How Hip Thrusts Build Strong Glutes
Hip thrusts are a simple and effective compound exercise that develops posterior muscles and hip extension strength (1). The goal with the movement is to place your upper back on a gym bench, plant your feet into the floor, and place a heavy barbell at the crease of your hips. Once in position, begin to thrust and lower the barbell.
The hip thrust is highly beneficial because it offers a good range of motion and an impeccable overloading potential. It’s not uncommon for trainees to hip thrust 300 or 400 pounds after years of dedicated training. The enormous load places great mechanical tension on the hamstrings and glutes, forcing growth (2).
The hip thrust’s primary benefits are that it improves hip extension and core strength, leading to better athletic performance, more stability, and a lower risk of injury. We recommend including the hip thrust as a first or second exercise in a workout. It’s best to do the movement at your freshest, so you can lift more weight and maintain proper technique.
How to do a Hip Thrust
- Sit on the floor and position your upper back against the edge of a bench.
- Straighten your arms and rest them on the bench to your sides. You can have your palms flat on the bench for extra support.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Your knees should point forward and up, not to the sides.
- Bring your shoulders back, make sure that your neck is in line with your torso, and take a breath.
- Engage your glutes and push through your hips and heels to raise your butt off the floor.
- Go up as much as you can – typically, as your hips become slightly more elevated than your shoulders.
- Hold the contraction for a moment and lower your butt to the floor as you exhale.
- Take another breath and repeat.
What muscles does the hip thrust activate?
The primary muscles involved in hip thrusts are the glutes (1). As the largest and most powerful muscle in the body, the gluteus maximus produces hip extension, which allows us to thrust the barbell from the bottom position (3). Glute medius also contributes to the movement.
Our hamstrings are the second major muscle group to activate during hip thrusts (1). The hamstrings are situated at the posterior of our thighs and act on our knees and hips. When contracted, the hamstrings cause hip extension, thus aiding the glutes in thrusting (4).
Quadriceps also play a role in hip thrusts, but to a much smaller degree (1). The muscle group covers the front side of our thighs, causing knee extension, which occurs when trusting the barbell to the top position (5).
The midsection musculature plays a significant role in balance. Our abs, obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, and other minor muscles contract to keep our torso stable during hip thrusts.
Tips on Proper Technique when Performing a Hip Thrust
The first tip to keep in mind for hip thrusts is to experiment with foot position until you find what feels most natural for you. Everyone is different and no single recommendation will work great. Some folks do better with a narrower stance; others thrive with their feet wider apart.
An important mental cue to remember with hip thrusts is to push through your heels off the bottom. Doing so will allow you to produce more force and engage your posterior chain more effectively.
Maintaining torso rigidity is also essential for hip thrusts. While primarily a lower body movement, the hip thrust requires excellent stability for safety and effectiveness. Engage your midsection and breathe into your belly before each repetition.
Adding a slight pause at the top position is also vital for a good hip thrust. Doing so reduces the risk of ego lifting and instead forces you to use a load you can handle well. Plus, the brief pause causes a better activation of your glutes and hamstrings, leading to more progress in the long run.
Variations and Modifications of the Hip Thrust
1. Single-Leg Hip Thrust
The single-leg hip thrust is a neat variation you can do, especially if you don’t have access to much weight. For example, you can start with the bodyweight version and introduce a weight plate or dumbbell later.
2. Resistance Band Hip Thrust
Resistance band hip thrusts are a fantastic variation that reinforces posterior chain activation. As the band lengthens, it offers increasingly greater tension, forcing your glutes and hamstrings to contract maximally at the top. A simple option is to loop a band over your thighs and feet.
3. Barbell Hip Thrust With Looped Band
You have to place a barbell over your hips and loop a band over your thighs for the banded hip thrust variation. Doing so is beneficial because it reinforces leg abduction (moving out), helping you better engage your gluteus minimus and tensor fasciae latae.
Mistakes to Avoid
A common mistake with hip thrusts is using too much weight. While straightforward, the movement is complex, so using the appropriate load allows you to maintain proper technique and engage the correct muscles. You should aim for eight to ten repetitions per set as a rule of thumb.
Another significant mistake with hip thrusts is cutting the range of motion short. Your knees, hips, and shoulders should be in a straight line at the top position. You should also lower the barbell enough for adequate eccentric overload before each new repetition.
The third error to be mindful of is putting too much weight on your toes. Ideally, you should load your midfoot and heel more and press off the back of your feet for maximum force production.
You should also avoid arching your lower back. The goal with the movement is to maintain a neutral spine, which comes from engaging your midsection. A significant arch can place unnecessary stress on your lower back, leading to pain.
Similar Exercises to the Hip Thrust
The glute bridge is an effective bodyweight exercise that closely resembles the hip thrust. In both cases, you extend your hips, forcing your glutes and hamstrings to activate (6). The primary difference is that you would do glute bridges on the floor instead of placing your upper back on a gym bench.
Glute Ham Raise
The goal with glute ham raises is to place your knees on a pad and anchor your feet. Using a glute ham raise machine is the most practical option. Once in position, you have to use your posterior muscles to lower and raise your torso while keeping your hips fixed in place. Glute ham raises primarily train the hamstrings and our glutes stabilize the hips (7).