Interview with Bret Contreras


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.

– Confucius

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?

BC – This is another great question that I’m glad you asked! My confidence in working with injured clients came from being able to fix clients who were previously un-fixed by therapists, doctors, and chiropractors, despite not knowing jack shit about their problem. In my early years, often I had never even heard about a particular injury that one of my clients came to me with. I’d simply try to get them stronger with good form. I’d start them out with whatever they could do pain-free with good form, and progress from there. It’s all about strength and mobility. I’ve had clients who started off with 2 inch step ups, box squats where they had to descend about six inches to sit on the box, bodyweight glute bridges, push ups from a 45 degree angle, band chin ups where the band tension practically equaled their bodyweight, and front planks from the knees. Each workout we’d do a little more than the time before. Within a few weeks, voila! They’re already feeling better, and quite often they’re “cured.” 

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.

8. Yeah, I’ve found there are just as many bad therapists as there are trainers out there, and the good ones look amazing as a result. From one blog writer to another, your blog is stupidly popular. Most people that write to me say they read mine, right after they read yours and some of the other ones that are huge out there right now, but your name is always there. How did you develop it and market it to get as many viewers as you have? Was there a Tipping Point moment where you felt it exploded, or was it a steady growth?
BC – I actually wrote a pretty informative blogpost on the topic here. If you’re willing to dedicate a ton of your time to blogging, then you can and will build up a following if you pay attention to what people want. Personally, I know I’d have a more popular blog if I followed some basic rules, such as writing shorter posts, targeting a specific niche, and spending more time teaching the basics. But this wouldn’t be that much fun for me, as I like to write about whatever’s on my mind at the moment. I have a lot of interests in biomechanics, physiology, physical therapy, and strength training in general so I’m all over the map with my blogging. If I targeted just bodybuilders, or teenage kids looking to build muscle, or women seeking better butts, then I could really establish myself as a leader on a certain topic. But I’m still doing okay, despite breaking all the rules, because I come out with good content and I’m really passionate about this stuff.
The tipping point for my blog, as stupid as it sounds, was when my buddy Tony Gentilcore put me on his blogroll. He was the first “big-named” strength coach to do so. After this, other coaches began “accepting ” me since Tony G. showed his approval. It sounds silly but it’s true. Coaches were seeing my stuff and wondering if I’m brilliant or just some crazy nut. Tony helped steer people away from thinking I’m crazy. In essence, Tony made me who I am today!

9. How was my weighted hip press? Any pointers I can work on, aside from grunting louder to make everyone in cyberspace know about how awesome that move is?
BC – First off, congrats! You have some strong glutes and you should be proud of that. Your form was solid. There weren’t noticeable energy leaks, you moved your hips through a full ROM, and your spine and knees were stable. The way you performed your hip thrusts is the way I perform them most of the time. Sometimes I do pause reps where I hold for a 3-count up top. Sometimes I do them “Ferris style” with my back up higher on the bench. Sometimes I do them in “rest pause” fashion so I can squeeze out extra reps. And of course there’s the single leg version too. I was impressed that the bench doesn’t move backward. This shows that you’re extending the hips without trying to extend the knees (which would exert a rearward force on the bench and cause it to slide backward). Great job!

10. I have to ask: what the sweet holy hell is going on with you and Mark Young?? I know you guys are all bromancy and all but it’s getting almost kinda creepy.
BC – Mark Young was actually the first guy in the biz who reached out to me and spoke to me on the phone following my Dispelling the Glute Myth article on TNation. We had an excellent conversation, and we’ve been friends ever since. He actually convinced me to start up a blog, join Twitter, and start using Facebook for marketing purposes. Prior to this all I had was a Youtube account. So I’m very grateful for Mark, and I believe that Mark is one of the most intelligent guys in the profession. He’s freaky smart and his bullshit meter is right on the money. However, he’s also hilarious. We joke around with each other a lot because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. For example, he got me good when he posted a picture of me on his site that he found on my Facebook from Halloween, but I got him back when I implicated Mark in question about erectile issues on my site. You don’t see this kind of kidding around much in our profession which is unfortunate. Everyone seems so up tight. It’s not like we’re celebrities or anything!
(Note from Dean): I’m just breaking balls here Mark. You’re a class act for most of the time, and down-right hilarious the rest of the time. Keep on rockin in the free world

11. Any closing thoughts for the day?

BC – Yes. My closing thoughts are to thank you for the wonderful interview. I appreciate it Dean!

About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Interview with Bret Contreras

  1. Danny says:

    Awesome interview! Number 5 is always greatly appreciated!!

  2. Lisa V. says:

    That was a great interview, thanks to both Dean for asking good questions and Bret for being so damn thorough in his responses. I don’t remember how I stubbled across Tony Gentilcore’s blog, but through Tony I found Bret and Dean. Dean, I read you every day, Bret, I read you when I can understand what the hell you’re saying (you are so damn smart sometimes you are just over my head). I am fortunate in that I get to train at Cressey once a week and am learning while watching everything that goes on there (and I get to work hard in a great training environment). Thanks for all the effort all you guys put into your blog posts. For someone like me it’s a great resource.

  3. Jim says:

    Nice article mate.

    He has some interesting points there, and I am going to start reading his blog now as well.. AFTER I read yours of course.

    The question that made me smile the most, was 10. I agree you see a lot of trainers in business that aren’t willing to pull a joke or two. And that goes a long way, especially when it is between trainers themselves.

  4. Rick Kaselj says:

    Dean,

    Great interview.

    Bret has a great blog.

    Keep the great posts coming.

    Rick Kaselj of http://ExercisesForInjuries.com

    .

  5. Tricia says:

    Yay to weighted glute bridges!!

  6. Mark Young says:

    When I first read the Glute Myth article I thought Bret was an arrogant bastard and didn’t go out of my way to hide my opinions on a few other blogs. I later came to the conclusion that I was probably just reading too much into his confidence and contacted him to apologize…and a true bromance was born.

  7. Mike Groth says:

    Bret and Dean –
    very informative interview. Alot of great take away points for up and coming personal trainers. I especially like #6, as I could absolutely relate to this when I first started out… too much science, not enough personality. I like how Bret touched on the importance of being a solid blend of it all… science, personality, loyalty, people skills, etc. Great post, I’m gonna book mark this one.

  8. HA! I made Bret Contreras who he is today!!!!!!!!!! My boy is all growns up.

    In all seriousness Bret, as much as I appreciate the sentiment, I had absolutely NOTHING to do with your success. But, in all seriousness, you kinda owe me…..;o)
    Great interview fellas.

    And, as it so happens, my new site doesn’t even have a blogroll right now. Oops.

  9. Tony Gentilcore says:

    Yeah, that’s pretty much true

  10. Anoop says:

    I agree with most of what you say Brett, but I don’t think you are right about pain and strength.

    Strength training, proper form , progression has little to do with the pain reduction you observe in your clients. It can be mostly be explain by non-specific effects the lowering the threat level in the brain, the belief in the trainer and his methodology, and such. It is now pretty much clear that the role of the bio-mechanical model in the explanation of pain is way too less that we previously thought.

    This thread is a good one: http://bodyinmind.com.au/jointhead-diskhead-musclehead-fasciahead/

  11. Sorry, was a little late to these comments! Thanks for the kind words guys. Mark and Tony you guys helped me out a ton and I really appreciate it. Thanks for the interview Dean, yours will be posted tomorrow.

  12. Anoop, I’ve read some of the SomaSimple’s stuff over the years and the folks there intrigue me. I would like to know more but I never seem to find the time. I completely acknowledge the complexity of pain and the role the nervous system plays in pain. Please correct my line of thinking if you feel I am incorrect as this is not my area of expertise. I do believe that full range strength training leads to decreased pain. Here’s why:

    Trainers (including me) get lifters who come to us with acute pain due to poor mechanics, poorly functioning bodies, and poor program design. Obviously tissues can get irritated due to stress caused by various forces. When we get them strong with good form, we clean up their mobility issues, clean up their issues with stability, create stronger tissues, balance force couples, increase coordination, get joints flowing better, improve posture, engrain efficient motor engrams, etc.

    By cleaning up their form we remove the insults that are causing the pain in the first place. Removing the insults is mostly a function of teaching proper mechanics and timing, but strong muscles can help with increased stiffness so the joints leak less.
    If we remove the strain now we’re getting more oxygen to the nerves so pain can cease. In this manner I believe that strength training is a great way to treat the nervous system. In fact, I believe it’s the superior way – more effective than any type of soft-tissue approach. Furthermore, by getting them stronger, now we’re really convincing their bodies to remove the threats perceived by the clients to various movement patterns.

    Is “movement” in general just as effective? My take is no. Shitty movement under load is what got these people here in the first place. They need to correct their movement, and it’s not just about patterning, it’s also about getting stronger. For example, strong glutes help spare the knees and low back. If they take on much of the load in a deadlift, that’s less that the hammies, erectors, and quads have to do. If we don’t attack the disease, then we’re only treating the symptoms which means they’ll return.

    Chronic pain is a different story and has more to do with psychology and the nervous system and less to do with strength. But beat-up lifters require re-patterning and strength to remove insults. Aren’t we speaking the same language? Please correct me if I’m wrong. Hell, get your SomaSimple pals to pounce on me. I’m here to learn.

    I’m heavily influenced by anecdotes as nearly every client I ever train starts telling me that their backs have never felt better. You can’t tell me it’s just due to their confidence in me, right? Thanks for your time, -Bret

  13. Anoop says:

    Hi Brett,

    Thanks for the reply. I agree about the time factor. This is one big reason I don’t dabble too much with pain anymore as I used to. There is enough to learn in my field.

    And from what little I know, pain comes from nerves. And you feel it in the muscles and joints because nerves course through them like sheath. So a stronger muscle has nothing with these nerves. The only thing strength training can do is increase the tissue tolerance so that it doesn’t get hurt again.

    Most acute pain is nothing to worry about. You put some ice, move less and you are pain free with a few weeks. Chronic pain is the one which last for more than 3-4 months . Your comment getting fixing people who couldn’t get it fixed with other therapists tells me some of those people are in chronic pain. I do feel all this strengthening and weak point training is helping by making sure they don’t get an injury. The pain relief part is largely due to the non-specific effects.

    The best way to lower pain is to lower the threat level in the brain. This could be due tot movement, strength training or whatever. Hence the success of so many different unlrelated treatments and approaches. You asked about the therapist’s role. Here is an article about it: http://bodyinmind.org/research-into-back-pain-treatments/

    And I really don’t think the somasimple people would bother coming here and teaching another one. If you really want to learn (and you do from what I have seen), go there and make a thread. I started in rehabedge, then in somasimple, and then did a lot of my own reading (not much now).

  14. Thanks Anoop! I appreciate the response. I’m definitely considering starting up a thread there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s