A great interview with Strength Coach Bret Contreras, we even get to find out what food he has in his fridge!!!
Enjoy the read!
1. For people who don’t know you, who are you? Where are you? What are you doing right now? And why are you called the Glute Guy?
I’m a 34 year old PhD student with a CSCS and a master’s degree from ASU. I moved to New Zealand because they have an excellent PhD program which will make me a better strength coach. I’ll be here for a few years until I complete my PhD. I am very interested in all aspects of sport performance, but I have a special affinity for the glutes. I never had glutes in high school; I was a skinny weakling, so I had to spend extra time and attention to bring them up. Consequently I got much better at sports in the process.
2. What is your favourite exercise?
The deadlift! I think it’s the ultimate measure of strength, plus it helps that I’m good at it.
3. Do you think that stronger glutes relate to a better sports performance in terms of running, jumping, agility, etc.
Yes I do. I can’t tell you how many good athletes have soft and pathetic glutes. They have solid quads, hamstrings, and erectors, but their glutes are very underdeveloped. Bring them up and you’ve got a better athlete on your hands.
4. What is the best approach to training the glutes? And what progressions do you use?
You need to hit them from various vectors in a wide spectrum of rep ranges. You have your quad dominant patterns such as squats and lunges, your hip dominant patterns such as deadlifts and good mornings, your bent leg hip dominant patterns such as barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts, and your lateral/rotational patterns such as band hip rotations and crouching x-band walks. Bodyweight before external loading, bilateral before unilateral, moderate ROM before full ROM. Just start wherever you can use good form and gradually progress from there in terms of reps, loading, range of motion, and more difficult variations.
5. If someone can’t activate their glutes during a basic glute bridge, what would you do? And how much do tight hip flexors play in gluteal amnesia?
Every coach and therapist has their own little tricks, but I like to have them lie prone and see if they can contract the glutes isometrically. I start them off with the most basic drill I can imagine and then gradually progress to isometric contractions from different positions, and then along to dynamic movements such as bridging.
Tight hip flexors can contribute to inhibited glutes through reciprocal inhibition (neurological issues) as well as mechanical inhibition as the glute won’t be able to move the hip into end ranges of extension.
I believe that tight hip flexors definitely play a role in gluteal amnesia, but I have another theory that I believe makes more sense. The glutes shut down due to simple USE/DISUSE theory. Use them and they’ll stay strong. Don’t use them and they atrophy and de-activate.
What do normal people do in their everyday lives that cause them to fire their glutes? The answer is NOTHING!
The typical working American gets out of bed, sits down for breakfast, gets ready, walks to their car, sits down in their car and drives to work, walks to their office, sits all day, drives home, sits on the couch and watches tv, etc. Maybe they go on a brisk walk for exercise if they’re feeling lazy.
At no point during the day did they substantially activate their glutes. When you stand up from a chair, quad activation reaches 70% of MVC, but glute activation is around 10% of MVC. Brisk walking will only get glute activation to around 30% of MVC, as will climbing stairs. So most individuals never activate their glutes to over 30% of MVC in their normal daily activity. Over time this takes its toll, and the glutes shrink down to nothing and don’t fire very well. Now the glutes can’t overpower tight hip flexors and the process of adaptive shortening, reciprocal inhibition, and synergistic dominance ensues.
6. Do you think there is a big correlation to having weak glutes and back pain?
Hell yeah I do. Everyone I train says their backs have never felt better after they’ve trained with me for a month or two, and I believe that a big component of this is teaching them to use their glutes when the lift so they don’t use their spinal muscles as prime movers.
7. Do you think everyone should deadlift?
Well obviously there are always cases where someone shouldn’t do a certain exercise…but in general, yes. Everyone should deadlift. But they must first possess sufficient hamstring flexibility, erector spinae strength, and glute activation to be able to hip hinge properly.
8. I know your research is not just focused on the glutes and in one of your latest blog posts you talk about spinal rotation. How important do you think T-spine mobility is? Do you think people go too far sometimes with what coaches say? i.e. increase t-spine mobility, no lumbar flexion, no lumbar rotation etc.
T-spine mobility is critical. Thoracic position will influence scapulohumeral mechanics, breathing mechanics, and lumbopelvic mechanics. You must have proper thoracic extension, lateral flexion, and rotation to be able to move properly and distribute forces optimally.
Of course people take things too far with things that coaches say. People like things to be black or white, when really almost everything is gray.
9. Why is it that most people who step into our facility have poor hip mobility and tight glutes?
They’re tight because they’re sedentary. Dynamic sports and weight training move your joints through full ranges of motion so you keep your mobility and stability. If you don’t keep exercising, you lose mobility and stability. Sitting all day causes certain structures to tighten, certain structures to weaken, and certain structures to de-activate. We have to undo all of those things when we start training people.
10. With this in mind how important do you think it is to educate people that sitting down slouched over a desk is not good? Is this part of our job as strength coaches?
Yes indeed it’s our job. Strength coaches wear so many hats, and we need to be knowledgeable about things both in and out of the weight room. We have them for an hour per day, but we can do a lot of good by positively influencing what they do for the other 23 hours of the day. With proper advice we can influence their posture, their nutritional habits, their sleep habits, their life decisions, outlook, and stress levels, and their recovery strategies.
11. The Strength and Conditioning industry has come a long way, where can you see it going next?
I see a better bridging of various subfields. The worlds of Physical Therapy, Biomechanics, Sports Research, Psychology, and Genetics will continue to merge into the world of Strength & Conditioning, allowing us to be better at what we do. Technology will keep producing better tools to allow us to be more effective as well. However, people will continue to eat too much and move too little, so we’ll always have work to do (until we create a way to stay fit without exercising).
12. What cool things are you working on right now?
I’m always slammed with work! I’m working on several different articles, an eBook, and of course my PhD. And I always try to post a couple of blogposts each week on my blog www.BretContreras.com.
13. What are you top tips for a bigger deadlift and squat?
If you’re serious about getting stronger at squats and deadlifts, check out what www.Elitefts.com has to say. Much of what I learned is from them. If you want a strong squat you need to learn how to squat like a powerlifter, not an Olympic weightlifter. This means taking a wide stance, sitting back, keeping the knees out, etc. For maximal deadlift strength, you need to learn how to pull conventionally and round the upper back a bit. This is the way all the top deadlifters in the world pull. Of course, many are better suited for sumo deadlifting, which is an entirely different animal. These methods are the most effective ways of getting stronger at squats and deadlifts, but not the safest. If longevity is a primary concern then the Olympic style squat (high bar, narrow stance, full squat) and arched back deadlift are better options.
14. And finally, what is in your fridge right now
In my fridge I have 2% milk, orange juice, yogurt, bananas, tomatoes, kiwis, whole grain bread (goes moldy quick here in NZ if not refrigerated), roast beef, ham, eggs, cheese, and Coke Zero (I prefer Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper but can’t find that in NZ). In my cupboard I have sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanut butter, honey, muesli cereal, olive oil, green tea, dark chocolate, whey protein, and fish oil caps.
Thanks very much for Bret spending the time for this interview, hope you all enjoyed it. If you have any questions then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check our website at www.strengthandperformance.co.uk, or you can contact Bret at www.bretcontreras.com
Until next time
Lift Big, Get Strong