Archive for March, 2010

The Mighty Barbell

The barbell is and always will be the most effective training tool for total fitness. Basic barbell training is used by the biggest, strongest, fastest, most powerful, and most conditioned athletes on the planet. It works for them and it will work for you. Barbells have been used in Europe since 1880 and in America since the turn of the 20th century when Milo Barbell Company first started manufacturing them. The barbell is the best overall tool for achieving impressive levels of hypertrophy, strength, speed, power, and conditioning. The barbell is also very useful for producing clean movement patterns during high velocity sports movement. Dumbbells, elastic bands, JC bands, kettlebells, sleds, chains, weighted vests, cable columns, slideboards, Valslides, stability balls, Bosu balls, TRX systems, blast straps, towing chords, sandbags, clubbells, medicine balls, battle ropes, kegs, logs, tires, unique bars, other odd objects, and machines are excellent training tools that all take a back seat to the barbell in terms of total body fitness production.

Perform explosive movements with a barbell and you’ll build speed and power. Focus on heavy eccentrics and you’ll improve your agility. Load the bar up heavy for low reps and you’ll build maximum strength. Perform medium to high reps and you’ll experience appreciable muscular hypertrophy. Use it for ultra-high reps to increase muscular endurance. Perform complexes consisting of several exercises done back to back without rest and you’ll build work capacity and stamina. Want to improve your balance and multiplanar single leg stability? Focus on unilateral lower body barbell movements. Want total body functional conditioning with transfer through the entire core region? Perform standing movements that place the barbell on your back or in your hands. Use a barbell to perform loaded eccentric quasi-isometrics (EQI’s) and you’ll rapidly increase your flexibility. Perhaps the most overlooked component of all…the barbell is the ultimate tool for aiding in the development and reinforcement of proper motor patterns during high velocity sporting movements as the athlete gets stronger and faster. Strength improves posture, form, stiffness, and the ability to hold technique and preserve efficient kinetic transfer under quicker and higher-energy athletic action.

Let’s take a closer look!


Any experienced lifter will have a hard time arguing that the squat, deadlift, bench press, military press, and bent over row are not the top five exercises for laying down a thick foundation of muscle mass. Many gurus refer to these five lifts as “The Big Five.”

The following is a pretty comprehensive list of exercises broken down into specific regions that can be used to gain muscular size.


Half Squat, Parallel Squat, Full Squat, Sumo Squat, Front Squat, Zercher Squat, Box Squat, Barbell Hack Squat, Overhead Squat, Kneeling Squat, Jefferson Lift, Static Lunge, Walking Lunge, Reverse Lunge, Side Lunge, Forward Lunge, Front Lunge, Zercher Lunge, Barbell Pistol, Barbell Step Up, Bulgarian Squat


Conventional Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Straight Leg Deadlift, Snatch Grip Deadlift, Deficit Deadlift, Rack Pull, Zercher Romanian Deadlift, Good Morning, Sumo Good Morning, Single Leg Romanian Deadlift, Single Leg Good Morning, Original Good Morning, Barbell Glute Bridge, Hip Thrust, Barbell Single Leg Hip Thrust, Barbell Back Extension


Bench Press, Incline Press, Decline Press, Close Grip Bench Press, Board Press, Close Grip Board Press, Floor Press, Close Grip Floor Press, Reverse Grip Bench Press, Bridge Press, Guillotine Press, JM Press, Skull Crusher, Overhead Extension


Deadlift, Rack Pull, Barbell Pullover, Bent Over Row, Underhand Grip Bent Over Row, Corner T-Bar Row, One Arm Lever Row, Barbell Chest Supported Row, Barbell Thoracic Extension, Seated Good Morning, Barbell Curl, Reverse Curl, Power Curl, Drag Curl, Barbell Preacher Curl, Chin Up Using a Barbell Placed in a Rack, Inverted Row Using a Barbell Placed in a Rack


Military Press, Behind Neck Press, Bradford Press, Push Press, Behind Neck Push Press, Upright Row, Barbell Front Raise, Elbows Out Bent Over Row, Bent Press, Shrug, Behind Back Shrug, Hise Shrug, Power Clean, Deadlift


Barbell Rollout, Landmine, Barbell Side Bend, Barbell Twist, Push Crunch, Push Sit Up, Suitcase Deadlift, Suitcase Carry, Barbell Turkish Get Up, Barbell “Yolk” Walk


Wrist Curl, Wrist Extension, Behind Back Wrist Curl, Static Hold, Deadlift, Shrug


Barbell Standing Calf Raise off a Block, Barbell Forefoot Walk


Three lifts; the squat, bench press, and deadlift, are so comprehensive in terms of total body strengthening that an entire sport was built around them (powerlifting). As a matter of fact, if all you ever perform are these three lifts you’ll certainly be pretty darn strong!

Explosive Power

Olympic Weightlifting is the most powerful sport on the planet. As a matter of fact, weightlifters tend to possess superior levels of acceleration and vertical jump ability despite training primarily with a barbell. Variations of jump squats and Olympic lifts bridge the gap between strength training and sport training and can transform a strong athlete into a freakishly explosive athlete. Here is a list of great explosive movements:

Speed Snatch Pull, Speed Clean Pull, Power Shrug, High Pull, Hang Snatch, Hang Clean, Power Snatch, Power Clean, Power Snatch from Blocks, Power Clean from Blocks, Push Press, Split Jerk, Drop Snatch, Snatch, Clean, Clean & Jerk, Continental & Press, Power Clean & Push Press, Jump Squat, Jump Split Squat, Speed Full Squat, Speed Box Squat, Speed Hip Thrust


One of the most grueling forms of conditioning involves performing barbell complexes. Complexes entail performing a series of synchronized exercises in a row without setting the bar down. An example would be performing 6 repetitions of deadlifts, bent over rows, hang cleans, push presses, jump squats, full squats, and good mornings in a row with 95 lbs. This would total 42 reps and would leave your lungs gasping for oxygen and your heart beating out of your chest. A myriad of unique complexes can be formulated by simply tweaking the exercises, number of exercises, order of exercises, and number of repetitions.


Aside from poor tissue quality, a common problem that many individuals have regarding flexibility gains is that they never learn how to relax into a stretch. One advanced method of flexibility training is to perform eccentric quasi-isometrics, or EQI’s. Three of the most popular EQI positions are the static lunge, Bulgarian squat, and good morning. When performed with a barbell, these EQI’s become perhaps the most advanced form of flexibility training in existence. The premise is to hold the stretch position for a long period of time while gradually sinking deeper into the stretch. EQI’s appear to be static-isometric holds but in actuality they are eccentrics because you’re slowly progressing deeper into the stretch. Sixty-second good morning or static lunge EQI’s with a standard barbell are absolutely brutal but well worth the effort! The barbell can help pull you into deeper positions that could not be reached through standard flexibility training. Over time you will learn how to actively contract the antagonists while relaxing the agonists in order to vigorously stretch the muscles and tendons for more plastic tissue deformations. EQI’s build simultaneous mobility and stability due to the strength requirements of holding the stretch position under load. Adding strength to new ranges of motion is the most functional way to gain flexibility.

Clean Movement

There exists a delicate balance between the strength in the global prime movers of a joint and the strength of the underlying local stabilizing muscles. If an individual’s underlying stabilizers can’t fixate the joint appropriately, it’s going to be nearly impossible to produce maximal strength and power. In addition to requiring extreme levels of strength, stabilizing muscles need to learn how to contract rhythmically with the body’s natural timing patterns in order to generate maximum acceleration.

When individuals are new to strength training, they are usually wobbly, imbalanced, uncoordinated, weak, and tight. They have numerous “weak links” in their kinetic chain which fail to transfer kinetic energy appropriately and lead to “energy leaks” via form degradation. Individuals often lack mobility, which can be thought of as the ability to move freely into extreme ranges of motion, stability, which can be thought of as the ability to fixate a joint in order to transfer energy, or both. With practice and consistency, individuals improve their kinetic linkages, motor programs, flexibility levels, and muscular strength in order to demonstrate proficiency in the various barbell lifts. By gradually progressing an individual’s range of motion and improving upon their technique you are engaging in a form of “corrective exercise.” Consistent reinforcement of great form with progressively heavier weights ensures proper development of increased stability, mobility, and strength. You can tell an awful lot about a person who can demonstrate proficiency in various barbell exercises. For example, an individual who keeps his knees out while deep squatting 500 lbs has tremendous upper glute strength in addition to many other qualities. Let’s take a closer look:

Olympic Back Squat

A proper Olympic back squat is exemplified by going rock bottom in a squat while keeping the knees out, chest up, and feet flat. A proper squat is void of energy leaks (unwanted lateral or rotary movement) at the feet, ankles, hips, or spine. What does this tell us?

A proficient squatter has excellent ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility and good levels of quad, glute, erector spinae, and core strength. A proper overhead squat shows even greater thoracic mobility as well as shoulder and scapular mobility and stability.

Conventional Deadlift

A proper deadlift is exemplified by keeping the back arched and shoulders pulled back while moving the hips and knees in synchronicity with flat feet. A proper deadlift keeps the bar centered between the scapulae and mid-feet and is void of lumbar flexion and lumbar hyperextension. What does this tell us?

A proficient deadlifter has adequate core stability, hamstring flexibility, thoracic mobility, scapular stability, and erector spinae, hamstring, glute, core, and upper back strength.

Barbell Reverse Lunge

A proper reverse lunge is exemplified by keeping an upright posture while sinking deep at the hips with the front and rear feet pointed straight ahead with optimal distance between the front and rear feet. There will exist no lateral or torsional deviations at the feet, ankles, hips, or spine. What does this tell us?

A proficient lunger has proper hip flexor flexibility, single leg (frontal and transverse plane) stability, ankle mobility, and glute and quad strength.

Hip Thrust

A proper hip thrust is exemplified by moving through a full range of motion at the hip joint while keeping the spine in neutral (or slightly arched) with the ability to control the weight through the entire motion while keeping the feet flat. What does this tell us?

A proficient thruster has proper glute activation, hip flexor flexibility, core stability, lumbopelvic mechanics, glute strength, and glute/hamstring strength balances.


Sure, you need to master bodyweight before externally loading up squat, lunge, deadlift, and bridging patterns. Sure, it’s best to build hypertrophy with a combination of barbell, dumbbell, and machine exercises. Granted, it’s best to build speed and power with a combination of heavy barbell lifts, explosive barbell lifts, sled work, plyometrics, and sprints. Superior conditioning can be reached through a combination of tabatas, airdyne intervals, jump rope, interval sprints, complexes, sled pushes, and circuits. The development of clean movement patterns is optimized when you combine soft-tissue work, mobility drills, static stretches, activation work, and resistance training. Combining forms of training is paramount in bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, strongman, track & field, mixed martial arts, sport-specific training, and physical therapy. But true levels of absolute strength, explosive power, and coordination start with mastering basic barbell movements and gaining considerable levels of strength with basic barbell training.

You can be the fanciest strength coach in the world who employs all kinds of cute quickness drills, movement prep, corrective work, mobility drills, activation work, agility drills, unstable surface training, core-stability training, static stretches, and energy system development. But if you are a strength coach who is afraid of heavy strength work and explosive lifts or if you simply fail to prescribe barbell movements, you will short-change your athletes and clients. You’ll produce athletes who prance around like Gazelles but can’t put any force into the ground. In a 1902 advertisement for Milo Barbell Company, a claim was made that barbell training “produces great muscular development and at the same time teaches athletes to apply their strength.” This statement has certainly withstood the test of time!

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The following is a guest-blog by my friend Sam Leahey, a 23-year old rising star in the fitness field. Sam has interned under Mike Boyle and Eric Cressey.

Recently I was afforded the luxury of attending a 3-day fitness business conference. The conference was one of those “big time” events that people fly from all over the world to attend. So much networking and innovative thinking was going on there that it was overwhelming for a young buck like me. However, I’m a pretty pensive person, and I did notice some things that put a new light on my perspective of the “fitness business/industry.” Though not exhaustive, here is a batch of discoveries I made:

It is WAY easier than you might think to make money with the internet. In fact, it’s so easy ANYONE can do it.

There are TONS of personal trainers and strength & conditioning coaches out there making TONS of money. Literally, TONS!

Most of those personal trainers and S&C coaches lack real and/or long-term results with their clients/athletes.

Most of those personal trainers and S&C coaches have tremendous gaps in their knowledge of exercise science and performance training.

Most of those personal trainers and S&C coaches are a bunch of scamming affiliates who care nothing about the people to whom they’re marketing.

It is easy to get so focused on the business side of things that the quality of your products and results you get with your clients/athletes starts to decline.

Now, if you go through these statements and take them to their logical extensions, the natural questions arise – “what about the ones who DO get real and long term results with their clients/athletes?”, “what about the personal trainers and S&C coaches who DO care about the people they’re marketing to because they sincerely want to enhance the level of quality knowledge out there and are not just looking for affiliate sales?”, “what about the ones who never lose focus of quality content and never let greed take over?”, “are all these guys/girls scammers too?”

I watched person after person present and even more people stand up in the crowd to testify how successful their fitness product was. In many cases the audience got an “inside look” at the product itself (videos, ebooks, etc). By the end of day two, I naturally found myself looking over at these individuals and saying to myself things like, “You don’t deserve to be selling that. It sucks, and no one is going to get results with it,” “That is the worst cookie cutter program I’ve ever seen,” “Your advice is going to get a lot of people injured. Please do some research before sharing your knowledge with others!”, and “SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!” As I reflected on the experience during the ride home yesterday, I realized I learned a lot of what not to do and how not to be a scamming-low-quality-affiliate-seeker like the people I just encountered. However, I also found that I naturally was qualifying these individuals on some kind of imaginary continuum. They key word in the previous sentence was “qualifying,” as in, QUALITY!!!!!!!! Ah-Ha! So that’s the difference. Hopefully this depiction below will give you the reader the same epiphany I also had a on the ride home. If not, I’ve failed as an author. 8)

So, using this standard I think we can all agree that if you’re going to be putting products out there you better be at least on the far right third of the Quality Continuum. In other words, not on the far left and not just in the middle. In case you forgot, we should ALL be striving to be at the extreme end of the right side in our profession anyway! If you’re not, then please pick a new profession, we have enough low quality “professionals” and “half-effort folks” out there already. Please don’t consider putting any products out there.

Me (left), talking to a D1 strength coach (right) I met there. This was taken during one of our “speed networking” sessions.

I need to be clear here. The information I learned this weekend is very useful and CAN be used for good to enhance the general pool of knowledge out their regarding personal training and strength & conditioning. How many trainers and coaches out there do you know that would benefit tremendously if they got a hold of an E.Cressey, M.Boyle, A.Cosgrove, S.Mcgill, M.Robertson, or A.Renna product? Do we believe that we can change mainstream methodology of personal training and strength & conditioning? I KNOW we can. And one of the many great mediums to do that is by distributing top quality products from the aforementioned big timers.

One night after the conference I took a drive over to meet my good friend Anthony Renna for dinner. We discussed this very idea of quality and how far too many people are focused on making money and less on the quality of product their putting out. Even more disturbing is often times these individuals care more about creating products then they do about their actual profession!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One idea that kept being preached this weekend was “over deliver,” yet many products I saw were just piling on extra crap that made it even worse. All in all, this fitness business conference left me with an even higher respect for guys like Coach Boyle, Eric Cressey , Mike Robertson, Dr.Weingroff, Dr.McGill, Anthony Renna, and so many more. Our appreciation level for these leaders should be of upmost report because of the quality information they provide us all through various mediums. In the ideal world of personal training and strength and conditioning, professionals would be known for the quality they bring to the profession and not much else.

Does this represent your way of thinking. . .

Or does this?

I’d love to know how the readers feel about this topic too. Leave a comment below and we can discuss it. . .

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In the past several months I’ve seen so many bad hip thrust videos on Youtube that it occurred to me that I’ve never filmed a hip thrust instructional video.

In case you didn’t know, in September of last year I started writing about the hip thrust and incorporating the exercise into articles for various strength training websites. The exercise has already become very popular around the world. I receive multiple emails daily from individuals who have begun using hip thrusts and have seen excellent results in terms of better butts, faster sprints, and improved deadlift strength.

To date, I know that strength coaches Dave Tate, Christian Thibaudeau, Kelly Baggett, Mike Boyle, Nick Tumminello, Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Jason Ferrugia, Martin Rooney, Mike Young, Mark Young, Patrick Ward, Joe DeFranco, Charlie Weingroff, Sam Leahey, and Brad Kaczmarski have been performing and prescribing variations of hip thrusts. Famous celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson programs them into his celebrities’ workouts. There are probably many more gurus and athletes using them but I have yet to receive feedback. Furthermore, strongman Kevin Nee and powerlifter Andy Bolton have used variations of them in their training. The hip thrust has been featured on TMuscle.Com, StrengthCoach.Com, Elitefts.Com, Men’s Health Magazine, and Oxygen Magazine, not to mention numerous blogs and forums around the world.

If you’ve studied the history of the bench press, you know that it took many years – around fifty years to be more precise, for the lift to evolve into the world’s most popular upper body exercise. It started off as the “back press,” “press from back,” or “floor press,” morphed into the “bridge press” or “belly press,” and finally evolved into the modern “bench press.” Many weightlifters from back in the day did not like the bench press because it was performed while lying supine. These folks felt that all “manly” lifts were performed from a standing position – barbell military press, cleans, jerks, snatches, squats, deadlifts, curls, and bent over rows. The weightlifters would see people performing the bench press and would scoff at those who wanted to “expand their pecs.” Despite the close-mindedness of the weightlifters of that era, the bench press caught on because it works! The hip thrust is catching on very rapidly because like the bench press, it works too! If you do the hip thrust correctly your glutes will burn like they’ve never burned before.

When you think about it, the hip thrust is very much like the bench press. One could consider the hip thrust “the lower body bench press.” You can perform a floor press but a bench allows you to perform the movement with a full range of motion. Similarly, you can perform a glute bridge, but a bench allows you to perform the movement with a full range of motion. Lying supine allows you to train the pecs optimally which are best worked from a horizontal load vector. Similarly, lying supine allows you to train the glutes optimally which are also worked best from a horizontal vector.

Although standing exercises will always reign supreme, sometimes we need to throw in supine, prone, or quadruped exercises in order to train different angles. The bench press correlates very well with the shot put. Similarly, the hip thrust seems to correlate well with top speed sprinting. In my opinion, the hip thrust is getting popular faster than any other new exercise I’ve seen since I’ve been following the fitness field.

In order to perform proper hip thrusts, you must move at the hips, not at the low back. You must feel the glutes doing the work, not the lumbar erectors and hamstrings. Finally, you must control the weight, which means no flinging.

Do yourself a favor and watch this ten minute video. It will really pay off in the long-run. I’ve been performing hip thrusts for three-and-a-half years now, so I can provide you with some pretty darn good advice! Ironically, Soviet and American scientists Yuri Verhkoshansky, Mel Siff, and Tudor Bompa thought up variations of hip thrusts decades ago and prescribed them to athletes and sprinters. Although these exercises didn’t “stick,” it appears that the more modern variations I’ve come up with are here to stay.

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We often hear in the industry that one should perform a rep as explosively as possible on each repetition. This methodology has been recommended by authors who write articles for the purposes of both hypertrophy and sport-specific training.

The theory is that by maximizing “explosiveness” one will fully activate the high-threshold motor units (HTMU’s) which will lead to the largest rates of hypertrophy and rate of force development (RFD).

In truth, there’s not much evidence that proves that explosive lifting improves sport performance over controlled lifting. In fact, Bruce-Low and Smith wrote an entire paper on this topic. I highly recommend you check it out so I’ll provide you with a link to the article.

Furthermore, the findings of Hay et al., who measured joint torque in three males while performing biceps curls, also seem to support this view. Hay et al. found that with short duration lifts (< 2 s) very little joint torque was required to move the weight through most of the range of motion (ROM), as after the beginning of the movement the weight continued to move under its own momentum. Therefore, fast movements do not provide as much muscle tension as slow movements through most of the ROM, suggesting that faster repetitions, such as those performed with ‘explosive’ exercises may not produce optimal strength increases through a muscle’s full ROM.

This would apply to hypertrophy as well, various muscles involved in the initial stages of the lift may be stressed very well during explosive movements while other muscles involved at the conclusion of the lift may not be stressed very well.

It has been shown that isometric protocols are "range specific" meaning that they only work really well for a certain range of movement, not the entire movement. From the research above we see that various speeds of repetitions are "range specific" as well.

Finally, EMG data shows that certain exercises fully stress various muscles at different portions of lifts as well. For example, a squat shows more glute activation at the bottom of the movement whereas a hip thrust shows more glute activation at the top of the movement. For this reason, I call the squat a "stretch-position" exercises and a hip thrust a "contracted-position" exercise.

Contrary to popular opinion, the same muscles aren't active in the same proportions throughout a movement, and different portions of muscles get worked through different ranges as well. In Supertraining, Siff explains the popular, yet erroneous view that:

• The same movement is always produced by the same muscles
• The same muscles always produce the same movement
• The same muscles are dominant throughout the full range of movement
• Muscles only act as active tissues
• Muscles only act as movers or stabilizers
• Muscles are the only important tissues which control movement

These misconceptions simply are not true. Some muscles don’t kick in until leverages and length-tension relationships change during a lift and are also impacted by directional load vectors. This is especially true of compound movements and movements involving the hip joint. As a matter of fact, some muscles can have opposing roles throughout a range of motion. This is called the "inversion of muscular action." A prime example is the adductors; they are hip extensors when the hips are flexed and hip flexors when the hips are extended.

So if you want to maximize hypertrophy and/or the transfer of strength training to sport, you must consider which "range" the muscles are being stressed per each exercise and type of repetition. In sport-specific training, it's not just about "the movements;" it's about muscles, joint angles, load vectors, energy systems, transfer through other areas of the body, etc.

In sports you power through movements such as a sprint stride or jump so you need to be strong and powerful in all ranges.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of repetition and exercise. I’ll list just some of the pros and cons to a variety of common types of repetitions:

Benefits of explosive lifting: increased strength in stretched position, best method for starting strength, best method for rate of force development, possibly more tissue damage due to increased stress in stretched position – good for hypertrophy in muscles initiating the movement

Drawbacks of explosive lifting: deceleration up top in contracted position, not so good for finishing strength, not good at producing constant tension which may be critical for hypertrophy

Benefits of controlled lifting: increased strength throughout entire range of motion, no “assistance” from high momentum which requires considerable muscular tension at all ranges, more “constant-tension” which would lead to occlusion and hypoxia – great for hypertrophy

Drawbacks of controlled lifting: slow movement speed, submaximal acceleration

Benefits of accommodating resistance (bands and chains): acceleration, good method for finishing strength

Drawbacks of accommodating resistance (bands and chains): submaximal stress in stretched position compared to straight weight, less stable, doesn’t truly match the “strength curve”

Benefits of weight releasers: accentuated eccentrics

Drawbacks of weight releasers: only works for one repetition

Benefits of isometrics: can improve any specific area of a particular lift

Drawbacks of isometrics: range specific; doesn’t transfer well to other ranges, may interfere with elasticity and power production

Benefits of eccentrics: great for agility, deceleration, and hypertrophy

Drawbacks of eccentrics: extreme soreness, doesn’t always transfer perfectly to concentric strength, sometimes requires spotter

Benefits of ballistics: great for rate of force development and reactivity/elasticity

Drawbacks of ballistics: not good for hypertrophy or max strength

Benefits of concentric-only exercises (ex: sled pushes): reduced soreness

Drawbacks of concentric-only exercises (ex: sled pushes): no eccentric phase, suboptimal for hypertrophy

Benefits of stretched-position exercises: improved starting power

Benefits of contracted-position exercises: improved finishing power

Benefits of eccentric quasi-isometrics: great for simultaneous mobility and stability, great for starting strength

Drawbacks of eccentric quasi-isometrics: not very good for hypertrophy or max strength

Benefits of partials: good for hypertrophy, uniquely stimulates the CNS and connective tissue in a manner that lighter full-range movements can’t

Drawbacks of partials: range-specific; doesn’t transfer well to other regions of the movement

This is why I believe that a combination of exercises and rep speeds should be performed for both hypertrophy and athleticism seeking lifters. One simply cannot get optimal development from only one method. Certain exercises lend themselves better to explosive reps while certain movements lend themselves better to controlled reps. One should have variety in one’s training in regards to both exercise selection as well as types of repetitions in order to maximally strengthen all ranges of motion if one’s goal is to develop the biggest muscles possible or the most powerful muscles possible.


Bruce-Low, S. et al. “Explosive Exercises in Sport Training: A Critical Review.” J Exer Phys Online. 10(1) (Feb 2007): 21-33.

Hay JG, Andrews JG, Vaughan CL. “Effects of lifting rate on elbow torques exerted during arm curl exercises.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 1983;15:63-71.

Siff, Mel. Supertraining. 5th Ed. Supertraining Institute, 2003: 194.

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Most people know that in a previous life I taught high school Mathematics and Science for six years in the Scottsdale Unified School District, so it goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of research and science. However, it often takes researchers around a decade or so to “catch up” to the most brilliant trainers and practitioners.

Case in point: My friend Martin Rooney has been preaching the benefits of barefoot training for ten years now! Ever since the book Born to Run came out last year it incited a barefoot-training supernova. Now researchers are finally beginning to take a closer look at some of Martin’s “theories” about training and running sans shoes. If you had the foresight to implement Martin’s advice years ago and had your athletes or clients perform their warm-ups barefoot, you could have been ten years “ahead of the curve.”

For years my friend Juan Carlos Santana has been extolling the virtues of band training and the “non-vertical vectors” that bands and pulleys allow one to train. The term “Functional Training” has grown in popularity and most trainers and coaches are programming most of their workouts in the standing position. While there are a myriad of amazing standing free weight exercises, bands and pulleys allow us to train various angles and load vectors that simply are not possible with standing free weight training.

An often overlooked caveat to these band and pulley exercises is the tremendous workload they place on the musculature of the hips and core regions. Advanced lifters and athletes can get an amazing workout with just about any piece of equipment. For example, I’ve been lifting weights for 17 years and I’ve found that I’m able to get an amazing full body workout with almost anything…my own bodyweight, a pair of dumbbells, a loaded barbell, or a kettelbell. A simple pair of JC extra heavy bands may very well be the best single piece of training equipment that allows for a functional full-body workout. As you watch the video below, try to envision the amount of tension on not only the prime-movers of the various exercises, but also the glutes, abdominals, obliques, adductors, hip flexors, erector spinae, hip rotators, and other core muscles during standing exercises. The best part about band training is that the stronger you get, the better of a full-body workout you receive since you have to stand further out to get optimal tension on the intended musculature which leads to increased demand of the stabilizing musculature of the hips and core regions.

Last night I thought up all the different exercises one could perform with a simple pair of JC Bands. I was pretty impressed with myself as I hadn’t thought of some of these movements until I sat down and wrote them out. The exercises range from relatively simple to highly advanced. I included many bodybuilding isolation type movements as well as sport-specific functional type movements. Again, try to get a sense of the amount of core-stabilization required during some of the standing exercises in the video. For example, a standing single arm fly may appear to be a simple chest isolation movement, however it is also an example of an “anti-rotation” core exercise which challenges many of the muscles in the core and hips, namely the glutes, hip rotators, multifidi, and obliques. This is multiplanar, multidirectional training at its best folks! It’s also worth mentioning that the shoulder stabilizers get hit extra hard during pressing movements due to increased stabilization efforts.

I believe that in due time researchers will prove how immensely valuable band training is in relation to training the body to work as a functional, cohesive unit and teaching the body’s upper, core, and lower body muscles to coordinate and summate forces to produce explosive movement.

Warning: Watching this video may compel you to engage in an impromptu workout!

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The following is a repost of a guest blog I recently wrote for a friend named Jonathon Acosta.

What Women Want
By Bret Contreras

I don’t want to waste anyone’s time so I’m going to dive right into things. Women want a nice butt. There’s no debating that. The conundrum for a woman now becomes, “how do I get a nice butt?” The answer is, “it depends on your body.”

Women come in all shapes and sizes. Most need to lose fat. Many need to gain muscle all over. Some need to gain muscle in certain places and avoid muscle gain in other places. Every woman is unique in this regard.

One problem that turns many women off to strength training is that many of the “great” glute exercises are also the best quad exercises. A simple bodyweight squat typically activates 70% MVC for the quads and only 20% MVC for the glutes in women. This is why most women feel squats only in their quads.

I’ve trained a whole lot of “skinny types.” The stronger you get these types of women, the better they look. Get them strong at squats and lunges and their butt and thighs keep looking better.

I’ve also trained a whole lot of “heavier types.” No matter how hard these women worked, their thighs always appeared a bit bulky. This is where the disconnect lies between trainers and clients. A trainer may know deep down that over time getting a woman strong at the most basic movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench press, bent over rows, chin ups, dips, and military press will serve her body very well. However, the worst thing you can do to an already-insecure female client who is self-conscious about how large her thighs are is prescribe a bunch of exercises that the woman feels working her quads. The second her jeans start fitting more snug in the thighs and she will want to quit working out.

Many trainers don’t really experience this phenomenon, simply because they are “conditioning-type” trainers. They don’t worry about loading the exercises and they stick mostly to bodyweight, band, med ball, dumbbell, kettlebell, and trx exercises. They simply move you from one exercises to another and try to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout. While this is good for fat loss, it’s usually not the best solution to developing a better butt.

A typical client has experienced severe gluteal atrophy due to inactivity over the years. Their rear-ends may appear large because they are loaded up with excess adipose tissue, but underneath all that fat there isn’t a whole lot of muscle. We need to whittle away the fat, which decreases hip width, while building muscular shape, which increases hip depth. That’s the secret to developing a nice set of buns.

Getting back to what I alluded to earlier, women don’t want to develop shapely glutes at the expense of simultaneously developing huge thighs. Can a typical woman’s thighs get too big from regular strength training? Again, it depends on the trainer/training. I come from a strength and conditioning background and am well-versed in bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, and Olympic lifting. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her full squat up to 95-155 pounds if I pushed her. She could be performing walking lunges with 30-40 pound dumbbells as well. This may or may not lead to overdeveloped thighs, depending on the shape of the woman. Furthermore, it may or may not lead to great glutes. Some woman don’t get a lot of glute activation from squatting and lunging. Even though they exhibit what appears to be great form, they’re using mostly quads. Clearly we need to search for exercises that are more “hip-dominant” and less “quad-dominant.”

Are deadlifts the solution? Deadlifts may lead to a similar problem, albeit in a different area. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her deadlift up to 155-205 pounds if I pushed her. This may or may not lead to overdeveloped traps, depending on the shape of the woman. Deadlifts indeed work the glutes well, but they are also the best all-around back exercise and will lead to muscular growth from the neck down to the feet. Is there an exercise that is more specific to “what women want?” Enter the hip thrust.

Let me preface this by stating that squats, deadlifts, and lunges are amazing exercises. I’m not stating that women or trainers should avoid these amazing exercises. I’m simply stating that there comes a point where women may become “too strong” at these exercises and their strength will start to negatively impact their physiques. In contrast, a women can develop all the strength in the world at hip thrusts and it will only benefit her physique. The stronger she gets, the better her butt will look. A simple bodyweight hip thrust typically activates 40% MVC for the glutes in women while offering less quadricep activity and virtually no upper back activity. While squats and lunges may make the thighs too big and deadlifts may make the back too big, hip thrusts hone in on the butt region.

It’s very rare that a woman’s actual glute musculature become too bulky. Sure, we’ve all seen pictures of women with huge, round butts but usually all the matter/mass comes from a combination of fat and muscle. If we were to take a scalpel and carve away the fat, these women’s butts would likely look absolutely perfect; shapely and firmed. The problem with the typical “starve yourself and do tons of cardio” method is that you’ll lose weight and lose your butt along with it. Now you’re left with “No-ass-at-all,” a disease characterized by an uninterrupted flow of legs right up into the back with no bulge where the glute muscles should appear.

In all my years of experience as a trainer, I’ve seen several women whose quads started getting too big, several women whose backs started getting too big, and not a single woman whose glutes started getting too big. A healthy woman who trains with me for six months could easily build her hip thrust up to 95-135 pounds if I pushed her. The best part about the hip thrust is that I don’t have to worry about the woman getting “too strong.” The stronger the thrust, the better the butt!

Obviously training needs to be very specific to the individual. Overweight women need to simply move around a lot using basic movement patterns so they can lose weight and eventually incorporate barbell movements into their arsenals including hip thrusts. On a side note, since overweight people weigh a lot, bodyweight hip thrusts are an excellent strength and conditioning exercise for these folks. Weak, tight women need to increase their hip mobility, core stability, and glute activation before attempting barbell hip thrusts or they’ll simply use their low back muscles to move the weight and will end up doing more harm than good to their bodies.

However, I’ve had a ton of success with hip thrusts and if you start incorporating them into your routine, I believe that you can have huge success as well. Just make sure you start off with bodyweight and move up slowly over time. After you get the hang of bodyweight and can perform 3 sets of 20 repetitons, move up to the barbell. Make sure you place a pad around the barbell to minimize the pressure on the hips. Learn to develop an intense “mind-muscle connection” by contracting the glutes as hard as physically possible on each repetition. Always make sure you feel” the glutes doing the work. There are also many other great glute isolation exercises that can be employed that won’t work the quads or upper back, such as single leg hip thrusts, band quadruped donkey kicks, single leg back extensions, reverse hypers, and pull throughs.

If you are a woman, I recommend continuing with squats, lunges, and deadlifts, but keep an eye on the size of your quads and upper back. If muscle mass starts negatively impacting your physique, then stop going heavy on these exercises. Concurrently, start supplementing your routine with hip thrusts and some other targeted glute exercises for optimal glute development. If you do this, I believe that your glutes will be very appreciative.

If you’d like to learn more about hip thrusts and glute training in general, please visit my blog at www.BretContreras.wordpress.com for more information. Now get thrustin’!

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