Are hip thrusts, the ultimate hip extension exercise, part of your fitness routine? If not, they should be. You’re probably already familiar with the mechanics of a basic hip thrust and there are a variety of ways to do one and make the move more advanced. Why should they be part of your glute training?
Hip thrusts are one of the most effective exercises for targeting your glutes. Currently, your go-to exercise for glute training might be the squat, but hip thrusts actually hit your glutes harder. In fact, research carried out by Brett Contreras, the Glute Guy, showed that the upper and lower glutes are activated more with hip thrusts than they are at the bottom of a back squat. This doesn’t mean that hip thrusts are “better” than squats for your glutes but that it’s a good idea to add hip thrusts to your routine and not depend solely on squats. Plus, hip thrusts target the glutes differently than the exercises most people do repeatedly for their glutes – squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Working the glutes from different angles and doing a variety of exercises helps avoid strength plateaus.
Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, hip thrusts still hit the quads fairly hard, so they will also increase the size of your legs along with your glutes. That’s true of most of the popular exercises for the glutes, including squats, deadlifts, step-ups, leg extensions, leg presses, and lunges. They all work the quads and hamstrings and don’t develop your glute muscles in isolation. Two that focus more on the glutes than the quads or hamstrings are kettlebell swings and barbell glute bridges.
Common Mistakes When Doing Hip Thrusts
Once you’ve decided to add hip thrust to your routine, make sure you’re doing them properly to get the full benefits. One mistake women often make when doing hip thrusts is they don’t use enough resistance. However, you shouldn’t add resistance with hip thrusts initially, at least until you’ve mastered the form of the exercise. The form is too important to not conquer the basic movement without weights. But once you can do a hip thrust with good form without weight, place a light barbell across your lap to increase the challenge.
Another mistake is to take it to the other extreme and add TOO much weight. Hip thrusts are a challenging exercise to perform with good form. Adding weight at a high percentage of your one-rep max makes proper execution even harder. Go for a lighter barbell and higher reps to increase time under tension and metabolic stress. Both are important for muscle hypertrophy. Choose a weight you can do 8 to 12 before becoming fatigued.
Regardless of how much weight you use, hip thrusts should never be a jerky movement. Always do them in a smooth, controlled movement. When you thrust, push off your heels and avoid rising on to your toes as you thrust. Also, don’t hyperextend your back at the top as this increases the risk of injury and reduces glute activation. One way to avoid this is to maintain a posterior pelvic tilt. Assuming a posterior pelvic tilt prevents lumbar hyperextension, which isn’t ideal for spinal health. It also increases glute activation. Don’t forget to squeeze your glutes at the top! Holding a squeeze for a few seconds at the top increases the time you keep the glutes under tension and this helps boost muscle hypertrophy.
Another tip from Brett Contreras, the Glute Guy: Keep your shins vertical and perpendicular to the ground. When you shift your feet outward too much, you shift some of the tension toward your hamstrings and away from the glutes. Likewise, if you place your feet too close together, the tension shifts toward the quads.
How to Make Hip Thrusts More Challenging
When you first start doing hip thrusts, it’s easiest to lie on a mat and thrust your hips up without using resistance. You can also place your upper back against a bench and your feet out in front of you on the floor with your knees bent to do the move. Once you master the form, place a barbell over your pelvis. But you can make the exercise even harder. Rather than placing your feet flat on the floor, plant your feet on a bench with your body on the floor and do the exercise with your feet elevated. When your feet are higher than your shoulders, it increases the range-of-motion and boosts activation of the glutes.
Another variation you can attempt after you’ve mastered a standard hip thrust is a single leg hip thrust. According to Brett Contreras, the Glute Guy, you should also master a single leg glute bridge before progressing to a single leg hip thrust. So, don’t attempt this variation early on but use them as part of your progression. It’s not a beginner move.
The Bottom Line
Don’t give up squats or deadlifts, but make sure you’re doing hip thrusts too if you want strong, defined glutes. Squats have the advantage in that they challenge your balance skills a bit more, but at the top of a hip thrust, your glutes are activated more than when you reach the bottom of a squat, so you’re getting some stimulation that should help your glutes grow. Hip thrusts also have an advantage in that they activate the muscle fibers in the upper and lower glutes, whereas squats mainly hit the lower glutes.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. Include both in your routine, along with other glute-focused exercises, like lunges, deadlifts, and glute bridges. Other effective glute-focused exercises are quadruped hip extensions and glute bridges with isometric holds. Don’t forget about high step-ups either. Hold two dumbbells in your hands as you step up onto a high bench or platform. Start with a low step or bench of around two inches and gradually increase the height.
Having strong glutes is essential for knee and ankle stability and good joint mechanics. Glute strength also helps counter tight hip flexors that come from too much sitting. Now, you know why hip thrusts should be part of your routine as well as other exercises that will help you get a strong, shapely backside. Don’t neglect your glutes!
The Glute Guy. “10 Steps to The Perfect Hip Thrust”
The Glute Guy. “Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity”
J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):999-1008. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001510.
Research Gate. “Hip Joint Kinetics during the Barbell Hip Thrust” June, 2017.
ACE Fitness. “Glutes to the Max: Exclusive ACE Research Gets to the Bottom of the Most Effective Glutes Exercises”
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