Here are eight updates and eleven random thoughts for the week:
1. Viva la Hip Thrusta!
I still get emails from strength coaches and trainers asking me if they can write an article, film a video, or speak about the hip thrust in a presentation. I appreciate these requests, but they’re not necessary. I hereby grant everyone reading this permission to promote the hip thrust. Since I believe very much in its value, I want as many people as possible to be performing the exercise. For this to happen, it has to be about the movement, not the guy who popularized it. Feel free to write about it, talk about it, film instructional videos about it, etc.
Speaking of hip thrust popularity, it’s spreading fast. In New Zealand, the hip thrust is a quite common exercise. The trainers at my gym use it as a staple in their programming. At the gym down the street they’re thrusting too. I spoke to an NBA strength coach last week who just started using it with his players. Last week I spoke to the strength coach of the a popular professional rugby team here in NZ and they’re using it as well. My professor John Cronin just traveled to a foreign country to speak to their Olympic committee and he told me that many of the coaches there are using it with their athletes. I believe that the hip thrust is a primary lift and should be programmed for all athletes who need increased horizontal force production.
This makes me feel very good as several years ago the only people in the world that were bridging with heavy weight and extra range of motion were the men and women who trained at Lifts (my studio) and the Lifts trainers. When I started writing, I had a hunch that people would like the hip thrust, and it’s good to know that I was right. I’m also glad to be interacting with strength coaches from pro teams, as I feel it’s an indication of lots of hard work and perseverance.
2. New Article in Men’s Fitness
Word on the streets is that there’s a mini-article of mine in the new issue of Men’s Fitness magazine. Since I live in NZ, I haven’t seen it yet. I hear it’s on page 24. Check it out. Matthew McConaughey is on the cover. All right, all right!
3. MuscleMag International
I’ve written some excerpts for Reps! Magazine and apparently they liked my style. Now I’m writing articles for MuscleMag which is pretty cool. I’ve always loved bodybuilding and have followed it for many years. Personal trainers should know how to maximize hypertrophy, strength, power, speed, agility, and conditioning to meet the needs of their clients. It seems that these days people want to be “anti-hypertrophy,” yet most personal trainer clients seek gains in muscle mass. There’s no reason to hate on bodybuilding, they know hypertrophy better than anyone.
4. Research and Learning
Since I moved to NZ and don’t really have any friends out here, and I’m currently living in my professor’s basement sleeping on a couch that folds out into a little mattress, it creates the perfect environment to be a researching machine. I’ve been talking to some good coaches and have been learning a ton from John. He tells me stuff and then I go downstairs into my cave and investigate.
I attended a conference last week that featured two amazing speakers. The first was Martin Buchheit. This guy is an absolute wiz on heart rate variability (HRV). He spends his life studying data related to HRV and is extremely passionate about the topic. The second was Nick Gill, strength coach of the All Blacks rugby team. He discussed some exciting “real life” data that can be used to guide programming and prescription. Sprinz has some really cool things going on and I’m glad to be a part of it!
5. North Shore Times
Last week an article was posted about me in the North Shore Times here in Auckland. You can click on this link, enter your email address (doesn’t have to be your correct one hint, hint), and go to page 30 to see the article. It was pretty flattering, and the Fitness Centre where I train now has it posted up on the wall.
I was recently selected as a peer-reviewer for a particular article submission to a strength training journal which was a cool experience. It feels good to get involved in the peer-reviewed process. Kind of like jury duty, but more relavant to my profession!
7. NSCA Personal Trainers Conference
In case you didn’t know, the NSCA is holding their Personal Trainers Conference is this weekend (March 20-21) in Las Vegas at Bally’s Hotel. If I wasn’t in New Zealand I’d be all over it! Any excuse to go to Vegas, right? If you go there, say hi to my friend Brad Schoenfeld. He’ll be speaking there.
I recently submitted an exercise-technique article on the hip thrust to the NSCA’s Strength and Conditioning Journal and am hoping that it gets accepted. I spent a lot of time on it and think it’s a very wise move on my part as future researchers (including me) will have something to reference in their papers if they’re writing about the hip thrust.
1. The Truth Wears Off
Click here to read an intriguing article about the decline effect and the scientific method. This was posted in The New Yorker a few months ago and discusses the role of journals in spreading mistruth.
2. Hottie Body Hump Club
This video from Jimmy Kimmel is hilarious and includes some of the hottest women in the world. Aye Caramba!
Little do they know, if they lied supine and humped against gravity, progressively increasing the difficulty by adding range of motion and resistance, they’d receive an amazing workout and make their beautiful buns even better.
3. More Hip Thrust Tidbits
Now that I’ve been performing hip thrusts at a new gym I’ve learned some things and formed a couple of new conclusions:
– Shorter benches work better than taller benches. The bench I had back home was shorter than the benches in the gym and I liked the old way better. If the bench is too tall, find something shorter like a box or some aerobics steps (it helps to have padding over it), or sit on some mats to make up for some of the extra height (not too many mats as then you can’t roll the bar over your thighs).
– Airex Balance Pads work better than Hampton Thick Bar Pads. You just have to learn where to place the padding, which is higher up on your hips than you’d think.
4. Body Reference Pictures for Olympic Athletes from Various Sports
Click here to see a really cool blogpost that shows pictures to reference for body types of athletes from various sports. It’s really cool!
5. Interesting Study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise
Click here to read the abstract. Aerobic exercise decreases myostatin, which improves insulin sensitivity. I did not know that myostatin was related to insulin sensitivity. Myostatin is a real son of a bitch!
6. Manipulating the Density Formula
Here’s something that I like to show female clients to get them to better appreciate strength training.
If you put d over 1 and cross-multiply, you get:
M = DV
This means that mass equals density times volume. If mass stays constant and density increases, then volume must go down. Density and volume have a negative (or inverse) relationship.
What this means is that if a woman starts lifting weights and starts getting stronger, she’ll start increasing her density because muscle is around 20% more dense than fat. As long as she doesn’t gain any weight (mass stays constant), since her density increases then her volume will decrease and she’ll occupy less space. It’s typical for women to stay the same weight during their first month or two of resistance training, yet during this same time their waist measurement often drops an inch or two.
I don’t know if any of you will use this, but it makes you seem really logical and credible if you can pull it off.
7. Strongman Training
Lately I’ve been training with the strongman club here at AUT and I’ve learned some interesting things. Here’s a simulated stone lift for strongmen who don’t have access to any stones. You just pile some plates on top of each other and lift the stack like it’s a stone. It teaches you to hold it into you as if you don’t hold it tight the plates will slip. As you can see my form is not very good, but I just learned the lift. Sure there are safer ways to perform this lift (without rounding the low back and without caving at the knees), but strongman training in general requires freaky strong erectors so in this case it’s wise to train them dynamically.
As you can see in the video, I’m bringin’ testosterone to NZ (talkin’ bout the t-shirt)! Since I’ve been here I’ve done some farmer’s walks, Zercher carries, tire flips, axel clean & push presses, log lifts, and stone lifts. These lifts require some serious character. Here’s some more vids from last weekend.
600 lb Tire Flip – this was really easy. I wonder if I could flip an 800 pounder.
300 lb Stone Lift – this was pretty awkward. I think I’m pretty good at round-back lifting! Not the safest style of training but it sure is fun! That is, until the next day when you’re all bruised and scraped up.
8. The American Deadlift
I’ve been thinking lately about the problem with the traditional RDL. When you keep a strong arch, it prevents the glutes from maximally contracting. If you disagree try it right now. Get a huge arch in the lumbar spine and try to squeeze your glutes as hard as possible. If you’re really arching, then you won’t be able to maximally contract the glutes. Since one of the roles of the glutes is to posteriorly rotate the pelvis, you’re telling the glutes to shut down when you forcefully anteriorly rotate the pelvis.
The benefit of gettting a big arch and sitting back, which involves slightly extending the lumbar spine and anteriorly rotating the pelvis, is that it pulls up on the hamstrings and lengthens them so they get a huge stretch at the bottom of the RDL. If you keep this arch throughout the lift, the drawback is that you won’t use your glutes maximally up top. You’ll definitely use them, but not to their maximal extent. However, if you use the glutes to “punch the hips forward” as you’ll see in this video, you end up posteriorly rotating the pelvis (and the lumbar spine probably ends up flexing slightly), which allows for maximum gluteal force.
I realize that the terms “spinal flexion and spinal extension” have very negative connotations and can are very dangerous under high load. However, you’re definitely not going to end range extension down low at the bottom of the lift or end range flexion up high at the top of the lift, and you’re stiffening the hamstrings and glutes which allows their passive and active tension to take on more of the load which spares the spine.
Many people have terrible lumbopelvic rhythm and can’t dissociate their pelves from their spines. Use around 30-60% of 1RM loads for this movement. The goal is to keep the spine as neutral as possible while moving mostly at the pelvis and master the ability to dictate pelvic tilt.
In Christopher Norris’ book entitled Back Stability: Integrating Science and Therapy, he stated, “The ability to dissociate movement of the lumbar spine from movement of the pelvis is essential for the healthy functioning of the back.” I don’t yet have enough experience with this exercise to form good conclusions but my guess is that it could help many lifters learn how to use their glutes more when deadlifting, which is a critical component to back health.
9. The Fohawk is Back! That and a Chops, Lifts, and Pallof Press Video
I cut my mop the other day and decided to bring the fohawk back. I know most people hate it but I think it looks cool.
Anyway, here is a video I filmed because I don’t believe that enough trainers and coaches are using these amazing rotational core exercises. There are so many different variations, and if you apply some Biomechanical principles to the lifts then you can vary the exercise depending on the goal. I remember seeing some of these types of lifts many years ago and assuming that they were “weak.” Please don’t make the same assumption I did and give these exercises a try!
They reign supreme for rotary core strengthening and they hammer a bunch of key muscles all at once – internal obliques, external obliques, quadratus lumborum, multifidus, glute medius, glute minimus, deep hip rotators, glute maximus, etc.
In addition, do yourself a favor and buy a Cook bar (Gray Cook’s idea) or a Core bar (Nick Tumminello’s idea) as they make the exercises even more effective than the rope variations.
10. The Sit Back Drill
Here are a couple of drills I use sometimes to teach people how to get used to sitting back. You don’t have them try this with load; just with bodyweight.
11. Low Back Pain Symptoms Seem to Improve in a Similar Pattern Regardless of Treatment Protocol
Here’s a cool study that my friend Anoop Balachandran sent my way. The authors took a hard look at data involved in various protocols of low back pain treatment and concluded that non-specific low back pain symptoms seem to improve in a similar pattern from a wide variety of active and inactive (including control) treatments, and urged researchers and practitioners to explore other factors than the treatment that might influence symptom improvement. For example, the placebo effect, confidence in the therapist, etc.
That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this month’s updates and random thoughts. Have a great rest of the week!
Good stuff Bret. It’s cool to see you doing the strongman stuff and I’m sure the change is fun. I’d speak to you in “New Zealand” but I’d have to go back to your older post and figure out how to translate. Hope you still remember American.
Don’t worry Ben, I’m no good at trying to immitate a Kiwi accent. The other day I was on the beach and I said, “I got a bloody rock in me shoe” to my professor and he started laughing because it just didn’t sound right!
Great video on the American Deadlift, and I’m interested in pelvic dissociation (and been told I need to develop it more to protect irritated hamstring tendons).
At what point are you starting to posteriorly rotate the pelvis? Are you already coming back up the lift and rotating from say, 50% of the way up, or are you initiating the rotation lower?
I’d say that it’s a steady transition from APT to PPT throughout the lift, so at half way up you’d be in neutral (from the stretch to half way you’d be in APT and from half way to lockout you’d be in PPT). You don’t go to end range pelvic tilt in either direction either. Just feel the hams maximally at the bottom and the glutes maximally at the top.
Today was lower body day for me, I tried out the American DL after I read your blog. During the eccentric action I concentrate on keeping my arch tight and nothing else, at the bottom position just before the concentric movement I start to concentrate on squeezing my glutes till I’m all the way up. I can feel it in the glutes and my lower back is flat naturally without really focusing on it. Does that sound about right, Bret? Thanks
Sounds about right! In addition to keeping strong arch during eccentric, also focus on sitting back far enough to receive a stretch in the hammies. Use the glutes to drive the hips forward, and try to keep spine relatively neutral. Great job!
Like number 4 and number 6 – great topics 🙂 Also, liked the tyre-flipping (with a “y” ) – impressive! But, Bret, what happened to your hair?? :-/ Looks like someone from Jack-Ass got loose on ya! Just Kidding 😀 I’ll adjust.
Like your random thoughts, you have a lot of them. Must be all that reading.
Marianne, I’m always full of random thoughts! As for the hair, it will grow on you! Don’t worry I’ll probably get sick of it soon and chop it down. Cheers! -Bret
your fohawk is adorable!!!! this strongman stuff is INTERESTING and really cool to see you doing.
Thank you Allie! At least someone out there doesn’t think I’m hideous. Great to hear from you. -Bret
On #6, it’s okay to manipulate math, but I’ve found with women that it’s better to go visual. They say “yeah, I know that muscle weighs more than fat”, so I tell them “and it also takes up less room (or space) than fat”. The 5-lb models of fat and lean muscle are good if you have them. But if you’ve ever seen those models, you can show that 5 lbs of squishy fat take up the space of a standard computer keyboard, while 5 lbs of solid muscle take up about the space of only the letters part between Caps Lock and Enter.
On #9, while I appreciate that you want to plug the Cook Bar or Core bar, a more economical alternative is simply to take a standard stick (like broom handle) and you can make a closed loop with some 1-inch web strap to choke on one end; hook a carbiner to it so to attach to a cable column, or JS band or tube. When you hold the stick, you can put your hand inside the choked strap to keep it from sliding. Lots cheaper.
Teresa – great points. Those models are indeed great to have. I wonder if you can buy them anywhere or make them yourself for a reasonable cost. Interesting comparison regarding the volume and keyboard dimensions.
As for the Cook/Core bar, I just found this Youtube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbYU2DpYvzc
Might have to do that here in NZ as shipping rates and GST are lethal! For studio owners it’s best to but the real thing for liability reasons.
Thanks for the posts!
More on #6, when volume decreases, it can only do so in two out of three directions since one direction is fixed because of our bones. This is of course obvious, but it is an advantage if you play with the numbers. If you let a cube expand 50% in all directions, the volume will increase by 240%. For the same volume increase, but with two directions(or sides) held constant, we have to increase the last side by 240%. If it weren’t for the bones we could decrease our volume, but still have the same shape. I don’t know if that made any sense, but this is what happens after to many math classes. =)
Someone needs to put down the calculator and drink a freakin’ beer! Just kidding Ronson – we’re birds of a feather.
Here’s a source on the models:
Hey Teresa, these models are class! Love them!! Very useful and serious tools of course but, for some reason I want “Smokey Sue” 😀
Thanks Teresa! Very useful.
Regarding the simulated stone lift, EFS sells a “stone trainer,” but I’m sure you could have one made for really cheap:
Interesting!!! That’s a better way than the way I was doing them. I appreciate the heads-up. Thanks!
just ask for a shout out when someone teaches the glute bridge. credit belongs where credit is due
Fair enough Eric! If you ever find yourself hooking up with a hefty gal and you’re on bottom, you need to inform her that you’re doing a heavy glute bridge that you learned from Bret Contreras. Deal? 🙂
Just wondering what you think of the kneeling palloff press, I like to do it kneeling because I REALLY feel it activating my glutes alot more than the standing version. I also like to do isometric holds for 10 seconds or so for 3 reps.
Any thoughts on these variations?
Keep up the good work man, always enjoying your posts!
Bojan, yes I like these. I didn’t include them because of time concerns, but kneeling and half-kneeling Pallof presses are great too.
Have you ever tested the activation of a sled pull through (http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/pull-through-with-sled)
. There is no instability like a cable pull through and i can use a much heavier weight. For someone with frequently tight hip flexors hip thrusts don’t always work too well. Test them on EMG?
I have not but I suspect it would be pretty high. On the night I tested odd objects and sleds, it started pouring rain and I couldn’t risk ruining the EMG device 🙁
ok – a sled long step lunge is also quite good if u use ur glutes to drive your leg behind your hip. Unlike a normal lunge, the load is against glutes (horizontal). My left upper glute activation is terrible so I’m trying to work on it. This can result in some dangerously crooked hip thrusts on heavy weights.
Really appreciated your post today. Always impressed with the range of topics you manage to cover! 1 question and one comment on your post:
1. I’ve been looking to add the glute bridge to my routines, and I finally found a gym that has the floorspace, attitude and equipment to allow me to lift heavy properly, so its time (you mean I don’t get harassed if I want to lift barefoot?? Make noise? Use chalk? AMAZING!) The glute bridge is all over the history of your pages, and I think it would be possible to read for an entire day on the subject based on the material you’ve produced. Do you have a summary page or favorite video to teach the technique, do’s & don’ts and additional pearls? I intend to read all the previous pages anyways, but (obviously) I’m anxious and excited to get started on incorporating this lift.
2. I think random thoughts #1 is one of the most important things I’ve seen you post in a long time. I’m heavily involved in orthopaedic research, and I can’t tell you how many papers I see that overstate their findings, have small sample sizes, and generally muddy the waters with personal agendas. The research group I’m involved in has weekly journal club, in which we systematically review every article published in the major ortho journals on ACL research. We find on average 2 articles monthly that are sound, appropriate and sufficiently rigorous, which is a 20% rate at maximum. I’ve spent almost as much time writing letters to the editor this past year as I have spent on our original work.
The scientific method is beautifully elegant, but sadly is consciously and subconsciously abused in the modern era. I don’t think its all the fault of the researchers; I see colleagues under significant pressure to produce WORK in order to justify their academic position, and often you can’t tell the value of your own research until you’ve invested years setting up specialized lab space/equipment/funding sources. To invest that heavily and not produce ‘findings’ is awful, and I think the quantity of published work has ballooned as a consequence of this environment. On top of this, the lay press jumps on articles without critical review for headlines, which I think adds to the public perception that published work is good and has meaning, when it should be treated with tremendous suspicion.
Great post and keep up the good work!
ZW – thanks for the comment bud. Here’s a hip thrust video:
Great thoughts, and I this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It makes you want to wait until research is duplicated until you really start buying into something.
hi Bret, great post as always.
i loved the video on the presses and chops and am gonna give the bar and rope a try tonight. i usually use a handle and it’s difficult to maintain a comfortabble grip.
i was thinking while watching the video on the sit back drill, what do you think of doing this on a cable row station? there’s one at my gym with a long bench, i could sit back then pull the row as i stand thrusting the hips forward. (hope that makes sense) gonna give that a go also.
love the strong man stuff i try to incorporate this as much as i can, but at a conventional gym it’s not easy.
take it easy, and looking forward to updates.
Bulent, not sure if it would work well. Try for yourself and see. Let me know if you like it.
I didn’t. When I tried, the weight just pulled me forward off balance. Loved doing the atlas stone lift though. Started off lighter, but still felt good doing It. thanks for the reply.
2 or 3 years ago I read a study on lower back safety during the execution of the Atlas Stone exercise. What the reseachers found was that the more experienced the lifter, the safer the exercise becomes. It’s all in the technique and muscle control.
Experienced lifters, while they do not arch their back, they flex the lower back muscles and hold on to the stone tightly as early as possible.
The problem I see in your plate lifting video as well as the stone lifting video is that at the beginning of the lifts, there is a lot of room between you and the stone/plates. Maybe going a little deeper into a squat position might help?
I am sorry I do not remember all specific details since I only read the study once, and that years ago.
If you’re interested, I will try to find it, could take some time, though, as I don’t remember whether it was in English or German (I am German).
All the best,
Ted, that’s one of my favorite studies of all time. It was by McGill and I think I analyzed the EMG charts associated with the study for around three hours one night. Thanks for the tip as well.
Hi Brett just a short read of your blog
“4. Research and Learning
Since I moved to NZ and don’t really have any friends out here”
I thought we are friends! Cheers
Good call Strini! You and Ruth are my only friends 🙂
Hope all is well with you in NZ and your not missing the homeland to much. Yours, Tony G’s, EC’s and BSP’s sites are the most informative and provide ready to apply info daily to my own training sessions as well to the clients I work with. I appreciate all the great posts. Thanks so much for the info.
Thank you Glen! I appreciate the kind words my friend.
I have been doing the “American deadlift” for a while now. Other top coaches have recommended it. I do the old squeeze a coin between the butt-checks cue. I saw an interested video that seems to go against it, arguing that it posteriorly tilts the pelvis, which we all agree on, but also says that puts you into lumber flexion and other stuff about the femur grinding against the hip. What do you think?
Here is the vid
Thanks Bret, have been following you blog regularly, really like it.
Hey Jay, I like Evan but I have to disagree with him on this. In one of Sahrmann’s student’s studies she showed that if the glutes are working at end range extension then they control the femur and prevent excessive forward translation of the femur. The lumbar spine does go into a bit of flexion but the glutes are taking on the brunt of the load so the spine is not getting hammered. You’re using a lighter load anyway and if you do it right it’s not going to present any problems. Out of curiosity, what other coaches promoted it?
Hi Bret, thanks for the reply.
I watched it in the “Building the efficient athelete” by Cressey and Roberstson. They showed how to fully lock out a deadlift or squat by finishing with the glutes.
Im pretty sure thats where I saw it but not 100% sure. I think Eric mentioned it in one of his blogs as well.
I found a quick link for one of Eric’s T-nation articles. Go to step 5. I think it is similar to what you explained
So when doing max effort deadlifts, should I not still try and fully lock out by squeezing the glutes, its just that in your reply you mentioned lighter loads.
Great newsletter and info Bret. We are big fans of what you do and believen. Thanks and keep up the great work. The twins
I’m a 400m runner and started doing hip thrusts a few weeks ago – I was wondering whether it’s likely that my 400m times have got a bit slower temporarily because of my increased glute activation. If my quads had got used to doing it and then i started using my glutes more, is it surprising that I haven’t performed as well recently or will increased glute activation always lead to increased performance straight from day 1?
If it’s true that I have lost a second or two because of increased GA it’s quite exciting to think that I’ll be a lot better in the future when my glutes have got stronger! Thanks so much for a great few articles – I’m looking forward to unleashing these exercises on my glutes!
Lots of factors to consider. With any activity you’ll have some performance gains in fitness as well as post-activation potentiation (PAP), as well as performance losses in the form of fatigue. You have to consider how much you’re doing, how often you’re doing it, and when you’re doing it (how close to your races). If you do glute activation right before your 400m even, then I’d stick to low-load around 15 minutes prior for around 5 minutes, and don’t induce any cramping or congestion of blood. Just prime the nervous system. If you’re doing them for strength work then I’d have at least one day of rest prior to the event, and I wouldn’t do so much that my glutes were sore. So maybe 3 x 5 reps one day per week and 3 x 10 reps another day during the week. I agree, your speed will definitely build as you increase your glute strength, keep me posted. You also have to consider all the other stuff you’re doing, which can effect fitness and fatigue. Finally, you have to make sure you’re doing them correctly so you’re truly strengthening the glutes.
Hope this advice helps, Bret
Great thanks for the advice. I’ve been doing a few hip thrusts/glute bridges before my training reps and recently felt more like my glutes were doing the work which is awesome!! Hopefully I can convert this into some progress in my times. What I’m also wondering is what is the most “glute-focused” compound exercise – I’ve never squatted and when I’ve deadlifted in the past I was SO frustrated at never feeling my glutes do the work (which is how I found out about hip thrusts!) so now I’ve stopped deadlifting altogether which leaves me without any big compound exercises in my workouts. Having done some hip thrusts might change my deadlift recruitment patterns but should I learn to squat or even try sumo deadlifts – I’ve heard these are better for attacking the glutes… Which would you recommend?
Thanks so much again!
Sorry – maybe I wasn’t quite clear with the last bit! I’m basically slightly worried if I started deadlifting again as I was, my gains would increase which would be good but I might only be building my quads which wouldn’t be good at all… So basically my question is which of the big compounds (or variations) is best for the glutes (and track and field in particular?)