Friday, February 26, 2010

An Interview with Bret Contreras

1. Bret, thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background and inform them as to how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

Thanks for the interview Robbie! I'm 33 years old. I've lived in Arizona my entire life. I've been lifting weights for 18 years. I have a CSCS certificate from NSCA and a master's degree from ASU. I leased a training studio for two years which I named Lifts. I invented a fitness machine called the Skorcher Pro. I've done a ton of EMG experiments. I wrote an eBook called Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening. Finally, I've authored several articles on TMuscle and StrengthCoach.

Not to be nit-picky, but I'm really not a strength coach. A lot of individuals in the field (I'm guilty of this) refer to themselves as strength coaches since they have CSCS certifications but in my opinion one is only a strength coach if he or she has been hired to train an entire sports team as the strength & conditioning coach. I believe that this distinction pays respect to the strength coaches out there. I would then of course be called a personal trainer.

2. What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest problems you see within the fitness industry today?

The typical male lifter uses crappy form, doesn't work his legs and hips hard enough, doesn't squat deep enough (assuming he does squats to begin with), does too much horizontal pushing in relation to horizontal pulling, doesn't do enough posterior chain work, doesn't pay nearly enough attention to mobility and stability, and doesn't have the juevos to perform the most difficult exercises with ample intensiveness.

The typical female lifter is afraid of getting bulky, sticks to cardio for leg work rather than muscle sculpting and fat burning strength exercises, and is afraid of getting stronger.
The typical personal trainer doesn't want to learn anything new and doesn't know enough to realize how little they know in regards to movement. The typical physical therapist doesn't know enough about strength training. The typical strength coach doesn't know enough about corrective exercise.

In general people suffer from plain ignorance. They will invest hours upon hours in the gym but won't invest any time reading and learning new information. People get complacent and fear getting out of their comfort zone. People also suck at being "scientists." Getting good results from training is largely a result of using the scientific method; in other words learning how to find your optimal training program based on manipulating and fluctuating variables such as exercise selection, volume, intensity, frequency, density, and intensiveness.

One should aspire to reach a point where they know so much about the various issues and topics in strength & conditioning that they form their own philosophy. This takes superior knowledge and critical thinking. I may disagree with many of the top experts on certain issues, but they have earned the right to take their stance and I have earned the right to take my stance. However, on nearly any given topic, I know enough to argue in favor or against both sides.
Personally, I try to not be too set in my ways. I'm very open-minded to the fact that optimal sport-specific training could be markedly different in 20 years than it is today. We really don't know that much, and a lot of what we do is simply because it's always been done and seems to work. For instance, perhaps we'll learn that Post-Activation Potentiation is the best training strategy for the masses and we'll alternate heavy strength exercises with plyometric/sprint exercises (some already do this). Perhaps we'll realize that we don't do enough "power endurance" training or simply higher rep training with each repetition performed as explosively as possible. Perchance we'll learn that specialized "core training" isn't as important as we thought. Maybe supine hip extension exercises lead to increases in sprinting speed over standing hip extension exercises. There will undoubtedly be new methods, tools, and exercises that are popular down the road that have yet to be conceptualized.

3. Could you give my readers some insight into your typical day?

Right now I have a pretty ideal life. Almost a year ago I took a gamble. I had a training studio and I was really big into glute training. Most of my clients kept urging me to write a book about my methods. Knowing that I'd never be able to write a book while training ten hours per day, I opted to not renew my lease, close up shop, and move my equipment back to my garage. I cut down on my personal training hours. This freed up time to allow me to focus on my writing. I must say that I'm very proud of how much progress I've made in the past year and how far the popularity of some of my methods has spread.

Right now I wake up, check my email, Twitter, TMuscle, StrengthCoach, Elitefts, and Facebook. This usually provides me around 2 hours of reading. Then I make my phone calls and run my errands for an hour or so. After this I train my clients for 2-3 hours. Next, I participate in forum discussions, film Youtube videos, listen to podcasts, and/or work on new articles, interviews, blogs, or eBooks. At this point it's time for a quick nap. After I wake up, I work out, head over to my buddy's house to eat and watch a little bit of television, then return to my house to work on my writing and reading into the wee hours of the morning. I have no boss, no lease, no timelines, ultimate flexibility, and very little stress. This lifestyle could become addicting but I am very goal-oriented so I'm getting ready to take things up a couple of notches. I'm either going to get my PhD in Kinesiology/Biomechanics or open up another strength training facility.

Bret Busy at Work!!

I've been fortunate to make good money off my glute eBook in the past six months to afford me this lifestyle. I know several individuals who wrote eBooks and didn't make any money from them. My glute eBook became popular because I am innovative, I put a ton of hard work and research into it, I came out with brand new exercises and data, and the glutes are of primary importance to a lot of individuals in the fitness field. The book was the culmination of years of learning and experience. The best part about the past year is that I have had the time to read, learn, interact with brilliant minds on the StrengthCoach forums, and test out new ideas. So my rate of learning is very high right now, and I'm able to spend a lot of time on social networking.

4. Could you briefly explain why exercises such as hip lifts (thrusts), reverse hypers, back extensions, etc, are so important to have in a program in your opinion? How do these exercises differ from squats and deadlifts?

Certainly! I believe that standing axial hip extension exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, and good mornings form the cornerstone of a sound program, but their directional load vectors are vertical in relation to the standing human body. Supine, prone, or quadruped anteroposterior hip extension exercises like hip thrusts, reverse hypers, and back extensions have horizontal load vectors in relation to the standing human body and may very well be the "missing link" between running and the weight room. Although any exercise that acts on the major muscles of the hips and thighs can improve both jumping and sprinting performance, I believe that axial hip extension exercises may be more specific to jumping while anteroposterior hip extension exercises may be more specific to running.

However, if you want to get good at anteroposterior hip extension exercises, you can't just toss them into your routine every once in a while. You have to keep plugging away at them week in, week out. Just make sure you pay close attention to your lumbar curvature during these exercises and prevent the low back from rounding or overextending.

Hip Thrusts - The Missing Link?

5. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

I like thinkers, not "rehashers." Anyone can write an article simply reiterating what others have written. But going out on a limb, creating new theories, and blazing new trails takes guts. So does going against the grain, standing up for what you believe in, and not jumping on the latest bandwagon. For these reasons, I like guys who speak/spoke their minds like Mel Siff, Mike Boyle, Mark Verstegen, Christian Thibaudeau, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Kelly Baggett, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, Dan John, Louie Simmons, Charlie Francis, Pavel Tsatsouline, James Smith, and Martin Rooney.

That said, I don't believe that there are enough "students" of strength training. I've learned just as much from reading online in the past decade than I could at a major university. Granted, a lot of the stuff online is crap, but some of it is priceless. We have a great online fitness community that I'm very proud to be a part of. I thank the many fitness enthusiasts out there who put out free information on the web for others to learn from.

For many years I've been saving my favorite articles, excerpts, eBooks, and blogs to a file folder on my computer desktop. I also print and store them in giant 3-ring binders. I'll even save a forum post if I like it! I currently have an entire bookshelf worth of books as well as 4 different binders full of articles written by the following individuals, all of who have contributed to my knowledge base:

Juan Carlos Santana, Jason Ferruggia, Chad Waterbury, Joe DeFranco, Nick Tumminello, Patrick Ward, Keats Snideman, Mark Young, Daniel Martinez, Mathew Perryman, Zach Even-Esh, Tony Gentilcore, Clay Hyght, Kevin Neeld, Jeremy Frisch, Lee Taft, Brad Nuttal, Chris Korfist, Ross Enamait, Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, John Berardi, Mike Young, Erik Minor, Erik Korem, Vern Gambetta, Peter Weyland, Barry Ross, Carl Valle, Yuri Verhoshansky, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Michael Yessis, Tudor Bompa, Shirley Sahrmann, Michael Clark, Stuart McGill, Thomas Myers, Bill Hartman, Vladimir Janda, Tom Venuto, John Parillo, John Paul Catanzaro, John Romaniello, Paul Check, Fred Hatfield, Charles Poliquin, Charles Staley, Bill Starr, Stuart McRobert, Ian King, Mark Rippletoe, Bryan Haycock, Casey Butt, Bryan Johnston, Craig Ballantyne, Mike Mentzer, Ken Leistner, Brooks Kubik, Randall Strossen, John McKallum, JV Askem, Paul Kelso, Arthur Jones, Bill Phillips, Vince Gironda, Anthony Ditillo, Tommy Kono.
Now, I've named 84 people in this response but I could easily list 300 individuals. It's important to read the classics in strength training to gain appreciation and perspective but it's also critical that one stays current, as the internet allows us to spread methodology very quickly.

6. What do you do for your continuing education?

The Perform Better Seminars are top-notch in terms of speakers. I haven't been to any of the NSCA seminars but I'd like to in the future. The problem with seminars is that I don't learn much from them. When I was a high school mathematics teacher, I learned that it is very important to place students in the appropriate subject to allow for optimal learning. A lot of the presenters are very intelligent but they dumb things down for the average attendee. Personally I don't believe in dumbing things down too much, as it frustrates the advanced attendees. If the lower level attendees can't keep up, they can stay after for questions or send emails for clarification.

7. What resources that are out there that you would recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)?

Here are what I believe to be the best sources of training information out there:

8. If you could pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

I always like this question, as my answer evolves over time. Ten years ago I would have told you the deadlift. Five years ago I would have told you the squat. Last year I would have told you the hip thrust. But if I could only do one lift it would have to be a total-body exercise that transfers through the core and into the ground in order to strengthen as many muscles as possible and be as functional as possible. At first thought I would have to go with the clean & jerk. Really, the lift is sort of a combination of a deadlift, shrug, upright row, front squat, and split jerk. This exercise would probably work more muscle than any other lift, and it has a heavy explosive component to it. But really the clean & jerk is three distinct movements, so choosing it is unfair (sort of like choosing the Turkish get up). So if we go by distinct movements perhaps I'd go with the power snatch. A close second would be the sled push.


9. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, design, and periodize programs)?

I like the Functional Movement Screen. I believe in fixing dysfunction and balancing strength levels. I believe in the joint by joint approach. I believe in training movements, muscles, directions, planes, and energy systems. I believe in cybernetic periodization, auto-regulation, and deloading. I believe in tailoring routines specifically to the individual's goals. No two clients of mine ever follow the same exact program. I'm a fan of foam rolling, stretching, mobility drills, and activation work. I'm fascinated with specific training for hypertrophy, power, speed, agility, strength, and conditioning. I provide a high-energy atmosphere. While I'm a fan of the basics, I incorporate a ton of variety. For strength work, I'd rather prescribe 2 sets of 5 different exercises than 5 sets of 2 different exercises. Although I like bilateral and unilateral training, I lean more toward bilateral training. I always listen to my clients and athletes and ask for tons of feedback.

10. Last question, what advice would you give to young coaches like myself just getting into the field?

Be patient. Pay your dues. Read, train hard, train others, and experiment. I read and trained like a maniac for 12 years before I wrote my first article. Think about the entire fitness industry. The more we educate each other, the higher quality of trainers we'll produce, and the better results we'll deliver to our clients. This is how industries build themselves up. Ask yourself, "What am I doing for the fitness industry?" Speak highly of your fellow trainers and coaches. Get a blog, get on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. They're free! Start networking. Go to seminars, intern, and most of all, start thinking! Learn Physics and Anatomy.

RB: Bret , thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you, and do you have any projects coming up in the near future?

BC: Thank you for the interview! I should have a really good article series coming out on TMuscle soon called "Inside the Muscles." I'm also working on a new eBook for sport specific-training. I'm all over the internet. I can be found on the StrengthCoach forums, I have a blog, a Youtube page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and my glute eBook can be found here.


  1. Great interview! Thanks for the shout out. I'm glad I made the top 84!

  2. I am loving how in-depth these interviews are! A great learning tool. Bret, very important clarification on terminology there - I think we all need to be clear with what were call each other not just for our own sake, but also to avoid giving clients / athletes the wrong idea. I am going to write a post on this on my own blog this week