Today I get a chance to go “20 Questions” with the Glute Guy himself, Bret Contreras (except it’s more like ten questions, so, yeah…).
For those who are not aware of who Bret is, he’s a rediculously smart blog writer, trainer and strength coach from Scotsdale, Arizone, and has recently moved to New Zealand to begin a PhD in biomechanics from one of the top movement research universities in the world. He’s written for Men’s Health magazine and a bunch of others, as well he is a regular on sites like T-Nation and Strength Coach. Plus, he’s a pretty cool and down to earth dude, so chatting with him is definitely a pleasure.
1. So what made you decide that the glutes were going to be your focus, other than the fact that the pictures of stunning rotator cuffs weren’t nearly as impressive or high on Google searches?
BC -Haha! Good point Dean. My fascination with the glutes actually started off in high school. I didn’t have any glutes. I had pecs from doing lots of push ups, and biceps from doing lots of curls, but no glutes. I was very determined to get them. For many years I read every article I could get my hands on regarding glute training. When you do this for long enough you tend to become an expert yourself. Then I started creating my own glute exercises. I saw that guys like Eric Cressey, Mark Verstegen, and Mike Boyle were recommending glute bridges with bodyweight for glute activation. I knew that mine activated just fine, but I liked the way the exercises felt. I realized that if I just made them harder, the same way we do for every other exercise, by adding resistance and range of motion, then these bridging motions could be quite productive. I had no way of knowing back then that I’d be able to do 500 lb hip thrusts several years later! I eventually ended up getting my glutes!
2. Your girlfriend(s) must be very happy. For someone who’s seen a lot and done a lot in fitness, what’s something that still gets you charged up to keep you pushing through in this industry?
BC – For me it’s all about science. I’m intrigued by certain topics in research right now. I love knowing that I have my theories, and other experts have their theories, and only one of us is right. Certainly there’s gray area on many topics, but over time science tends to hone in on what’s right. I love that I’m being asked to contribute to various magazines and speak at certain events, but to me publishing in journals and contributing to existing bodies of literature is thrilling. I also like that true scientists leave their ego at home – as they only seek the truth. I wish more coaches crossed over into the research world.
3. When you were back in Arizona, you ran a one-man-show out of your garage. What made you decide that was the best option for you versus getting a commercial studio with a few employees?
BC – I actually had my own studio in Scottsdale for a couple of years. I called it Lifts, and I look back on it as some of the best times in my life. I know that some of my colleagues can relate…guys like Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, and Joe DeFranco know what it’s like to be motivating so many people and changing so many people’s lives on a daily basis. There are no words to describe the feeling. I had 55 clients at one point and two trainers helping out. Every single day there would be people getting on the scale and saying, “Oh my God, I lost another 2 pounds!” Guys were showing up on my doorstep to personally thank me and shake my hand for making their girlfriend’s butt look so good.
But the economy in Arizona took such a bad dive and all the shops in my plaza closed. After two years I was one of around three shops remaining in the plaza; around ten different shops closed down or walked away from their leases. My clientele dropped from 55 clients to 30 clients within around six months, and my clients would come to me with broken hearts to tell me that they had to quit training with me because they lost their job, or their husbands were laid off, etc.
Luckily I was able to get out of my lease and move my equipment to my garage. Before I left I did a bunch of EMG experiments. Then I wrote an eBook, started up a blog, started filming Youtube videos and writing articles, and got active on Facebook and Twitter. Now I’ve become pretty popular, so I’m happy that things turned out this way, but once you’ve owned a facility you always miss it!
4. Something to consider in the future. Seriously, what’s going on with all the Ed Hardy??
BC – I’m glad you brought this up. I argue with my friends all the time over this topic. They hate Ed Hardy with a passion, and they loathe me for wearing Ed Hardy clothing. I ask them why, and they say, “Because it’s so trendy.” I reply by saying that there’s now but an “anti-Ed Hardy” trend and hence it’s no longer trendy. If we were out for a night on the town, I’d ask them to point out one other person wearing Ed Hardy, and usually they couldn’t find a single person. I’d say, “Isn’t there room for one guy in Scottsdale to wear Ed Hardy?” Then I’d say, “Most people like filet mignon, should I pretend to not like it? Many guys like Jason Statham movies, should I pretend to hate them since they’re trendy?” The fact of the matter is that I like the designs…maybe it’s the Latino in me…so I wear what I want despite what others think. I’ve been stubborn my whole life and often it’s served me well, but other times it’s gotten the best of me!
5. I’ve had a lot of guys contact me who look up to some of the big names in fitness (yourself, Cressey, DeFranco, Boyle, to name a few), and they all are amazed at the differences in style, business design and methods of working in fitness. Some even feel kind of overwhelmed because they want to get to where you guys are and don’t know which path to take. I tell them you’re where you are because of time and passion for what you do. What would you tell a new trainer looking to make this a career they can excel in?
BC – Let’s break down the people you named.
Eric Cressey – this cat was schooling guru’s on TNation when he was 23 years old. He got his master’s in Kinesiology at UConn, a CSCS, and started training people before he finished puberty! He accomplished more before the age of 30 that most in this field accomplish in a lifetime. With the help of a few others, he practically changed the way most people view strength & conditioning – with his balanced approach of incorporating mobility and activation work along with strength work. He opened up his facility and became an expert on the shoulder and training baseball players. Strength & Conditioning has been the major driver force in his life, and he’s now reaping the benefits of his hard work.
Joe DeFranco – this son of a gun started training athletes out of a frickin’ 500 sq storage closet beneath a health club. He has built up his brand and his business with blood, sweat, and tears. He’s built some freakish athletes and now owns a 5,000 sf warehouse that any good trainer would give their left nut to own. Joe has helped popularize many powerlifting methods espoused by Elitefts for general athletes, such as heavy sled pushing, box squats, 45 degree hypers, and using chains. This guy lives, sleeps, eats, and breathes strength and conditioning.
Mike Boyle – this old man has seen it all. Without a business plan and just a dream of what might become, he worked ’round the clock building up his business, often spending the night in his facility. Through hard work, creativity, and a background as an Athletic Trainer, Mike was able to get meathead trainers and coaches to step away from the “strength is everything” and “get them stronger no matter what their form looks like” mantras that were plaguing the profession at the time. He popularized “functional training,” a term he later grew to regret since many trainers took things too far and started doing sissy squats on bosu balls while clapping their hands with dyna discs, and took single leg strength and stability to the next level. I’m pretty sure Mike could retire if he wanted, but he stays in the game because he’s so damn interested in strength and conditioning.
Bret Contreras – It’s funny to hear my name amidst this group as just five years ago I practically worshipped these guys, but I guess I’ve earned it. I too work around the clock to maximize my understanding of the human body and spread my knowledge to the masses. Nearly everything in my life revolves around strength & conditioning. Lifting weights, training others, reading articles and blogs, reading journals, talking to other coaches and therapists, and learning more about technology so I can help other trainers and coaches is a round-the-clock job. I have the greatest family and friends a guy could ask for, yet I up and moved to New Zealand for three years to pursue a PhD because I felt that this was best for my career. Now I’m surrounded by very intelligent professors, coaches, and therapists, who will help me become better at what I do.
As you can see, it’s all about passion and patience. Many people don’t realize this, but I’d been training people for over ten years, I’d been a CSCS for eight years, had a Master’s degree, owned a facility, invented a fitness machine, and spend thousands of hours reading, before I ever submitted my first article to TNation. Make sure it’s your passion, train yourself, train others, read a ton, make connections, and one day you’ll get there.
Here are some quotes that pertain to this question:
Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.
– Leon J. Suenes
Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
– Henry David Thoreau
6. In my experience, I’ve seen a lot of different types of trainers: ones who can sell ice in the arctic but don’t know their ass from their acetabulum, ones who are book smart and people-dumb, hard working and directionless, and the occasional blend of skill and talent. If you were recruiting trainers to work for you, what would you look for?
BC – You hit the nail on the head there Dean! I completely agree with your assessment of trainers. There are some really popular trainers in Scottsdale who don’t know crap about anything but are very popular because of their salesmanship skills. Conversely, there are guys out there who are smarter than me and know more than I do about the human body, but they can’t get clients because either 1) They don’t look the part so not many people trust them, or 2) They have such poor people skills that they don’t exude confidence.
When I owned Lifts, I hired trainers based on their work ethic and ability to get along with others. This served me very well, as I was able to effectively teach them my system, and the clients freakin’ loved them. So work ethic and ability to get along with others are definitely two of the most important characteristics to look for when hiring trainers. Obviously you also want them to “walk the walk” and look the part, and you want them to possess sound analytical skills so they can figure out solutions to problems. When you own a facility, there are a lot of tasks that aren’t very fun. Training people is easy, as is writing programs. But picking up plates, wiping down equipment, washing windows, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, writing birthday cards, entering data on the computer, and handing out business cards is a pain in the butt, so you need to hire trainers who aren’t “too good” for any tasks and will get the job done. Last, you want them to be loyal. Loyalty seems to be a lost trait in this day and age.
7. You’ve touched on your low back injury, and I can attest to how much they completely and utterly suck. Have you had to work with many clients with injuries? If so, how did you go about getting the knowledge and cojones to work with them successfully?
In all my time as a trainer/coach, there have only been a couple of people who I couldn’t “fix” just by using common sense, practical progressions/regressions, and good communication. I’m always asking questions while I train. I’d venture to guess that I’ve been more successful than 95% of physical therapists simply because I know how to treat the disease, not the symptoms. In the past couple of years I’ve learned a ton about different injuries and pathologies, I have tons of PT friends, I took a graduate level Biomechanics of Injury course, and I’ve researched a ton. And despite learning a considerable amount about injuries, my methodology hasn’t changed. Get their cores stable, their joints mobile, their hips hinging properly, and get them strong at the best exercises such as the full squat, deadlift, lunge, hip thrust, bench press, chin up, military press, and row. Full range strength with good form works wonders.
Now, the upper 5% of therapists – the ones who understand strength training in addition to physical therapy, are very valuable. I’m lucky to be an email or phone call away from many of these top professionals. This is one of the caveats to becoming popular. Your network expands considerably.
BC – Yes. My closing thoughts are to thank you for the wonderful interview. I appreciate it Dean!