08:21 Could pro bodybuilders be training wrong by not training with higher frequency?
1:11:23 Is the concept of ‘bro’ splits (i.e. hitting each bodypart only once per week) fundamentally bad?
1:15:12 It’s time to hear what Bret thinks about Ian’s weightless curls! (See: https://www.instagram.com/p/BMChTNxltNu/)
1:25:35 Should we replace lighter resistance training with unloaded resistance training?
1:27:17 Are different models for hypertrophy (Schoenfeld vs Phillips, mechanical tension/muscle damage/metabolic stress vs motor unit recruitment) mutually exclusive, or could all of these variables be important?
1:29:28 How plausible does Bret think it is that someone reaches a point where additional workload yields decreased hypertrophy?
1:31:46 Bret and Ian discuss programming volume

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Articles Referenced

Loenneke’s group’s papers from the past year:

The acute and chronic effects of “NO LOAD” resistance training
• My blogpost on the topic: Do We Even Need To Lift?
The problem Of muscle hypertrophy: Revisited
Frequency: The Overlooked Resistance Training Variable for Inducing Muscle Hypertrophy?
Training to Fatigue: The Answer for Standardization When Assessing Muscle Hypertrophy?
Muscle adaptations following 21 consecutive days of strength test familiarization compared with traditional training

Genetics/volume:

· ACE genotype may have an effect on single versus multiple set preferences in strength training

Meta-analyses by Brad and James:

· Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

· Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis

· Muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training: A meta-analysis

Zourdos periodization and quantification of volume load:

· Volume-equated high- and low-repetition daily undulating programming strategies produce similar hypertrophy and strength adaptations

· Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than a Traditional Configuration in Powerlifters

Pre-exhaustion:

· Effects of exercise order on upper-body muscle activation and exercise performance

· Effects of Pre-Exhaustion of a Secondary Synergist on a Primary Mover in a Compound Exercise

Hip thrust science:

· Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity

· Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part II: The Twin Experiment

· Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part III: Forcetime Data

· Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part IV: Transfer To Performance

Hypertrophy models:

· The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training

· Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men

Combined vs. Constant Set/Rep Schemes:

12 Comments

  • Edward Lee says:

    Is there an audio version of this interview?
    Thanks and as always, keep up the great work.

    • I don’t think so Edward, sorry! I wish there was as I want to listen to it too while I’m walking or driving…can’t remember what I talked about LOL.

      • Adam says:

        Hi Bret/Edward – if you grab the youtube url you can hit a web site that turns youtube videos into MP3’s then you can fire them onto your smart phone as if they were podcasts! That’s what I do anyway, works a treat

  • Mark says:

    Any bodies of work that can give one an education on how to program glute training for strength?

  • Mark says:

    I was also wondering if were possible for you to link any evidence to what you mentioned at 17:51 referring to using a spectrum of rep ranges and its advantages.
    Were you referring to a concept such as this?
    ” in order to effectively train a muscle fiber you have to work that fiber for a long enough period of time to fatigue it. If a fiber takes 1 minute to fatigue and you only work it for 30 seconds then that fiber won’t receive a maximum stimulus. If a fiber takes 2 minutes to fatigue and you only work it for 1 minute, it will be sub-optimally trained.
    If your goal is maximum strength or size then you need to optimally train as many of your fast twitch fibers as is practical. Do some sets with a weight so heavy that you can’t do more than 3-5 reps. Do other sets with a weight that limits you to 10-12 reps. And do a set or two with a weight that allows you a maximum of 20 reps. Finally, do a set of 35-40 reps. By doing such a wide range of reps you will be training as many fast twitch fibers as is practical to do. And you will gain as much strength and size as you are capable of.”
    This excerpt was from http://www.trainingscience.net/?page_id=725

    • Not really…I don’t agree with this person’s understanding. Here’s a study Brad and I did:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27042999
      We do currently believe that there’s an advantage to training low reps, medium reps, and high reps concurrently in order to maximize type I and II muscle fiber size, but some researchers disagree. Stu Phillips’ latest study on the topic didn’t seem to lead to the same conclusion. But there’s some Russian research by Popov and colleagues that does support it. And I believe that Brad is working on a meta-analysis to tease out the effects. But we do need more research on this as it’s important. At any rate, you can see great results just sticking to one rep range and doing sufficient volume, but you could probably see slightly better results by training a variety of rep ranges.

  • Nell says:

    It’s so interesting to hear what over 20 years of an passionate, almost all-consuming pursuit of knowledge and practical experience in a field actually sounds like, in a conversation like this, especially when prompted by the good questions asked by Ian McCarthy. You almost know too much! This is an amazing interview that answered so many questions I have at the moment.

    This in-depth review of your philosophy also prompted me to say that I’ve been following your blog for ages, and I just really appreciate how generous you’ve been with your knowledge and creativity, all this time. This blog, your general approach of high rep, high frequency programming, and exercise variety – working smart, not always (too) hard – has been an incredible resource over the years, empowering me to work through and around various injuries (which by the way occurred as a result cardio + hypermobility, not SC). Not only to just work through them, but to understand *how* and *why* I could do it. I really feel it’s helped me become more resilient and adaptable, as a result. (So it was interesting to hear that some of your inspiration came from that need!) This is an approach that’s sustainable for the long haul. I’m the same age, and I’m sure that what I’ve learned is going to keep me strong, functional, and as healthy as I can be, through my middle years and beyond.

    Thanks for sharing this interview, and also for sharing your passion and knowledge over the years. It’s really helped people, and not just with their glutes.

  • Shauna says:

    Thanks so much for this and all your info. I seriously love you and how you share all your knowledge. I keep feeling like I need to give you credit whenever I get compliments on my booty! I’ve been doing strong curves for a year and a half doing the advanced lifting program. It has been so helpful and strengthened me tremendously. And I have a great butt now too. Having your hip thruster helped to get better form for me. My booty still needs work in my opinion even though I get complimented by strangers. Lol. but I’m doing pretty good and have set a new pr of 280lb on my hip thrust. Anyway, I wanted to give credit to where it’s due. Thanks a billion times over. I’m hoping to take one of your classes here soon for more info, tips and help with form on all my lifts. I wanted to post pics but wasn’t sure I should. Haha Thanks a bootybillion.

  • YF says:

    Excellent interview and information- thanks!

    Question: might the equivalent hypertrophy observed by Phillips, Schoenfeld, and others when using low and high rep protocols indicate that the relevant variable for hypertrophy is ‘work’ in the sense of total reps x load (sometimes referred to as volume-load)?

    Thanks for your insight.

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