When it comes to creating a well-rounded leg training programmeit's crucial to focus on both the posterior and anterior chain. Regardless of your gender, hip thrusts stand out as one of the most effective exercises for engaging lower body muscles.
If you're looking to learn about how to do hip thrusts, understand their benefits, or explore hip thrust alternatives, you've come to the right place.
WHAT ARE HIP THRUSTS?
Hip thrusts are a powerful muscle-building and strength-training exercise primarily targeting the posterior (rear chain) muscles in the lower body. Most notably, they engage the gluteus maximus (or as you may know it, the glutes), the largest muscle in the buttocks.
In this article, we'll delve into the following topics:
- Hip Thrust Benefits
- How To Do Hip Thrusts With Proper Form
- Hip Thrust Variations
- Hip Thrust Alternatives
- The Muscles Worked During Hip Thrusts
. . .
WHICH MUSCLES DO HIP THRUSTS WORK?
Let's start by discussing the muscles involved when performing a hip thrust:
As mentioned previously, the hip thrust targets the glute muscles - as the main driver of hip extension in the lower body, the glutes are responsible for thrusting the hips upward during the exercise.
The glutes contain three main muscles:
- Glute Maximus:makes up the bulk of the buttocks and is essentially the main driving force of the glutes.
- Glute Medius: sits above and to the sides of the glute maximus; it helps with the abduction of the hips (taking the limbs away from the centre line of the body) and also helps to maintain balance.
- Glute Minimus:(the smallest of the three) helps with hip stabilisation as well as hip abduction.
The hip thrust is a compound exercise which targets the whole of the glutes, making it the GOAT of all glute exercises.
The muscles on the posterior chain of the legs assist the glutes in hip extension when performing the concentric contraction (pushing the bar upwards).
Particularly, the hamstrings are made up of three muscles. These are the Biceps Femoris (which has a long and a short head, like the biceps in your arms), the Semimembranosus and the Semitendinosus. The hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion (bending the knee), hip extension (moving the leg backward), stabilization and posture support.
Not only do barbell hip thrusts cause greater activation of the glutes than barbell back squats but they also have a higher impact on the hamstrings. So, if you’ve been squatting and wondering why your hamstrings aren’t growing, hip thrusts may just be your answer!
Protection of your spine and particularly the lower back during exercise is key to building a strong body and preventing injury. The erector spinae muscles help to stabilise the lower back during the hip thrust; they are engaged to maintain a straight back and protect the spine. Appropriate hip thrust form is paramount due to the exercise placing the erector spinae in a vulnerable position.
Each muscle runs up the back along each side of the spine, providing support, and is responsible for tension and rotation of the spine as well as maintaining an upright posture.
Adductors are the muscles on the inside of the thigh. Adduction is the process of bringing legs or limbs closer to the midline of the body. The main function of the adductors during the hip thrust is to maintain stabilization and assist with hip flexion.
HIP THRUST BENEFITS:
Incorporating hip thrusts into your leg day routine offers a range of benefits, including:
- Building Bigger Glutes: Incorporating hip thrusts regularly into your leg day routine can help grow glute size and strength.
- Lower Back Support: Strengthening the erector spinae muscles can reduce the risk of injuries.
- Enhanced Performance: Improved lower body strength through hip thrusts can translate into other movements including squats, deadlifts, and even sprinting.
HOW TO DO HIP THRUSTS WITH GOOD FORM
To perform hip thrusts correctly - with good form- you'll need the following pieces of equipment:
- A bench, or well-built surface for the upper back to rest on.
- A barbell, dumbbell, or another form of resistance ie. smith machine, or resistance band.
- A bar pad (to prevent the bar from digging into your hips).
HOW TO DO A HIP THRUST:
- Keep the bench in its horizontal setting, making sure it's resting against a solid surface (like a wall), so that it won't move. Sit on the floor resting your upper back against the side of the bench and place your feet flat on the ground, between hip-width and shoulder-width apart, at a 90-degree angle.
- Place the barbell (or dumbbell if using) over your hips.
- Brace your core, keep your head neutral and chin slightly tucked with your hands resting on top of the barbell.
- Push the floor away by driving through your heels and extending your hips towards the ceiling. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the contraction without overextending the lower back.
- Lower your hips, returning your bum to the floor in a controlled manner, keeping your upper back against the bench throughout.
SETS AND REPS
The number of repetitions depends on your overall fitness goal:
- For Increased Lower Body Strength: if you aim to increase lower body strength, a rep range of 4-8 per set will work well.
- For Muscle Mass: for those focusing on hypertrophy (building muscle), it's recommended to stick to the 8-15 rep range.
Remember: Always begin with a relatively light load and ensure you master the fundamental form of the exercise before progressively increasing the weight - this will help minimize the risk of injury.
FEET POSITIONING: HOW TO GET THE MOST EFFECTIVE GLUTE WORKOUT FROM YOUR HIP THRUSTS
Proper hip thrust form is paramount, and the ideal foot positioning may vary depending on your lever length and anatomy. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to hip thrusts, so you’ll have to play around with what feels best for you.
A good starting point is to place your feet flat on the ground at shoulder width, with a slight flare of your toes for enhanced stability. It's essential to ensure that your knees track over your feet throughout the movement to avoid unnecessary joint strain.
- Glute Focused: if you're feeling most of the muscle activation in your quads and you'd like to share more of the load to your hamstrings (targeting your glutes harder), place your feet slightly further away from you and exaggerate pointing your toes outward. Focus on driving through your heels and ensure you fully extend your hips at the top of the movement.
- Quad Focused: if your hamstrings are taking most of the load and you'd prefer more quad activation, try placing the feet closer together and pointing the toes forward. Focus on driving through the balls of your feet.
ARE THERE ANY HIP THRUST VARIATIONS?
There are many variations for hip thrusts, from single-leg hip thrusts to b-stance hip thrusts.
The general movement of a hip thrust can be completed using various resistance-based equipment (barbells, dumbbells, machines, resistance bands, body weight), making it one of the best glute exercises for building muscle, size, and strength.
HIP THRUST VARIATIONS:
SINGLE LEG HIP THRUSTS
A fantastic variation of the standard barbell hip thrust is a single-leg hip thrust, performed with either a barbell or dumbbell resting on your hips while one leg is raised off the ground.
Training muscle groups unilaterally helps address imbalances in strength or body composition and can be a valuable addition to your workouts.
B-STANCE HIP THRUSTS
The b-stance hip thrust is akin to the single leg hip thrust but allows for increased resistance with a barbell. The "b-stance" refers to an adjustment in foot positioning - instead of planting both feet equally, or raising one, the heel of one foot aligns with the toes of the other.
This arrangement balances the load between the working leg and the one posted on the opposite heel for stability.
RESISTANCE BANDED GLUTE BRIDGES
For an easy glute-building home workout exercise, the resistance band glute bridge is a great option. This exercise simply requires you to loop a resistance band just above your knees. Maintain a slight press outward with your knees whilst performing the hip thrust to increase activity of the glutes.
HIP THRUST ALTERNATIVES
If hip thrusts cause you discomfort, but you still want to build bigger, stronger glutes, there are a few alternatives that you can explore during your next leg day workout.
As the lower back can hurt for some people when performing barbell hip thrusts, glute bridges are another great option. This exercise uses hip extension while the back is lying on the floor. Simply place your feet and legs in the same position as you would for a hip thrust whilst lying on your back, and then extend your hips towards the ceiling, pushing through your heels.
This exercise is best performed with no resistance and higher repetitions as holding a weight can be awkward and uncomfortable in this position. Glute bridge vs hip thrust benefits include less stress on the lower back and no need for equipment.
This exercise can be carried out using either a barbell or a dumbbell. The Romanian Deadlift is a hip-hinge-based movement performed by hinging at the hips, taking the lock out of the knees and slowly guiding the resistance in your hands down in front of the body.
The exercise should feel like a hamstring stretch under load. Once you cannot stretch any further, use your hips to hinge your upper body back upright, ensuring you maintain a tight core and stable lower back.
Whether you’re new to working out or are an experienced lifter, the hip thrust should have a place in everyone's training routine. Undoubtedly one of the best exercises for glute development and a great movement which could help keep injuries at bay.