Home Posts tagged "strength training program"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/18/17

It's a short week on the content front, as I posted last week's recommended reading a few days late. We are still making things happen, though!

Eccentric Overload with Flywheel Training and Rehabilitation - This is an awesome article from the power couple, Jennifer Reiner-Marcello and Brandon Marcello. We've been using the Versapulley more and more in our training, and this delves into some of the mechanisms that make it so great.

Brian St. Pierre on the Fundamentals of High-Performance Nutrition - Brian has been a friend, employee, and trusted resource for over a decade - and podcasts like this show why that's the case. He delivers some excellent content.

11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder - Earlier this week, on social media, I shared this old article of mine from T-Nation. It's a collection of important programming progressions and regressions that anyone writing strength training programs should understand.

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The Best of 2015: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2015 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com, as this "series" has been quite popular over the past few years. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the year; these are the pieces that received the most traffic, according to my hosting statistics.

1. 12 Questions to Ask Before Including an Exercise in Your Training Program - I drafted up this article to outline all the things that go through my brain as I'm writing up a strength and conditioning program.

2. 10 Important Notes on Assessments - I'm a big believer in the importance of assessments in the fitness industry, but it's really important to make sure that these assessments are performed correctly - and matched to the population in question. Here are ten thoughts on the subject.

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3. How to Build an Aerobic Base with Mobility Circuits - I just posted this article a few weeks ago, and it already received enough traffic to outpace popular posts that were posted much earlier in the year. Suffice to say that folks were excited about the fact that you can improve movement quality while improving conditioning. 

4. Is One-on-One Personal Training Dead? - In spite of the direction of the fitness industry with respect to semi-private training, I'm still a big fan of one-on-one training - and I think every fitness professional should be proficient with it.

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5. 5 Ways to Differentiate Yourself as a Personal Trainer - Here's a must-read for the up-and-coming fitness professionals in the crowd.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2015" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

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12 Ways to Know if You Should Include an Exercise in a Strength Training Program

At Cressey Sports Performance, whenever we're training a new staff member to write strength and conditioning programs, I always heavily emphasize the following point:

[bctt tweet="Want to put an exercise in a program? You must be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion."]

Without a doubt, exercise selection is one of the most important programming variables one must take into account. To that end, there are many ways that one can determine whether an exercise belongs in a strength training program (or not) - and each justification begins with a question. Here are ten questions to get the ball rolling:

1. Can it be sufficiently loaded, or does it allow you to achieve a training effect with less loading?

If one is looking to purely gain muscle mass, then a side bridge row probably isn't a great choice, as it doesn't give rise to athletes using significant loading:

Conversely, if someone has a cranky forearm and needs to find a way to maintain an upper body training effect with less gripping demands, the side bridge row can be a great option.

2. Does it offer functional carryover to an individual's life or athletic endeavor?

A deadlift is easy to sell on this front. It trains individuals to have a strong hip hinge that they'll use regardless of whether they're picking a child up off the ground, or jumping to grab a rebound. Conversely, juggling dumbbells while standing on one leg on an unstable surface isn't going to provide you with much (if any) real-world carryover. Don't waste valuable training time on unproductive exercises.

3. Does the individual have the capacity to perform the movement?

This question applies to both the osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces). As examples:

a. An individual with femoroacetabular impingement (a bony block) at the hip may not be able to get into a deep squat position. This would be a limitation on the osteokinematic front (limited hip flexion and, likely, internal rotation).

b. An individual with poor rotator cuff control might not be able to limit the anterior gliding of the humeral head during an external rotation toss to wall. This would be a limitation on the arthrokinematic front (even if the drill might look good to the naked eye).

4. Will an individual have sufficient equipment to perform it?

I always get a kick out of looking at canned, mass marketed programs that include things like the safety squat bar, chains, and sleds. Most commercial gyms don't have these things; heck, a lot of gyms don't even have kettlebells or medicine balls. Learning about equipment access up-front if you're writing a program for someone who isn't in "your gym" is an important step to save time and hassle.

As an interesting aside, I've had a lot of positive feedback on the "exercise modifications" section of The High Performance Handbook. Basically, this helps individuals modify the program to work with their equipment limitations. Versatility is very important to gym-goers!

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5. Does it allow for sufficient time under tension to yield hypertrophy (muscle building) benefits?

If you want to put muscle mass on someone, you need to have some time under tension. For that reason, an exercise like a rotational row would be an inferior hypertrophy training option, even if it is great for training power in an athletic population.

6. Does it take a lot of set-up?

If the individual performing the program is crunched for time, exercises that take considerable set-up time are generally better left out of the program.

7. Does it fit in with where an individual stands in a regression-progression continuum?

If someone can't even squat to parallel with body weight without major compensations, then programming a back squat probably isn't a good idea.

Conversely, if someone is an elite Olympic lifter with an excellent squat - both in terms of patterning and loading - then telling them to do three sets of eight goblet squats probably won't offer much benefit.

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8. Will it provide a training effect without creating significant soreness?

Sometimes, we want to avoid creating soreness. A perfect example is in-season programming for athletes, where we might avoid drills with a significant eccentric component, instead programming things like step-ups, deadlifts from the floor, and sled pushing/dragging. At other points in the year, it might be fine to have post-exercise soreness, so our exercise pool expands significantly.

9. Does it build "good stiffness" or reduce "bad stiffness?"

As we know, quality movement is a balance of mobility and stability. You need range of motion, but stability within that range of motion. Likewise, you need some rigidity, but not so much as to not allow for fluid movements. Every exercise should help you to find that "balance" in some way. For instance, look at the reverse crunch, which builds "good" stiffness in the anterior core (particularly external obliques) while reducing stiffness in the lats and lumbar erectors.

10. Will it allow an individual to train around an injury?

I'll admit: there are some exercises that I almost never use unless when we have an athlete who is on crutches, in a sling, or dealing with some other type of injury. When someone is hurt and wants to maintain a training effect without exacerbating an injury, you have to get creative.

11. Can it be used to train power?

Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses are all exercises that can be utilized to train power. Conversely, good luck trying to turn a chin-up into a power training exercise without blowing out a shoulder or elbow. An overhead medicine ball stomp would be a much better option for challenging high velocity shoulder extension.

12. Does an individual love or hate it?

Some people love certain exercises because they're good at performing them. In most cases, to make long-term progress, they need to emotionally separate themselves from those exercises a bit so that they can devote extra effort and training volume to bring up their weaknesses.

Conversely, in beginners who aren't completely "sold" on lifting weights, it's okay to use a favorite exercise to help deliver a message. I can't tell you how many women we've had over the years who love to trap bar or sumo deadlift in their initial months of training - and they actually request it in their new programs. If seeing a particular exercise in a program gets a new client fired up to put in extra effort and stay adherent, I'm all for meeting them halfway by including it.

Wrap-up

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of considerations one must take into account on the exercise selection front, but it's a good place to start. In the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other things you take into account.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/23/15

Good morning, gang. I hope you all had a great weekend. We're going to kick off the week with some recommended strength and conditioning reading from around the 'net:

Settling the Great Grain Debate - My good friend and former Cressey Sports Performance coach Brian St. Pierre did a fantastic with this review for Precision Nutrition.

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Is it time to turn our attention toward central mechanisms for post-exertional recovery strategies and performance? - This is a science-heavy but outstanding article that was recently published in Frontiers in Physiology. It'll be required reading (and discussion) for an upcoming in-service at our facility.

Want to Get Strong? Quit Switching Training Programs Every Week. - As the title implies, this old article of mine begs readers to stay on programs long enough to actually evaluate if they work.

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Strength Strategies: Installment 1

Today's guest post - the first in a new series - comes from Greg Robins.

It’s been a while, and oh how I have missed the electronic pages of EricCressey.com. Quick and Easy Ways To Feel and Move Better was fun, but after 50+ editions, I needed something new.

To piggyback off the idea of quick useful, intelligent tips, I have decided to create a fresh new look. This time around I have decided to speak to the strength-training enthusiast in particular. In short, this new series will be devoted to those in the crowd who are most concerned with – above all else – getting stronger.

My aim is to keep this easy-to-apply and simple strategies to help you get stronger. I will organize each week into four categories, or “pillars of success” in the gym. They are mindset, planning/programming, nutrition/recovery, and technique (via a quick instructional video or photos).

Given that this is the first installment, I figured we’d start of with a BANG, so here are two in each category.

1. Mindset: success in strength training takes sacrifice.

I’ve been fortunate enough to reach many of my own goals, but also to spend time around others who have had tremendous success in their chosen endeavors. The list includes CEOs, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, elite level strength athletes, physique competitors, decorated military leaders, and a host of other “successful” individuals. There are a plethora of commonalities among these people, but the one I want to focus on is the extraordinary amount of sacrifices these people make to accomplish their goals.

To be frank, none of us will attain the strength measures we want, the body we want, or the life we want without making sacrifices. While some may be afforded a hand-up, nobody who truly reaches an admirable level of success receives a hand-out (kudos to my girlfriend for introducing me to the hand-up vs. hand-out analogy).

If you want to do something out of the ordinary, you will make sacrifices on a daily basis that separate you from the majority of people. If what you wanted to achieve was doable by simply going through motions, showing up, and following the masses, it would not be considered extraordinary. I suppose this is common sense., but let’s face it: common sense isn’t so common anymore.

The real advice here is that one must be aware of why they are making sacrifices. Why are you choosing to get to bed rather than to watch the late night game? Why are you choosing to have one beer instead of seven? Why are you leaving early to make sure you can grab groceries before the store closes? As it is so commonly put, what is your why? Lose site of this and sacrifices become tedious chores, your goals become your master, and your life one of self-inflicted servitude. Choose instead to keep yourself focused on the goal.

2. Mindset: selfishness is a rather darker, but necessary, quality of the perennially strong.

There are a few darker truths to reaching uncommon heights. One of them happens to be one I mull around with in my head quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that in order to take extremely good care of oneself requires a degree of selfishness. In order to continually make progress, one must continually find ways to improve upon what they’re already doing. In terms of strength training, one must continue to train at a higher level in some capacity. This also means they must recover at a higher level. Training at a higher level may mean that more focus need be placed on the training sessions, including spending money on equipment or coaching, traveling further, staying longer, and so on.

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In terms of recovery, it most definitely means finding ways to reduce outside stressors, improve sleep, and dial in nutritional measures. Put in various situations, without enough regard for what YOU want, the aforementioned things will not happen often enough.

How often do we tell people with poor health to care for themselves more – to essentially put themselves, and their needs first, more often? At a much smaller level we are acknowledging that the health and vitality we want them to achieve will take some selfishness. It would be wrong to imagine that if someone wanted to achieve higher than ordinary levels of health and performance, it wouldn’t take more selfishness…because it will. It’s a darker truth, but one you can learn to communicate and help others understand so as not to appear to be merely self involved.

3. Planning and Programming: regulating on the fly.

Many informed gym goers have become savvy on following programs, utilizing technology to monitor readiness, and simply finding every way possible to “optimize” the training process. I must say, of all the strongest people I have ever been around, watched, read about, looked up to, none seem to rely on said measures.

Instead they understand the basic principles of training. When you understand the basics well – very well – you will be able to see the forest through the trees. When you see the big picture, regulating training on the fly isn’t over complicated.

Here’s a good place to get started:

You need to do more than you did last time. That’s the basic premise anyhow. With that, a plan can be formed by looking at the past training and improving on it. At a certain point, weight cannot be continually added to the bar in the same fashion. Therefore, training will revolve around two kinds of sessions. The first is geared toward the amount of weight on the bar. The second is either on the speed the weight moves, and or the amount of times weight is moved.

In any plan, there will be times when things don’t go as planned. At those times, simply keep in mind what the purpose of the training is. If the goal was to move a certain load, and you can’t do it for the planned amount, move it less times that day. If the goal was to move it fast and it’s slow, adjust to a weight you can move fast. If the goal was to move it a certain amount of times, lower the load, and move it the required amount of times.

4. Planning and Programming: unilateral stability is not limited to single-leg exercises.

Single-leg exercises are great if you want to get strong at single-leg exercises, or have some limitation that keeps you from doing bilateral exercises. Why would someone want to get strong on single-leg exercises? Pretty much for every reason possible, unless their overriding goal is to be extremely good at bi-ateral exercises! Simply stated, too much attention and energy must be given to these exercises in order to get them brutally strong that could otherwise be spent getting better on two legs, if that is your goal.

Single-leg stability, which for the sake of this tip I will differentiate from single-leg strength, is something everyone should posses. We do, after all, function in split-stance positions, kneeling positions, and on one leg all the time.

You do not need to do lunges, split squats, step-ups and so forth in order to gain acceptable levels of single-leg stability. This is good news for the squat and deadlift enthusiasts. You will want to keep a good level of unilateral stability so instead just focus more of your accessory exercise choices on movements that test single-leg stability. Examples include half-kneeling and split-stance anti-rotation presses, chops, and lifts, for starters.

Other ideas include carrying variations, and even simple things like low level sprinting, and – dare I say – walking more!

5. Nutrition: eat carbohydrates.

To my own detriment, I spent most of my lifting career still strapped in for the low-carb ride. That was really a big mistake. I initially saw great physique changes when I adopted a low carb approach, and thus I turned to it all the time. However, the truth is that what I really did was stop eating too much processed crap, and eating too much in general.

Carbohydrates are the fuel your body wants be a powerful machine. Simply put, fuel appropriately for the demand you are placing on it. If your goal is to be bigger, stronger, and faster, don’t trade in your oatmeal for a buttered-up coffee.

That said, if your training is sporadic and uninspired, and your life outside of the gym mostly sedentary, then by all means, watch the carbohydrates. If you are training 4+ days each week and trying to progressively push the limit of what you can do, eat more carbohydrates.

6. Nutrition: invest in a rice cooker.

To build off my last point, I prefer to keep my carbohydrate sources as “real” as possible. I won’t lie, I like a good bowl of cereal, and cornbread is something I could easily live on. The majority of the time I stick to five major sources of carbohydrates, and while I’ll divulge them all eventually, the first one is jasmine rice. It tastes better, digests easier, and has a better consistency than any other rice I have tried. I easily consume upward towards 8 to 10 cups of it (dry measure) in a given week. That translates to a lot more cooked. And, on that note, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about rice if I didn’t have a rice cooker.

This simple gadget will run you anywhere from $15 to $30 and is well worth it. Simply add one part rice to two parts water, press the button, and prepare the rest of your food in the 10 minutes it takes to cook. If that’s too hard for you, then there’s no hope for you as a chef. If you’re someone who struggles to put on size, make the rice cooker as routine as making coffee each morning. I’m willing to bet an added cup or two of rice to your normal intake will have you started back in the right direction.

7. Technique: keep the armpits over the bar.

8. Technique: understand the difference between flexion/extension movements and flexion/extension moments.

Additionally, if you need some programming guidance to prioritize the squat, bench press, or deadlift, check out our collaborative resource, The Specialization Success Guide.

SSG

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Correcting Common Landmine Press Mistakes (Video)

I'm a huge fan of incorporating landmine press variations into strength training programs. These awesome exercises are great for building scapular upward rotation, core stability, upper body strength, thoracic mobility, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, folks commonly struggle with technique with the landmine press, so I wanted to use today's video to cover how we coach these drills.

I devote a considerable amount of focus to the landmine press and its impact on scapular control in my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions. You can learn more at www.SturdyShoulders.com.

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Destroying Baseball Dogma: Installment 1

Today, I'm going to kick off a new series about common myths from the baseball world.  I'll tackle one of these each month.  In this first installment, we're going to have some fun with this quote that I hear all too often:

       "Guys are working too hard in the off-season,
    and all this strength training is leading to injuries."

I've heard this muttered hundreds of times, but this is this quote by Lou Piniella in the NY Times in 2013 stands out for me:

“The season is so long now and so strenuous, you need to rest your body for two-three months after it’s over,” said Sweet Lou. “But today, these players all have their personal trainers and they work out all winter and put on more muscle. When I played, we didn’t have a weight room or a strength coach and everybody took the team bus to the ballpark. We never heard of an oblique. Now guys are going out on their own, five or six hours before the game, going right to the batting cages and taking hundreds of swings a day. It’s overdone. The body can’t take it. If you ask me, that’s where all these oblique injuries are coming from.

I'm going to respond to this in bullet point fashion, as I think there are a lot of gems in here:

1. You'll be surprised to know that I partially agree with Piniella on a few different fronts.  First, the season is absurdly long.  Guys may play 200 games in 230 days - with a lot of travel mixed in - and that makes it incredibly hard to maintain strength, tissue quality, and mobility. Interestingly, though, a lot more injuries occur at the beginning of a season than at the end. It makes you wonder if some guys are showing up unprepared and then benefiting from the adherence the team environment forces.

Second, setting the lazy off-season guys aside, there are a lot of players who are doing absolutely idiotic stuff with their training. As recently as a few years ago, a few teams were still recommending P90X to MLB players for off-season conditioning.  I'm not making that up.  How can we say strength training is the problem if most organizations still haven't even made it a priority?

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Third, guys getting bigger and stronger is leading to injuries...but doing so in an indirect way.  You see, average body weight in Major League Baseball increased by 12% from 1990 to 2010; this time period parallels the rise in popularity of strength training. With the increase has come a huge increase in average fastball velocity, too - especially over the past 6-7 years.  And, the aforementioned body weight study also showed that offensive leaders were more likely to be heavier than their "normal" MLB counterparts. Obviously, the steroid era played into this, but the message doesn't change: being stronger increases your likelihood of success - even if it means you are playing with fire with respect to injuries.  Swinging quicker, throwing harder, and running faster will increase your likelihood of injury - regardless of whether you strength trained to get to that point in the first place.

The alternative, unfortunately, is to throw 88mph or have subpar bat speed - neither of which will help you compete in the modern game.  At the highest level, sports will always be a balancing act between high performance and injury risk.  To this point, I'd also subjectively note that most of the guys who have wound up with injuries this spring were not massive dudes; I'd argue that they really weren't that strong or heavy

2. With respect to the comment about taking 2-3 months off at the end of the season, one has to really do the math on this to realize how silly it would be. The big league season ends in early October for most teams, whereas playoff teams will play all the way through the month of October. If a player takes off all of October, November, and December, he wouldn't do anything until January 1.  If he make the playoffs, he wouldn't do anything until (potentially) February 1.  If players report in mid-February, that would give them 2-6 weeks to prepare. 

If you think that's enough, good luck dealing with the media scrutiny that comes when a load of the players are on the disabled list, and all the pitchers' fastball velocities are down.

I'd also ask: is it healthy for anyone to take 2-3 months off from exercise altogether?  Let's just make them obese in hopes of cutting back on our oblique strains!

3. I think it's important to recognize that not all lifting is created equal.  The problems usually stem from incorrect technique, poor exercise selection, excessive loading, or a number of other common mistakes. If one athlete burns himself on a cup of coffee because he wasn't careful with how he prepared or drank it, do you vilify coffee for an entire team? Of course not!  So, why vilify strength training because there are some idiots out there applying it incorrectly?

Taking it a step further, lifting sometimes "displaces" other important components of a successful training program - because lifting heavy stuff is "sexier" to many athletes. You simply can't lift at the exclusion of other key physical preparation strategies; it has to complement them.

RhySta

4. To build on the last point, in many cases, lifting may become a problem because it's "ingraining" poor movement quality.  As Gray Cook has often said, "you can't put fitness on top of dysfunction."

The key word here is "fitness."  Many things - not just lifting - could bring these issues to threshold.  Throwing, swinging, and sprinting could all bring movement flaws to a painful threshold, too.  However, unlike strength training, these approaches can't be used to correct the fundamental problem - even if they're implemented perfectly.

[bctt tweet="General training can correct movement dysfunction, whereas specific training usually exacerbates it."]

5. Most obviously, if lifting was really the only problem, wouldn't we see a lot more guys getting hurt while lifting? Truth be told, the injury rates in strength training participation are remarkably low - even with crappy programming.

Bringing all these points together, the truth is that injuries have always been, are, and will continue to be multi-factorial.  Short of traumatic instances like being hit by a pitch, or fouling a ball off your foot, everything is something that has built for days, weeks, months, or years.  There are far too many different variables involved that have constantly changed over the past few decades to truly determine what causes injuries, so it's short-sighted to make strength training the scapegoat - especially when we know the value it has in enhancing performance, reducing injury risk, and facilitating injury rehabilitation.

Destroying Baseball Dogma is one reason we introduced our Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Mentorships; we want to teach baseball coaches, strength and conditioning professionals, and rehabilitation specialists to learn more about how to best prepare players to handle the unique demands involved in baseball. Our next Upper Extremity course will be December 18-20, 2016; to learn more, click here.

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Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better?

Today's guest post comes from Bret Contreras, author of the recently released 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

Many strength coaches, personal trainers, and strength athletes claim that the squat is the best exercise for promoting gluteal muscle development. Recently, the hip thrust has stumbled onto the scene, and its reputation for building impressive backsides has gained traction.

There is currently no published research examining the gluteal hypertrophic effects of squatting or hip thrusting, yet anecdotally we’re aware of their glute-building potential. While nobody can say for sure right now which is best for gluteal growth between the squat and the hip thrust, I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll be convinced that both exercises should be employed for optimal glute development.

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Hypertrophy Science

According to hypertrophy researcher, Brad Schoenfeld, there are three primary mechanisms to muscle growth. The most important mechanism appears to be mechanical tension. A close second in terms of importance appears to be metabolic stress. Finally, we have muscle damage, which appears to be of slightly lesser importance. As it currently stands, we don’t know for certain how to optimize these three stimuli in our programming in order to maximize muscle growth. The way I see it, until more is known, we should do our best to hit every base in our training. Therefore, we want to perform exercises that create the most tension in the glutes, produce the most metabolic stress in the glutes, and create reasonable amounts of damage in the glutes. How do squats and hip thrusts fare in regards to the three mechanisms of muscle growth?

Let’s take a deep look at what happens biomechanically and physiologically in the glutes when we squat and hip thrust.

Gluteal Biomechanics During the Squat

Let’s say you have the bar loaded up to around 80% of your one-rep maximum (1RM). You set up and take the bar off out of the rack. The upper glutes help stabilize your pelvis as you walk the bar backward. Once you get set, the glutes calm down. Now you start descending. Glute activation during the eccentric phase is very low – around 20-30% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). At the bottom position, the point where everyone thinks is so amazing for glute activation, is where the glutes actually reach their lowest activation during the rep – around 10-20% of MVC. I realize that this hasn’t been mentioned in any journal. It’s something I’ve noticed over the past year with the last fifteen or so individuals I’ve tested in EMG. These are highly experienced squatters, including several Arizona state record holders in the squat.

Now, before you call me crazy, please not that a similar phenomenon is seen in the erector spinae as they’re stretched under load; this has been deemed the lumbar flexion relaxation phenomenon. As the glutes are stretched out, their activation diminishes. This could be related to the passive-elastic force that they produce in this position, or some other reason, possibly related to the changing sarcomere length or the changing muscle moment arm length.

At this point, you explode out of the hole. This is where the glutes do their thang – during concentric actions. Glute activation will reach around 80-120% of MVC as you rise upward, peaking around halfway up, and gradually diminishing before you reach the top. You pause for a brief moment, and then resume the next repetition.

Mean activation is fairly low – around 50-70% of MVC – since the top portion of the squat is rather unloaded for the glutes, and since there is usually a considerable pause in between reps as the lifter takes a deep breath, resets, and gets tight, and since the glutes don’t fire very hard eccentrically during the lift. Because of this, you won’t feel a pump or a burn in the glutes when you squat, since blood in the gluteal region has plenty of time to escape during the set. However, you will develop glute soreness in the days following the workout, due to the fact that the glute fibers are stretched eccentrically to long muscle lengths while being activated, albeit at low levels. But this is only true for the lower gluteal fibers; the upper fibers of the glutes will generally fire at around 30-40% of MVC during a heavy squat.


 

Gluteal Biomechanics During the Hip Thrust

Now let’s discuss the hip thrust. Just as in the case of the squat, let’s say you’re using around 80% of 1RM. The bar is placed onto the hips. The body is wedged into place. Before the lift begins, the glutes are silent. The lifter then thrusts the hips upward until full hip extension is reached. During this concentric shortening, peak activation will typically reach around 120-200% of MVC, and this level of activation will be elicited in both the upper and lower gluteal fibers. The peak is reached at full hip extension, as the glutes reach their shortest muscle length. This could be due to the changing sarcomere length or the changing muscle moment arm length.

On the way down, the eccentric EMG activity mirrors the concentric activity, gradually diminishing until the bottom of the range of motion is reached. The movement is quickly reversed. Due to the rapid movements and consistent tension on the glutes, mean activation during the hip thrust is extremely high – around 100% of MVC. Due to the high levels of activation and constant pumping of repetitions, levels of metabolic stress are very high as well. Incredible “glute pumps” and burning will typically set in from multiple sets of hip thrusts. However, since the glutes are not fully stretched at the bottom of the hip thrust, muscle damage will not be very severe.


 

Theoretical Imposed Adaptations

As you can see, the squat and the hip thrust are actually quite different in biomechanics. Let’s examine some commonalities and differences.

Both exercises make for excellent glute exercises due to the bent knee position, which shortens the hamstrings and places more burden on the glutes for hip extension (when the hamstrings are shortened, they cannot produce maximum force due to active insufficiency).

Both exercises require dual actions out of the glutes. In a squat, the glutes must fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create hip external rotation torque to prevent knee valgus (caving in of the knees). In a hip thrust, the glutes fire to create hip extension torque, but they must also fire in order to create posterior pelvic tilt torque to prevent anterior tilting of the pelvis and lumbar hyperextension.

Squats can be limited by back strength, which is not the case for hip thrusts. Squats require more balance and coordination, whereas the hip thrust is very stable and simple to perform. The hip thrust is generally limited by glute strength, meaning that the set reaches failure when the glutes can no longer raise the hips. Squats move the hips into deeper hip flexion.

Let’s see which exercise outperforms the other in various biomechanical and physiological categories in the chart below.

chart 1

As you can see in the hypothetical chart, the squat outperforms the hip thrust in 2 of the 7 categories, whereas the hip thrust outperforms the squat in 5 of the 7 categories.

The Verdict

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to imagine how combining the squat and the hip thrust would elicit greater adaptations than performing either exercise alone. In terms of imposed neural adaptations, the hip thrust requires more neural drive to the glutes, but there may be neural benefits to including squats due to the myotatic “stretch” reflex. In terms of mechanical adaptations, the two movements target different ranges of motion and therefore different gluteal muscle lengths, which likely lead to different mechanical adaptations as far as fascicle length and pennation angle are concerned. For full range gluteal strength, a more complete neurological stimulis, and full development of the upper and lower gluteal fibers, you’ll want to perform both the squat and the hip thrust. Either exercise alone won’t suffice. The good news is that we don’t have to choose between squats or hip thrusts for maximal glute development; we should perform both movements.

Squats elicit moderate levels of activation while promoting tolerable levels of gluteal muscle damage. Hip thrusts maximize tension and metabolic stress on the glutes and do a better job of hitting the upper fibers. The two exercises combine to produce one heck of a glute hypertrophy stimulus.

If you're looking for a great resource to take your strength training program to the next level, I'd highly recommend Bret's 2x4: Maximum_Strength. It's on sale this week at a great introductory price.

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A Great New Resource: 2×4: Maximum Strength

One of the things that I love about the strength and conditioning field is that it's remarkably dynamic in nature.  In other words, new information because available every single day. On one hand, this can make it difficult to stay on top of things, but on the other, it will always make you excited about going to work; things can't get stale if you choose to stay up-to-speed on new research.

This is a big area in which some coaches are able to differentiate themselves. In fact, all of the best coaches with whom I communicate on a regular basis are constantly seeking out new information, and finding ways to test new theories before they integrate it in their programs.  For me, Bret Contreras is one of those guys, as his passion for continuing eduction is unyielding. He's always talking about new studies he's read, or new exercises or programming strategies he's trying.

Hip-Thrust-Spinal-Curve1

Very few folks can say that they actually innovated and "changed the game," but Bret can.  The work he put in to make hip thrusts more "accepted" as a posterior chain exercise in the strength and conditioning exercise is admirable and has had a big impact on our programming.

That's one reason why I'm excited to share with you that Bret just released his excellent new program, 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

I'm a strength and conditioning "nerd" myself, and don't endorse many programs as being safe and effective. This program is both.

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And, it's a great follow-up program to my latest resource, The High Performance Handbook. One of Bret's "guinea pigs" for his program was Andrew Serrano, who had just finished the HPH program.  He told us that the HPH program was the absolute perfect lead-in to 2 x 4, as it got him out of pain and cleaned up his movement quality to set the foundation on which he could push his strength on 2 x 4. He went on to add 210 pounds on his squat/bench/deadlift total in 14 weeks.

Basically, here's the difference: HPH strengthens imbalances and shores up weak links while you build your strength, enabling you to reach your full potential. HPH exposes you to a variety of exercises and teaches you about your body. It's the perfect lead-in to 2 x 4, since 2 x 4 assumes that you're in good balance and that you know which accessory exercises work best for you. After you've completed HPH, you'll be in good balance and you'll be able to transfer over some of your favorite exercises from HPH over to 2 x 4. While HPH is flexible to accommodate different schedules, 2 x 4 pushes you to your limits by requiring you to train four days per week so that you can truly peak in strength development by the end of the program. You'll have already gotten stronger from HPH, so you need an advanced program to help you reach even further levels of maximal strength. HPH lays the foundation to set you up for great success with 2 x 4.

If you're ready to get serious and looking to take your training to the next level, this is an outstanding resource with which to do so.  And, to sweeten the deal, it's on sale at a great introductory price this week only.  Check it out: 2 x 4: Maximum_Strength.

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5 Ways You’ve Never Used a Barbell

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Hi, my name is Greg, and I have a problem.

I love the barbell.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy just training with the bar, a rack, a bench, and some plates. Call me crazy, but every exercise that has ever made a serious impact on my physique and strength levels involved the barbell.

To be honest, most people don’t use the bar enough. It’s not surprising, given the state of a typical “gym” these days. For every three or four bars, there must be a few hundred other pieces of equipment.

I continually challenge people to use the bar more often. Usually, my advice centers on doing more variations of the basic lifts. For me, the staple lifts never get old. However, I know plenty of people who thrive on variety in their training. With that in mind, here are five lesser-used exercises that include the barbell.

1. Barbell Rollouts

Rollouts are a great exercise, but not everyone has a wheel or other fancy implement. Not a problem! In fact, using a barbell is just as effective, if not more effective.

One benefit is that you can make the bar heavier or lighter. This may seem like a trivial difference, since the bar stays on the floor. However, you will notice that a 185-pound bar is a heck of a lot harder to pull back to the starting position. This will make your lats work harder, and tax your core. The best part? It makes your lats and abs work together, as they should!

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2. 1-arm Barbell Rows

Heavy rowing should be a staple in most people’s programs, especially those of you who want to move some appreciable weight in the gym. This variation is a serious grip challenge. It’s also a great way to load up past what the gym offers in DBs; just use a strap so you can hold on.  However you choose to do it, the basic premise is simple: perform a row in the same fashion as 1-arm DB row. In this case, keep the barbell between your legs, and make sure to use 10- and 25-pound plates so you can keep a decent range of motion.

1-arm Barbell Rows

3. Weighted Carries

Most folks look immediately to farmer’s handles, DBs, and KBs to do weighted carries. That’s all well and good, but the barbell lends itself very well to a few loaded carries as well.  Among my favorites are a barbell overhead carry, a barbell zercher carry, and a 1-arm barbell suitcase carry.

overheadbbcarries

zercher

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Each offers a totally different advantage. Overhead helps people work anti-extension properties in full shoulder flexion. The Zercher carry is great as an anti-extension exercise as well, and a better choice for those who can’t get overhead safely. Lastly, the suitcase carry trains core stability in virtually every plane, and even challenges the grip quite a bit.

4. Self Massage

Forgot your PVC pipe? No worries! The barbell with a small plates on each hand can make for a roller as well. It’s not for the more tender individuals, but works perfectly fine for people who have a longer history doing self-massage.

rolling

I also like the fact that the bar is much thinner than a roller, putting more direct pressure on the areas of interest. Try this baby out on your lower extremities and lats next time you hit the gym.

5. 1-arm Overhead Exercises

I’ve written previously about the benefits of bottoms-up KB exercises. They create a lot more need for shoulder stability, and tax the grip. However, the barbell can offer a similar benefit.

Since the bulk of the weight is now further from your hand, the forearm and shoulder demands increase BIG time.

It’s a great challenge on 1-arm shoulder presses, as well as Turkish Get Ups. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

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If you’ve been hunting down some new physical challenges in the gym, these should definitely get you moving. Train hard and use the barbell!

Greg will be presenting his popular "Optimizing the Big 3" training workshop at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts on August 2. This event is a great fit for lifters who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift - and may want to powerlift competitively. And, it's also been very popular with strength and conditioning professionals. For more information, click here.

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