This is an exciting moment for me, as I can now reveal my interview with Bret Contreras. Bret is well known for his “out of the box” thinking regarding strength training and, his to the point attitude and scientific understanding of bio-mechanics. Bret runs one of the most informative blogs on the Web, containing tons of valuable training advice and the odd random thought, at www.BretContreras.com. His methods are so effective that for that past year Andrew has been using them with his own clients, with amazing results.
In a recent Radio interview for Ultimate Strength and Conditioning Bret summed up in just a few words that he believes the ultimate goal of training (within a balance) should be “strength with good form”. Good form allows full range of movement, which will help correct poor or incorrect movement patterns. He states that “the stronger the better” and there is no such thing as “too strong” – why should there be? Now can you see why he gets my vote 🙂
Bret was very kind to take the time out of his very busy life to answer some questions for the benefit of everyone who reads this.
Proper function comes from a variety of factors, strength being one of them – so why then do many people (women especially) ignore or avoid it? This was the motivation behind this interview, because it’s all very well doing body weight High Intensity Interval Workouts 4-6 days a week, throwing in the odd exercise challenge but, is this really going to help progress your ability, performance and strength enough to help you reach your goals? How far can body weight training take you? Is strength training for everyone? And as I suspected, turns out we don’t need any fancy exercises to get us where we want to be. So here goes:
Hi Bret, First let me thank you for agreeing to this interview;
1) Being “The Glute Guy”, I have to ask what you consider to be the best exercise for developing strong, active and shapely buns?
“Without a doubt, it’s the barbell hip thrust exercise. But you can’t start out with a barbell. First you need to master bodyweight and then gradually move up in weight. The hip thrust keeps considerable constant tension on the glutes which cannot be said of other exercises. This leads to increased muscle shaping due to several physiological reasons, including mechanical tension and metabolic stress.”
2) Most females tend to favour steady-paced cardio, light weights and high reps. In terms of full body conditioning and tone, do you think they are wasting their time?
“No, they are not wasting their time. Research shows that some women actually have larger type I fibers than type II fibers, which is contrary to what we’ve always been told. This means that high reps and even cardio may suit these individuals well. But they still need to activate as many fibers as possible, so some cardio is better for the buns than other forms of cardio. For example, treadmill running and the step mill are better than the stationery bicycle. However, anecdotal evidence shows that well balanced strength training in the moderate rep ranges trumps any type of conditioning work for aesthetics purposes. Bottom line, if you want to look good, do resistance training! And if you don’t like the shape of your booty, you’re only chance of dramatically altering its appearance is to get strong at the best exercises.”
3) What would you say are the best bodyweight-only exercises for the glutes (shape-wise)?
“Single leg hip thrusts, walking lunges, high step ups, Bulgarian split squats, and single leg back extensions. Of course, sprinting and jumping works well too!”
4) What type of training/exercises do you “prescribe” for your female clients to build upper body strength?
“I use a lot of variety but my “go-to” upper-body exercises for women would be the dumbbell incline press, push press, one arm row, and chin up.”
5) Kettlebells, barbell and bodyweight: Personally I train for variety most of the time and I try to use all of these methods, plus mixing paces to get the most from my body. However I am interested to know what you would consider the best type/method of training for women to achieve overall strength and conditioning?
“The best way is to use all the available tools like you’re currently doing. But if you had to go with just one, I’d choose the barbell. Some of my colleagues would say bodyweight, and some would say the kettlebell. But in my experience it’s not easy putting muscle on women. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, and I’m always trying to build a bigger engine so their metabolism stays churning away. I’ve found that the only way to get many women to possess any sufficient muscular shape is to get them really strong over time. For example, many of my female clients start out using bodyweight on squats and hip thrusts and just the bar on deadlifts, and they aren’t satisfied with their physiques until they’re full squatting 40 kgs for multiple reps, hip thrusting 70 kgs for multiple reps, and deadlifting 70 kgs for multiple reps. I believe that these women could still see great results by getting really good at certain bodyweight or kettlebell exercises, but the easiest way to see physique results in my opinion is via barbells (if you had to choose just one).”
6) Genetics verses Training. Does everyone have to workout their butt off to hit the Glute jackpot, or can some just wing it?
“The woman who is blessed with naturally great muscular shape just needs to get her body fat down and she’ll look great. For example, think of Jennifer Lopez. She’s absolutely beautiful, but many women wouldn’t want to look like her because she’s a little too curvy for their preference. However, if she diets down and does a bunch of cardio, she’ll look absolutely stunning. All of her muscular shape will show through, and her shapely booty will shine through and give her the body most women would kill for. Throw in some simple bodyweight and kettlebell drills and she’d look even better.
However, now think of Jessica Simpson. If you’ve really taken a look at her, she doesn’t have that great of a backside. Have her lose a bunch of weight by dieting down and doing a bunch of cardio and most of her body will look great, but her booty will look flat and pathetic. She was able to get her booty looking really good when she filmed The Dukes of Hazard by doing tons of strength training. By using resistance exercises to lean up, she was able to burn fat while simultaneously building her backside and retaining her sexy shape while dropping weight.
So it always depends, but most women don’t have nice butts. I’d guess that less than 3% of women have what I would consider an amazing butt. For the other 97%, they need to build up their butts so they have some shape, pop, curve, perkiness, or whatever you want to call it. From the side view you want it to look like the letter C. If you weren’t born with it (genetics), then you need to build it through heavy strength training. Having an impressive booty really separates a woman from the rest of the pack, and it’s the one area that needs extra attention through training.”
7) I am sure you will get this one ALL the time (as I have), but I am sure my viewers are interested to hear your opinion on deep, “ass-on-grass” squats – Would you recommend deep squats and why?
“I could go on and on about this, but I’ll try to be brief. Most individuals are terrible at squatting. They have issues with mobility, stability, and/or motor control. Have them squat and they’ll shift forward, rise up onto their toes, allow their knees to cave in, etc. The deeper they go, the stronger the muscular requirements are so they’ll just look like a melting candle. For this reason, full squats are dangerous for the average person.
However, the best thing about deep squats is that it keeps you honest. You don’t see people using too much weight when they full squat. You see tons of people piling on plates and doing crummy quarter squats, but you can’t get away with this when you go deep. For this reason deep squats are safer.
The real question someone should ask themselves if they can’t squat deep is, “Why can’t I squat well when I go deep?” There’s a reason, and you should never be satisfied with it. It could be due to mobility restrictions in the ankles, hips, or t-spine. It could be poor stability in the hips or core. It could be poor patterning, or it could be a combination of all of these. Being strong through a full range of motion is always superior to being strong in a partial range of motion. When you can full squat properly, you’ve just shown competency in joint flexibility and muscular control through the entire kinetic chain. Bottom line – squat deep! But you need to learn how and master bodyweight before introducing load.”
8 ) This one is for me: For a while now, I have had a bee in my bonnet about how the fitness industry tends to portray being lean and shredded as the main symbol/goal of great “fitness” and achievement. Personally I believe they have missed the boat. What are your views on this and, in 3 words, how would you sum up “fitness” or being “fit”?
“Great topic of conversation! On the one hand, when I conjure up an image of a “fit” individual, what comes to mind is someone who looks the part. Being ripped and shredded with 3% body fat is not fit and doesn’t come to mind when thinking of fitness. But certainly adiposity and especially central adiposity is not ideal from a health perspective, so the “Men’s Health” or “Women’s Health” look comes to mind – which probably equates to 10% body fat for men and 15% body fat for women, along with decent levels of muscular shape and a well-balanced physique.
On the other hand, if you’ve been training people for a long time then you’ve undoubtedly come across individuals who didn’t look fit but could blow away a fit looking person in certain performance tests. All across the world there are athletes who succeeded despite not fitting the mold in terms of somatotypes, body fat levels, and anthropometry. Fitness is not directly related to aesthetics and vice-versa, but I understand why the industry chooses this marketing route – it sells.
I guess I would describe being fit as “possessing sufficient levels of strength, power, flexibility, leanness, and stamina.” Sorry, that’s ten words, not three!”
9) I am going for a bonus question now which kind of links to question, hope you don’t mind 🙂 My home workouts, on which my blog are built, centre around Kettlebells and Body Weight exercises and, although I do train occasionally with barbells, I have had great success with my own strength gains with little or no “heavy” lifts. After a 4-5 month break from Heavy Sumo Deadlifts I walked in to the gym last week and pulled a personal best of 209lbs (I weigh 132lbs). With my current training being considerably lighter in comparison (although still heavy for Kettlebell training), how would you explain this improvement?
“I do not find this too surprising. Often times individuals use improper form when going heavy. Backs tend to round, torsos tend to lean too far forward, weight tends to shift, energy tends to leak, joints tend to migrate, etc. I’ve tested the electromyography of crappy form on squats and you get less activation in the hip extensors and more activation in the quads and erectors. This just gets you better at sucking. When you go lighter, form stays great and muscle activation is where you want it. You groove excellent motor patterns and strengthen appropriate muscles. As you progress to more advanced versions of bodyweight and kettlebell exercises, the muscles can get challenged just as much as they do from heavy exercises. One thing that most people don’t realize is that muscle force is determined by body position, distance from the joint, and the magnitude and direction of the load. Performing good single leg lifts and explosive kettlebell lifts can provide a great stimulus for the muscles of the knee extensors and posterior chain, while strengthening similar movement patterns as the bilateral barbell exercises.
Powerlifter guru Louie Simmons has noticed that many powerlifters can get surprisingly stronger at the deadlift by not deadlifting and instead doing other movements that work similar muscles and patterns. Sometimes the deadlift is so draining that when you take it out of your program, it frees up a lot of energy and recuperative ability so you can use more volume, intensity, and/or frequency with other exercises. For these reasons, I believe that you were able to improve upon your deadlift without deadlifting. Some lifts do require more specificity, however. For example, the squat and bench press tend to respond best to squatting and bench pressing.”
10) Finally, can you spare another bonus for the men?
Obviously men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. Many men tend to focus on strength and hypertrophy (especially in the upper anterior parts of the body, often neglecting their legs, glutes and back). What is the best piece of training advice you could give to a guy who is starting out in training? And what would you say the most beneficial approach and exercises are (generally), in getting the most out of his body and build good “functional” muscle?
“This is one thing that bodybuilders, powerlifters, weightlifters, and strongmen can all agree on. Beginners should stick to frequent full body workouts. Beginners are weak and uncoordinated and don’t get taxed too much when they train. They can easily squeak out 3-5 full body workouts per week and keep growing and getting stronger in the process. This strategy greatly fast-forwards progress, as hitting each bodypart once per week like the bodybuilders do just doesn’t cut it for a beginner. Most beginners are tempted to emmulate the routine of their favorite bodybuilder, which is unwise. When you first start out, you can hit the same movement each workout and see rapid results. As far as other advice is concerned, work the entire body and pay attention to structural balance. Do as many sets of rows as benches, as many sets of deadlifts and hip thrusts as squats and lunges, etc. The best exercises are the full squat, deadlift, hip thrust, walking lunge, bench press, incline press, military press, dip, chin up, bent over row, and one arm row.”
A big thank you again for this interview, this will certainly help a lot of people, including me, fine-tune our training.
It also helps to know that I am on the right tracks, as I also fished for Bret’s professional opinion on my own glutes … which it turns out I am part of that “impressive” 3% 😛
Feel free to leave your feedback here and visit Brets site for more useful and free information. I have to say, I am well chuffed by all this 😀