Ben Pollack AMA: What Trend In Training Needs to Die, Best Exercise for Glutes, and More

Some of your best strength training questions — answered!

I posted an AMA on my Instagram page yesterday, and I was really thrilled with the response it received. 

Of course, I can’t really offer any in-depth answers or analysis on Instagram, so I made this video to answer some of my favorite questions from that post, and I encourage you to check it out!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

That said, I did get a few questions that I thought were worth not just a video, but a whole article – yes, they are that important _ in my opinion.  So, here’s my first shot at a BarBend AMA!

From @ian.cox02:

During a training cycle, if you know that you can hit numbers higher than the ones you have programmed for, do you go up in weight or continue with the planned numbers?

You always, always, always stick to the plan. Now, that assumes you trust in your program – but if you don’t, you shouldn’t be following it in the first place. A well-designed plan distributes stress in a meaningful way across every single training cycle, training week, and even training day. When you deviate from that plan, you’re throwing a wrench in the whole works.

For example, let’s say your program calls for you to do 3 sets of 5 with 405 pounds. You do your first set with 405, and it’s a breeze – so much so that you load the bar up to 455, a 10-pound PR on your previous 5RM. You make the reps, but you’re wiped out afterward, so much so that you have to skip your last planned set with 405.

Now, what if the following week, you’re supposed to hit a new 3RM? Do you think you’ll have the energy for another PR after exhausting yourself completely last time you squatted? It’s unlikely – and furthermore, attempting to do so puts you at increased risk of injury.

That’s just one hypothetical, and I’m sure you could come up with many possibilities or examples where deviating from your plan proved beneficial. In my experience, in the long run, those beneficial scenarios are very, very few and far between. In contrast, the negative consequences – overreaching, failed reps, and injury – are quite common.

From @haagendage:

What current trend in strength training do you feel needs to die and why?

This is an easy one for me: I detest the amount of trust placed in formal academic research.

Now, I know that might sound strange coming from a guy with a Ph.D. in kinesiology, so let me throw in a few disclaimers:

  • I’m a strong believer in the scientific method. That’s not the issue here; nor is the desire for objective evidence regarding topics of debate in strength training.
  • I’m all for using academic research as a source of information as long as it’s put into context. What I’m not okay with is arguing against methods that have been proven to work in practice simply because there’s no formal evidence for their efficacy. Similarly, I’m not okay with blindly following methods supported by formal evidence without analyzing them critically and with respect to your own body and training.

So, disclaimers aside, why do I have such an issue with academic research on strength training? It’s simple: academia is not as objective as we might like to think. In reality, there are a huge number of subjective (and arguably subversive) factors that influence academic research.  

For example, most researchers are under huge pressure to publish in prestigious industry journals. Oftentimes, to earn that sort of recognition, a study must result in a meaningful, interesting finding – and that in turn influences the researchers themselves to look for evidence that supports their theories, potentially ignoring evidence that contradicts those same theories. 

That’s just one example. Others might include conflicts of interest regarding research funding; insufficient or inappropriate sample sizes and populations chosen out of convenience rather than appropriateness; and much, much more. While we like to believe these conflicts have little meaningful impact on the studies’ outcome, in my opinion, that’s rarely the case.

So, use academic research as one data point in your training decisions — not the be-all, end-all truth.

From @jakeschalles127:

As a strength coach, what’s one thing you wish you could have told your younger self?

Network more! Without a doubt, one of the most important components of success in coaching – or in any career – involves meeting new people. In strength coaching in particular, well, let’s face it: there’s really nothing new under the sun in terms of programming concepts. The tried-and-true methods of progression (linear to a certain point; periodized thereafter) have been understood for decades.

But strength coaching isn’t all about theory – in fact, it’s more about people, and how you can work with people to learn about their motivations, their bodies, and help them achieve their goals. There are no cookie-cutter solutions here, and that’s precisely why networking is so valuable

If I work with a dozen different athletes for an hour a week, maybe 2 or 3 of them will have some difficulty grasping certain concepts, and I’ll really need to work to figure out how to help them. Maybe it takes a full month to really solve the problem, but once I do, I’ll have three new strategies for conveying those skills to use with future athletes.

Now let’s say I spend an hour talking to a 20-year veteran of the industry. In that hour, he can probably share another strategy of his own, tell me how to improve mine, and suggest some other industry leaders to contact.

That means I learned more in a single hour networking than I did in fifty of my own (12 athletes for an hour a week for four weeks a month).

Of course, there are other benefits to networking as well: connections for new career opportunities, a chance to spend time with friends, and much more. Trust me, I’m no extrovert, but even I’m sold on the power of networking for strength coaching success.

From @carabela.deadlifts:

How to deal with slowly balding and eventually knowing you’ll have to shave it all off?

From @fatt_boy_fitness:

What’s the best exercise for bringing up lower back and glutes?

I’m going to fudge a little here, because there are tons of movements that target the lower back and glutes. For example:

And lots, lots more. However, the downside of these movements is that they’re all heavily loaded, compound movements – and pushing them hard can take a big toll on your recovery. So, here’s one of my favorite posterior chain exercises for powerlifting that I took directly from my bodybuilding training:

It’s the seated hamstring curl. Now, I know this isn’t the most “hardcore” movement, but it’s a really effective one.

  1. First, it’s important to train the hamstrings and glutes with the hips in both extension and flexion, as those muscles can function differently in different positions. The seated hamstring curls is one of the few movements that allow you to train those muscles with the hips in flexion.
  2. Second, when you push your hips way forward in the seat, it’s very easy to target the glute-hamstrings. Again, this sounds like a bodybuilding thing, but training this particular area can really help to keep the hips in the right position as you break a deadlift off the floor.

Give ‘em a try and see what you think!  

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.