The emphasis is on the glutes these days and having a powerful backside that also looks great in a pair of jeans is one of the benefits of weight training. But building strong, rounded glutes isn’t easy. In our daily lives, we have lots of factors working against us. For example, most people sit too much and that’s a glute destroyer. When you sit in a chair most of the day, your hip flexors tighten and the antagonist muscles, the glutes, lengthen and become weaker. The key to correcting this imbalance is to stretch your hip flexors and strengthen your glutes, the antagonist muscles with exercises that target the glutes like hip thrusts.
Glute Power: It All Starts with the Muscles
The three glute muscles, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, are among the largest muscles in your body. You need these muscles for external rotation, hip abduction, and hip extension. Needless to say, this group of three is essential for movement and for pelvic stabilization. When your glutes are weak, it places extra strain on other muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in the back. This increases your risk of back injury and also contributes to poor posture.
You might feel like your glutes are getting a good workout when you do the standard lower body exercises, like squats and lunges. Surprisingly, squats are not the best exercise for targeting the glutes. When you squat to parallel, you activate the quad muscles more than your glutes or hamstrings. In fact, lunges actually activate the glutes more than squats, based on EMG studies. Deadlifts, too, are an effective glute exercise. Yet, there’s a powerful exercise that’s underappreciated in the world of glute strengthening and development – the hip thrust. If you aren’t doing this exercise, why not?
Hip Thrusts for Glute Strength and Development
Why do hip thrusts? Thrusts work your glutes in a way that squats and lunges don’t. When you make hip thrusts part of your routine, your glutes will become stronger and the muscles will hypertrophy, creating a shapelier backside. Doing an exercise, like hip thrusts, that targets your glutes will also improve your athletic performance and your posture. It’s the ideal exercise for you if you’re worried about your backside losing shape as you age.
In one study, researchers compared muscle activation, as measured by EMG, when participants did hip thrusts or squats. The hip thrusts activated the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the booty region, and the biceps femoris, a muscle that makes up the hamstrings, more than the back squat. So, if you’re looking for a glute-focused exercise to shake up your routine, hip thrusts are it.
How to Do a Proper Hip Thrust
Start by mastering the hip thrust without using added weight. Once you can do a certain volume of thrusts without weight, place a barbell or weight plate across your lap for more resistance. To do a standard hip thrust, place your shoulder blades against a bench with your legs bent and feet planted on the floor. Spread your arms across the bench for support. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes as you thrust your hips toward the ceiling. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle with the ground at the highest point of the thrust. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
One mistake people make when doing hip thrusts is that they do fail to increase the challenge of the movement over time. To do this, place a barbell at the level of your hips as you lift. Then, gradually increase the weight over time. However, it’s important to get your form right first since not doing it correctly, especially with weight, can lead to injury. To avoid back injury, don’t hyperextend your spine when you thrust. Keep your spine in a neutral position.
So, why not just do squats? As mentioned, based on current EMG data, hip thrusts activate the glutes more than squats do. In reality, squats place more emphasis on the quads than the glutes and hamstrings. Based on EMG studies, hip thrusts are an exercise that should be part of your lower body routine. But, as Bret Contreras, the Glute Guy points out, you can’t say that one exercise is superior to another for hypertrophy and strength gains based solely on EMG data. EMG results don’t necessarily translate into greater hypertrophy. That’s why you should do BOTH exercises – squats and hip thrusts, as well as lunges and deadlifts to work the glute muscles in different ways.
Some floor exercises, too, target the glutes. You’re probably familiar with the glute bridge isometric hold, but quadruped hip extensions are another targeted exercises for the glutes. To do this exercise, grab a mat and get on your hands and knees. Take one leg and lift it up towards the ceiling while keeping the knee at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back neutral throughout the movement. Since you’re not using resistance, increase the volume your do on this exercise. Aim for three sets of 20 to 30 reps. Once you’ve mastered the move without weights, place a dumbbell on the back of your knee as you lift the leg up.
Finally, high step-ups are a glute activator. Plus, this exercise builds power and offers a balance challenge as well. All you need is a bench or a high step. Place two dumbbells in your hands and hold them at your side. Place one foot on the bench and step up onto the bench with the other. Then, step down with one foot while keeping the second food on the bench. Keep repeating. When you first attempt this exercise, use a low step, an inch or two below knee height until you get comfortable with the move.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know why hip thrusts should be part of your glute-strengthening routine. Most importantly, think beyond squats and lunges for building glute strength and definition. These exercises have benefits but varying the exercises you do will help you maximize your results and avoid plateaus. So, add a little variation to your lower body workout, particularly if you’re looking for greater glute development – and don’t forget about hip thrusts.
ACE Fitness. “Glutes to the Max: Exclusive ACE Research Gets to the Bottom of the Most Effective Glutes Exercises”
The Glute Guy. “Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity”
FitNFlexed.com. “Hip Thrusts Vs Squats For Booty Gains”
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