In his new column, Coach Carter tackles glute building for dudes, deadlift frequency, lat work for big guys, and benching for non-powerlifters.
Q: I read somewhere that women need direct glute training, but men really don’t. Something about anatomy? Anyway, do men need glute-focused exercises or are squats and deadlifts enough?
“Just squat and deadlift, bro” is a bullshit answer. If a dude wants bigger and stronger glutes then yes, he needs to do direct glute training.
I hate the whole “squat booty” mantra. As I covered in 8 Lessons from the Glute Girls, those Instafamous booty chicks do not build their butts with just squats, and neither should dudes.
So what should you do? Well, walking lunges are one of the absolute best movements you can do.
The glute medius gets hammered because it has to perform functionally to stabilize the pelvis, and the glute max gets worked through dynamic hip extension. And if you’re taking big steps, the glutes get fully lengthened in the bottom of the lunge.
Lunges are great for building mass, improving stability throughout the lower kinetic chain, and can even improve mobility. If you want to appear super manly while doing these, then add chains around your neck.
The other movement I like for bro glutes is the paused sumo leg press. This is where you place your feet high and wide on the platform. Lower and pause at the bottom before doing the next concentric.
These offer up a high degree of progressive overload. They can have some pretty good carryover to sumo-style deadlifting as well.
Now, what about the hip thrust? At this point, anyone trying to argue that the hip thrust doesn’t work for building bigger and stronger glutes is in a massive state of denial. Sadly, a lot of men think it’s only for women. And let’s be honest, women have absolutely claimed majority ownership of this exercise.
But if you’re a bro and you’re suffering from a severe case of the pancake ass, let me offer this up to you. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson posts videos of himself doing glute thrusts on the regular. And he seems fairly manly.
I rotate hip thrusts in often, using the leg extension machine for ease of use.
Here’s my personal glute routine:
- Hip Thrust in Leg Extension Machine: 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps, holding each rep for 3 seconds at the top.
- Sumo Leg Press: 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps heavy, then 1-2 sets of 20-25 reps.
- Walking Lunge: Until you feel like dying.
If that doesn’t work for you, then wait until there’s a full moon and look into the mirror. Chant “Bret Contreras” three times. You’ll wake up the next morning with enough junk in the trunk to get a million Instagram followers.
Q: I have a modest garage gym, mostly just barbells and dumbbells. I also have sucky rear delts. Do I need to go buy a band for face-pulls or is there something else I can do?
How about a video answer?
Q: I have narrow lats and everyone says to do more pull-ups. Well, I’m working on that. But I’m also a big man and I don’t think doing 2-3 reps (all I can do right now) is going to cut it. Am I stuck with the pulldown machine?
Do rack chins – chin-ups or pull-ups with your feet propped up on a bench in front of you. The Smith machine is a good place to set this up.
These are great for building wide lats even if you are good at regular pull-ups. I still do chins about every other week, but if I’m actually focusing on building lat width this is my go-to exercise.
You can get the lats a bit more lengthened than with regular chins because you can get into spinal flexion due to your feet being propped up on the bench. You can actually round the spine with rack chins at the bottom to really stretch the lats. You’ll get a much stronger contraction at the top because you can arch very hard and really shorten the lats.
You want your legs to be parallel to the floor when you’re at the top of the movement. A downward angle of the top of the legs is okay too. Just make sure you don’t have a leverage by having the legs too low in relation to your torso. Add chains when needed. It looks cool.
Also, don’t shy away from assisted machine pull-ups:
Q: You called the deadlift “recovery intrusive.” So how often can I deadlift and still recover from it? What factors do I need to consider?
Avoiding the dreaded “workout hangover” from the deadlift is fairly simple. Stay away from near maximal loading for long periods at a time. Actually focus on, you know, building deadlift strength and not trying to demonstrate it with 1RMs.
The deadlift has the propensity to jump up really fast in terms of loading, then plateau and often regress after that. Why? Because the autonomic nervous system is highly affected by heavy pulls, so the sympathetic nervous system can become suppressed.
Don’t train the deadlift “on the nerve.” If you have to get psyched up for your top set of pulls then you’re probably going to see this pattern of progression then regression: it goes up, it stalls, it regresses.
From an intensity/loading standpoint, the majority of your deadlift training should be done at loads of less than 85% of your 1 rep max. Trust me, you can build an impressive deadlift using sub-maximal loading while focusing on being explosive.
If you’re adhering to not training on the nerve and being smart with your loading, then the other factor can be that the erectors are simply not recovering.
This can happen with those who like to squat one day during the training week, then deadlift on another day. Oftentimes they’ll include direct low-back work like hypers or barbell rows where the lumbar has to do a lot of work in the static position.
All of this low-back work on top of the squats and deadlifts can create a high degree of fatigue in the erectors that’ll suppress performance.
The solution to avoiding localized muscle fatigue in the erectors is to deadlift after your squats, and to switch over to chest-supported rowing variations. Deadlifting after squats isn’t going to run you into the ground if you’re smart with the loading, and the squats before the pulls actually serve as a great warm-up, eliminating the need for extended warm-ups for deadlifting.
Here’s how I always worked this:
- Pause Squat
- Good Morning / Deficit Stiff Leg / Leg Press (usually there was a rotation here)
- Chest Supported T-Bar Row
- Lat Pulldown
- Leg Curl
- Leg Extension
Q: I do heavy shrugs all the time and still have crappy traps. What’s the deal?
Now you’re speaking my love language: trap training.
I too did ultra-heavy shrugs, for years on end, with no significant growth in my traps. They didn’t start growing until I ditched the ego bullshit and started focusing on an appropriate load with increased time under tension and an extended range of motion.
Imagine that. A full range of motion, appropriate loading, and increased time under tension for muscle growth. That’s crazy talk.
I stopped doing bullshit heavy barbell shrugs with over 700 pounds and went with dumbbell shrugs where I focused on holding the peak contraction for 3-5 seconds. My traps responded big time.
Now here’s something interesting about this. Bodybuilder Dorian Yates found this to be the exact same case with his own trap training. He’d been doing shrugs with over 650 pounds for reps. But an injury forced him to switch over to dumbbell shrugs and he had to lighten up the load.
He found the extended range of motion, and the ability to pull the weight up and then back, caused a tremendous amount of new growth in his traps compared to what he’d been getting from the heavy barbell shrugs.
I also found that the overhead plate raise, where you take it all the way overhead, made my traps grow big time. This 1-2 combination will put traps on anyone.
If you’re really interested in getting your traps to grow, then here you go:
- Dumbbell Shrug: Hold at the top for 3-5 seconds, get a full stretch in the traps at the bottom. Do 4 sets of 12 reps, same weight on all sets.
- Overhead Plate Raise: 100 reps, non-stop.
Do this twice a week at the end of back and shoulder training. In no time flat you’ll wonder why you keep having to ask people to repeat themselves.
Q: I don’t compete in powerlifting, so should I test my max bench press? Many programs are based off a percentage or your 1RM, but a lot of coaches also say there’s no reason for a non-competitor to drop below 3 reps. The risk-to-reward ratio just isn’t there, they say. What do you say?
I think testing an “everyday max” (EDM) can be quite valuable. Your EDM is something you could do any day of the week, without having to get psyched up. Some lifters figure this to be in the range of 90% of their true max.
I use an EDM for both competitors and non-competitors alike because it at least sets a baseline for strength from which to program. Some people prefer the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale, but I’ve seen so many people who clearly have zero introspection about what a 7 or 8 RPE is that I’m just not a fan of it.
Technically speaking, I don’t disagree with the coaches that say you don’t need to ever perform less than a 3RM in training. The EDM will often correlate to a true 3RM, and if you’re trying to build maximal strength and/or muscle then 5 reps should be the floor.
The bench press does have a high degree of injury potential, but that’s often associated with full-fledged ass clowns who max out almost every workout. I literally have no idea what the point of that is.
And yes, I’ve done it. And yes, it was stupid each and every time I did it. And yes, I was a card-carrying member of Team Ass Clown when I was training that way. And if you’re doing that, so are you.
It’s dumb, it’s 100% ego driven, and you’ll feel even dumber when you blow out a shoulder or pec and need surgery.
Training heavy comes with a myriad of dangers, even when you’re taking precautions and using an intelligent program. There’s no need to further exacerbate the danger by doing exceptionally stupid shit… like true 1-rep max bench presses all the time.
Q: If I shave my head do I have to grow a bushy beard to be sexy?
Okay, I know that’s just a fun question, but let’s dive into that topic anyway.