5 Hip Thrust Variations To Grow Your Glutes

The hip thrust has become one of the most popular exercises in the last decade in training, especially with women all over the world. The hip thrust trains your glutes primarily, whilst also working your quads and hamstrings to some degree. 

One of the factors which makes the hip thrust effective for training the glutes is that your legs are bent in the movement. When thrusting up and extending your hips, the bent knee allows for less hamstrings involvement comparatively to exercises like a Romanian deadlift. The hamstrings and glutes both perform hip extension. However, when the leg bends, we disadvantage the role of the hamstrings in the hip extension movement. Less of the hamstrings results in more of the glutes doing the work. 

The hip thrust also has a different resistance profile to other traditional exercises for the glutes, such as squats and Romanian deadlifts. A resistance profile is when a muscle encounters its greatest resistance in a movement. For instance, when performing a squat, the resistance is greatest on the glutes towards the bottom as they are being stretched. Whereas with the hip thrust, the resistance is actually greatest at the top of the movement when the glutes are being shortened.

This is why when it comes to hip thrust variations, it’s a good idea to bias the top of the rep where the tension is greatest. A pause at the bottom of a thrust is pausing when the glutes are least worked which therefore becomes redundant (to an extent). 

Now, with that reasoning and explanation, let’s look at 5 variations to training the hip thrust: 

1. Constant Tension Hip Thrusts


A constant tension movement means the weight is never being rested. Tension stays constant for all reps which for a hip thrust will simply mean the bar does not touch the ground during the set. You will lower the bar until it’s just off the floor, but ensure the bar does not touch. From here, you drive back up and complete the top of the rep before lowering back down and repeating. Constant tension reps are my staple for performing the hip thrust.


2. 1 & 1/4 Rep Hip Thrusts


A 1 & 1/4 rep means you will perform your usual rep up to the top of the thrust and then, when you lower the bar, you will not take it all the way down to the floor. Instead, you will lower the bar just a ¼ of the way down and then drive back up explosively. From here you’ll slowly lower the bar back down all the way to the floor. This is otherwise known as a “double contraction” method.

1 full rep + 1/4 rep = 1 rep. The idea here is to bias more time towards the top of the thrust where tension is greatest. A 1 & 1/4 rep method is one of my most popular hip thrust strategies for clients. 

3. 10 + 1 Method Hip Thrusts


The glutes are a muscle you often hear people say they “struggle to feel” when training. A strategy that can help someone improve their mind to muscle connection is through the use of isometric contractions. An isometric is when a muscle is under tension but not lengthening or shortening – a paused rep. The 10 + 1 method is focused around the use of a long isometric pause. The isometric contraction can improve neural drive to a muscle which allows you to improve your recruitment of a muscle. The 10 + 1 method involves a long isometric contraction plus 10 normal, constant tension reps.


You would drive the bar off the ground and hold the top position of the hip thrust for 10 seconds… Yes, 10 full seconds. I want you to maintain tension in the glutes at the top position which is going to be hard!

After the 10 second isometric hold, you’ll lower the bar down but not completely as you will begin to perform 10 constant tension reps (like I’ve explained above). You’ll feel this in a big way and it’s going to burn but it’s a great way to ensure the mind to muscle connection is there.

4. Single Leg Hip Thrusts


Glute imbalance is a term you come across a lot in the fitness space. Often it’s either “One glute muscle is bigger than the other!”, or “I feel my left glute and not my right glute!”. Whichever way, it is common to have one glute muscle slightly bigger or feel one glute muscle more than another.

When performing bilateral hip thrusts (both feet on the floor and contributing to the thrust), we are not necessarily improving the disparity. A hip thrust variation to work on the glute imbalance is through the use of single leg work. A single leg hip thrust can allow you to bias one side at a time which ensures the stronger side can not do more of the work. The weaker side has no choice but to be the dominant player when performing unilateral thrusts.

Single leg hip thrusts can be loaded a number of ways. Firstly, you can perform them with just your body weight as you build up a base. Then, you can load one side at a time through the use of a dumbbell, weight plate or kettle bell on your thigh.

Another great way to focus on the glute imbalance is through the use of pause reps. As discussed in the previous hip thrust variation, paused reps can be effective at increasing neural drive to a muscle. Combine this with single leg work and you can be well on your way to bringing up the discrepancy between sides.

5. 4/4/4 Method: Mechanical Drop Set Hip Thrusts


The final hip thrust variation is a mechanical drop set. This involves working a muscle through a movement pattern which is initially weaker and then extending the set by moving to an exercise for that movement pattern where you will be stronger.


The 4/4/4 method involves working from a weaker variation to a stronger and would look like this in a hip thrust example:

  • 4 Reps – 3 Second Pauses
  • 4 Reps – 1 & 1/4 Reps
  • 4 Reps – Constant Tension, Full Range Reps

12 Reps All Up = 1 set.

The set will begin with 4 reps of 3 second pause hip thrusts in the top position. You will then immediately move to 4 reps of 1 & ¼ reps. A 1 & 1/4 rep is more dynamic which therefore will allow you to extend the set after the pause reps. Then finally, we finish with 4 reps of constant tension, full range hip thrust reps. This will be the strongest movement of the 3 variations within the set which is going to make you burn!

There you go! Five different hip thrust variations I love to use with my clients to help grow their glutes. 

Try them but do not use all the variations in one session or over one week. Try implementing one hip thrust variation at a time and rotate every 4 weeks. 

Want to make serious glute gains? Your Glute Coach allows you to implement my methods and strategies on yourself to achieve your own 12 week glute transformation!

Let’s get to work!

Coach Mark Carroll

 

Building A Bikini Body Workout

Creating an effective workout is not just about turning up to the gym and hoping for the best. It involves intelligently balancing out exercises to complement a person’s goals. There are so many different exercises, machines, and of course, movement patterns you can perform in the gym. But what is best? What is a simple structure to creating an effective workout for yourself? 

When it comes to a “bikini body” I am talking about a woman who either wants to get on stage for a bikini competition or a woman who wants to train in a similar manner. They may not desire being on stage, but they do want to train hard and be their very best. 

So what am I looking for in creating an effective workout for a bikini client? 

First let’s look at what would benefit a “bikini physique” from a body part perspective: 

1 – Big glutes. Pretty simple. 

2 – Tight hamstrings and legs. These do not need to be huge bodybuilder legs but some muscle and shape here goes a long way to compliment the gluteus. 

3 – Shoulders! Nice shaped delts can always be a great addition to compliment a bikini physique.

Now, in order to then build up those key areas, we first need to think about what movement patterns can train those muscle groups. Building a bikini body workout comes from not one or two exercises. Bikini body building involves a collection of exercises to build the best bikini body workout. We have many options. This is why it is important to look at movement patterns as this is then the base of your exercise selection. 

The foundations of my bikini body workout creation is ensuring key movement patterns are being trained.

Let’s go over them. 

1 – Hip hinge – this is your hip extension movements such as a Romanian deadlift or 45* back extension.

2 – Knee dominant movements – exercises which train knee extension which also works hip extension – think squats, lunges, split squats, leg press.

3 – Thrusts / bridges – simple – your hip thrust movements.

4 – Horizontal presses and vertical presses – vertical l think any movement pressing overhead like a DB press, and horizontal movements such as a push up. 

5 – Horizontal pulls and vertical pulls. Horizontal pulls will be your rowing movements such as a seated row. Vertical pulls think pull ups or pulldowns. 

6 – Knee flexion – this is the bending of the leg from a straight leg to a bent leg. Hamstring curls! 

7 – Spinal flexion – rolling up your spine which will train your abs, e.g. a crunch or reverse crunch. 

8 – Abduction movements – for the lower body this is where we take our leg out towards the side of our body. This can be performed with a straight leg or a bent leg. Think machine abductions.

These are my staple movement patterns to effective bikini body building!

Movement patterns are the base of what I do. Now, when it comes to exercise selection. It is easy to choose exercises as you just need to choose an exercise which complements each movement pattern. 

Your base structure should be ensuring an exercise is utilised for each movement pattern over the course of the week.

The mistake people commonly make with bikini body building workouts is they can focus too much on exercises which train the same movement pattern over and over. Then not enough on ensuring all those movement patterns are trained. 

Now, let’s create a lower body workout which trains all of the above 4 lower body movement patterns I want in a lower body workout. 

  • A)     Knee dominate
  • B)     Hip hinge
  • C)     Thrust / bridge
  • D)     Knee flexion
  • E)     Abductions

That’s our movement patterns I want to choose an exercise for. I focus on the movement patterns. The exercises just need to fit into those movements. 

  • A)     Knee dominate – Barbell Squat
  • B)     Hip hinge – Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
  • C)     Thrust / bridge – Smith Machine Hip Thrust
  • D)     Knee flexion – Seated Leg Curl
  • E)     Abductions – Seated Machine Abduction

Do you see how simple that is? Choosing exercises to compliment a bikini body workout becomes very easy when you have that base movement pattern structure. All we need to do is choose an exercise which fits that movement pattern. Now, we have a simple base structure for creating an effective bikini workout.

Can there be more depth to programming? Absolutely!

But the first step of anything should be learning to create a base structure. This can help you visualise and simplify your exercise selection. Nothing worse than when people over analyse workouts and become totally stuck and fixated on 1%ers. 

I am a big believer that if you have a simple structure as a coach. It will allow you to make fast and smart decisions with your exercise selection.

If key movement patterns are being trained, I know that key muscles to complement a bikini body will be stimulated. 

Now that I have shown you a simple structure to effective workout design, let’s look at what you commonly see in programs where too much of the same movements are being trained over and over. This results in key movement patterns being neglected.

Here’s an example of a workout that’s not ideal: 

  • A)     Hip Thrust
  • B)     Lying Leg Curl
  • C)     Single Leg Glute Bridge
  • D)     Seated Leg Curl

This is actually a workout I saw on social media recently. Is there anything terrible with this? No, not at all, but what do you see here?

Four different exercises are being used which is good! But all in all, we only have 2 movement patterns being trained. Bridge/thrusts and also knee flexion. Both repeated. 

That results in other key movement patterns being missed. 

This is why I keep going back to my movement pattern structure. Have that structure set out, to create a bikini body workout which ensures all muscle groups will be trained effectively over the week.

Simple, yes! But simple is often the foundation to long term success!

Want to use my methods?

The Building the Bikini Body Series allows you to implement my methods and strategies on yourself!

Let’s build your bikini body!

Coach Mark Carroll

Antagonist Partnerships

One of the most time efficient ways to train is through the use of supersets. Most people struggle to have enough time in the gym – I think we can all relate to that feeling! It is hard to get the amount of work you want in the 45-60 minutes you have for a session. 

This is what I believe is a massive factor of how people are utilising their rest periods optimally, because they’re in a rush all the time! To many, resting seems like a “waste of time”. Unfortunately for people with this mindset around it, resting allows for recovery which drives performance in the gym, which then triggers adaptations, which finally leads to progress! 

Rest is a good thing! 

But then comes the all-time question: how do we make the most of our rest periods whilst also still lifting heavy and getting as much work done in the time we have?

I introduce you to my long time programming friend – antagonist supersets, or best to make it even more simpler to understand – antagonist partnerships

When people think of “supersets”, they tend to think of two exercises back-to-back with no rest between them. Even more likely, when thinking about supersets, people generally think of two exercises that both use the same muscle group. Yes, this is also a type of superset (agonist superset), but not the type we are talking about here. 

Generally, when we are referring to supersets, we will have a minimal rest period between the first and second exercise, and then a longer rest period after both exercises are performed. I program these in some of my programs but they will also mean the second exercise of the superset is done in a fatigued state. Obviously, this can be a good thing but also sometimes very counterproductive. An example is this for an A) series would look like this:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 reps – rest 10 seconds 

A2) Leg Extensions: 3 x 10 reps – rest 180 seconds 

As you can see, you perform the squat first and then you have 10 seconds to move to the leg extension and perform the leg extension in a fatigued state. A quad + quad superset making this an agonist superset.

But, what if we want more recovery for that muscle group and also get more work done? 

Let’s say you are training your quads and hamstrings in the workout. You have 4 exercises to do and you know rest periods of 2 minutes are ideal. Your workout may look like this:

  1. High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 
  2. Lying Leg Curls: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 
  3. Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds
  4. 45* Back Extension: 3 x 10 – rest 120 seconds 

How long would this workout take to perform 12 working sets (not including warm ups)?

We will say the time it takes to perform one exercise is 30 seconds, and because split squats use both legs, we will call one split squat set 60 seconds. Let’s add up the time you would need for the 12 sets:

  1. Series = 7.5 minutes 
  2. Series = 7.5 minutes 
  3. Series = 9 minutes 
  4. Series = 7.5 minutes 

All up, this means that your work and rest time to perform your 12 sets with an ideal 2 minutes rest between working sets was 31 minutes and 30 seconds. 

Now, how can we make this more time efficient? 

This is where the use of antagonist partnerships can be very useful. Instead of exercises performed by themselves, we partner opposing muscle groups together. 

Antagonist means opposing whereas agonist means the same side.

Lets partner our quads and hamstrings movements together:

  • Squats + Leg Curl 
  • Split Squats + Back Extensions 

This is a great strategy here for these exercises because when you squat, your hamstrings are not lengthening or shortening. Therefore, they’re not being trained in a meaningful manner for hypertrophy. Then when you leg curl, your quads are not being trained. Likewise, in the split squats and back extensions, the split squat being a quad dominant movement will not be trained in a back extension, whilst the back extension muscles will not be playing a huge fatiguing role in the performance of your split squat. 

So, how does this all work? Let’s write it out:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B1) Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B2) 45* Back Extensions: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

In simple terms, you can see it’s now A1) and A2) which means this is a superset/partnership of two movements. Likewise the B1) and B2) series is another superset/partnership as well. 

You will squat, then you rest the allotted time of 90 seconds. From here, you then perform the leg curl working set. Then, rest for another 90 seconds. This equals 1 set of each! Now, after your 90 seconds rest from the leg curl, you do your second set of squats. Once more, you rest 90 seconds, then perform another set of leg curls. As you can see, this is a partnership and utilising opposing muscle group exercise in your rest period. 

Before we get into the duration of this method, you may think “well, sure… of course your session is more time efficient if you are only resting 90 seconds now and not 120 seconds between sets.”. But, there is a difference: before you were resting 120 seconds between sets of a squat and 120 seconds rest between a set of leg curls. Now, your rest is actually far longer between sets of the same exercise. 

Let’s have a deeper look:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

After you finish your squat set, you’re resting for 90 seconds and then perform a leg curl set which does not involve the quads. This means that whilst you’re doing the leg curls, you’re only training your hamstrings and your quads are still recovering!

Following on from the example above, we have said we will use 30 seconds for an exercise as the estimated working set time. Once the leg curl has finished, you’re then resting for an additional 90 seconds before your next squat set. 

Why does this matter? Because before you were resting 120 seconds between sets of squats. Well, that additional 90 seconds after performing your leg curls (for 30 seconds) means that you are resting your quads for 210 seconds before you do your squats again! This is even better than 120 seconds rest like in our previous example.

Ok so now that we have explained the resting questions, let’s talk about how antagonist supersets are also more time efficient too! Let’s take a deeper look once more:

A1) High Bar Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

A2) Leg Curl: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B1) Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

B2) 45* Back Extensions: 3 x 10 – rest 90 seconds 

Let’s tally up the total work and rest time remembering that a split squat working set is 60 seconds as both sides are trained individually, and the single exercises are estimated at 30 seconds of work each. 

A1) and A2) series amount of work rest total = 12 minutes

B1) and B2 series amount of work rest total = 13.5 minutes 

That brings the total working time to 25 minutes and 30 seconds! This means that we have not only increased your rest periods from 120 seconds to 210 seconds, but we’ve also decreased the total workout time by 6 whole minutes.

Now THAT is a pretty cool strategy I think! 

This is why I love using lots of antagonist partnerships throughout my programs. No better way to learn than to implement this strategy on yourself or your clients! If you are after a more time efficient strategy to train while still maximising performance, I definitely recommend you try antagonist partnerships.

In the near future, I will cover why certain exercises work well together and why certain movements don’t make sense to partner, but for now I hope this was useful information for you to read as we all try to master time efficiency in our ever growing busy life schedules! 

Smart programming can still lead to time efficiency without the need of sacrificing results! 

Good luck,

Coach Mark Carroll

10 TIPS TO BREAK THROUGH A SQUAT PLATEAU

Squats are my favourite exercise to program for clients! There are many variations and different tempos we can use, and the squat is an exercise we can train quite frequently. I have been fortunate to train many great lifters over the years, and a big highlight has been the big squat numbers they have achieved.

Squat numbers, like anything in life, do not go up forever. Progress is not linear. Many times clients come to me to help them break through their squat plateaus. Here are the 10 strategies I would assess and then attack to regain momentum, and dramatically smash through old personal records. 

1 – Technique

Improving technique does not sound sexy, but it’s usually the first variable I look at to address potential strength plateaus. Your body can be placed in a position to have as much potential to lift huge numbers as humanly possible, but the more we move away from the mechanics to lift in the most mechanically advantageous way, the less likely we are to lift to our full potential. What does this mean? Work on your technique!

There is not necessarily one single best squat technique. Things can differ between individuals as we all have different body structures/limb lengths, etc, but we can at the very least optimise our movement. 

Are you creating tightness through the entire body? 

Are you bracing when you squat? 

Are your hips shooting up too early when you drive up out of the squat? 

Are you butt winking at the bottom of the squat? 

As you can see, there are many variables to look at. The best thing to do is to film yourself lifting. This will always give you a huge amount of feedback and reveal areas to address.

 2 – Use a Variety of Squats 

I like programming different squat variations – high bar, heels elevated high bar, low bar, and sometimes front squats. Often, when we plateau in one squat it’s a good time to program a different version to allow progression to occur. 

Take the low bar squat, for example; it is a more hip dominant squat. Often, when the weight gets very heavy, lifters have a tendency for the hips to shoot up first instead of knees and hips working in synergy. This is a sign your body is moving away from a weakness (the quads) and moving towards its strength (the posterior chain). I would program a heels elevated high bar squat instead, which is more quad dominant. We address the weakness by focusing on it for a few phases, then come back to the low bar.

 3 – Squat More Frequently

I like to use frequency when programming squats. For a client aiming to progress a squat, usually a minimum of 2 sessions a week is ideal. Squatting once a week is not enough to bring about rapid progress in a squat plateau I believe. The squat is a skill. The more we can practice a skill the better and more efficient we can become at it. When I get lifters who have been training for a year or two and are at a squat plateau, the first part of programming I look at is increasing their squat frequency to 2 sessions per week.

 4 – Deload Squats

A squat deload means to actually back off squats, or at least reduce squat volume. The exact opposite of what I just wrote in the previous point! Remember, everyone reading this will be at different levels and abilities and have been doing different programs. For some clients, they come to me after over training or performing very high squat volume for extended periods of time. Their body feels beat up and mentally they dread their sessions. This can be a good opportunity to have a break from squats for a training phase.

We can replace the barbell squat with an exercise less fatiguing like a machine hack squat, or replace the low bar squat with a heels elevated high bar squat, which places less demand on the lower back to help manage training fatigue. A few short weeks of regressing the squat can then lead to a lifter coming back rejuvenated and ready to make progress again.

5 – Exercise Order

This sounds simple enough, but so often I see lifters make this mistake. If there is a specific exercise you are determined to improve, we want to do this first in the workout, when you are most fresh. So often I see novice lifters come to me unable to improve their squat, but they are always squatting after doing heavy deadlifts first in their workout. Performing deadlifts before squats will lead you to starting your squats in a much more fatigued state, particularly increased lower back fatigue. Want to break through a plateau? Squat first in your workout!

6 – Decrease Deadlifts for a Phase 

The deadlift is often seen as the king of exercises as it uses a lot of muscle tissue, but using a large amount of muscle tissue also means more central nervous system fatigue. If you are a powerlifter, sure you want to be squatting and deadlifting frequently. However, lifters who are not powerlifters and don’t have to deadlift, can use the strategy of having a few training phases without deadlifts. This is a strategy I use for clients frequently. In these training phases, I regress the deadlift to then allow me to distribute more training volume to a squat for a time period. Increase volume for the squat short term, but do this by decreasing volume to the deadlift. 

7 – Utilise Tempo 

Tempo is the speed that you lift the weight. We can use slow eccentrics (lowering portion of the squat), pauses at the bottom of the squat, and  explosive techniques like 1 & 1/4 reps. There are many options! For my clients, I routinely use slow eccentrics with a 5010 tempo or phases of long pauses such as a 2-3 second pause at the bottom of the squat. After 4 weeks using paused squats, you will be surprised how much easier normal reps (with no pauses) feel again, utilising the natural elasticity of the muscle.

8 – Core Strength 

Having a strong squat is not just about strong legs and technique. Your core strength will also help to improve your ability to lift as much as possible. The core is not just your visual 6 pack muscles but deeper muscles like your TVA. Training your core can improve your ability to keep the muscles around the spine tight. We want what is called spinal stiffness. In a heavy squat, we want stiffness around the spine to ensure we stay tight in the squat. 

Core movements such as bird dogs, planks, side planks, and paloff presses can all be great options as part of a well planned training program to improve your squat potential.

 9 – Warm Up Your Nervous System

Our central nervous system (CNS) plays a huge role in our strength potential on low reps. Low reps under 5 is often referred to as neurological training. The ability to use our CNS can allow for an improved ability to recruit muscles quickly and increase neurological efficiency when we train. Our nervous system is similar to a muscle, in that we want to be able to warm it up, so to speak, to improve our ability to lift heavy.

Warming up for a squat is not just foam rolling, walking on a treadmill, or mobility work. We want to be using the movement we are training – the squat to warm up our nervous system. So yes, do some mobility work pre-squat, but more importantly, perform multiple warm-up sets of squats, adding weight to the bar each set. I like clients to do low rep warm ups such as 2-3 rep warm up sets where they progressively add weight to the bar. The heavier it gets, the more we can excite the nervous system. Ensure you enter into your first working set having done numerous warm up sets of considerable weight!

10 – Utilise Various Rep Ranges

Not all of us want to be powerlifters and test our 1 rep max. A lot of us want a bigger squat to do for reps to help build more muscle. Say you want to improve your 6-8 rep max for squats. That’s great, but that does not mean you can only squat in 6-8 rep ranges or above. A simple and effective strategy I use for my hypertrophy focused clients to break through strength plateaus is to use training phases of lower reps.

I find rep ranges they have not been training previously and try to attack those weak links. Want fast progression? Find what a lifter has not been training which naturally will be a weak link and spend some time improving it. Good chance this can then lead to great momentum. 

For example, if I get a client who usually only squats 8-10 reps and does traditional higher rep hypertrophy rep ranges, my plan of attack is to target a 12 week phase of strength.

Let’s improve their neurological strength. If I can spend 12 weeks improving their squat strength on 3-5 reps or so, then that will carry over to improving squat strength on higher rep ranges.

If I add 10-20kg to the client’s 5 rep max, then 99 out of 100 times I can bet they will then go back to their old 8-10 rep max and be able to do considerably more reps than they could do before.

Don’t be afraid to utilise various rep ranges or totally new rep ranges to bring about fast success in hitting new bests!

Let’s get squatting!

Lagging Muscle Group? Try these training tips!

It’s really common to have muscle groups which are less developed than others. Unfortunately, it’s often the muscles we most want to grow the most that are the areas we struggle with. I guess we really can’t have it all hey?

The amount of times I am messaged by women, something along the lines of “My quads won’t stop growing but my glutes don’t grow at all!” – or by guys saying “My arms just won’t grow no matter what I do!” I’ve heard it all! 

All I have to say is that it’s normal (as annoying as that is). We are all prone to having areas, which for a variety of reasons, are better developed and other areas which seem to struggle no matter what we do.

Before I was an online coach exclusively, for 12 years, I was a face-to-face personal trainer. This taught me a whole lot of invaluable information with a big thing being that people would tell me how great their training was, and how great their technique was, and how hard they train, in their initial consultation every single time. But then, when I would finally see them train in-person I could see where the issues lie.

Even when I was an in-person personal trainer, the people who came to me screaming they have done everything in the world to grow x,y, and z and nothing works were also the same people who faced the same common issues that can easily be fixed:

  • Their training technique was far from optimal for that muscle group. 
  • They didn’t rest long enough between sets.
  • They stopped a working set well before failure and had a poor understanding of what true failure was.
  • They didn’t follow a training program and made it up on the day.
  • Their exercise order impaired what they most wanted to improve upon in their sessions.
  • They did too many exercises for a muscle group that trained the exact same thing. 

Now, let’s break these down quickly so I can explain how we get a solution for all of them.

1 – Training technique is not optimal

Since I am known for training women to develop great glutes, I will use glutes as our example. I can’t count the number of times I have been hired by women to build their glutes after they have done “everything” to build with no results. After I see them on their first session, I quickly realise one key factor they never did: they never learnt how to lift with proper technique. Their hip thrusts are all momentum – all quads; their lunges are quad biased, not glutes. They exceed their active range of motion for their glutes in an RDL, therefore loading up hamstrings and erectors. You name it, they’re focusing on quads over glutes!

Yes, they did the right exercises, but pretty much every exercise was done poorly. Technique is not just about having form that looks nice. It’s also important to ensure that when we move a weight, we are loading the muscle tissue we want to be targeting – NOT other muscles. 

The solution was and is always regression – take weight off the bar. Let’s lower the weight, slow the reps down and learn optimal technique to load the muscle we want to grow. When it comes to building muscle, remember it’s not just about moving a weight from point A to point B, it’s about putting as much tension as possible in the muscle we want to grow. 

Technique people! This is always the first thing you want to attack when you are noticing a lagging body part. People blessed with great genetics can often get away with poor training. It’s not fair, I know, but for the rest of us, technique matters.

2 – Not resting long enough between sets

All too often people rush through their sessions. Rest means we have a greater ability to lift more weight in the next set. The more weight we can use, the more tension we can potentially create in the muscle to create hypertrophy adaptations. Use your rest periods!

I remember I had one client who I literally had to stop from grabbing the weights to go on to her next set after only 30 seconds. If you want a time efficient strategy that will allow you long rests between muscle groups, but also an efficient session, read my blog on antagonist partnerships

When it comes to building muscle, utilise rest periods. I would rather a client do a little less total sets but ensure it’s all quality, than rush through their session and have low performance. Rest! Simple guideline is, lower the reps, longer the rest, but that doesn’t mean high rep sets don’t require rest periods too. 

3 – Stopping a working set well before true failure

As a trainer, I have worked with a lot of different clients. I’ve had clients who will take a set so far past failure I am literally lifting the weight for them hoping we both won’t die, whilst they are telling me they have another 2 reps in them…don’t be that person! Then on the flip side, I have had clients who as soon as they get a hint of a burn or a struggle, then drop the weight and say that’s it! This is not what we want either.

Building muscle is about tension. We want to take at least some sets in the workout very close to failure, within 1-2 reps. This is a key component of creating adaptations, but if every set you stop 5, 6, even 7 reps short when it gets a tiny bit hard, you are severely damaging your chance of improvement. Remember, we have to give the body a reason to grow – it’s an adaptation growth. If all your sets are stopping before you get a little uncomfortable, you are not giving the body a reason to adapt. Sure, in the short term you will notice some improvements, but the more advanced you become the more you need to really understand some sets are going to hurt, and that, despite it hurting, you have more reps left in the tank. 

I like to use a ramping method in my programs. Meaning, each set we add a little bit of weight. If you do 3 sets, ideally the last set is the hardest. This is a good way to do things. Have 5% increases in weight set to set, then in the final working set, try to take the set to within 1-2 reps of failure. In the following week, aim to beat that weight. This is not saying you need to take all sets to failure and work so hard you can’t walk or throw up. But at the very least, some of your sets in a workout need to get uncomfortable as you take them to within 1-2 reps of true failure.

4 – Not following a proper training program

A key concept of improvement in life is repetition. When we learn any skill, we need to practice it to get better. Experts in life come from people who master a skill through repetition. In the gym, it’s a similar concept. You get better by practicing those movements over and over again. This is what leads to progressive overload. 

All too often, people rock up to the gym and jump on any exercise that’s free. Last Monday you did squats. Cool. This week the hip thrust machine is free so you do that. Then the next week, the leg press is free so you go do that. And so on. Last week you did 10 reps. This week let’s do 20 reps. 

The problem with chopping and changing every variable each week is that it does not allow you time to actually progress. Imagine doing one class of learning German. Then the following week, you do a class on Italian. Then, the next week, you do a class on French. How great would you be at speaking German on the 4th week? You probably wouldn’t remember a thing! Why? Because you did it once, then didn’t come back to it to continue to build up your skills. Same with the gym! 

This is why it’s imperative you follow a training program. Yes, you should do the same workouts for weeks back to back! This is how all my clients do it with my training programs and why they get better and better. Through consistency! Allowing yourself practice and repetition – that then leads to progress! 

Follow a plan! Ideally mine if you want great results 🙂 

5 – Exercise order does not prioritise areas you want to improve

All too often, I find the order of exercises in a workout does not reflect what the person most wants to improve. For instance, a lot of clients come to me wanting to hit their first pull up. When I ask them where they usually place the pull up in their workouts it’s always a vague answer of either “it depends” or “after I train shoulders” or “after I do my deadlifts,” etc. 

The point is, when it comes to improving a lift, we know that exercise order matters. If you want to improve at a specific lift, aim to place it first in your workout. This means you will be doing it when you are fresh and with 100% energy to give it your best. The later you do an exercise in your workout, the more fatigue you will have accumulated, even if you are doing other muscle groups beforehand. Fatigue still carries over.

Try to build your workout around the exercise you want to improve on the most. Say it’s a squat, a deadlift, a pull up, you name it – try to build your workout around that lift. Place it first. Then, keep it first in your workout – not just for one session but for weeks and weeks. This is the best way to improve a lift quickly! Give it the attention it deserves by placing it first in your workout! 

6 – Exercise selection is repetitive for the muscle group

Our final point comes down to exercise selection. The more advanced you become, the more you need to really analyse your exercise selection. Simply doing 2-3 exercises for a muscle group back-to-back initially may bring nice progress (anything works at the start when you are new to training). However, the more advanced you become, the harder it is to create adaptations. This is why each exercise needs to be carefully selected. Let me give you some examples:

You train glutes. You choose 2 glute exercises to do – lunge and a squat. Two good exercises, but they are both training the glute max the same way in that they both are training the glutes in a stretch position. Meaning, they are training the lower division of the glutes only. The upper division of the glute max is best trained with exercises which are hardest when the muscle is shortening such as a hip thrust or 45* back extension. A better strategy can be to choose 1 movement for each glute max division, not two of the same. 

Let’s take the back for another example. When training the back, regardless if it’s a vertical pulling movement (lat pulldown) or a horizontal pulling movement (seated row), your arm position relative to the torso is what will impact recruitment the most. To train the upper back, a flared elbow will best target the upper back musculature such as traps and rhomboids. To target the lats, we want our elbows tucked by the sides of our torso.
Often I see clients come to me and they are doing a wide grip lat pulldown and then moving to a wide grip seated row. They complain that their back is not developing. It’s because they are training a very large muscle group with movements which focus on the one area only. A more complete back workout would be to have an elbows tucked movement and an elbows flared movement. 

Our takeaway here is that, for hypertrophy, we want to ensure we are training as many muscle fibres as we can in a muscle group. Make sure you are choosing movements for a muscle group which don’t just repeat the same thing over and over. 

So there you go! 6 common training issues I find that hinder clients’ progression, which inevitably, leads to lagging body parts. It’s important to understand, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some muscles grow like weeds without trying for people. Some muscles seem like they just don’t want to respond no matter what you do. 

All is not lost! Assess your training and look at these 6 points. This is exactly what I look for and what I address in new clients who come to me to finally get that breakthrough. If it has worked well for 100’s of my clients then I confidently think these strategies, if addressed correctly, can positively impact your own lagging body parts. 

Good luck!

Coach Mark Carroll

Want to lose weight and keep it off? Have a reverse dieting plan!

Are you someone who struggles to keep your weight loss result long term?

You are able to lose the weight, but post fat loss you tend to rapidly put it back on, and some more? This is all too common.

Are you a person who has finally achieved the fat loss result you were after, but you are now terrified to increase calories out of fear of weight regain? Living on low calories?

This is where I love REVERSE DIETING!

What is a reverse diet? 

A reverse diet is a tool I use with clients to exit a fat loss phase. Simply put, a reverse dieting plan is an “exit strategy.” A strategy to transition from a calorie deficit to maintenance calories. 

It’s a fancy way of simply increasing calories incrementally out of a low calorie phase. I strategically use gradual increases in calories as I aim to work a client up to their predicted TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). The place where they should theoretically be able to maintain their weight. 

What’s that look like as a snapshot? 

Say you finish your fat loss phase, a 16-week cut, on 1,400 calories. 

You have lost 10 kilograms! Amazing! 

Now, you can use my TDEE Calculator to work out your predicted TDEE. Let’s say it is 2,300 calories. This is where you should theoretically be able to maintain your weight: 2,300 calories for maintenance. You can also use a reverse diet calculator to help you figure out your starting calories.

The issue is, you have just finished your fat loss phase on only 1,400 calories. You were losing very slowly. The weight wasn’t just falling off. 

This is a good sign that you would not be able to maintain your weight on 2,300 calories. Right now, if we just immediately bumped your calories to 2,300 you would initially put on some body fat. 

Not what most people want after finally getting to their goal weight.

You want to KEEP THE WEIGHT OFF long term! Not rush to gain that weight back. 

This is where we can use a reverse diet calculator as a tool to exit a fat loss phase for certain clients. 

A reverse diet involves being very conscious of fast weight regain when there is a large gap between your finishing fat loss calories and your predicted TDEE. 

A reverse dieting plan will teach you to incrementally build your calories up to your TDEE over a period of time.

The idea is as we increase calories, your metabolic rate, which has been lowered through metabolic adaptation from dieting, will slowly pick back up. 

By increasing calories slowly, we can mitigate rapid weight regain and ideally help you to both increase calories AND maintain your new weight loss. 

This is why my reverse diet calculator is such a useful tool for the right person to mentally transition from low calories to increased calories. Too large a jump in calories immediately partnered with fast scale weight gain can cause a mental struggle and prevent you from wanting to increase calories. You’re scared and want to stay on very low calories as a strategy of preventing weight regain.

Once we have the desired result, long term low calories are not what we want. We want to increase calories! However, we need to be strategic at times. A reverse diet allows a person to take the positive step of increasing calories, while at the same time, slowing the rate of potential weight regain. This process of gradually bringing up calories can play a big psychological role in improving someone’s ability to eat more once again. 

Do you struggle to keep your fat loss results long term?

Do you find the thought of increasing calories scary?

Then get your reverse dieting plan now by purchasing The Art of Reverse Dieting guide! The program comes with access to my app and my reverse diet calculator! You’ll have all the tools you need to succeed in keeping your results long term!

Let’s do it!

Coach Mark Carroll

THE 3 MOST COMMON GLUTE BUILDING MISTAKES

These days, it seems like everyone wants to build big glutes… amazing – that is what I specialise in for clients! But being a coach who has done this for 15 years now, I notice the same kind of client comes to me with similar issues:

This person desperately has been trying their hardest to build glutes for a long time but has reached a sense of feeling at a total loss. It’s not a lack of effort always. People are working hard but their glute gains continue to struggle. 

“Mark, please help me fix this!” 

Done! I can do that! 

Now, before going into my own methods that help clients FINALLY build the glutes they have dreamed of, I want to share the common Glute training mistakes that I see over and over. I know this because it’s the same issue/s all the time. 

Here are the common mistakes and mistakes I want you to AVOID:

Mistake 1 – Putting a booty band around your knees on EVERY exercise

Nothing makes me want to pull my hair out more (if I had any hair) than seeing a coach have a client wear a booty band around their knees on every. single. exercise. 

It is moronic! 

A band forces you to drive out into the band itself. The issues on exercises like hip thrusts, leg press, RDLs, etc. using this is that it’s not what we want to be focusing on during the movement. 

In hip extension exercises such as bridges and hinges, the resistance is vertical (straight up and down) which is how we train our big GLUTE MAX muscle. But, if we add a band, the resistance becomes lateral (side to side) which we do not want. 

By forcing your body into not only having to work against the vertical resistance AND a lateral resistance from a band, we are NOT making the exercise superior or more efficient. It’s not 1 + 1 = 2. It’s not adding anything. It is actually taking away as it makes it more inefficient!

The muscles being forced to drive laterally into the band are muscles we need to be stabilising the main movement of hip extension. The little support muscles are now less focused on doing their job of stabilisation and instead focused on the band which gives us a co-contraction. 

It ‘feels’ like you are doing more and it ‘feels’ like more of a burn but in actual fact, you are forced to use far less weight and challenge the glute max far less because you are forced to focus on the knees going into the band.

If your goal is to build big glutes… DITCH THE BAND around the knees in your big compound lifts. Allow yourself to optimise the movement by focusing on the one key variable we want to train. If the resistance from hip extension is straight up and down, focus on that! Adding a lateral resistance negatively impacts what you can achieve. 

The moment my future clients ditch the band and finally move to just mastering the basics is the moment their glutes begin to finally grow. 

Mistake 2 – Doing too many ‘Instagram exercises’ over doing the basics well

We, as humans, tend to want to gravitate (naturally) to the new and shiny object. This often is not the answer we actually should be going for. 

When it comes to Glutes and the use of social media, we have the rise of influencers and an abundance of content on training. Our feeds are smashed with tips, some good and some not so good. The problem is that a lot of new trainers and even advanced trainers fall victim to the shiny new exercise you see influencers post for engagement, which often makes no sense at all. 

My go to Glute exercises for clients are:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Thrusts
  • Bridges 
  • Split squats 
  • Kickbacks 
  • Glute medius kickback
  • Leg press 
  • Step ups 

That’s about it. 

Now, they can do variations of these especially with tempo and various rep ranges, but the above is how I consistently build PRO level Glutes. Nothing on that list is a secret or necessarily revolutionary because Glute training isn’t either. The basic principles of muscle building still win out… always! 

Social media will make you think that all these exercises don’t work anymore and that you need a crazy technique of a variation of a variation done in this super unique fashion no one has ever done before and that coach has all the secrets despite having zero qualifications. 

Fact of the matter is that the best Glute exercises are most likely ones you are doing or have been doing but got away from using consistently. 

The exercises that I’ve listed above, my clients do over and over because they are the best exercises. We don’t need to shy away from them. We practice them. We master them. We consistently get stronger and stronger at them. PLUS, we don’t deviate from the plan every 2 weeks because we become slightly bored.

The best exercises you can do are the ones you probably already know. The key is sticking at them and consistently getting stronger at them. Not running to a fancy influencer exercise every second session. 

Mistake 3 – Not eating enough calories for your goal to grow 

No mistake I see is going to impact muscle building potential more than this! 

As a coach who primarily trains women, thousands and thousands of women over the last decade, I can tell you with experience and confidence that the enemy of results for many is not a lack of effort. 

Women train seriously hard! 

It’s not even a lack of doing the best exercises the majority of time…

  • It’s the lack of using calories wisely to support their goals.
  • It’s the lack of getting out of a calorie deficit and eating more to fuel that growth!
  • It’s the fear of short term body fat gain

The issue is…. Calories are what is going to take you where you need to be, as scary as it is! 

Want to optimise your results? Lets keep it simple:

  • Calorie deficit = fat loss 
  • Calorie surplus = muscle building 

Yes, you can build some muscle in a calorie deficit but there are people who will adapt to this better like beginners, people coming back from injury and people with higher body fat levels.

But, anyone who’s been training for years knows first hand, results become slower and harder to come by the longer you train. 

This is why we need to prioritise your goals! 

Fat loss and muscle building calories, if we were to optimise, are on opposing ends of the spectrum.

The biggest challenge I face as a coach is that women (and men, sometimes) are not supporting their growth goals consistently enough with optimal calories.

Do you really want to build your glutes to the best of their ability?

Then do this…

Get out of a calorie deficit!

At least, as bare minimum, take your calories to your maintenance (TDEE)! You can even use my TDEE calculator on my site to help you find this.

From there, when you’re ready, you can work your calories up into a surplus and give yourself some time to grow. Muscle building is a slow process. 

When I work with a new client, ideally I want them to give me a minimum of 16 weeks (and ideally 24 weeks+) of calories up and out of a deficit to be focusing on muscle building.

Yes, you will gain some body fat. 

Yes, you will feel a touch uncomfortable at times.

But most importantly, YES, you will be optimising your goals!

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So, in summary, you need to train hard, train using the correct exercises but you also need to balance that out with your calories being higher to best support your big glute growth goals!

There you go – 3 of the most common mistakes I see getting in the way of women building their Glute gain goals! 

Don’t let them be your fault anymore.

You got this, 

Coach Mark Carroll

 

Top 4 Factors to Building the ELITE Bikini Body

As a coach of many WBFF Bikini Pros and even a World Champion, one of the most common questions I get always involves competing, primarily doing a Bikini Competition. 

Everybody wants to know what it takes to become a Bikini competitor and what you need to focus on primarily, especially if it’s your first time. My answer is always the same: there are 1001 things that can affect you and all of them are just as important as the next. 

When it comes to competing, stepping on stage and absolutely killing it (and potentially winning your PRO card), there are a few things that I always refer back to as being the most important aspects:

1. Patience
Doing truly epic things with your physique takes years and years. Take a look at my long-term client Nurah, who has recently just won the WBFF Miss USA title in her PRO Bikini category last year. 

Before we achieved this physique and got to where we were, I trained Nurah for 3 whole years (online)! I know, 3 years seems like an eternity to people starting out but it’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things. Truly changing and developing your physique takes time… SERIOUS TIME!

2. Getting Strong
Going back to my client Nurah, when coaching her for the 3 years prior to her show, we increased her strength to the point of squatting 100kg for reps! Many of my other clients who went on to win their own Bikini show have squatted over 150kg.

Getting strong builds more than just a physique, it helps build a mindset to challenge yourself. It’s not about being strong for 1 rep but instead is about laying a nice foundation to your physique.

I program phases where we incorporate low rep (neurological) work to then increase the client’s ability to be stronger on higher rep (traditional hypertrophy) phases. Using strength can be a catalyst to breaking through hypertrophy plateaus.

3. The Basics Win Out
The foundation of all the great clients I have worked with is not anything crazy when it comes to exercise selection. They squat, hip hinge, lunge, thrust and do upper body exercises, especially pull ups. These are my staples for women – the basics! Once they get good, they get really, really good.

4. Eat!
Get out of a calorie deficit! One of my main goals for ALL of my clients is to NOT have them walk around stage lean, all year round. You don’t make serious gains being comp-shredded all the time, in fact, you most likely won’t make any. I get my clients out of a deficit where I can and have them spend a good period of time in a surplus (when not competing). Months and months in a surplus, not just a few weeks. Great physiques are not built by staying lean all year round, they’re built by getting out of a deficit.

Looking insane and stepping on stage as a bikini competitor isn’t as easy as mastering the 4 above factors, there’s a lot more but this is a good starting point! This is just the beginning but you can always learn more in my leading program Building the Bikini Body!

If you want to train like a WBFF World Champion or one of my many PRO Bikini clients, the entire, 12-month Building the Bikini Body series is for you. These programs are what my own clients used to WIN, and they can be your foundation too.

You know what to do,

Coach Mark Carroll

7 Best Glute Building Exercises

My 7 FAVOURITE glute exercises that I always program! As a coach, it’s very common to be asked “what’s the best glute exercise to do for growth?”. In reality, it’s not really about what the best exercise is for your glutes, but actually the best group of exercises that work best when programmed together!

For many people, glute growth or strength gains is a hard task – big glutes do not come naturally to most. In saying that, it doesn’t mean that growing some killer glutes is completely unachievable for many – absolutely not!

With the right programming, dedication and diet (and no, I’m not talking about a deficit, I’m talking about a SURPLUS), glute growth and optimisation can be easily achieved by anyone! 

Okay let’s get into the good stuff. These 7 exercises are what I have used and still use for many of my clients, male or female, who have seen amazing results with their glutes:

  1. High Box Step Up – Eccentric Focused: If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen me post multiple times about how step ups have the highest glute activation of all glute exercises… it’s the GOAT. We have a greater glute emphasis with the higher step and also increase the intensity with slow eccentrics by lowering yourself for 3-4 seconds.
  2. Trap Bar Romanian Deadlift: From experience with my clients, I find that a lot of people will feel a greater load in their glutes with a trap bar over a regular barbell due to the handles being by their sides.
  3. Kas Glute Bridge: These are a big favourite of mine! I am yet to find another exercise that light up your glutes in the shortened position as much as these do. I am forever thankful for @coach_kassem for teaching these to me!
  4. Smith Machine Hip Thrust – Drop Sets: The smith machine is a bit of a love/hate relationship for me BUT, when it comes to thrusting with a smith machine I am a big fan! Plus, when we are adding in intensity techniques, like a drop set in this case, it’s so much easier to drop plates off the smith machine as compared to a normal barbell.
  5. Straddle Lift: When it comes to straddle lifting for glute mac emphases, we want to make sure that we are NOT in a sumo stance. We need to be in a more regular foot stance for these to take away from the adductors and put more power in the glutes.
  6. Floating Deadlift: Whether you’ve heard me refer to these as floating deadlifts or deficit deadlifts, they’re all the same and all great for glutes! By creating the extra deficit between our feet and the ground, it requires us to bring our glutes down further before lifting which therefore creates greater tension in them over the lower back.
  7. Leg Press – 1 & ¼ Reps: If you’re wanting the most glute max emphasis, your feet need to be high and narrow to bring them through a larger range of motion. The 1 & ¼ reps are  fantastic here in the bottom of the rep to further bias the glutes in that lengthened position.

Now, I’m not saying that these 7 exercises are the be-all-and-end-all. I’m just saying that these are the top 7 that I use with my clients when focusing on glute growth and/or strength gains. 

Are you doing any of these exercises? If not, make sure you give them a go! Your glutes will be burning but it’s a good thing.

Yours in health & fitness,

Coach Mark Carroll