Archive for October, 2010

30 Random Thoughts

I apologize for the really long blogpost – I intended to post a random thoughts blog last week but didn’t get around to it. As time went on I thought of more and more stuff, hence the long post. Anyway, this is definitely the most random post I’ve ever written.

1. If the Blog is Rockin’, Don’t Come Knockin’!

Last Thursday my blog had 5,969 views. I started this blog last November and had 119 total views that month. A year later I’m averaging over 4,000 views per day. As of a few minutes ago I had over 110,000 views for the month of October and there are four days left in the month. I’ve worked very hard on this blog and am very proud that it seems to be one of the most popular blogs in strength & conditioning. Below is a chart that shows the blog’s rise in viewership.

2. Epic Conversation in “Training Women” Blog

Following my “Training Women” blog, I had some amazing dialogue with several people but most notably from my friend Karla. I’m glad she had the guts to call me out as it led to an amazing discussion. I felt like I threw down some serious knowledge in the comments portion so I recommend you read through it if you have time.

3. Raise the Bar for the Glutes!

I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but we really need to raise the bar for the glutes. It’s very important to get clients and athletes moving well with their own bodyweight. Many times I have to regress exercises as far back as possible in order to start them off with an appropriate exercise variation.

Hell, I had a female client several years ago who was very tall, uncoordinated, top-heavy, and weak. It took me an entire year to get her to do a bodyweight full squat. Believe me, I understand the vast range of fitness between sedentary and athletic individuals.

But we need to raise the bar for the glutes and have high-standards if we want to see nice butts, fast runners, and reduced low-back pain. Bodyweight movements just don’t cut it.

Barbell squats, barbell deadlifts, barbell hip thrusts, barbell Bulgarian split squats, etc. are where it’s at for the glutes. Dumbbells, cables, bands, and kettlebells can be used to but we have to progress past bodyweight (unless the client is sprinting, cutting, jumping, etc.).

I think I could do 10 straight minutes of bodyweight glute bridges, low step ups, or clamshells. For me bodyweight glute bridges are like jogging – pure endurance work. Bodyweight glute bridges activate my 20% of glute MVC for me. Conversely, 600 lb barbell glute bridges activate well over 100% of glute MVC (this is possible because MVC is an isometric measurement) for me. I realize that I have strong glutes but every grown man should be able to glute bridge at least 225 lbs.

I bet if we found a frozen Neanderthal and unfroze him he’d lay down and bust out 30 reps with 225 on the glute bridge without even warming up.

In our glute articles we can’t be satisfied with bodyweight movements…we have to keep showing pictures of barbell movements so people know where to aim. Of course we can tell them to master their bodyweight before loading up, but if all we ever show in the articles are pictures of someone doing bodyweight glute bridges, low step ups, and clamshells, then we set the bar way too low and don’t give people something for which to strive. (I hate that I’m not supposed to end a sentence in a preposition – that sounded strange)

4. Barbell 1-Leg SLDL

I have never really pushed the barbell 1-Leg SLDL to see how much I could lift. Last Wednesday I busted out 2 reps with 225 and 1 rep with 275. I felt slightly unbalanced and uncoordinated, but I know if I kept at it I’d quickly be able to use 315 or so.

This is important because it indicates that there may be a considerable bilateral deficit with deadlifting. My max deadlift is around 565 right now. I’m hoping to get it to 600 one of these days (although 585 which is 6 plates per side sound really cool too). Here’s a vid of the bb sl sldl (I don’t really keep the leg straight but I keep the hips high and do down until the bar touches the floor while focusing on sitting back and keeping the chest up).

5. Fat Pets

Whenever I see pet owners with fat pets it diminishes my faith in humanity. Seriously, we’ve gotten pretty damn pathetic. Here’s what I tell people in that situation.

1. Stop feeding Junior table scraps.
2. Stop filling his entire bowl full of food every day.
3. Start out with half a bowl per day and see if he loses weight.
4. Just keep tinkering with the amount until you reach an equilibrium and you’re happy with your dog’s (or other pet) weight.
5. Then just keep it at that level.

If your pet is fat, it’s your fault, not the pet’s! This pisses me off very much. The dog deserves more competent owners.

6. Ultimate Fighter on Spike

I’ve been watching the Ultimate Fighter this year and wanted to say three quick things.

1. Josh Koscheck is just too immature for my liking. I used to really like him (I still think he’s a great and exciting fighter) but now I’m a little annoyed. Cocky fighters need to get humbled.
2. GSP is a class act.
3. I’m very glad that the UFC and MMA trainers in general seems to be improving in their strength & conditioning. It’s not uncommon now to see guys doing trap bar deadlifts, inverted rows, using the battleropes, etc.

7. Back Extension Instructional Video

Here is how I teach back extensions at my garage:

This needs to be watched by everyone! Back extensions are an amazing glute exercise if done correctly.

8. Professor Richard Hinrichs Drops Some Knowledge

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video on ACL Biomechanics. In case you missed it, here was the video:

I showed my professor the video and he dropped some serious knowledge on me. Here was his response:

The first error was a time 3:02. You said that the larger moment arm for the quads (than the hamstrings) allowed the quads to produce more force. The word you wanted was torque here. The same force with a larger moment arm produces a greater moment or torque, not more force. And torque is what is important when trying to extend the knees. The second error you made is at time 4:16. I think you must have misunderstood one point I made when comparing males and females in the timing of the coactivation of the hamstrings and quads in landing. Contrary to what you might expect, females turn on their hamstrings significantly sooner in the landing process (not later) compared to males–as if to recognize that their hamstrings are weak. It is the quads to hamstrings strength ratio that is so much higher in females than males that seems to be the risk factor for ACL injuries.

Rick is a brilliant man and I am very happy to be learning from him. He’s exceptionally knowledgeable about the ACL and swimming biomechanics. I still get an A for effort!

9. The Fuzz

I’m curious as to what my readers will think about this video. Check it out:

10. Creatine on the Nose

I’ve taken creatine for so long that I don’t mix it anymore. I just put the scoop in my mouth and then wash it down with some liquid. The other day I got some on my nose when the scoop touched it. Later that day, about five minutes prior to having to train a client I noticed in the mirror that I had a bunch of white powder on my nose.

I’ve never used cocaine in my entire life but I was thinking about how funny it would have been if my client showed up and saw the white powder on my nose. What else could they possibly assume? Thank God I noticed it!

11. Anthropometry & Attachment Points as it Relates to Big Lifts

I get a lot of questions from people who ask me stuff like, “Why can I deadlift so much more than I can squat?” Actually I should expound upon this in an “ABC: Ask Bret Contreras” post but for people in this situation, know that it’s perfectly normal.

Most women can deadlift much more than they can squat (at least in my experience). The main reason why some men can squat more than they can deadlift is because they aren’t proficient in the deadlift. With practice they almost always deadlift more than they can squat real quickly. Over the years I would say that on average I put 50-80 lbs on a typical guy’s deadlift “instantly” just by teaching them the correct starting position. Most try to deadlift like a squat, and when they learn how to maximize their leverage in their hips they set an instant PR (not because they got stronger, but because they never learned how to deadlift).

I’m talking raw lifting, not geared powerliting. Wearing gear changes things a bit as the squat briefs and suits add some serious spring to the squat…but the deadlift suits don’t do much for the deadlift.

Furthermore, it’s quite common for a taller lifter to be able to deadlift way more than he or she can squat. For example, a 5’8″ female lifter may be full squatting with 65 lbs but deadlifting with 175 lbs. This is not uncommon and has everything to do with human Anatomy. More specifically, it has to do with anthropometry (the relationship between body segment lengths) and the where the tendons attach on the bones.

Leverage is huge for lifting and people don’t quite understand from a biomechanical perspective how critical “leverage” is….just by taking a couple of inches off or putting a couple of inches on a particular bone or moving the tendon insertion a couple of centimeters out can lead to much higher abilities of the muscles to move some serious weight.

Those who are well-versed in Biomechanics are able to create equations using Anatomy, Physics, and Mathematics to solve for muscle forces required to move resistance based on the moment of the resistance arm (resistance times lever distance). All you need to know are bone lengths, tendon attachment points, amount of resistance, and joint angles. Can you see why I freakin’ love Biomechanics?!

12. What’s a G6?

There’s a popular song on right now called “Like a G6” by Far East Movement.

I didn’t know what a G6 was so I had to look it up. It’s a reference to a jet airplane that Gulfstream Aerospace makes called the G650. So technically the song-writer’s are off – there’s no G6, just a G650.

You can read about it here.

13. TC Luoma is the Real-Deal

A few weeks ago I met with TC Luoma, the editor-in-chief of T-Nation. I love writing for T-Nation and I’ve always wanted to meet TC. His Atomic Dog column was a riot and I bought 4 copies of his book back in the day – one for me and one for each of my brothers. My brothers all loved the book so much that when I told them I was meeting with him they acted like I was meeting an A-List Celebrity. We had some good conversation.

Here’s a video of him talking about his book (which is called Atomic Dog – Testosterone Principles).

I believe that every grown man should own this book.

14. Isoholds

Isoholds are a good thing to toss into a workout from time to time. They’re not too CNS demanding, they can increase flexibility and add stability to new mobility gains, and they can increase muscle activation by awakening dormant muscles. Plus, variety is always nice.

Good choices of Isoholds that can all be done with bodyweight are static lunge holds, Bulgarian split squat holds, good morning holds, chin up holds, push up holds, inverted row holds, glute ham raise holds, back extension holds, and reverse hyper holds.

A sixty second Bulgarian squat hold might be the most grueling exercise in the entire world. Sounds easy but it’s not!

Try this variation I learned from Jeremy Frisch! It’s tough!

15. Smart Blog Readers

I want to give a shout-out to my blog-readers. I think I have some of the smartest blog readers on the web. Often there are very good conversations following some of my blogposts. I appreciate all of the comments that my readers leave very much.

16. Weak Point Training

I’m often amazed at how many lifters assume that you can bring up a weak point in a matter of days. For example, I get lots of emails from people asking me whether they can get a great butt by next month.

This leads me to a funny story. A couple years ago at my training studio Lifts, my trainer Jordan and I trained this 19 year old girl (we’ll call her Leslie) and her mother at the same time. Leslie had a great body to begin with and a beautiful face, but she didn’t have much of a butt.

Within six workouts that spanned over the course of two weeks, all of a sudden her butt was amazing. Seriously it was one of the greatest butts imaginable. Round, perky, etc. It went from completely flat to perfect in two weeks!

One day Jordan asked me if I noticed how great Leslie’s butt was looking and I replied to him saying, “Yeah, I don’t want to feel like a pervert or anything but I’ve never seen such rapid results in my entire life as a trainer.”

Later on that day we were training Leslie and her mom and her mom said to us, “Can you believe how great Leslie’s butt is looking? It’s remarkable.”

Both of us looked at each other and replied with something like, “Um, yeah, I guess so. I hadn’t really noticed.” We were both too chicken to tell the mom that we had noticed!

On the other end of the spectrum, I had another client who was a bit frustrated with her lack of positive results in her glute region. I tried everything with her. She got much stronger but didn’t improve much in her glutes. We did plenty of hip stretching, low load glute activation, and glute strengthening from every angle with every major glute exercise, and still it seemed like she was going no where in this regard (well, her body got much better – she lost fat and gained muscle, but her butt didn’t seem to change much).

But she kept training hard, week in and week out. After she’d been with me for a year, I dug up her “before” picture and was blown away. Her butt had improved markedly we just didn’t realize it because the adaptations occurred so slowly.

The moral of the story is that with hard work, everyone can improve the shape of their butt. For some people it takes a few weeks, whereas with others it can take a year or two. But with hard work and consistency you can overcome poor genetics and dramatically improve the shape of a particular body part. Just don’t give up.

There are plenty of bodybuilders who have “reversed” a weak bodypart and turned it into a great bodypart but it often takes them years to do so.

17. Kinematics vs. Kinetics

Most people don’t know the difference between Kinematics and Kinetics.

Kinematics describes motion without considering the forces that cause the motion. Kinematics just describes things like joint angles, range of motion, velocity, vectors, etc.

Kinetics is concerned with the relationship between motion and its causes. Kinetics looks at things like forces and torque.

Kinematic variables (translations, rotations, etc.) are related to their respective kinetic variables (forces, moments/torques, etc.).

18. Getting Stronger by Using Steriods and Gaining a Ton of Weight

This “random thought” is probably going to piss some people off. Years ago I remember scanning through a T-Nation thread by Mark Bell (known as “Jackass” on this thread and in the movie “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” he’s known as “Smelly”). This thread started in 2004 and Jackass looked really good (see below). He looked strong, athletic, and was a great looking guy. Here’s a collage from his early years.

Several years later, the thread was still going (in 2008) and he looked like this:

He looks fat, unathletic, and disgusting. But very strong! As the years went on his strength went up but his looks went down.

Right now I am 6’4″, I weigh 225 lbs, and I am natural. I don’t wear any gear when I train and I don’t take any anabolic steroids. I can full squat 365 lbs, bench press 300 lbs, and sumo deadlift 565 lbs. By powerlifting standards this is laughable.

I remember talking to Dave Tate a while back and I asked him how much I’d need to weight to “balance out my leverages” for powerlifting. At my height, he told me I’d have to weigh 350 to ever amount to anything.

I have no doubt that Mark Bell is a kind dude. I shook hands with him at this year’s Mr. Olympia convention. His brother’s movie was one of the coolest movies I’ve ever watched. Mark is ten times stronger than me, but I try to think of him when I’m fighting the urge to get stronger at the expense of staying lean.

I’ve always wanted to get my bench up to 500 lbs. I’ve always wanted a 500 lb squat. Deadlifting 600 lbs would be awesome too.

I bet if I learned how to squat in briefs and a suit, and learned how to use a bench shirt, and trained specifically for powerlifting while taking anabolic steroids and eating like a horse for 3 years, I would probably get to an 1,800 lb total in powerlifting. Big deal? There are guys totalling 1,000 lbs over that.

It would be really fun to move that kind of weight, but what’s the point? I’m not genetically gifted to set powerlifting records. I’ll never be an elite lifter. And I would end up looking just like Jackass. He has made the choice to go down that route and I respect him for it. Sometimes I think it would be fun to open my own powerlifting gym, hang out and train with huge beasts all day long, and enter competitions several times per year. I know that Mark has his own powerlifting gym in Sacremento (Team Supertraining) and has tons of friends in the sport, and I believe he and his wife started up their own powerlifting magazine called Power. My hat is off to Mark.

But at the end of the day I don’t want to go down that road. I have a decent looking face and I intend to keep it. While Mark chose to let his looks slide in efforts to raise his powerlifting total, I choose to keep my looks and never be that strong. This doesn’t mean that I’m complacent with my strength, as I’m still trying to get stronger and reach my strength goals (especially a 600 lb deadlift). It just means that I have to keep reminding myself that I train for strength and aesthetics and that I want to build solely muscle, not muscle and a ton of fat. To each their own.

19. Joe Kenn Quote

I heard a Joe Kenn quote a couple of weeks ago that I love. He said,


I’ve been using this quote myself. In my humble little garage in Scottsdale I’m doing some good things that I’m very proud of. I know for certain that I’m “ahead of the research.”

By the way, I really enjoyed Joe’s “The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook” and definitely recommend it.

20. The Social Network

For those of you who have not yet seen the movie “Social Media,” go see it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so captivated by a movie in my entire life. It was so intriguing! I’m usually only that impressed by movies like “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai,” “Heat,” “American Gangster,” etc., but this movie was awesome.

21. Conversation with a Drunk Girl – Contreras is Dumber than a Box of Rocks!

Three weekends ago I was at a wedding in San Diego and I was approached by a drunk girl at the reception at the end of the night. She wanted me to go back to her hotel and go skinny dipping with her in the ocean. I was not attracted to her at all, so this was not an option.

She was getting really frisky and started feeling my pecs, then she said, “I’m ready to take my clothes off!” I said, “Why wait for the beach when there’s a fountain right over there?” She wasn’t phased by my comment and then said, “You’re coming home with me, right?” To get her off my back I told her that I had to go to the restroom, and then ran off to find the groom to say goodbye.

Apparently I pissed her off because as I was leaving the reception I overheard her telling her friends about me. She said, “Yeah, he’s totally hot but he’s dumber than a box of rocks.” Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn!

22. Quad Dominance

The other day I was watching a friend’s soccer game and I was able to “see” which athletes effectively used their glutes and which ones relied mostly on their quads. After training people for so many years you develop a s
sense for watching movement on the field. The glutes are hip extensors, hip abductors, and hip external rotators. So important for running, jumping, cutting, throwing, and swinging.

23. Glute Ham Raises Don’t Work Much Glute!

Why do people think the glute ham raise works a ton of glute? Why, why, why? The glute ham raise is primarily a hamstring exercise!

I can hold onto a 30 lb dumbbell and do a glute ham raise and it only gets my mean glute activation up to 18% of MVC. However, it does get my mean hamstring activation up to 82% of MVC.

All the glutes have to do in a glute ham raise is keep the torso erect and hips extended via isometric contraction. It’s not that hard. The hard part of a glute ham raise is controlling the descent which is eccentric knee flexion and then raising the body which is concentric knee flexion.

Here are a couple of different ways to do glute ham raises (also called Russian leans, Russian leg curls, Nordic leg curls, manual glute ham raises, manual leg curls, etc.)

24. Men’s Health: GET FIT RULE

I saw this in Men’s Health and completely agree!

“The best exercise program in the world is the one you enjoy doing.”


25. Soreness

Most people think you need to get sore to see results. I try my hardest to prevent soreness in my clients, as I train them frequently and am always having them strive for PR’s.

I was reading in Muscular Development Magazine the other day that Jay Cutler (current Mr. Olympia) rarely gets sore from his workouts and he said that Ronnie Coleman (former Mr. Olympia) rarely got sore as well.

Some places are a little more prone to soreness than others – like the pecs and quads. The point is that you shouldn’t “try” to get sore. It shouldn’t be a goal of yours. If it happens or doesn’t, so be it. What matters is that you’re consistently going up over time, moving well, and engaging in intelligent training. If Ronnie and Jay aren’t getting sore and they’re annihilating a specific bodypart with 30 sets in a single session, then you don’t need to get sore either for max strength or size gains.

26. Speed & Agility Revolution

A colleague of mine named Jim Kielbaso wrote an amazing book a few years ago that I don’t think many people in Strength & Conditioning have heard of. It’s called “Speed & Agility Revolution” and it’s an amazing book. I don’t think I’ve read another book like it; it breaks down the mechanics involved in speed and agility training and is very comprehensive.

27. Chalk One Up for Personal Trainers!

Personal trainers help people get stronger! Even trained athletes see better results when there’s a coach or trainer motivating them. Check it out here and here.

28. Female Strength Coaches

As many of you know, I’m currently taking a graduate level Biomechanics course at ASU. I think there are 25 guys and 5 girls in the class. I’ve heard many in the S & C field discuss how more women need to get involved in strength & conditioning, but it’s not happening. It’s a male-driven field and men are much more drawn to the profession than women.

There are plenty of women becoming Physical Therapists, Registered Dietitians, and even Personal Trainers, but not many becoming Strength Coaches.

Congratulations to the women out there who are trainers and strength coaches. The world needs you! Men, we need to go out of our way to mentor and empower women who are interested in the profession.

29. Heavy Half Squats for Valgus Collapse

While I believe that valgus collapse is a full-range phenomenon and that individuals need strong hip abductors and external rotators (mainly glute medius strength as it has the best moment arm for this purpose) through the entire range of hip flexion/extension, I’ve been having some success with prescribing heavy half squats and cueing my clients to make sure they keep their knees out.

This strategy, in combination with hip abduction/hip transverse abduction isolation movements and squats with a mini-band around the knees, seems to be helpful in this regard.

30. Conversation with Dr. Carl DeRosa

Last week I drove to Flagstaff to have a discussion with Dr. Carl DeRosa, one of the world’s most intelligent spinal experts. I learned a lot of interesting things from him and found him to be extremely intelligent and surprisingly well-versed in strength training. His two sons were both involved in Olympic lifting, plus he’s a Physical Therapist, Professor, Researcher, Lecturer, Author, and an all-around good guy!

I was in such a good mood on my drive back home that I was rocking out in my car while flipping through the stations. I hadn’t heard Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” in ages and was singing up a storm while driving home. I felt like Tom Cruise singing to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” in “Jerry MacGuire.”

If someone had a hidden camera on the drive home they could have blackmailed me for a lot of money.

That’s all for this week. Hope you enjoyed the randomness!

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1. Hey Joel! Thank you very much for agreeing to conduct this interview. Please inform my readers of your background and list some of the fighters you’ve trained.

No problem Bret, thanks for having me on your site! My background in strength and conditioning first began back in the late 90’s when I started interning under a strength coach named Bill Gillespie at the University of Washington. My focus back in those days was really on the strength and power side of things as those were mostly the kind of athletes with whom I worked. I later spent some time working with the Seattle Seahawks and then opened my own training facility in 2003.

Not long after I opened my gym, I was approached by an MMA coach, Matt Hume of AMC Pankration, and he asked me to start putting together programs for his fighters. Little did I know it at the time, but Matt was one of the very best MMA coaches in the world and was the official trainer for PrideFC, so he had a steady stream of world class fighters coming through his gym.

This was back in early 2004 and Matt and I have been working together to train fighters ever since. I’ve worked with a wide range of fighters from the U.S. and all over the world really. I’ve trained guys like Rich Franklin, Chris Leben, Spencer Fisher, Jens Pulver, Hayato Sakurai, Matt Brown, Ben Rothwell, KJ Noons, Akira Shoji, Tatsuya Mizuno, Robbie Lawler, Josh Barnett, Maurice Smith, Jorge Gurgle, Niko Vitale, and quite a few more.

Working with all these guys, sometimes traveling all over the world with them and being in their corner for big fights, has been a great experience. When I first started working with MMA athletes, I never would have guessed just how big the sport would one day become.

2. Wow, that’s impressive. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Should every fighter follow the same strength & conditioning program or should each program be individualized based on the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses?

I truly believe one of the biggest problems in strength and conditioning for MMA right now is that a lot of fighters tend to read about or watch a video of their favorite fighter training and believe they need to be doing the same things. Whether it’s doing endless circuit training, Tabata intervals, CrossFit, or some other such thing, fighters tend to follow one another or what “Fighter X” is supposedly doing, rather than learning how to put together an individualized program.

The reality is that this generic one size fits all approach will only get anyone so far. In order to keep progressing physically, i.e. becoming more explosive and better conditioned, a fighter needs to learn how to evaluate his or her individual strengths, weaknesses, and limitations and then create a program that will address these things.

It’s really the same thing as their MMA training. If they want to be a well rounded fighter, they need a good coach to evaluate their skill set and determine where they are good, whether it’s stand up, wrestling, submissions, etc. and where they are not so good. Then they can focus their training on improving their weak areas while continuing to improve their strengths. Guys who don’t do this end up being one dimensional and once someone figures out how to beat them, they are in big trouble, because everyone can see the holes in their game.

3. What are the functional qualities that you assess and seek to improve through your training?

Because MMA is such a dynamic sport that requires such a diverse set of skills, it’s important to have a very well rounded level of overall athletic ability. Any glaring weaknesses and you’re going to have holes that can be exploited by an opponent whose strengths happen to match up against your weaknesses.
Because of this, I evaluate a very wide range of abilities from explosive power to muscular endurance to joint mobility and everything in between. The single most important quality, really, is power-endurance. This means that a fighter not only must have good explosive power, he must have the endurance necessary to maintain this power throughout an entire fight, which might be as long as 25 minutes.

Anyone who has ever tried wrestling or boxing for even just a few minutes can appreciate how physically grueling trying to fight for this long can be. The real key is developing the right balance. There are plenty of fighters that are explosive and very strong, but they can’t maintain their strength and power into the later rounds and they tend to gas if they don’t finish the fight early. There are also those that can fight all day, but they lack the power to finish fights when they have the opportunity.

In my training, my primary goal is to make sure that not only do my fighters have the explosive power they need to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes and finish the fight when they have the chance, but also the endurance necessary to be able to do this throughout the entire fight. This is the real challenge of strength and conditioning for the sport of MMA and any combat sport really.

4. Most people don’t realize how much strength plays a role in the other various qualities. I’ve heard plenty of MMA trainers and fighters say that strength isn’t important in MMA. Please tell us why strength IS important.

In the early days of the sport, you saw a lot of guys who were physically weak able to win against much bigger and stronger fighters simply because there was such a disparity in skill levels. Back then, ground guys had no clue how to fight standing up, strikers had no wrestling or takedown defense, wrestlers had no submissions, etc.

As the sport has evolved and skill sets have become more diverse and well rounded, no longer can guys afford to be lacking in any physical area, and this definitely includes strength. In the wrestling and grappling areas of the game, having a good level of maximum strength is necessary because you’re working against an opponent as the resistance, which can be a considerable amount of weight.

If your strength is poor, you will have a very hard time getting and/or defending takedowns and positions and your opponent can control you and dictate where the fight goes. This is obviously a big disadvantage because your opponent can take the fight to wherever he is best and exploit any weaknesses you have.

For the striking aspects of the sport, being very explosive and fast is absolutely essential and this requires a high level of explosive strength, or rate of force development. Without this type of strength, you will lack the ability to finish fights and you may be slower and easily beaten to the punch by a faster fighter with greater explosive strength. Fights can be decided by fractions of a second and inches and lacking explosive strength can not only cost you the fight, it can get you knocked out.

Finally, strength-endurance is obviously an integral physical ability to performance in the sport as well because as the fight wears on, the fighter who can maintain their strength the best is going to have the advantage. Plenty of fighters are strong in the first round, but many fights are decided in the later rounds and this is where the ability to maintain your strength can be the key to getting the win.

This all means that as a whole, strength – defined as the ability to produce force – is absolutely essential to a performance in MMA. To be successful, a fighter must possess a high level in all the different types of strength, from how much strength they can produce at once (max strength) to how fast they can produce their strength (explosive strength) to how long they can maintain it for (strength endurance).

A fighter that is seriously lacking in any of these areas is leaving themselves wide open against an opponent who may not be. Gone are the days where you could use your skills to get away with having poor max strength or being slow. To be successful in the sport now in and in the future requires a great deal of strength in all aspects of performance.

5. What are your ten favorite strength/power exercises for MMA?

Well, for maximum transfer into the skills of the sport, it’s very important to develop explosive power using exercises where the force produced by the same working muscles and in the same direction as they are in the skills of MMA. This generally means force needs to be developed horizontally rather than vertically and this occurs through hip extension and/or rotation.

I see a lot of guys using exercises like power cleans or Olympic lifts, which are good movements by themselves, but all the force in these types of exercises is produced vertically and doesn’t transfer as well. I prefer to use ballistic type exercises where the force is produced horizontally such as explosive throws, bounding, jumping forward squats, sled hip extensions, resisted band shots, etc. These do a much better job of improving explosiveness in a way that will transfer into the skills of the sport.

A lot of these exercises are difficult to describe, but they will all be covered in my upcoming DVD on explosive power for combat sports (www.combatsportspower.com). The most important thing is to select exercises that use the same muscles, through the same ranges of motion and produce force in the same direction as MMA.

For just general strength development, I will use the basic core lifts such as squats, rows, pull-ups, bench, deadlifts, etc. I tend to use more general strength exercises like these when trying to improve max strength and then shift into much more specific exercises when the goal is improving explosive power.

6. How do you look at the “conditioning” side of training and what specific types of conditioning do you do? (note: Joel will be expounding on cardiac adaptations to training in a guest blog in a few weeks)

It took writing an entire book for me to adequately answer this question, but let me try to give you the short answer. First, I don’t consider strength and conditioning to be separate qualities, but rather as two interconnected pieces of the puzzle that makes up energy production. My definition of conditioning, therefore, is the ability of an athlete to meet the energy production demands of their sport such that they are able to use their skills effectively throughout the competition.

Really, it all comes back to understanding that the human body was designed to be able to produce power at incredibly high levels for very brief periods of time, fairly moderate levels of power for very long periods of time, or alternating levels of high and lower levels of power for a moderate amount of time. If we look any given sport, the energy demands fall somewhere within this spectrum.

For example, we see massive power production for brief instants in sports such as in Weightlifting, sprinting, field events like shot put, discus, javelin, high jump, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, we see sports that require tremendous endurance at much lower levels of power such as the endurance sports of marathon running, triathlons cross country skiing, cycling, ironman events, etc.

Most team sports, as well as pretty much all combat sports, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and require alternating periods of high and lower power for varying durations. Because there is ultimately a trade off that occurs between maximum power and the ability to maintain it, the duration and work to rest periods of the event dictates where this balance between power and endurance falls.

For combat sports, the fights typically are spread over 3-5 minute rounds with 60 second breaks and there are generally 3-5 rounds in a given fight. This can vary of course, but this is generally the range most of the combat sports will fall under.

In my many years of testing and evaluating high level fighters, I can tell you that to successfully meet the energy demands of this type of event, an athlete must have the right balance between aerobic and anaerobic systems. This is the real key to conditioning, as well as performance in general, in my opinion.
When a fighter has too much development on one side or the other of this equation, they are asking for problems. A fighter with a great deal of anaerobic development and poor aerobic fitness, for example, will not be able to use his anaerobic power for very long because the aerobic side won’t be there to handle the fatigue inducing byproducts of anaerobic metabolism and the fighter will gas.

A fighter with great aerobic development but low levels of anaerobic development, on the other hand, may not fatigue to nearly the same level throughout a fight, but they will likely have poor explosiveness and strength and may get overpowered by a stronger opponent.

Because of all this, the way I approach a fighters conditioning, and their training in general, is to carefully assess how their body currently produces energy, both aerobically and anaerobically, in order to determine where their levels of aerobic and anaerobic fitness are compared to where they should be. I then choose the most appropriate methods to develop whichever systems need development in order to make sure they have the correct balance of energy production. The real key is accurately understanding the needs of a fighter and how all of the system’s of the body work together to create energy.

The result is that the type of specific conditioning I do is very individual to a given fighter. Each program is designed around the exact physiological needs of that fighter and these needs may vary dramatically from one fighter to the next. I get into detail on 20 methods that I use, exactly how I use them, and which systems they affect in my book, Ultimate MMA Conditioning, so anyone who would like more detail on how I put all this together would be best served by taking a look there.

7. One aspect of training that I’m most interested in is the final week of training preceding the fight. What gets ramped up, what stays the same, and what gets tapered to ensure the optimal summation of fitness and fatigue come competition-time?

MMA is a particularly challenging sport in the regard of peaking for a fight because the final week before a fight typically involves a lot of travel, making weight, media appearances, etc. In the big shows, there are a lot of demands placed on a fighter’s time and they are already under a great deal of stress.
When you add in the fact that often times they may have to travel to the other side of the country, or even other side of the world, and deal with jet lag and lack of sleep, everyone asking them for tickets and autographs, etc., it can make for a very hectic and stressful schedule to say the least!

In this final week, the goal is to keep the fighter as relaxed as possible while maintaining their fitness and minimizing their fatigue, all under the context of having to drop weight before Friday weigh-ins. There is a lot of thought that goes into this, but really the most important aspect is that their training program was managed properly leading up to this point.

If they come into this week overworked or overtrained, the added stress and weight cut is only going to make things worse. If they aren’t in shape by this point, well, there’s also not much you’re going to be able to do in this last week to change that.

Really, the only way to make sure the last week goes as smoothly as possible and the fighter peaks at the right time is to have everything in order and a well managed training camp going into it. As a team, Matt and I try to minimize the fighter’s distractions, ensure their weight cut goes the way that it should and they are eating the right foods, and maintain the right level of activity necessary to keep their fitness high while reducing fatigue.

To be honest, it’s a very large juggling act and it takes a lot of time and experience to learn how to do it properly. I am very fortunate in that I’ve been able to learn how Matt handles all this as he’s been training and preparing fighters at the highest levels for more than 20 years.

My main job as the strength and conditioning coach is to prepare the fighter correctly in the weeks leading up to that point so that in this final week everything comes together. If I did my job correctly, the fighter will not have to drop much to make weight, they will be very well conditioned and not overtrained, and they will have the mental confidence of knowing they are physically ready. This is the key to making sure the final week leading up to the fight goes smoothly and the fighter steps into the ring or cage knowing they are ready to go.

8. Wow! Great interview Joel. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. Where can my readers find out more information about you?

No problem, hopefully I provided some insight for your readers into what goes into training combat athletes and my approach to getting them ready for competition. It’s been 7 years of trial, error, and experience on my part to get it right, and I’m still learning.

I think there are very few sports out there that require such a diverse skill set along with tremendous physical abilities necessary to use them. You can have the greatest technical striking in the world, but if you don’t have the explosive power and endurance to use these skills, they won’t do you much good. Likewise, all the power and endurance you could ever want won’t do much for you if you have poor technique and/or strategy to begin with.

These challenging requirements, combined with the razor thin margin for error in the sport, where inches and fractions of a second can be the difference between having your hand raised in victory and getting knocked out, are why the sport is so exciting to watch and why it has exploded so fast in recent years.

The best way for your readers to find out more is to visit my own website www.8weeksout.com and register for free access to my articles, videos, and training tips. They can also check out my new site, www.combatsportspower.com where I’m getting ready to launch my new DVD on Explosive Power for Combat Sports very soon.

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These blogposts have become increasingly difficult lately as I’ve been super-busy. I picked up a couple more personal training clients, have gained a bunch of new online clients, my Graduate Biomechanics Course is picking up steam, and I’m still trying to write articles, read an occasional journal article, and lift weights 4-6 times per week. And I’ve been slammed working on something else…which I’ll keep as a surprise for now, but I’ll update you in a few weeks (it’s not a product or anything like that). I’m in desperate need of a vacation! Here are the Good Reads for the Week:

Bret Contreras Articles

1. Cure for Cowardly Calves – T-Nation Article

2. How Weight Training Saved My Life – I didn’t mean to sound so shallow in this article, I was trying to be as honest as possible. I started lifting weights because I hated being picked on and I wanted more chicks to like me. Take women off of the planet and I’d probably quit eating healthy, quit shaving, my outfits would cease to match, I’d start training MMA all day long, and I’d get up to 285 lbs with a huge bulk belly (but a strong squat and bench press).

3. Coach Keats Snideman tries to teach the Glute Guy how to do Swings and Get Ups. I really suck at these but Keats was able to get me much better in just ten minutes of instruction. My friend Keats rocks!

4. Men’s Health November (this month’s) Issue – (no link here it’s in the actual magazine) page 154-155 – I recommended single leg hip thrusts (which I believe are the best bodyweight hip dominant exercise in existence).

Article of the Week

1. Choosing the Path Less Traveled by Bill Starr – One Word: AMEN! Bill is a strength & conditioning legend (he wrote Only The Strongest Shall Survive) and this was a passionate article – definitely worth reading.

Blast From the Past

1. Correcting Posture: Myth or Reality – This was actually written in 2006. I read it around a year ago and was recently asked about it by a colleague. It will make you think.

WTF? Moment of the Week

1. Fat Dudes Last Longer in Bed than Lean Dudes. It Seems that Estradial can be a Good Thing

New Blogs/Websites

1. Coach Kevin Carr (Kevin is a S&C up-and-comer!)

2. Coach Jeremy Frisch (not sure if Jeremy plans on maintaining the site but he’s a smart guy and has a lot of strength training experience)

3. Sean Hyson (Men’s Fitness)

4. Brad Schoenfeld – This blog isn’t new but I just learned of Brad via two of his badass NSCA journal articles – one on hypertrophy which was the absolute best I’d ever read on the topic, and another on the squat, which was the best review I’ve ever read on the topic as well. I checked out his blog and it’s really good if you’re interested in bodybuilding. Brad is a freakishly smart dude, and he’s very rare in that he’s an accomplished competitor, trainer, and researcher!

5. Joe Dowdell (trainer of athletes, celebrities, and the Gods above) – Joe is very smart (and one of the rare trainers who has a superior understanding of Biomechanics) so I expect good things when he starts blogging regularly. There’s a non-flash, I-pad version of the site coming soon.

6. Ergo-Log (I just stumbled upon this site and it’s awesome!)

New Products

1. The Truth About Quickness by Kelly Baggett

Upcoming Events

1. The 3rd Annual Performance Conference at Sacred Heart University on December 11th

2. Starting Strength Seminar on November 12-14 in Cleveland, OH


1. Fitcast – Karabee, Jon “International Man of Mystery” Fass, and Cassfass

2. Nick Tumminello on “Stop Chasing Pain Podcast” on Fascia – This is a Great Listen!

3. StrengthCoach Podcast with Kevlar on Body by Boyle Online Training Program

4. Awesome Interview with Mike Boyle on BlogTalk Radio

5. Glial Cells with Dr. R. Douglas Fields (they make up 85% of the cells in the Nervous System)

Good Reads

1. Awesome two-part guest blog by Kelly Baggett on Eric Cressey’s site on Speed, Quickness, and Explosiveness. Click here for Part One, and click here for Part Two

2. Tony Gentilcore provides you with “Stuff to Read While You’re Pretending to Work.”

3. GREAT read by Nick Tumminello on disc pressure measurements on exercise selection (this is a must read)

4. Mike T. Nelson – 8 Random Things

5. Charlie Weingroff on Structural Supinators

6. Great read by Charlie Weingroff on the feet

7. NSCA article on the role of the core during tennis swings

8. Heavy resistance or high reps for six-pack abs?

9. General, special, and specific core exercises for baseball players

10. Charlie Weingroff on whole-body-vibration causing stingers

11. Tony Gentilcore on trainers who dis heavy things

12. Muscular man boobs scare Planet Fitness Worker

13. Franz Snideman breaking down the swing part III (this is an amazing 3-part series…probably the best I’ve seen on the swing)

14. Random Thoughts by Matt Johnson

15. Random Thoughts by Mike Robertson

16. Charlie Weingroff on vertical tibia specifics

17. Brandon Alleman rants about some things that piss him off

18. Franz Snideman on lessons learned from Pavel Tsatsouline’s seminar (sounds like it was a great seminar!)

19. Holy crap this is a great read by Alwyn Cosgrove – a tale of two people

20. Weighted slideboard bodysaw

21. Great video of Coach Todd Wright and some of the exercises he employs

22. Real life Friday workouts from Jaime Rodriguez

23. Workouts for the week by Ben Bruno

24. Master the overhead squat with Core Performance

25. Seven ab exercises that actually work by Steven Morris

26. The genius dumbbell workout by Men’s Health

27. Five clients that drive you crazy by John Izzo

28. Ricochet push up by Nick Tumminello

29. One minute muscle-builders by Nick Tumminello on Wannabebig

30. My Single Leg Experiment by Ben Bruno on StrengthCoach.com

31. Implementing the FMS in a Team Setting by Bruce Kelly on StrengthCoach.com

32. Five Obstacles for Dominant Speed and Quickness by Kelly Baggett

33. More on insulin by James Krieger – this article series is unbelievable

34. How Do You Recover by Kevin Carr on Elitefts

35. Five Simple tips for Better Squatting by Ben Bruno – this is a great read! I love reading Ben’s stuff…he is a thinking man who formulates his own opinions.

36. Excellent Chad Waterbury article on Bigger Arms

37. A great read by Eric Cressey on parents who say, “Make My Kid Run Faster”

38. This is a great video!!! Celebrities getting strong! Good to see C-Dub (Chad Waterbury) talking shop.

39. Eric Moss on “The Situation” and alcohol-infused vodka

40. Although speckled with “Broscience,” this was one of my favorite articles of the week to read simply because the author injected some good humor. It’s a T-Nation article called “The Best Damn Cardio Article Period.”

41. Another Great T-Nation article by Mike Roussell – Does Your Fat Math Add Up?

42. How do you Measure Success as a Strength Coach by Brijesh Patel

43. Overtraining and Overreaching by Lyle McDonald, Part I

44. Overtraining and Overreaching by Lyle McDonald Part II

45. How is Your Restoration Program Going by Mike Mahler

46. Four Random Exercises by Mike T. Nelson including Pendlay Rows, Kettlebell Presses, Suitcase Deadlifts, and Round-Back Deadlifts

47. Awesome read by P.J. Striet on Exercise and Calorie Burning. This one will Surprise You! It’s a Must-Read

48. Sculpt Rock-Hard Abs in Five Easy Steps by Adam Bornstein

49. Giggling and Powerlifting by Ginger Vieira

50. One Arm Hang Snatch to Split by Core Performance

51. Great Links by Chris Beardsley

52. Business Books for the Fitness Professional by Carson Boddicker

53. Rachel Cosgrove on Butt Shaping – 1-Leg SLDL and Valslide Lunge

54. Rotary Medball Throw by Core Performance

55. The Training Log by Vern Gambetta

56. Great Interview with Jeremy Frisch by Patrick Ward on Iso-Extremes and Eccentric Quasi-Isometrics

57. Top Ten Kelly Baggett Articles by Chris Beardsley

58. Post-Workout Nutrition by John Berardi on Craig Ballantyne’s Site

59. Important Read: Back Surgery Can Backfire on Patients With Pain

60. Lee Taft Interview

61. John Izzo on Women and Weights

62. Cool video testimonial by Nick Chertock on Eric Cressey’s Show and Go Program

63. Slideboard Atomic Push Ups by Ben Bruno

64. Robbie Bourke on Supersets, Tri-sets, Quad-sets, Straight Sets, and Energy Systems

65. Tony Gentilcore on James Fell’s Scathing Article on Jillian Michaels. Click here to read James’ article.

66. Free PDF of the Anatomy Trains / Myofascial Meridians Overview

67. Birthday Thoughts by JRod

68. Ben Bruno’s Classification of Slideboard Lunges

69. Aaron Schwenzfeier on What He’s Been Up to Lately – Good Thoughts from a Real Coach

70. Zercher Squats with Zach Even-Esh

71. Dr. Perry Nickelston talks about the Joint by Joint Approach

72. Another awesome Cosgrove read – Reversal of Fortune

73. Eric Moss interviews Geoff Neupert

74. Jeff Cubos on Jump-Roping

75. Great Read – A Calorie is not a Calorie

76. Tony Gentilcore on the Biggest Mistakes You’re Making

77. Ben Bruno’s Random Thoughts

78. Do Marathons Hurt Your Knees?

79. Charlie Weingroff on Lateral Bounding as a Screen

80. Blueberries May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

81. Videos of the Week by Ben Bruno

82. Probiotics May Ward Off the Common Cold

83. Lessons from Drew Brees by Adam Bornstein

84. Vern Gambetta on Winning and Losing

85. Skinny is out, Strong is in by HPC labs

86. Good Read by Charlie Weingroff – Toes Up or Down?

87. The FMS Website has been spruced-up

88. Educainment by Mike Scott

89. The Perfect Exercise by Alwyn Cosgrove

90. Cool Cadaver Pic on Dr. Perry Nickelson’s Facebook Page

91. The Best Way to Gain Muscle is to Lose Fat on Jason Ferruggia’s Site

92. Body Positions Affecting the Spine by Carson Boddicker

93. Monster Garage Gym Footage http://www.criticalbench.com/strength/training-sessions-monster-garage-gym.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpyJkvPNUQI&feature=player_embedded#!

94. Insulin – the Final Chapter by James Krieger

95. 5 Keys to Adopting a New Training Program by Core Performance

96. Craig Pfisterer With Some Heavy Hip Thrusts! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZewOCtppN8A

97. John Romaniello Interviews Brad Pilon, the Bearded Guru of Fasting

98. More Ben Bruno vids of the Week. This video is hilarious!

99. Zach Even-Esh 10 Bodyweight Exercises to Make You a Beast

100. Lack of Sleep Can Make You Fat

101. John Izzo on When People Don’t Know What You Do

102. Howard Gray on the Relationship Between the Sports Scientist and the Coach

103. Mladen Jovanovic on the Function of Muscles

104. Holy Crap this is an Inspiring Video. I AM CHAMPION!

105. Six Reasons to Use Sandbags by Josh Henkin

106. Glute Training with Fit Lizzio

107. Randomness by Jeff Cubos

108. Why You Should Ditch Diet Soda

109. Preparing for Max Attempts by Smitty

110. Changing Nutrition Habits by John Berardi

111. 5 Things You Need to Hear by Leigh Peele

112. Usage of Subjective Indicators of Monitoring and Programming of Training by Mladen Jovanovic

113. Herschel Walker Breaks Fitness Rules!

114. Kevin Larrabee on What it Takes to Be Successful in the Fitness Industry

115. Charles Poliquin on the Woman’s Barbell

116. Aaron Schwenzfeier on Kendrick Farriss’ Clean & Jerk

117. Knee Extension by Mike Robertson

118. Kelly Baggett on Quickness and Becoming a Better Athlete

119. Double Kettlebell Slideboard Reverse Lunges by Ben Bruno

120. Single Leg Rotational Lift by Core Performance

121. Mike Mahler’s Strength Fitness Tips

122. Dan John – The More You Lift, The Worse You Look (T-Nation Article)

123. Motor Learning and Practice by Mike Scott

124. PJ Striet – Single Leg Band Hip Extension

125. This Year from Gear to Raw – Elitefts

126. Jay Cutler Photoshoot – Back & Bi’s

127. Low Back Pain – Quadratus Lumborum

128. What to Eat and When to Eat it by John Romaniello

129. Review of Crossfit/USAW Open by Nick Horton

130. NY Times on Rolfing

131. Improve Your Posture With Duct Tape?

132. Monday Moment of Zen with Nick Horton

133. The Five Stages of a Healthy Diet by Core Performance

134. Best Jobs in America – Physical Therapists #4 Best Job? Interesting.

135. Collecting Numbers by Vern Gambetta

136. Randy Pausch – The Last Lecture Reprised by Zach Even-Esh

137. The Rotator Cuff by John Pallof – Excellent Read!

138. The Six Greatest Ab Exercises by Men’s Health

139. Should You Drink Milk for Body Recomposition?

140. Leangains vs. The 40 Year Crisis

141. Let this be Your Guide by Vern Gambetta

142. Six Easy Ways to Switch it Up by Core Performance

143. Ten Things People do Wrong in the Gym

144. Jay Cutler talks Shop

145. WTF is Overtraining Syndrome by Nick Grantham

146. The Genius Dumbbell Workout by Men’s Health

147. Ian King Rant

148. Great Article on Diesel Crew Website by Chris Kelly on “Powering Up Your Plank”

149. Friday Fun from the Platform by Tracy Fober

150. Clean Eating is Dead! Nail in the Coffin by JCD Fitness

151. Seven Steps to Programming for Athletes
152. When Getting Better Isn’t: The Endless Improvement Trap by Shawn Phillips

153. Another Ian King Rant

154. Eleven Myths of Warrior Training by Martin Rooney

155. Are You Really a Hargainer? Elitefts Article

156. Sticking Point Tips by Marc Bartley (Elitefts Article)

157. Strongman Implements (Elitefts Article)

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Here’s another question that I’ve received several times over the past few months that warrants a blogpost.


Hey Bret,

I would love to hear your thoughts on the HCG Diet. I have a couple of friends who have lost a bunch of weight on it, and I’m thinking about doing it myself.





Here’s a quick overview of the HCG Diet:

Participants take 125 iu’s of HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin – a hormone that naturally occurs in the body in large quantities during pregnancy) per day while consuming 500 calories per day and not exercising. Here is a page from a popular HCG website that discusses some of the diet’s claims.

The HCG diet has been out since the 1930’s when it was pioneered by Dr. ATW Simeons. It is claimed that overweight patients who follow the Simeons therapy will a) lose weight quickly, b) not feel weak, c) not be hungry, and d) lose fat from those parts of the body where it tends to remain longest during normal dieting (i.e. stomach, hips, thighs, upper arms).

Below is link to a full paper meta-analysis conducted in 1995 by Lijesen et al.

The effect of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the treatment of obesity by means of the Simeons therapy: a criteria-based meta-analysis

Here are the researcher’s conclusions:

We conclude that there is no scientific evidence that HCG causes weight-loss, a redistribution of fat, staves off hunger or induces a feeling of well-being.

For more information, read this great article by Anthony Colpo.

I also think that the recommendations to avoid exercise are absurd. If it were up to me I’d have participants strength train for thirty minutes three days per week so they kept more muscle and lost more fat. The theory behind the diet is that since you’re only consuming 500 calories per day you don’t need to exercise and the HCG will cause the weightloss to come in the form of fat loss, but this theory just doesn’t seem to hold true.

The diet is very popular here in Scottsdale and I know of several individuals who are on the diet. Although they’ve achieved impressive amounts of weight loss due to consuming only 500 calories per day, their physiques paint a different story as they appear to be losing an equal amount of muscle and fat according to my observation. For optimal physique-enhancement, you want to do whatever you can to keep your muscle and shape and lose mostly fat for weight loss. Strength training and progressive overloading in particular would be of great benefit in this regard, despite the diet’s claims.

On a side note, many male bodybuilders take HCG during or following a cycle of anabolic steroids (AAS) to maintain and restore testicular size and testosterone production. When exogenous AAS are taken, negative-feedback loops cause the body to shut down its production of testosterone via shutdown of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis (HPGA), which causes testicular atrophy. High levels of AAS trigger the hypothalamus to shut down its production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus. Without GnRH, the pituitary gland stops releasing luteinizing hormone (LH). LH travels from the pituitary gland to the testes, where it triggers the production of testosterone. Without LH, the testes fail to produce testosterone. In males, HCG helps restore testosterone production and testicular volume by mimicking LH and triggering the production of testosterone.

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Here’s a question I just received from one of my female readers. This question crops up quite often so I believe it’s best to address it in a blogpost.


Dear Wonderful Glute God (Okay I made that part up),

May I ask you a question? Whenever I do glute bridges or supine hip thrusts, my hamstrings cramp up and ache like hell! I mean, I can feel my glutes working, but it seems like my hammies are working overtime, like they are firing a lot more than the glutes. Is this right? If not, do you have any suggestions on how to stop it – should I be doing other exercises to get my glutes stronger first (so that my hammies don’t hog all the hip extension work) before doing these particular exercises? Or should I just harden the f*ck up LOL and keep hip thrusting!

Thanks so much,



Nadine, this is very common. One of the reasons why this happens is because your hamstrings are relatively strong in comparison to your glutes. When you shorten a muscle (as in keeping the knees bent in bridging which shortens the hamstrings) you interfere with the length-tension relationship of the muscle (it can’t contract as hard because fewer sarcomeres are in proper alignment). If your hamstrings are your dominant hip extensor, then they will still try to take the brunt of the load during hip thrusts, whereas the glutes should fulfil this role. This will cause them to cramp. Over time you can ameliorate this problem but here’s what you need to do:

1. Regress to bodyweight glute bridges and focus on “feeling the glutes.” Think of your posterior chain as a river with three waterfalls; one goes to the erector spinae, one goes to the glutes, and one goes to the hamstrings. Right now you might have 30% of the water going to the erectors, 20% going to the glutes, and 50% going to the hamstrings. You want around 33% going to each. Research indicates that it is possible to increase and/or decrease the relative contribution of various prime movers and synergists through proper training. In fact, there was a terrific article in February of this year’s Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy entitled, Strengthening and Neuromuscular Reeducation of the Gluteus Maximus in a Triathlete With Exercise-Associated Cramping of the Hamstrings, which addressed bilateral differences and hamstring-cramping during running but showed that through sound training hamstring contribution can decrease while glute activation increases during movement and new and more efficient motor programs can be created. However, I like my methodology better than the researchers for your scenario.

2. Also focus on “feeling the glutes” during back extensions (remember you want all hip motion and no lumbar motion) and Romanian deadlifts, and make sure you utilize hip-dominant strategies and not just quad-dominant strategies (share the loading between the knee joint and hip joint) when you squat and lunge. You need to develop what bodybuilders call a “mind-muscle connection” with the glutes and learn how to better-activate the musculature.

3. In addition to bridging for glute activation, also add in exercises such as side lying clams, side lying abductions, x-band walks, quadruped hip extensions, and bird dogs. Make sure you keep the lumbar spine in neutral and move solely at the hips.

4. Once you feel your glutes working very well with bodyweight bilateral glute bridges, you’ll start progressing to more difficult variations. Here’s a good progression scheme for those:

bodyweight glute bridges
shoulder-elevated bodyweight glute bridges (hip thrusts)
barbell glute bridges
single leg glute bridges
barbell hip thrusts
single leg hip thrusts

Different trainers might progress in a different order but I’ve found that this progression-scheme works very well for most people.

5. Right before you work on glute activation, I want you to stretch your hip flexors (to make sure you decrease any reciprocal inhibition that you might have in the glutes), and I also want you to stretch your hamstrings (to slightly lengthen/weaken them so the glutes might do more of the work). When you do your bridges, rather than dorsiflex your ankles and push through your heels (which is the preferred method with most trainers which I find perfectly acceptable), instead I want you to keep your feet flat and push through your forefeet. Although this may increase quad activity, it will slightly decrease hamstring activity so you can hopefully get the glutes to contribute more to the movement.

6. Take your time and give yourself a couple of months to work your way into barbell hip thrusts. Remember, you didn’t become a champion squatter or deadlifter overnight, nor will you be a champion hip thruster overnight either.

When your glutes are really kicking in you can stop doing so much glute-activation prior to your workouts and you can focus more on pure strength training. Getting your glutes to work more during various movements is very wise as rarely do individuals “pull” their glutes. Conversely, often individuals strain the synergists (helpers) of the glutes – the low back, the hammies, the adductors, etc. Strong glutes spare the spine and the knees so I’m glad you’re taking this seriously.

Last thing – make sure you’ve watched these videos! Best of luck!

Squat Technique

Deadlift Technique

Hip Thrust Technique

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Training Women

When I first started training clients full-time, I assumed that I’d specialize in training athletes. I bought all sorts of equipment from Elitefts including a huge power rack/platform with all the accessories (box squat box, step up attachment, monkey chin bar, dip bars, band peg attachments), a 45 degree hyper, glute ham raise, reverse hyper, competition bench press, incline press, deadlift lever, chalk bin, bands, chains, specialty barbells, etc. I situated the equipment in my garage and was in awe at how manly my gym appeared! I was well on my way to be the next Joe DeFranco.

What happened next was unexpected. A bunch of female friends and relatives of mine started requesting that I train them. At first, I told them, “I’m not sure, my equipment is more geared toward training athletes.” They’d say, “Cool, when can I start?” I quickly realized that women like this type of training and all of a sudden I’m training tons of women.

Next thing you know, I open up my own studio and within three months I have 55 clients; probably 45 of them were women. If you train a few women well, out of nowhere you’ll have tons of female clients through word-of-mouth advertisement as they love to tell their friends about their trainer. I’ve really grown to love training women over the past five years, and here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Women Can Tolerate More Training Frequency than Men

A very recent study showed that following a bench press training session, men took 48 hours to return to their previous levels of strength, whereas women took only 4 hours (Judge & Burke, 2010). Women are simply not as physically strong as men (especially in upper body strength) and don’t tax their muscular and nervous systems to the extent of males. For this reason, they should not be trained the same way as men and should be prescribed higher training frequencies. One of the primary reasons why my female clients get extremely strong and dramatically improve their shape is due to the fact that I train their entire bodies very frequently to take advantage of their superior recovery abilities.

2. Total Body Training is Best for the Majority of Women

In my experience, women do best with total body workouts. This is closely related to topic number one above. They can recover quicker and therefore probably detrain quicker as well. Men will swing a sledgehammer at a nail and whack it down in one attempt, and then take a nap. Women will take a hammer and continue to tap on the nail until it’s all the way in, and then move onto the next nail. What I’m getting at is that women should not perform bodypart splits or even lower/upper splits. It doesn’t matter how many times a woman trains with me per week (once, twice, three times, four times, or even five times), each session I’m going to hit her entire body. The trick is to give them a great workout without creating too much fatigue or soreness the following day.

3. Women are Often Intimidated, Self-Conscious, and Insecure

Women initially fear weight training and don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of libidinous men leering over them, grunting, and throwing around heavy weights. Many like to train with fellow females so they don’t feel threatened, and they need reassurance and guidance. Women appreciate a confident trainer so make sure you exude confidence in your methods and in their ability to succeed. Most important, they thrive off of compliments! Notice the little things and compliment good effort and you’ll have a client for life.

4. Women Have Anatomical and Physiological Differences

Women are anatomically and physiologically different than males. They have wider q-angles which predisposes them to knee injuries, they are taught to “sit like a lady” which probably reinforces valgus-collapse over the years, they produce on average a tenth of the testosterone of males, and their estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH fluctuate throughout the month according to their menstrual cycles. They have different strength balances than men (less hamstring:quadricep strength ratio, greater lower body:upper body strength ratio) and their muscles fire differently than men as well (glute and hamstring timing often fires earlier due to a perception of weakness).

For these reasons, it’s important to teach proper mechanics, strengthen the posterior chain, and be understanding of mood-swings when training women because often it’s not their fault.

5. Women Can Ditch Flexibility/Mobility Work in Favor of Stability/Strength Work

Women are much more flexible on average than men. In fact, many are hypermobile. For this reason, they often do not need to do any stretching or mobility drills. They already possess good flexibility and many have laxity in certain joints. For this reason, it’s wiser to focus on stability and activation exercises in addition to some basic strength movements during the general dynamic warm-up rather than static stretches or mobility drills. If you have 50 minutes to train a female, most of that 50 minutes should be used for strengthening and conditioning. If strength exercises are taken through full ranges of motion then they’ll retain joint mobility while adding stability and strength to the joint which is exactly what they need.

One drawback of hypermobility is that many women over-extend their lumbar spine when they lift. It’s common to see women excessively arching (hyperextending) their low backs when they squat, deadlift, do push ups, hip thrusts, back extensions, and ab wheel rollouts. You need to teach them how to control their cores and maintain neutral spines.

*too much lower back arching

6. Fun and Variety Never Did a Woman No Harm

Women like to have fun during their workouts and they appreciate variety. Make them laugh from time to time; you don’t have to act like a drill-sergeant. Conversely, don’t be afraid to lay down the law when necessary. There are so many great exercises and women like learning little tweaks from time to time. Here are some of the main exercises I employ when I train women:

Quad Dominant: full squat, front squat, goblet squat, elevated dumbbell squat between benches, high box squat, low box squat, lever squat, Zercher squat, step up, Bulgarian split squat, walking lunge, reverse lunge, single leg box squat

Horizontal Press: torso-elevated push up, push up, dumbbell incline press, dumbbell bench press, barbell incline press, barbell bench press, close grip bench press

Standing Hip Dominant: conventional deadlift, trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift, rack pull, Romanian deadlift, single leg RDL, good morning, pull through, kettlebell swing

Vertical Pull: close grip lat pulldown, wide grip lat pulldown, negative chin up, chin up, parallel grip pull up

Prone, Supine, or Quadruped Hip Dominant: back extension, single leg back extension, 45 degree hyper, single leg 45 degree hyper, reverse hyper, hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, single leg hip thrust, pendulum quadruped hip extension, pendulum quadruped donkey kick, Russian leg curl, glute ham raise, gliding leg curl, slideboard leg curl, stability ball leg curl

Vertical Press: dumbbell seated military press, dumbbell military press, barbell military press, dumbbell push press, barbell push press

Sagittal Plane Core: plank, bodysaw, stability ball rollout, ab wheel rollout, straight leg sit up, hanging leg raise, Turkish get up

Horizontal Pull: one arm row, inverted row, feet elevated inverted row, seated row, band seated row, face pull, chest supported row

Frontal/Transverse Plane Core: side plank, 45 degree side bend, Pallof press, cable hip rotation, cable woodchop, landmine

I throw in the following for variety as well:

Conditioning: complexes, tabatas, airdyne intervals, sled work, slideboard intervals, car pushes, jump rope, burpees, mountain climbers

Power: plyometrics, sprints, agility drills, jump squats, one arm snatches, med ball tosses

You don’t have to do all of this every single session, but try to plan well-balanced programs.

Utilize paired-supersets and you’ll be able to squeeze in more work and density in your sessions.

7. Women Love Athletic and “Manly” Training

Most women don’t know this, but deep-down they love feeling athletic and “hard-core.” Over time they will love it if you get them to be able to perform a chin up or a proper push up (without hips sagging). They love pushing cars around as they never realized that they could do it. They will learn to love deadlifting if you teach them well. Women love getting strong; it empowers them. When they realize that heavy lifting won’t automatically make them overly muscular and that if often causes them to lean out and improve in shape, they’ll be setting records left and right. It’s your job to get them to realize this.

Here’s my friend Joe Sansalone’s girlfriend Neghar Fanooni doing Romanian deadlifts with 1.5 times her bodyweight. Weight training obviously did her body good!

8. Women are Competitive…With Thine Own Selves

Many women do not like competing with men or with other women, but they love competing against themselves. Start off slow and know how to regress and progress exercises. Bump them up slowly but surely and pretty soon they’ll start getting strong. Keep a journal and log every workout. Tell the female client what she did last time she did the exercise and she will try her best to beat it. Often women will beat their records every week for months on end when they first start training.

9. Often Women Won’t Pony Up Any Feedback

Women are often too intimidated to offer feedback. Sometimes they’ll tell you something and you’ll ask them why they didn’t tell you sooner. They’ll reply with, “You never asked.” This is why you need to ask a ton of questions. Before every session ask them if they’re sore anywhere. If their low backs are sore skip the deadlifts. If their adductors are sore don’t go into deep ranges of hip flexion and opt for high box squats and rack pulls. Ask them if the exercise “feels right” and where they feel it working. Ask them if they like their program, ask them if there is anything they’d like to be doing that they haven’t been doing. The placebo effect is well-documented and very effective; if a client believes in the program then they will achieve better results.

10. The Glutes Make a Woman

Women can buy breast implants, but getting a nice butt takes hard work. The glutes get activated best from high-load or high-velocity movement. Research shows that the glutes don’t get activated much from simple activities like standing up from a chair and walking; the body chooses instead to rely on the quads or leave the job for the more economical and elastic-storing hamstrings. Most women will come to you with poor glute activation and development due to the fact that many stop being active after high school. If you can make a woman’s butt look nicer, everyone around her will notice and she’ll start getting compliments left and right. Now she’ll be hooked on fitness for life because she won’t want to lose her nice booty. It sometimes takes time for the glutes to come around; if it took ten years for the glutes to atrophy away and sag they’re not going to come back in one week. If you’re a good trainer, for the most part every client will feel their glutes working very well within two months. Hammer the glutes every single session and they’ll respond best.

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Developing Foot Speed and Agility
Michael Boyle

A couple of threads on the StrengthCoach.com forum got me thinking about the question of foot speed and athletes. I can’t tell you how often I hear a parent or a coach ask, “How can I improve my son’s/daughter’s/ athlete’s foot speed or agility?” It seems everyone always wants the shortcut and the quick fix. The better question might be “Do you think you can improve foot speed?” or maybe even the larger question, “Does foot speed even matter?”

That begs the larger question, “Does foot speed have anything to do with agility?” I know coaches or parents reading this are asking, “Is this guy crazy?” How many times have we heard that speed kills? I think the problem is that coaches and parents equate fast feet with fast and quick feet with agile. However, fast feet don’t equal fast any more than quick feet equal agile. In some cases, fast feet might actually make an athlete slow–often I see fast feet as a detriment to speed. In fact, some of our quick turnover guys, those who would be described as having fast feet, are very slow off the start.

The problem is fast feet don’t use the ground well to produce force. Fast feet might be good on hot coals, but not on hard ground. Think of the ground as the well from which we draw speed. It is not how fast the feet move, but rather how much force goes into the ground. This is basic action-reaction physics. Force into the ground equals forward motion. This is why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest. It comes down to force production. Often coaches will argue the vertical vs. horizontal argument and say the vertical jump doesn’t correspond to horizontal speed, but years of data from the NFL Combine begs to differ. Force into the ground is force into the ground. In spite of what Brett Contreras may say, vectors don’t seem to matter here. The truth is parents should be asking about vertical jump improvement, not about fast feet. My standard line is “Michael Flatley has fast feet, but he doesn’t really go anywhere. If you move your feet fast and don’t go anywhere, does it matter? It’s the old “tree falling in the woods” thing.

The best solution to slow feet is to get stronger legs. Feet don’t matter. Legs matter. Think about it this way: If you stand at the starting line and take a quick first step but fail to push with the back leg, you don’t go anywhere. The reality is that a quick first step is actually the result of a powerful first push. We should change the buzzwords and start to say “that kid has a great first push.” Lower body strength is the real cure for slow feet and the real key to speed and to agility. The essence of developing quick feet lies in single-leg strength and single-leg stability work… landing skills. If you cannot decelerate, you cannot accelerate, at least not more than once.

One of the things I love is the magic drill idea. This is the theory that developing foot speed and agility is not a process of gaining strength and power, but rather the lack of a specific drill. I tell everyone I know that if I believed there was a magic drill we would do it every day. The reality is it comes down to horsepower and the nervous system, two areas that change slowly over time.

How do we develop speed, quickness and agility? Unfortunately, we need to do it the slow, old-fashioned way. You can play with ladders and bungee cords all you want, but that is like putting mag wheels on an Escort. The key is to increase the horsepower, the brakes and the accelerator. I think the answer for me is always the same. I wrote an article last year called “Is ACL Prevention Just Good Training?” In much the same way, development of speed, agility and quickness simply comes down to good training. We need to work on lower body strength and lower body power and we need to do it on one leg.
I love ladder drills. They provide excellent multi-planar dynamic warm-up. They develop brain-to-muscle connection and are excellent for eccentric strength and stability. We do less than five minutes of ladder drills, one or two times a week. I don’t believe for a minute that the ladder is a magic tool that will make anyone faster or more agile, however I do believe it is a piece of the puzzle from the neural perspective. People waste more than five minutes on biceps curls, but we have long debates about ladder drills.

These are also a great tool to show to coaches who want “foot speed.” Sometime it’s easier to “yes” them than to argue with them. Give a guy with “bad feet” a jump rope and you get a guy with bad feet and patella tendonitis.

PSS- I have never used the term “speed ladder.” We always call it an agility ladder if we call it more than the ladder.

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