Pimp Your Program Design

Share This:

Today I have a killer guest post by strength coach, future Dr., good friend, and specializer in all things glutes, Bret Contreras.

Getting good (or even adequate) at designing effective training programs takes time. There are a lot of theories and opinions out there on the topic, and in today’s post Bret shares some insight on what he feels should be some common denominators.

There’s a TON of useful, easily actionable information involved (and I went a head and embedded numerous videos from Bret which could serve as excellent resource themselves).

Also, as an FYI, Bret released his new program yesterday called 2×4.

Bret was nice enough to send me an advance copy last week and I had the opportunity to read through it while I was stuck at O’Hare airport in Chicago over the weekend.

I liked it.  A lot.

Watered down to the essentials, the title 2×4 means 2 (big, compound, movements) performed 4 times per week.

It’s a 14-week program designed to get people STRONG (and gunny) by integrating strength work in conjunction with sub-maximal training and assistance work.

I think what I appreciate most is that it’s a no-frills program. You vs. the barbell.

While Bret suggests which exercises you should focus on, you do get the opportunity to choose which eight exercises you’d like to have as your “indicators” to gauge progress.

What’s more the program can be modified to fit your preferences (strength vs. hypertrophy), so it’s far from a one-size-fits all program.

He also includes a bunch of sweet bonuses, all of which only sweeten the pot.

In fact, as of today, I’m doing the program myself!  I can’t wait to see what kind of results I get.

For more information you can go HERE.

On that note, enjoy the article!

Pimp Your Program Design

Is your training still stuck in the 1990’s? If so, let me help you out with some common program design tips of highly effective trainers and lifters.

Necessary Components

First of all, your training will need to be comprehensive. While I personally prefer 4 full body training sessions per week, other training splits can certainly be effective too. Just make sure that every week (and preferably twice per week), you’re performing exercises from the following categories of movements:

1. Hip + Knee Extension Movement – these include bilateral and unilateral squatting exercises. Examples are goblet squats, back squats, front squats, Bulgarian split squats, walking lunges, and step ups.

2. Straight Leg Hip Extension Movement – these include bilateral and unilateral hip hinging movements. Examples are deadlifts, good mornings, horizontal back extensions, 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, single leg RDLs, and kettlebell swings.

3. Bent Leg Hip Extension Movement – these include bilateral and unilateral bridging and thrusting movements. Examples are hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, single leg hip thrusts, and cable pull-throughs.

4. Upper Body Pressing Movement – these include bilateral and unilateral vertical, 45 degree, and horizontal presses. Examples are barbell or dumbbell bench press, barbell or dumbbell incline press, and barbell or dumbbell overhead press.

5. Upper Body Pulling Movement – these include bilateral and unilateral vertical, 45 degree, and horizontal pulls. Examples are chins, pull-ups, seated rows, one arm rows, inverted rows, and bent over rows.

6. Core Stability Movement – these include anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotation exercises. Examples are RKC planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts, hollow body holds, suitcase holds, and Pallof presses.

Base your training around these exercises and you’re bound to succeed.

Balanced Hip Extension Exercise

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past 50 years, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the merits of hip extension exercise. Simply put, it’s the cat’s pajamas.

However, some hip extension exercises stress the flexed-range position, while others stress the extended-range position.

Flexed-Range Hip Extension Movements

Squats, front squats, conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, good mornings, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, trap bar deadlifts.

 Note from TG: Who wants to bet that Bret’s not wearing any pants in this video?????

Extended Range Hip Extension Movements

Hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, single leg hip thrusts, horizontal back extensions, cable pull-throughs.

The exercises in the former group are staples that have been popular for quite some time. The exercises in the latter group have recently emerged onto the scene and are very important for ensuring that full range hip extension strength and maximum glute development are realized. Every good program should include exercises from both groups.

Daily Rowing and Glute Work

Not all volume is created equal. Some exercises heavily tax the CNS, whereas others don’t tend to create much soreness or fatigue. Performing maximal deadlifts multiple times per week is usually a recipe for disaster, but the same cannot be said for rowing movements and most targeted glute exercises.

You may perform 2-3 sets of inverted rows, seated rows, one-arm rows, chest supported rows, or face pulls every training session.

You may also perform 2-3 sets of band seated hip abductions, monster walks, sumo walks, banded clams, band hip rotations, side lying hip raises, glute marches, or RKC planks every training session as well.

Sub-Maximal Training Methods

In the old days, we thought that we had to max out or take every set to failure in order to see results. These days, more and more coaches and lifters are realizing the benefits of sub-maximal training methods.

I like to perform what I call super-strict reps, or dynamic-effort reps, or pause reps, each for around 3 sets of 1-5 reps. This allows for greater training frequency without compromising recovery, which leads to greater strength gains over time.

Personal Record (PR) Opportunities

Pick 5 of your favorite compound exercises. If you consider a 5RM, a 3RM, and a 1RM, that makes for 3 different “PR opportunities” per exercise.

If you perform 3 sets of 1, 3 sets of 3, or 3 sets of 5 reps, then this makes for 3 more “PR opportunities” per exercise. With 6 PR opportunities for 5 exercises, this equates to 30 different PR’s. Week in and week out, you should be setting PR’s.

Do you know what you can max close grip bench? Do you know what you can front squat for 3 set of 5? Do you know what your 3RM sumo deadlift is? If not, you should.


I know you love training balls-to-the-wall (or ovaries-to-the-wall if you’re a female lifter), but you simply cannot train all-out 52 weeks out of the year.

I like to go hard for 6 weeks and then deload for a week. Some coaches prefer to deload every 3 or 4 weeks. It all depends on the lifter, but suffice to say, you need to plan built-in easy weeks that allow for proper recovery.


Hopefully these suggestions will revamp your training and help you reach new levels of strength and physique development. They’ve worked well for me and for my clients, so I think they’ll work for you too.

About the Author

Bret Contreras, MA, CSCS is currently studying to receive his PhD in sports science at AUT University. Find out more about him by visiting his blog at www.BretContreras.com.


Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

Share This Post:


Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Gav Gray

    Great article. In the Deadlift video Brett stated you shouldn't deadlift if you cant leg raise to close to 90 degrees. Assuming one has anterior pelvic tilt (and doing mob work to correct this), what can be done to help improve leg raise ROM?

    April 16, 2014 at 3:57 am | Reply to this comment

    • Marc Perry

      The Level I FMS book has several solid corrective exercise ideas to help correct the single leg raise movement pattern. The one that worked for me the most (I used to have an anterior pelvic tilt, but only when raising my left leg) is called leg raise with core activation. As you are lying on your back, your arms should be straight overhead and move in an arc toward your sides as you lift your leg. Then you can add resistance by holding a resistance band anchored by a partner, or a stable object behind you. The added resistance helps prevent the pelvis from pushing forward and conditions the core. Worked for me within just a few days.

      April 16, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul Bruce

    What would be the advantages/disadvantages of a single-leg hip thrust as opposed to bilateral version?

    April 17, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Tony, nobody needs a mental picture of Brett without pants. Keep that one to yourself buddy.

    April 20, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment