October 23, 2021
There are multiple muscles worked when doing hip thrusts, but the one that takes the cake is the gluteus maximus. This lower body exercise reigns supreme when it comes to building a solid backside. This post will go over how to do hip thrusts, benefits, 8 variations and how the muscles are worked to execute the best gluteus maximus exercise.
The hip thrust, sometimes called the hip thruster, effectively trains lower body muscles, especially the gluteus maximus. Simply put; the hip thrust is where you’ll place your upper back on a flat bench with your feet on the ground, knees bent, and your butt close to the floor, then you’ll contract your glutes and other muscles to lift your hips upwards until your hips are parallel with the floor. Most likely, you’ve seen people doing the hip thrust in your social media feeds as this once relatively obscure exercise has gone mainstream.
Although many people might confuse the hip thrust with a glute bridge, there are differences. The hip thrust usually requires a raised platform to brace the upper back and often an external resistance of some sort, such as a barbell or resistance band.
The hip thrust isn’t as straightforward as you may think; to get the most out of it, you should be mindful of some form tips and tricks. So here are the step-by-step instructions on how to do the hip thrust properly and most effectively.
Note: If using external loads such as the Smith machine, hip thrust machine, bands, or other weights, the setup will change slightly.
Step One: Setup
Set up your barbell with weights on it before sitting down. You may want to use a towel or pad around the bar for added comfort. Try to use weight plates wide enough to give you clearance to roll the bar into place when your legs are flat on the ground. Otherwise, you will need to have a partner help you position the weight.
Once seated, you should be able to roll the bar up towards the crease in your hips before you bend your knees. If not using a barbell, you can skip this step and get into position.
Find a flat bench that’s around your lower leg height and place it in front of a rack, wall, or another stable base of support just for added safety concerns so the bench doesn’t shift while doing the exercise.
Then sit perpendicular to the bench in the center, with your feet on the ground and your knees bent with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Rotate your toes outward at around 10-15 degrees. Start with your upper back (scapula region) against the edge of the bench. Grab the bar on the outside of your legs to help keep the bar stable as you thrust up.
Note: Do a few practice reps with lightweight to get your body positioning correct.
Step Two: Lift Off
After the barbell is in place, push through your feet and lean back onto the bench. Before you initiate the thrust, it’s important to flex the glutes before squeezing them to move the weight up. Focus on fully extending your hips until your lower legs and upper legs create a 90-degree angle at the top.
Note: Throughout the movement, you should be looking straight ahead, not up towards the ceiling, with your chin tucked. Try to squeeze your glutes as much as possible to finish off the motion.
Step Three: Repeat
Lower the bar in the reverse motion until your butt is a few inches off the ground before thrusting up again.
WRONG FOOT PLACEMENT:
The distance your feet are from the bench will determine what muscles will be more engaged. If your feet are too close to the bench, your quads will take on more tension. If your feet move too far away from the bench, then you shift emphasis to your hamstrings.
How to Fix: You will have to try a few different foot positions to ensure that your glutes get the most activation.
HYPEREXTENDING LOWER BACK:
Overarching the lower back can reduce the effectiveness of the hip thrust. Pay attention to how you finish off the motion towards the top. Your lower back should be kept in a neutral position to get the maximum hip extension.
How to fix: Try to contract your abs downward towards the top of the movement to keep your lower back flat.
FAILURE TO LOCK OUT:
Many people perform hip thrusts without locking out the movement. Your hips should be above your knees at the top of the motion. The common reason for this is people trying to lift a weight that is too heavy. If you’re not feeling an intense burn in your glutes at the top, then you’re probably not locking out the rep.
How to fix:
LOWERING WEIGHT UNCONTROLLED:
With the hip thrust, there’s a tendency to let the weight drop in an uncontrolled manner. This lack of control leads to less-than-optimal training results and possible injury.
How to Fix: Use a slower eccentric tempo of 1-2 seconds as you lower your hips.
CHIN NOT TUCKED:
It’s essential to keep your chin tucked so that you don’t put too much excessive pressure on your spine as you thrust the weight up.
How to Fix: Keep your eyes looking down as you lift up.
Gluteus Maximus: This is the muscle that is the star of the show and primary mover when it comes to hip thrusts. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the gluteal muscles. Starting at the top of the pelvic bone, stretching down, then connecting to the thigh bone. The primary functions of the gluteus maximus are to aid in hip extension and provide stability to hips and knees in movements like walking or running. Other actions of the gluteus maximus are external hip rotation and hip abduction/adduction.
Gluteus Medius: The gluteus medius also begins at the ilium and inserts into the thigh bone, similarly to the gluteus minimus. Most of the gluteus medius is covered by the gluteus maximus, with the only superficial (visible) area at the forward-upper portion. The main functions of the gluteus medius are to support hip movement and stability. Hip abduction is the central action of the gluteus medius, while it also helps with frontal plane control along with the gluteus minimus.
Gluteus Minimus: The gluteus minimus is found beneath the other gluteal muscles and the TFL, with the gluteus medius covering most of it. The gluteus minimus begins at the ilium (part of the hip bone) and ends at the thigh bone. The main functions of the gluteus minimus are hip abduction and the stabilization of the hip. The main action is to help rotate your thighs out to the sides. It also plays a significant role in frontal plane control while walking so that the hip doesn’t lower every time your leg comes off the ground.
Hamstrings: The hamstrings are the group of muscles located at the back of the thigh. The hamstring muscles include; both heads of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The main functions of the hamstrings are knee extension and hip extension. They also help with both hip and knee extension because the muscles cross both the hip and knee joints. When doing hip thrusts, you shouldn’t feel the contraction too much in the hamstrings. If you do, your foot position, range of motion, or knee position needs some adjustments.
Adductor Magnus: This is the largest and strongest hip adductor on the thigh’s posterior medial side (inner-back part). The other adductor muscles include the adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis, and pectineus. The primary function of these muscles is thigh adduction and helps with thigh extension, internal/external rotation, and pelvic stabilization.
Erector Spinae: This group of muscles runs the length on both sides of the spine from the base of the skull to the hips and sacrum. The primary function of the erector spinae is later extension and flexion and rotation of the trunk.
Quadriceps: The quadriceps are the group of muscles located on the front of the thigh. There are four quadriceps muscles; the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris. The vastus muscles are primarily responsible for knee extension. The rectus femoris functions as a hip flexor and is a direct antagonist to the hamstrings.
The hip thrust is one of the best hip extension exercises that you can do. The primary movers in the hip thrust are the gluteus maximus, hamstrings and the hamstring portion of the adductor Magnus. The secondary hip extensors include the adductors, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
The erector spinae stabilize the vertebrae, while the rectus femoris and vastus muscles work as knee extensors.
The hip thrust is an excellent glute activator because the weight is loaded horizontally rather than vertically on the hip extensors. However, this leads to less hamstring activation because of active insufficiency (when a two-joint muscle is shortened at one end while the other end starts muscle contraction). In this case, the hamstrings cross both the knee and hip joints. Thus, they are shortened during knee flexion, which creates the need for the gluteus maximus to contract at a higher rate.
Note: The placement of your feet dramatically changes how your muscles are stimulated. The best foot position for maximum glute activation is with your feet rotated outwards.
Hip thrusts have been proven to be one of the most effective exercises to activate and work the glutes. There have been multiple studies that compare the back squat and hip thrusts. Let’s look at what the science says when it comes to the hip thrust and back squat.
Perhaps the most well-known and respected person in this space, Bret Contreras, aka The Glute Guy has performed multiple tests centered his doctoral thesis around the hip thrust and squat. One of the most interesting studies Contreras did, used identical female twin sisters. One twin only focused on squats while the other only did hip thrusts. The results showed that the hip thrust led to more gluteus maximus muscle thickness and horizontal pushing power.
Overall, most science and studies support the notion that the hip thrust will result in more gluteus maximus gains than the squat. However, the squat still holds the title for lower body exercise to elicit the most muscle activation. Therefore, it would be best to do both hip thrusters and squats in your workout routine.
The hip thrust works multiple muscles in unison and is an effective lower body exercise. Here are some of the fantastic benefits you’ll get by adding hip thrusts into your workout.
Perfect Hypertrophy & Strength Exercise: Hip thrusts are ideal as a muscle-building exercise for the glutes. With this exercise, you can work through strength and power rep ranges and hypertrophy rep ranges without needing a spotter. Once you’re able to find the best body positioning for yourself, then you’ll be able to go as hard as you can trying to get those gains.
Suitable For All Abilities: Although we generally think of the hip thrust as an exercise done with the added resistance of a barbell, you can also do this exercise with just your bodyweight. This makes the hip thrust an accessible activity for people of all fitness levels. Beginners can start with bodyweight hip thrusts and slowly progress in resistance levels using bands, dumbbells, and more.
Improved Athletic Performance: The hip thrust is perhaps the most effective exercise to build the glutes and hip extensors. Strengthening these muscles will allow you to run faster, jump higher, change direction, and accelerate/decelerate better.
Better Posture: Strong glutes can help to stabilize your sacrum (the triangular bone at the bottom of your lumbar vertebrae). If your glutes become too weak, then you might experience lower back pain or posture problems. Performing hip thrusts will help mitigate the sacrum from being pulled in a tucked position. Another benefit of hip thrusts is to balance out tight hip flexors. The hip thrust is a hip extension exercise. Therefore, the hip flexors are the antagonist muscles to the glutes. If the hip flexors become much stronger than the glutes, it can lead to anterior pelvic tilt or hollow back (when your pelvis is pulled out of alignment). Doing hip thrusts can reduce the chances of this happening.
Look Better & Gain Confidence: The flat booty was an aesthetic that was “in” more than 30 years ago. Times have changed; most people respect a well developed rear-end. Hip thrusts will help to tighten and build your backside like no other exercise.
Enhanced Mobility: Everyday activities such as walking upstairs or getting/sitting down on a chair requires your hip extensor muscles (primarily your glutes and hamstrings) to go to work. Hip thrusts strengthen the muscles that will aid in performing daily activities like walking or just keeping your balance.
Improve Bone Density: Weight-bearing exercise is one of the only scientifically proven ways to strengthen the bones and improve bone density. Hip thrusts are a great exercise to help with this because they are a low-impact weight-bearing exercise that enables you to lift heavy loads. This can help with improving low bone density in the spine, hips, knees, and legs.
Load: The load you use should be commensurate with your fitness levels. If you’re a beginner, you should start by mastering the hip thrust with just your bodyweight. Once you get the movement down pat and you’re able to feel a maximum gluteal contraction, then it’s time to add some resistance. For intermediates or trained people, your goal should be to lift a weight that equals your bodyweight. After you accomplish this feat, then you should try to add weight in 20 lb increments. Advanced lifters will be able to move hundreds of pounds with the hip thrust.
Equipment: One of the best aspects of hip thrusts is using different equipment to provide added resistance. You can use the following tools for the added resistance:
Note: The setup will change depending on the tool you’re using; see below for hip thrust variations.
The ideal sets and reps for the hip thrust are based mainly on your training goals and fitness level. If you’re a beginner, you might want to aim for a higher rep range and lower weight, whereas advanced lifters might use fewer reps and heavier weights with longer breaks between sets. Generally speaking; you should follow the protocol below:
Note: The glutes are comprised of roughly half fast-twitch and half slow-twitch muscles fibers, which means you should use a variety of training volumes to get the most from the exercise.
We put together some of the best hip thrust exercises below. You will find that you can do hip thrusts with a variety of tools or with your bodyweight, use these exercises to get your glutes pumped.
The barbell hip thrust is considered to be the standard hip thrust that we covered above. We believe this is the best option for hip thrusts because of the ability to add a heavy load while going through a full range of motion.
This variation of the hip thrust is incredible because it is a unilateral exercise. Doing this exercise with one leg on the ground will allow you to focus on improving and balancing the strength and power in one leg at a time. In addition, unilateral exercises usually highlight any weak points or areas where one side needs to catch up to the other side. Seeing how the hip thrust is one of the best exercises to isolate and work the gluteus maximus, working one side at a time will heighten this benefit. It's also going to active the gluteus medius and minimus more due to the demand on hip stability.
Note: You can perform this single-leg hip thrust with just your bodyweight, or you can add the forms of resistance above.
This is the perfect option if you want to do hip thrusts at home with some added resistance, but you don’t have a barbell. There are a few ways you can set up a band hip thrust, as seen below:
With this version, you will need heavy objects or dumbbells to secure the band. You could also loop either end of the band around your foot to use your feet as an anchor.
To do the Smith hip thrust, you’ll follow the same cues as the barbell hip thrust. Just make sure you have the proper setup before you start adding weights onto the bar.
Note: If it’s an angled Smith machine, then you should be thrusting the bar up towards the direction of your head.
This version of the hip thrust, which is actually a kneeling squat, is highly effective for creating glute contraction. It is essentially a squat without the knee movement (so just the top part of a squat). However, with the resistance being created by a band, in a horizontal direction, you get a great contraction of the glutes, which you can't with squats.
Note: You can also use a cable machine with a rope attachment to do this exercise. You'll just have to hold onto the ropes when performing the movement.
This bodyweight hip thrust is excellent for targeting the gluteus medius and other hip abductors while working the same muscles as a standard hip thrust.
Using only your bodyweight is a regression of the barbell hip thrust. However, beginners can start with doing these bodyweight hip thrusts until the technique is perfected. Bodyweight hip thrusts are also a great alternative that you can do at home if you don’t have any equipment but still want to get some work in.
Related: Best Bodyweight Leg Exercises
The glute bridge can be an excellent alternative to the hip thrust for beginners or those with limited hip mobility. The significant difference between the hip thrust and the glute bridge is that your shoulders/upper back will be in contact with the floor. Your shoulders braced on the ground lead to a reduced range of motion. Follow the same cues as the hip thrust for lifting your hips. Make sure you hold and squeeze at the top to get maximum glute contraction.
Note: You can also make the glute bridge more challenging by adding resistance like a loaded barbell.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HIP THRUST AND GLUTE BRIDGE?
The significant difference between the hip thrust and the glute bridge is that the hip thrust offers a more fantastic range of motion due to the elevated position of the upper back. The glute bridge is performed with your shoulders on the ground and is usually done with just bodyweight, although you could add resistance.
CAN YOU HIP THRUST EVERY DAY?
You could do a few sets of bodyweight hip thrusts daily to counteract long hours of sitting. However, if you’re adding weight, you’ll need to give your muscles time to recover. If training for hypertrophy, we recommend you do hip thrusts 1-2 times per week.
WHY DO HIP THRUSTS HURT?
If you’re experiencing pain while doing hip thrusts, then you might be doing the exercise wrong. On the other hand, you have some underlying problems, which in that case you should consult your doctor. The most common reasons for experiencing pain when performing hip thrusts are going too heavy or lousy body positioning. Refer to the cues from above to ensure you’re executing the hip thrust as safely and efficiently as possible.
If hip thrusts aren’t a component of your workout routine, then you’re missing out on the best exercise to build strong glutes. Your glutes are involved in most everyday movements, so it’s vital to keep them in tip-top condition. Pay attention to the initial setup and your body positioning. Remember, if your glutes aren’t burning after a few sets of hip thrusts, then make some adjustments and get back to work!
Related: 8 Best Gluteus Maximus Exercises
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