We are lucky to have Bret Contreras aka the Glute Guy with us today. Bret is known as the Glute Guy because he popularized the Hip Thrust exercise and is an expert on all things glutes.
But that title sells him short because Bret is one of the hardest working dudes in the industry. I swear he must have a time machine with all of the projects he's a part of. He continually puts out epic blog articles on a weekly basis, has a number of fantastic books, is working on his doctorate, made a piece of exercise equipment, and puts out a monthly research resource (I've been part of it since day 1, and if you're not subscribed to it, you're missing out on the BEST and CHEAPEST resource to stay on top of current research).
Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening
Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy
Hip Extension Torque
Optimal Athlete: Sprinting
Strength and Conditioning Research
The Hip Thruster
Bret's knowledge of biomechanics, physiology, and research is outstanding, but he's also a coach and lifter himself. So he's in the trenches putting things to work. Enjoy this awesome interview and be prepared to take notes!
1. Hey Bret thanks for doing this interview! Could you first describe what you do and what projects you're currently working on?
Hi Michael! I’m a personal trainer working on my PhD in sports science and biomechanics. I have a CSCS from the NSCA and a master’s degree from ASU. As for projects, I have around 9 studies I’m going to conduct this year, all involving various hip strengthening exercises. I have a lab that is equipped with strength training equipment, EMG, force plate, and video capture.
2. You have performed a lot of EMG research. Could you describe what EMG is?
EMG stands for electromyography and it measures the electrical drive to the muscles during exercise. It’s not perfectly representative of the tension that is developed in the muscle, but with large surface muscles like the gluteus maximus, it’s pretty close. Out of all the common sports science tools such as EMG, force plate, linear position transducer, accelerometer, isokinetic dynamometer, motion capture, and force treadmill, EMG is my favorite. It can be used for so many purposes and provides insight to help answer critical questions in strength training.
3. You've done a lot of research on sprinting and there seems to be a division between the vertical forces group and horizontal forces group. Do you see the research favoring one over the other or might a lot of what is seen just a combination of both?
Yes, the research heavily favors horizontal force. Anyone who doesn’t agree with that hasn’t read the entire body of research. This isn’t to say that vertical force isn’t important, just that horizontal is more critical. Moreover, power is more important than force when it comes to sprinting, so horizontal power is key for rapid sprinting.
4. A goal of many athletes and people looking to get stronger is hypertrophy. This is a loaded question, but what is the ultimate environment for hypertrophy considering - muscle/tissue damage, mechanical tension, time under tension, low-medium reps vs high reps vs going to failure, and rest periods.
I rely heavily on the work of Brad Schoenfeld in this regard. We both believe that tension is the most important factor in hypertrophy training, with metabolic stress being similarly important. Muscle damage is another factor but less important than mechanical tension or metabolic stress. We believe that there is a “sweet spot,” or optimal combination of these factors that maximizes the hypertrophic response, and that it probably differs from one individual to the next due to genetic variation.
Due to these beliefs, Brad and I feel that lifters should employ all popular rep ranges (low reps, medium reps, and high reps) and utilize a variety of set/rep schemes and techniques in their training.
Read one of Brad Schoenfeld's Articles HERE
5. Different exercises target different parts of the glutes to higher degrees, for example you've stated the Quadruped Straight Leg Extension hits the upper glutes while the Quadruped Bent Leg Extension hits the mid-glutes. Do these different parts play different roles in athletic success? For example do different parts of the glutes play bigger roles in sprinting, jumping, or change of direction?
In general, training hip extension will give you the most bang for your buck. Many people can “visualize” the importance of hip extension in jumping and sprinting, but fail to realize the role of hip extension in cutting and rotating.
For example, the hip extension component to lateral agility drills is more important than the hip abduction component, and in a golf swing, hip extension power in the rear leg is vital. However, sound training for sports will incorporate training in multiple vectors such as the lateral and rotational vectors (think lateral slides on the slideboard, medball rotational throws, and various sled, plyo, and agility drills). Similarly, supplementary exercises can easily be included in the weightroom to develop the entire gluteal region such as band and cable hip strengthening exercises (think x-band walks, cable hip abduction, and band seated abductions).
6. If a 12-week study were performed looking at the effects of the back squat vs Deadlift vs hip thrust on performance numbers like the vertical jump, broad jump, 10-yard acceleration, and flying 30; while also looking at physical changes like body composition, postural/pelvic alignment, and hip/glute hypertrophy, what would you predict would happen? (This all assumes volume, load, and periodization is kept identical)
This might be the best question I’ve ever been asked! Let’s just focus on the squat versus the hip thrust for a minute. My hypothesis is that the squat would trump the hip thrust for vertical jump, while the hip thrust would trump the squat for the flying 30, postural/pelvic alignment, and glute hypertrophy. The broad jump and 10-yard acceleration would be a toss-up between the two. If we add the deadlifts into the mix, now it’s even more complicated! The deadlift might maximize every performance test (with the hip thrust still outperforming the others in glute hypertrophy and pelvic posture alterations). This is a fascinating question, and nobody really has the answer.
What I’m fairly certain of, however, is that if you had a 4th group that did all three exercises (still with volume equated), they’d see the best results. In other words, the best approach to strength training for athletes is to incorporate some sort of squatting, hip-hinging, and hip-thrusting movements. This is why research is so important though, as theories are nothing if they don’t match experiments. I could be spot on with my hypothesis, or dead wrong. Time will tell.
7. Training for power output is another tricky area for coaches. Some recommend 30% of max, while others recommend 45%, 55%, 80%, and body weight; it's really all over the place. Does the load depend on the movement used and is there an ideal percentage or should we just hit the whole force-velocity spectrum?
Another great question! Each exercise has it’s own load that maximizes power output.
For example, with the jump squat, no load (just bodyweight) maximizes power output. With power cleans, around 85% of 1RM maximizes power output. With deadlifts, the optimal load for maximizing power output is around 30-40% of 1RM. While there is indeed some good research showing that you get better training results by using the “optimal load” compared to other loads, nearly every strength coach in the world would argue that “combined training” elicits the best results (and research shows this too). So train a variety of loads – in order to maximize performance, do plyometrics, heavy lifting, dynamic effort, and explosive lifts.
8. You recently came out with the Hip Thruster! This is a big step towards continuing the impact of the hip thrust. Overall how do you feel the implementation and use of the hip thrust has been? Are there tendencies you tend to see (low weight-high reps vs high weight-low reps) and do you think it could be implemented better? In your opinion what is the best way to program the hip thrust?
While “my people” have really embraced the hip thrust, if I take a step back and look at the way the entire world trains, hip thrusts are still highly underutilized. Go to most commercial gyms and you won’t see anyone hip thrusting. If Arnold thought these up in the 80’s and popularized them back then, the entire world would be performing them. But in this day and age, there’s so much information out there, so it’s hard to make a big impact. Therefore, making an impact takes time and a lot of energy. I’m going to keep plugging away by promoting the hip thrust and teaching people how to incorporate it into their programming, and hopefully it continues to build steam. I’m a huge fan of squats, lunges, and deadlifts, but the hip thrust also has a primary place in strength and conditioning. For women seeking optimal glute development, I believe it’s the best lift out there. But the theme of this interview is that a multi-faceted approach always works best.
In general, I see too many people sacrificing form in order to move heavier weights with hip thrusts (the same is true for every popular lift though). Also, lifters tend to gravitate towards either heavy-weight for low reps or light-weight for high reps due to their training preferences. I think it’s important to include all rep ranges throughout the month. It’s not always fun to perform 3 sets of 5 reps or 2 sets of 20 reps, but the different rep ranges are synergistic for maximizing results. Personally, I think hip thrusting twice per week with a pyramid approach (a few progressively heavier sets followed up by a high rep back-off set) makes the most sense for most lifters.
Rapid Fire Round!
Squat vs Deadlift
My two favorite lifts! Squats for quads and for keeping form on deadlifts in check. Deadlifts for hamstrings, grip, and maximizing “real world” functional strength.
Reading Articles/Blogs vs Video Articles/Blogs
Both! Reading goes much quicker if you skim/speed-read like me, while videos allow you to gauge the tone of the expert and see demonstrations.
Olympics Lifts vs Other Means of Power Development
If you’re a strength coach who has access to the athletes year-round, then Oly lifts. If you only have athletes for a short-term or you’re a personal trainer who doesn’t know how long the athlete will be around, then hex bar jump squats and heavy kettlebell swings.
Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Love Hewitt, or Jennifer Lawrence
My fiancée Diana! Okay who am I kidding? She’d slap me if I didn’t go with Jennifer Aniston. And if we’re talking about the Jessica’s, we’d have to go with Alba then Beal.
(Note from MZ: I'll take my girlfriend Jennifer over all of them! (suck up points!))
I’m an MMA guy through and through. Then American football.
Coffee vs Energy Drinks vs Soda
Xyience energy drinks are best! Then diet soda, then coffee. I actually hate the taste of water (or the lack of taste of water).
Thanks again for the great interview Bret!
My pleasure Michael! Great interview.
Go Get 'Em!