In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Extremity Division Leader Mark Gallant discusses recent research evaluating the effects of training programs that prioritize the back squat vs. the barbell hip thrust.
Take a listen or check out the episode transcription below.
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What is up PT on Ice Crew, Dr. Mark Gallant here having some trouble with YouTube webcams this morning so we’re going to be solely on Instagram and we’ll get it downloaded for you on the on the back end for the YouTube. Again, I’m Dr. Mark Gallant, lead faculty with the Ice Extremity Management Division alongside Lindsey Huey, Eric Chaconis. We’re going to get into some hip thrusts versus back squats today. Before we do that, if you’ve been looking to sign up for an ice physio course, the courses that are on the website now are the only courses that are going to be there for the remainder of 2023. So if you’ve been on the fence thinking about jumping in, those fall courses are the fall courses. So go ahead and get that dialed up and come join us on the road. If you’ve been looking to join the extremity management faculty on the road, Lindsey is going to be in Rochester Hills, Michigan this weekend. So if you want to it’s a beautiful time of year in Michigan. If you want to jump up there, grab a seat. The course with Lindsey that’s still available. And then I’ll be in Amarillo, Texas September 9th and 10th. So I’d definitely love to see you all out on the road. One of the things that Lindsey and I and Cody and Kristen and all the staff for extremity management, one thing we’re always trying to help do is to simplify our exercise selection and dosage so that for any n equals one patient that comes into the clinic, it’s a bit easier for us as clinicians to go like, based on these parameters, this will likely be the best choice exercise and the best choice dosage for this individual.
02:39 HIP THRUSTS VS. BACK SQUATS
And we had an article released last month. It’s not even published in a journal yet. It came out of Auburn University. That’s going to help us do just that. So the lead author on the paper is Daniel Plotkin with Brett Contreras, aka the glute guy, also being an author on the paper. And what they did in this paper is they wanted to compare. If we gave a group of people hip thrusts for nine weeks, and we gave another group of people back squats for nine weeks, of those folks getting those individual programs, who would have the greatest strength gains and who would have the greatest hypertrophy gains to the glute max specifically. So that’s what they looked at. They took a group of individuals, about 34 individuals, who were 18 to 30, who had not done any significant training in over five years and were relatively healthy. So BMI under 30. So relatively young, relatively healthy and under trained. At baseline, what they assessed was they assessed three rep max for their back squat. They assessed three rep max for their barbell hip thruster, three rep max for a deadlift, and hip extension against a force plate to see how much output that glute max was doing. They also, which is kind of cool, they threw them through an MRI tube. And that’s how they got a measure of how dense and how robust their glute max tissue was. So they threw everyone, day one, through that MRI, got an assessment of how thick their glute max was, how thick that booty was, and then they reassessed that after nine weeks. The final piece they assessed was they took EMG output for both the back squat and the hip thrust. So what did they do for an intervention? So over the course of nine weeks, one group got hip thrusts and one group got barbell back squat. Each group did nine weeks. Week one, they did three sets of eight to 12 reps. Week two, they did four sets of eight to 12 reps. Weeks three through six, they did five sets of eight to 12 reps. And then week seven through nine, they did six sets of eight to 12 reps. So over the course of the program, they were getting a lot more volume as time went on. The way they controlled for the intensity, if a person was able to do more than 12 repetitions at any given set, they bumped the weight up. If they were unable to get to eight reps, they lowered the weight down. So they always wanted to keep it between those eight to 12 reps while making it approaching failure. So getting close to failure for each of those individuals to really challenge those tissues overall. So each group did twice a week, only back squat for the back squat group, two days a week with those loading parameters. Hip thrust, twice a week, only hip thrust for that nine weeks with those loading parameters.
05:12 THE LAW OF SPECIFICITY
What shook out at the end of the nine weeks was pretty cool. We’re starting to see some strength and conditioning principles that are becoming clearer for us as better studies come along, as time goes on. The number one thing that we continue to see is the law of specificity. If you want your client to get better at back squats, have them do back squats. If you want your client to get better at hip thrusts, have them do hip thrusts. If you want your client to get better at deadlifts, have them deadlift. You want them to get better at step ups, have them step up, so on and so on. And that’s exactly what we saw in this study. The group that did barbell back squat got significantly stronger at their three rep max back squat at the end of that nine weeks with only minimal gains in their barbell hip thrust, in their deadlift, in their force plate. They made gains in those other things. They were not nearly as significant as the gains as they made on the specific exercise they were doing. Same for the barbell hip thrust. The group that did the barbell hip thrust made significant gains in their three rep max on the barbell hip thrust. We did not see the same significance in their back squat, in their deadlift, and in their isometric hip extension against the force plate. Again, they made some gains, not as significant as the specific exercise. So again, we’re seeing this article reinforce. If you want to get better at a specific thing, that person will need to do that thing as soon as their tissues can tolerate it, as soon as they’re ready. Get them doing the thing that they desire to get better at. The other cool thing about this paper was hypertrophy. What we saw with hypertrophy with this study is both groups hypertrophied their glute max equally. So it didn’t matter whether you were in the back squat group, whether you were in the hip thrust group, both groups showed glute gains.
09:58 HYPERTROPHY AND EXERCISE SELECTION
And what we’re seeing in a lot of the hypertrophy research is exactly this, where as long as the tissue is being stimulated at a challenging level and enough volume, that’s good enough for the tissue to grow. So this study met those two criteria. It had an extreme amount of volume. So getting up to six sets of eight to 12 reps is a ton of time under tension for a tissue. And by controlling that they always wanted those folks to be approaching failure at a challenging range between eight to 12 reps, we got both high volume and high intensity. If those two parameters are on board and the tissue is getting some stimulus, almost always we’re going to see some local tissue change or some growth. So again, law of specificity, do the thing that the person wants to do. And if you’re looking for local tissue changes, hypertrophy, it seems to not matter as much which specific exercise. As long as the tissue is being challenged at an appropriate volume and at an appropriate intensity. The other interesting thing about this study was the EMG output did not seem to matter. So the barbell hip thrust had a higher EMG output for the glutes and that did not correlate to either strength gains or to more hypertrophy. Again, the strength games came from specificity. The hypertrophy gains came on board because the intensity was appropriated up. Now, looking at any study, we always want to be aware that there’s problems with every study or challenges to any study that comes across the board. There are no perfect studies out there. The challenges with this study were it was a relatively low population. So there were 34 individuals, 18 in the hip thrust group, 16 in the squat group. So a fairly small population. They were all young and relatively healthy, which is going to be different than our general physical therapy population. And they were all significantly undertrained. So no one that was accepted in the study had more than one day a week for over five years of weightlifting experience. So appreciate that likely these gains that we saw in strength and these gains that we saw in hypertrophy are somewhat attributed to that. These folks were so significantly undertrained. And we’ve all seen that the more undertrained the person is, the easier it is for them to adapt early on. Also, with this, nine weeks is a fairly short amount of time to have a strength and conditioning or a hypertrophy program show results. It’s likely that because they were undertrained is why we saw results in nine weeks. With our general physical therapy clients, some of whom may have been weightlifting for 15, 20, 30 years, we would expect a bit longer time to get true tissue adaptations and to get true strength adaptations. So again, to recap, study showed hip thrust versus barbell back squat. If you want to get better at the hip thrust, do the hip thrust. If you want to get better at the barbell back squat, you want to get stronger at that, do the barbell back squat. If you want to hypertrophy, whichever exercise you want to choose is great as long as you’ve got the intensity and the volume. The final cool thing that this study showed was that when someone did the barbell back squat, they had a ton of adductor activation and ton of quad activation and a ton of glute activation versus the hip thrust, which had primarily glute activation with far less hip adductor or quad activation. So if you’ve got a patient who comes in and they’re in a lot of pain and you say, man, they’ve got some knee pain on board, their adductors seem a bit irritable, those quads are all gummed up. And we want to make sure that that athlete or that client is maintaining powerful hip extension, which is one of the most important movements for all humans. Then let’s bias early on to the barbell hip thrust because it’s not going to challenge those adductors and those quads. When that patient starts to get better and their adductors and their quads are not as irritable and they’re not as gummed up, then let’s go straight after that squat. Or on the flip side, you have no tissue irritability on board and that person’s daily life requires a lot of squatting. It’s going to behoove you to go right after that squat instead of spending time on the hip thrust early on. In reality, we’ve beaten a dead horse with this saying over the years and not more. For most of our folks, you’re going to want to program hip thrust. You’re going to want to program some squats. You’re going to throw your deadlifts in there to have a nice well-rounded program. Law of specificity. Make sure the intensity is good. Make sure the volume is good. Have a great Tuesday treating clients. Can’t wait to see you all on the road. Have a great rest of your day. Always grateful to be speaking on this podcast and hope to see you all soon.
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