by Bret Contreras August 22, 2013
Today’s guest post is from powerlifter Greg Nuckols. He’s a strong sumbitch with a badass beard. You can read more about him in his bio below.
I’ll be honest. I was skeptical of Bret’s position on the importance of glute training when he first burst onto the fitness scene. I was a teenager who knew everything, and, quite frankly, I didn’t see the need for glute training. I never felt my glutes firing when I was lifting, so how much would it REALLY help me if I made a fool of myself hip thrusting in the middle of the gym? Plus, my lifts were progressing just fine without any humiliating silliness.
Then I suffered a series of hamstring tears.
Then I tore my quadratus lumborum.
Then I repeatedly reinjured my back as I tried to return to serious training each time I neared my old PRs.
Then, finally, the fact that MAYBE I didn’t have it all together finally made its way through my thick skull. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that I never felt my glutes firing wasn’t evidence that they didn’t need training. Maybe that was the missing piece of the puzzle that explained the vast majority of my injuries and ongoing stagnation.
My glute quest started with simple activation stuff. Between sets, I’d stretch my hip flexors (antagonists of the glutes) and then do 5-10 bodyweight glute bridges with a 5 second hold at the top. This small tweak was quite convenient. It didn’t increase the length of my training sessions because I could just do it in my rest periods.
For the first time ever, I could feel my glutes working on squats and deadlifts, and the numbers started jumping up. And, at first, talk about some DOMS! I was squatting 475 and pulling low 500s when I started doing activation work. Pretty soon, I had exceeded my old all-time PRs of 523/575 (numbers I used to approach, then get injured again) by going 545/605 about 3 months later.
At this point I changed my program (switching from Sheiko to the Bulgarian method as a little experiment on myself), but left the religious glute activation work intact. After another three months, I squatted 650 and pulled 645 as part of a 1714 total for the all-time drug free record at 220. Needless to say, the old plateau was a thing of the past.
So, after 6 months of success attributable to copious glute work, what do I do? Attribute all the success of the Bulgarian method, of course!
I stay on the Bulgarian method but discard the glute work so I can superset my squat and bench sets and get out of the gym faster because of a heavy school load. 6 months later, my deadlift hadn’t budged and I finally hit a squat PR – 655 with knee wraps. However, my previous 650 was wrapless, so every indication was that another 6 months of hard training had actually made me weaker. Great.
Finally it dawns on me: “Hey idiot! You forgot about your glutes!” So, after a brief conversation with Bret, I took back up glute training with a vengeance.
This time, the activation work was more targeted at just my left glute due to an imbalance that had developed caused, probably, by my background as a pitcher in baseball. Increasing glute strength was also a prime objective. Thrusts and more thrusts, right?
Well, not so fast. Barbells don’t easily roll over 31 inch thighs, especially with added padding necessary for heavy thrusts. So, since I’m a guy who prefers to fix problems with sledgehammers instead of scalpels, I took up heavy partial sumo pulls.
Think about it, when you get set up for a sumo rack or block pull, your spine is fully extended, and your knees are extended enough that you probably won’t be able to use enough weight that your quads become a limiting factor. The only way you’re going to lock the weight out is be squeezing the the ol’ glutei maximi.
So squeeze the ol’ glutei maximi I did. I even lowered my squat frequency to one heavy session per week to accommodate the change, and I barely pulled from the floor at all. These were a couple changes I was uncomfortable with. However, with a meet looming and stagnated lifts, I needed to change SOMETHING, and it seemed worth a shot.
The gamble paid off. My glutes caught up quickly like Bret said they would. My sumo rack pull PR, in about two months, jumped from 675×1 from above the knee to 765×3 from about three inches below the knee. This increase in glute strength was accompanied by a steady increase in my squat and a 30 pound deadlift PR the first time I pulled conventional from the floor again (with another 50 pound PR – 725 – two days later).
When meet day rolled around, this all culminated in a relatively easy 750 squat for the all-time drug free squat record and an 1885 total for the all-time drug free total record at 242.
The lesson in all of this? I didn’t share this story to brag on myself or anything of that sort. Quite the opposite, it’s primarily a story of my hard-headedness being remedied by Bret’s good advice. I hear criticism of him and his methods from a lot of meatheads who are skeptical like I was. “It may be good advice for figure competitors, but plenty of guys have gotten big and strong without direct glute training,” the train of thought goes.
I just wanted to share my story as a case study of someone who has gotten strong and stayed injury-free BECAUSE of direct glute work. Since giving my glutes more attention, I’ve put about 450 pounds on my total and had no major injuries. So, sure, plenty of guys have gotten strong without direct glute work, but that’s no guarantor that glute training wouldn’t have still helped them, and it certainly doesn’t mean that YOU are one of the people who will achieve stellar results without it. If you like being strong and healthy, I suggest getting over your hang-ups and giving some sort of direct glute training a shot. You’ll be glad you did.
Greg is completing a degree in Exercise Science at Harding University and works at Mash Elite Performance in Advance, NC when he’s not in school. He competes in powerlifting and loves reading, researching, and experimenting so he can help others attain success in their own pursuits. His best lifts are a 750 squat, 445 bench press, and 725 deadlift, and his best meet totals are 1714 raw and drug free at 220, and 1885 at 242. You can get in contact with him at gregnuckols.wordpress.com, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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