by Bret Contreras October 18, 2012
Lately I’ve been receiving tons of emails from aspiring grad students and strength coaches – usually 1-2 every day. Usually these emails will include a basic bio and then ask for career advice regarding which schools to attend, where to intern, what certifications to get, and what research to conduct. Here is my generic advice:
If you want to excel in the field of S&C, then you need to sacrifice. You must learn more than your competition, and there are a bunch of skills you need to master involving exercises, program design, coaching, and evidence-based decision-making. Be patient; getting good takes time!
I can’t answer this. I can, however, offer you some advice. You need to do some serious thinking and ask yourself a bunch of questions:
I only know S&C. Here are the best places to intern:
Realize that coaches and trainers don’t usually make the best scientists. The places I listed above provide world-class training, and the knowledge you gain via these internships will fast-forward your education/experience dramatically. However, you should learn more than one system and also experiment on your own to figure out the best practices. Furthermore, make sure you continue studying throughout your career.
Again, I only know S&C. Without a doubt, get a CSCS from the NSCA. This is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. Here are good certifying bodies you can check out:
You should be:
This is difficult for many students. How can you possibly know what questions are unanswered when you aren’t well-versed in the literature?
Lucky for you, I’ve been keeping a list for the past 18 months of study ideas I’ve thought up. I’m going to make the information below a separate tab on my blog since I believe it’s that important. There are some really important ideas contained here, so hopefully this gets you thinking. Bear in mind that there are an infinite amount of ideas for new studies – the questions I come up with relate to things that interest me. As you can see, I have a lot of interests – 72 ideas are listed below.
If you’re a current student, feel free to forward this list to your professors – there are many questions that need to be answered in S&C! The study ideas use my lingo and I haven’t put much thought into titles or methods, nor have I reviewed the literature on each of the subjects. Nevertheless, many of these are excellent ideas and need to be examined. I have my favorites, and some of these I’ll be looking at for my PhD. Here they are in no particular order of importance:
1. Does the Spine Have a Fixed Number of Flexion Cycles?
pre and post MRI’s, 20 subjects, 6 months of lumbar flexion exercise totaling 10,000 cycles (common dosage that creates herniations in pig spines in the literature)
Crunches – 30 degrees of total trunk flexion (as recommended in a several journal articles)
3 x 20 per day for 6 months – see if any evidence of degeneration occurs
* Could get ethics approval – folks are already doing this at gym – we just want to see if it’s safe of not.
Contreras & Schoenfeld article and associated references
* Requires 40 MRI’s!
2. Kinetics and Kinematics of 10 Advanced Core Exercises
EMG – RA, EO, LAS, P, QL, M, ES, LP Motion, Spinal Loading, etc.
ab wheel rollout from feet, heavy side bend, sumo stance Pallof press, landmine, half-kneeling cable anti-rotation press, weighted straight leg sit-up, hanging leg raise, weighted Swiss ball crunch, weighted spinal extension, cable woodchop
*Requires advanced spinal modelling and there are only a few of these in the world (McGill being one of them)
3. Kinetics and Kinematics of the Squat vs. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
McCurdy articles, recent Jones article
EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL, Dual Force Plate Analysis for front and back legs, Kinematics, Spinal Loading?
4. Kinetics and Kinematics of the Deadlift vs. 1-Leg SLDL
EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL, Force Plate Analysis, Kinematics, Spinal Loading?
5. The Effects of Machine Based Program vs. Free Weight Based Program on Performance
8 weeks, 20 subjects
Free-weights are far superior to machines, right? Maybe not. What if someone put together a kick-ass machine program? How would things stack up then? And even if free-weights were superior, how superior? This would be very nice to know.
Group One: squat, deadlift, Bulgarian split squat, single leg RDL, single leg hip thrust, bench press, weighted chin up, dumbbell military press, chest supported row, landmine, ab wheel rollout, side plank, hanging leg raise
Group Two: lever squat, hammer strength deadlift, hammer strength reverse lunge, hammer strength single leg RDL, 4-way hip extension, 4-way hip flexion, hammer strength chest press, underhand grip lat pulldown, machine military press, hammer strength row, Pallof press, cable crunch, cable side bend, cable 4-way hip flexion
Performance Tests: 30 meter sprint, vertical jump, broad jump, bench throw, T-test
6. Is it Possible to Alter Anterior Pelvic Tilt Through Training?
8 weeks, 20 subjects
Scannel & McGill article on lumbar ext
exercises: PPT hip thrust, RKC plank, American DL, hanging leg raise, erector stretch, hip flexor stretches, hip flexor stretches in PPT
7. EMG Activity of Lunges With Different Step Lengths and Foot Pressures
short stride, medium stride, long stride, push through heel, push through toes, EMG of VL, VM, RF, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, AL,
8. The Effect of Pelvic Tilt on Muscle Activation in the Romanian Deadlift (RDL vs. American Deadlift)
Hamstring Emphasis (APT/lumbar ext) vs. Neutral spine vs. Glute Emphasis (PPT/lumbar flex)
Recent Tateuchi article
Vakos squat article
Alvirn article PPT
Queiroz hip ext article
Chance-Larson and Oh articles abdominal hollowing (PPT) and hip ext
EMG: GMax (upper, mid and lower fibers), ST, BFl, ES (lumbar and thoracic)
9. Changing the Optimal Length of the Hamstrings
It’s been shown that it’s possible to shift optimal length to longer lengths, but what about shorter lengths? Position at peak EMG has been examined with different ham exercises as well.
Brughelli & Cronin review article in Sports Medicine
Clark article on bench throws
4 weeks, 3X/wk
Long-length exercises: seated leg curl, high foot position leg press, RDL, good morning (each could be performed bilaterally or unilaterally)
Short-length exercises: lying leg curl, back extension, hip thrust, slideboard leg curl
10. Resistance Training vs. Flexibility Training: Which Works Best?
15 minutes per day of static and dynamic stretching vs. 15 minutes of exercises that emphasize the stretch position (db bench, between bench push-up, RDL, good morning, goblet squat, deficit Bulgarian split squat, chin, dip, pullover, fly, calf raise)
Prior studies aren’t ideal – they don’t use the best RT exercises
11. Spinal Motion During Heavy Lifting
What happens to the thoracic and lumbar spine in heavy squats, deadlifts, farmer’s walks, KB swings, sled pushes, military press, bent over rows, bench press, hip thrusts, etc.
12. Immediate Effects of Spinal Flexion Exercise on IVD Nuclear Migration
One session of 3 x 25 reps of crunches, examine pre and post nuclear tracking
13. Annulus Strength and Disc Degeneration of Discs in PL’s vs. Untrained Individuals
Do powerlifters have stronger discs than sedentary folks? Are they more degenerated/herniated than sedentary folks?
14. Bilateral Deficit; RDL vs. Single Leg RDL, Low Box Squat vs. Single Leg LBS
Look at anthropometry!
Don’t forget to add in the torso weight for “system load”
I bet folks with relatively longer femurs have larger bilateral deficits
15. Hip Extension Torque; Hopping in Place vs. Max Sped Sprinting With Same Vertical Oscillation
This will examine vertical effects on hip ext torque vs. vertical plus horizontal effects on hip ext torque during sprint running.
This study would help determine the contribution of vertical vs. horizontal forces to hip extension torque at max speed sprinting.
16. Standing Exercises vs. Non-Standing Exercises on Performance
Bench press, chin, dip, one arm row, leg press, hip thrust, back extension, RLC, ab wheel rollout, etc.
Military press, bent over row, cable chest-press, cable one-arm row, squat, pull through, deadlift, Pallof press, etc.
Performance Measures: Sprint, VJ, BJ, shot put
17. Total Body EMG Activity in DL vs. SQUAT (choose 16 muscle groups to compare)
Compare total body muscle activity to determine “king” of big lifts.
18. The Influence of Neck Packing on Deadlift Strength and Stability (8 weeks)
Does neck packing lead to increased strength compared to a control group? Does it enhance spinal stability?
19. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Effects on Performance
Does a diaphragmatic breathing intervention on dysfunctional breathers improve HRV, strength, or power?
Recent SCJ article on diaphragm by Nelson
20. FMS Corrections vs. Well-Rounded Program: Effects of 4-Week Program on Functional Movement, Flexibility, & Strength Gains
Which is better for improving dysfunction – the specific FMS corrections tailored to the individual, or a basic, well-balanced generic program comprised of squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, chins, rows, hip thrusts?
Cite prior study by Frost on FMS
21. TRX vs. JC Bands: EMG Activation (Chest Press vs. Push Up, Row vs. Inverted Row)
Which is better for core and prime mover muscle activity – the TRX or JC Bands? Measure glute, abdominal, and upper body musculature.
22. General Strength Routine vs. Sports Specific Routine on Performance
Does a sports-specific routine tailored to the biomechanics of the sport lead to increased performance when compared to a generic strength routine consisting of squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and hip thrusts?
Sports specific routine can look at joint angles, force vectors, etc.
23. Limiting Factor in Squat/DL/Bench (highest correlating isometric joint torques at sticky points)(RME)
What joint limits performance in the squat? Knee extension torque? Hip extension torque? Spinal extension torque? What about the deadlift? Hip extension torque or spinal extension torque? What about the bench? Elbow extension torque, shoulder horizontal adduction torque, or shoulder flexion torque?
(prior study examining “RME” or “relative muscular effort” on squats by Bryanton)
24. Forces Involved in “Coasting” After Maximal Speed Sprint Running (what breaks down more; braking, vertical, or propulsive forces?)
This would be hard to control and might be a waste of time, but it could also help determine the forces lost per stride (and therefore what is required to maintain maximal speed)
25. The Influence of Tight Hamstrings on Squatting and Deadlifting Mechanics
I suspect that tight hammies won’t impair squat performance at all but will indeed impair deadlift mechanics and lead to spinal flexion. (prior study on cycling and tight hammies by Muyor)
26. Old School vs. New School Program on Strength Gains and Performance Measures
Has our programming improved over the years?
Squats, power cleans, bench, bent over rows, sit ups, broomstick twists
RFESS, hex bar jump squats, single arm db bench, inverted rows, ab wheel rollouts from knees, Pallof presses
Test hypertrophy, VJ, BJ, 40YD, 100MS, shot put
27. Lever Squat vs. Traditional Squat (EMG, Joint Moments, ROM)
Measure VL, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, Oblique, Erector Spinae
28. Deadlift vs. Hammer Strength Deadlift (EMG, Joint Moments, ROM)
Measure VL, BF, ST, GMax, GMed, Oblique, Erector Spinae
29. Hip Strengthening vs. Verbal Instruction on Jumping and Running Improvements in Dysfunctional Individuals
Does strength training work better than verbal cueing for improving jumping/landing/running form (knee valgus, etc.)?
30. Glute Max Muscle Moment Arms and PCSA in Competitive Sprinters, Correlates with Speed
Sprinters have muscular glutes. How much larger are their glute muscle moment arms and physiological cross-sectional area than sedentary controls? How does this affect the GMax force potential?
31. Ratio of Quad Dominant to Hip Dominant Strength and Injury Risk (Isometric Front Squat / Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull, Correlation to Injury, PTP, etc.)
Does a high ratio of isometric front squat/RDL correlate with increased risk of knee pain?
32. Does Resistance Training Alter Fascia Physiology?
Not sure how to set this up…
33. Changes in Kinematics and Kinetics in Kettlebell Swings Over a 12 Month Period (GRF’s, Power, Torso Lean, Lumbar Motion, Hip Motion, etc.)
When kettlebell swingers gain proficiency, how do they improve – more forward and backward lean? More horizontal and vertical force and power production? More hip and less spinal motion? More hip and less knee motion? More RFD? Greater muscle activation in the hip extensors?
34. HIT vs HVT vs HFT on Muscle Hypertrophy on Ten Primary Muscles
How do the different programs compare in terms of hypertrophy gains?
Don’t equate anything…just go by popular programs.
35. HIT vs. HVT vs HFT on Full Body Strength on Ten Full-Body Lifts
How do the different programs compare in terms of strength gains?
Don’t equate anything…just go by popular programs.
36. Average Strength Levels of Athletic Men and Women on Lower Body Lifts – Back Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, 45 Degree Hypers, Hip Thrusts, Back Extensions, Reverse Hypers
Coaches would find this information valuable – what are ballpark figures that their athletes should strive for on each of these lifts?
37. Bilateral Deficit: Torque Loading on Spine and Hips During Single and Double Leg Squats and Deadlifts
What places more loading on the spine and hips? Squats vs. single leg squats? Deadlifts vs. single leg deadlifts?
38. Joint Moments, EMG, and GRF’s in Kettlebell Swings (light, medium, heavy)
Use VICON to determine muscle activation, ground reaction forces, and joint torques during kettlebell swings of varying loads.
39. Lateral Forces and Power in Slide Board and Correlation with Agility Performance (force plate on edges of slideboard?)
Would need way to measure lateral forces and power – perhaps on edges of the slideboard? See how it correlates with agility performance.
40. Correlates to Rotational Power (squat, Keiser cable rotation, hip thrust, deadlift, bench press, band rotary hold isometric strength)
See what correlates best to rotational power (maybe a bat swing, or could use the Keiser cable station to measure rotary power) – perhaps it’s rotary strength such as a band isometric Pallof press, or lower body lift. Maybe hip thrust is best due to indicator of glute strength (which is the most powerful hip external rotator)
41. Shifting in Torque Curves Through Hip Extension Training: Short Lengths vs. Long Lengths vs. Both (bb glute bridges and lying leg curls vs. squats and RDL’s)
See whether you can make the muscles better at short lengths by performing exercises that stress short lengths (bb glute bridges and lying leg curls), see whether you can make the muscles better at long lengths by performing exercises that stress long lengths (full squats and RDLs), see what happens when you do both (stronger at all lengths?). Which transfers better to all lengths, short or long length exercises?
42. Hamstring EMG: Conventional Deadlift vs. RDL
It’s amazing that there isn’t a study measuring this…might as well get quad and glute EMG too in addition to hammie.
43. Glute EMG Partial Squat vs. Full Squat (use relative loading – 5RM for both)
Caterisano and other studies always use the same loading for squats, but everyone can quarter and half squat much more than they can parallel and full squat. Use 5RM loads and see what activates glutes best.
44. RKC Plank vs. Plank (Glute, Ab, Oblique EMG)
Brad and I are actually looking at this right now, but we’re not getting glute EMG. Need to get glute and ab/oblique data.
45. Hip Power Measurements in Explosive Barbell Glute Bridge, Power Clean, Power Snatch, Jump Squat, Hex Bar Jump Squat, and Kettlebell Swing
What exercise generates the greatest hip power? I suppose hip power would be hip extension torque multiplied by hip extension angular velocity?
*Would need VICON and would be complicated.
46. Heavy Kettlebell Training vs. Olympic Weightlifting on Jump and Sprint Performance (8 weeks of progressive swings 3x/wk)
See recent Manocchia article
Conduct better study with heavy swings, etc.
47. SpiroTiger and Deadlift Isometric Strength
Does high intensity respiratory muscle training enhance deadlift strength (through greater IAP)?
48. Foam Rolling Warm-Up and Subsequent Sprint Performance
Does SMR enhance sprint speed? Compare to other types of warm-ups: mobility, SMR, mobility plus SMR
49. The Optimal Load for Kettlebell Swings (The Load that Produces Max Power Output, Expressed as % of Bodyweight)
The optimal load for power in a jump squat is bodyweight. With a power clean it’s around 85% of 1RM. But what is it for kettlebell swings? Express as a % of bodyweight as a 1RM swing isn’t practical.
50. Glute Hypertrophy Program vs. Traditional Power Program on Sprint Performance
Heavy weight/low reps with plenty of rest time along with explosive reps are optimal for power production, right? I’m curious to see how a heavy/explosive (with more rest time) program consisting of squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and Russian leg curls would compare to a medium-higher rep (with less rest time) program consisting of the same movements.
51. Internal vs. External Attentional Focus on Hip Extensor Activation and LPHC Kinematics in 4 Weeks of Horizontal Back Extension Exercise (4 sets 2 days/week)
Lately external attentional focus is all the rage. But is it best for every circumstance? The back extension is very difficult to teach in terms of lumbopelvic hip complex mechanics. Which results in better form and muscle activation adaptations – focusing on external phenomena or internal phenomena when cueing?
52. Loading on Single Leg Exercises on the Front and Back Legs in Individuals with Varying Anthropometries (Bulgarian Split Squat, Single Leg Box Squat, Reverse Lunge, Single Leg RDL, B-Stance Deadlift……Tall vs. Short, Long Femur vs. Short Femur, etc.)
Does anthropometry (body segment length, height, etc.) influence strength/loading/coordination on single leg exercises? With “true” single leg exercises (single leg box squat, single leg RDL), I’d expect this to be the case.
53. Spinal Compressive Loading: Deadlift vs. Heavy Sumo Pallof Press
The deadlift places more compressive forces on the spine than anything, right? I’m not sure. The overwhelming majority of compressive forces is due to the core muscles pulling together. When I perform a sumo Pallof press, my low back cracks (presumably due to the insane compressive forces). I should mention that I’m able to use the entire stack for this exercise. I’d like to see which creates/requires more compressive forces on the spine…
*Requires advanced spinal modelling and there are only a few of these in the world (McGill being one of them)
54. Glute Max Peak Activation Positions (Muscle Lengths) During Ten Glute Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Band Hip Rotation, Bulgarian Split Squat, 45 Degree Back Extension)
A recent study for the hamstrings looked at peak activation positions for a variety of exercises. We need a similar study for the gluteus maximus. In what position does each lift elicit maximum gluteus maximus activation?
55. Crossfit vs. Well-Rounded S&C Program on Performance and Athleticism (8 week program, test VJ, BJ, 10YD, 100MS, shot put, 400MS, 1 mile, etc.)
Crossfit is the end-all-be-all for well-rounded athleticism, right? Let’s put it to the test. Compare a typical Crossfit program (8 weeks) to a sound S&C program (progressive squats, dl’s, hip thrusts, ghr’s, plyos, sprints, etc.) on various performance measures (include strength, power, and endurance tests)
58. Best Ankle Dorsiflexion Improving Practices (Static Stretching vs. Mobility Drills vs. Resistance Training vs. Combined)
What is the fastest way to increase ankle dorsiflexion? Static stretching? Dynamic mobility drills? Resistance training (calf raises, seated calf raises, deep squats, lunges, sled pushes)? Or a combination of all? Equate volume.
59. What Causes Posterior Pelvic Tilt During the Deep Squat? (Pelvifemoral Anatomy? Hip Flexor Length? Erector Spinae Strength? Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility?)
Which factors play the biggest role in causing PPT in the deep squat? Is it due to anatomy? Is it modifiable?
60. Hip Thrust Program vs. Squat Program vs. Hip Thrust plus Squat Program on Performance (VJ, BJ, 10yd, 100MS)
What’s best for improving speed/power? Focusing on hip thrusts? Squats? Or doing a combination of each? Equate volume.
61. Vertical vs. Horizontal Plane Lower Body Exercises on Performance (squats/jump squats/oly lifts/verti plyos vs. hip thrusts/back ext/horiz plyos/sled pushes/sprints, test sprints, VJ, BJ, etc.)
Does focusing on vertical plane movements transfer better to vertical plane tests of power? Does focusing on horizontal plane movements transfer better to horizontal tests of power? Vertical program will consist of squats, dl’s, Oly lifts, vert plyos. Horizontal program will consist of hip thrusts, back extensions, horiz plyos, sled work, sprints.
62. Rolling Patterns vs. Standing Rotary Exercises on Rotary Stability and Core Function in Beginner and Advanced Lifters (Ground Rolling Patterns vs. Pallof Presses, Chops/Lifts, Band Hip Rotations, etc.)
Prone and supine rolling patterns have gained popularity, but do they improve rotary core function faster and better than standing rotary exercises? Does it matter if the subjects are beginner vs. advanced?
63. After-Effects of Glute Activation Exercises on Glute Activation During Gait and Sprint Running (Is there PAP, and if so does it help performance?)
Low load glute activation work can really ramp up glute activation on subsequent activity. Heavy hip thrusts can as well. But does this improve performance, or impair performance?
64. Resistance Training plus HIIT vs. Resistance Training plus LDC on Fat Loss, Hypertrophy, and Body Composition Changes
When performing heavy resistance training, does combining high-intensity interval training lead to better results compared to combining steady state cardio?
65. Recovery Rates of Max Effort Lifts (Deadlifts, Power Cleans, Back Squats, Front Squats, Bench, Close Grip Bench, Chins – how long does it take to match a maximum performance following a 1RM?)
It’s easy to bounce back from a 1RM chin up. It’s not easy to bounce back from a 1RM deadlift. Each lift has a different natural recovery rate, and this surely varies from one lifter to the next. On average, which lift requires the longest time to recover from, and which takes the least time?
66. Spinal Curvature Adaptations from Breathing Exercises
Prior study (Obayashi) showed that breathing training (with Spirotiger) improved lumbar and thoracic posture. I’m skeptical. This study needs to be replicated. If this is legit then it’s very important.
67. Hip Thrusts vs. Sprints on Glute Hypertrophy
Sprints are great for glute hypertrophy, right? How do they stack up to hip thrusts? Perhaps 3day/week for 8 weeks. Sprint group does undulating periodization with short sprints on Monday, medium sprints on Wed, and longer sprints on Fri. Hip thrust group does undulating as well with low reps on Mon, medium on Wed, and high on Fri.
68. Gluteus Maximus MVIC Position
Lots of positions used in literature (prone straight leg, prone bent leg, quadruped straight leg, quadruped bent leg, seated, flexed, iso back extension), but which is truly best for maximizing GMax EMG? And in reality, wouldn’t peak GMax activation be reached during an isometric hip thrust?
69. Glute Max Mean and Peak Activation During Ten Glute Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Band Hip Rotation, Bulgarian Split Squat, 45 Degree Back Extension)
Which exercises lead to highest average (mean) activation? What about highest peak activation?
70. Hip Extension Torque During Ten Hip Extension Exercises (Hip Thrusts, Squats, Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Reverse Lunges, KB Swings, Back Extensions, Reverse Hypers, Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extension, 45 Degree Back Extension)
Which exercises lead to highest hip extension torque requirements/production? Would require VICON.
71. What’s the Optimal Rep Range for Muscle Hypertrophy?
Low reps? Medium reps? High reps? Combination of reps?
Use advanced subjects, not beginners.
Use full body program with compound movements. Test multiple muscles.
72. Hormonal Responses to HFT and LFT
I’d like to see short term (6 week programming) and long term hormonal adaptations (2 years) with high frequency vs. low frequency programs. Do they differ significantly in endocrine responses? Does HFT lead to more chronic alterations due to repeated stimulus? Does LFT allow for better recovery and a better anabolic status? I’m sure that duration/volume/intensity plays a role in this too.
73. Horizontal (or Vertical) Forces are More Highly Correlated with Faster Sprinters During Maximum Speed Sprint Running
Major argument in the sprint community right now.
Mann, Weyand, Young say that vertical force production limits top speeds in sprinting
Morin, Brughelli, Contreras say that horizontal force production does.
They have their research (Mann, Weyand), we have ours (Morin, Brughelli, Hunter, etc.).
But our studies have either examined acceleration sprinting, or have used torque/force treadmills for max speed running.
A study needs to be conducted on this topic using advanced sprinters and using overground force plates embedded into the ground.
74. Contributors to Increased Roundback Deadlift Strength Over Arched Back Deadlift Strength
Most people are stronger deadlifting with a rounded back compared to an arched back. Of course this is not the safest option – far from it!
But why is this so? Studies on the thoracolumbar fascia have shown mixed results (Gracovetsky, McGill, Vleeming, Gatton), but it’s likely due to a variety of reasons (see Contreras’ article on TNation on the topic).
Would be nice to see a % breakdown of the various contributions (more IAP, spinal erectors are stronger in flexion, TLF, ligaments, reduced hip moment, etc.)
The post ABC: Advice for Aspiring Grad Students and Strength Coaches appeared first on Bret Contreras.
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