Our increasingly sedimentary lifestyle has led most people today to have abnormally weak glutes. While squats, deadlifts, and lunges are all exercises that work the glutes they lack the ability to fully activate the glutes. On the other hand, hip thrusts — an exercise increasing in popularity, has the ability to activate the glutes at their maximum capability helping you achieve strength and the best glute development over time. They are the ULTIMATE glute building and strengthening exercise to help you restructure that booty!
What is a Hip Thrust?
The hip thrust is a horizontally-loaded lower body compound movement that works the hip extensors: glute and hamstring muscles. The hip thrust is basically like a glute bridge the only difference is that the back is resting on the bench to help increase the range of motion. The hip thrust is a bent leg hip extension exercise that keeps consistent tension on the hips with a maximum contraction on the gluteus maximus.
Who invented the Hip Thrust?
In 2006 Bret Contreras, Ph.D., CSCS aka “The Glute Guy” introduced his invention to the world – the hip thrust. Bret continues to conduct research to legitimize all the benefits the hip thrust can provide and continues to work hard to promote and continue popularizing the hip thrust movement.
Why you should be Thrusting?
The primary muscle worked is the glutes, and the secondary muscle is the hamstrings which are also fairly well involved when you perform this movement.
The hip thrust was designed to increase muscular conditioning of the hip extensors: glutes and hamstrings. The movement and features of the hip thrust are ideal for developing short muscle lengths, which in turn helps maximize hypertrophy of the gluteus maximus. The mean activation of the glutes during the hip thrust is 100% of maximum voluntary contraction, much higher when compared to your traditional squat or deadlift. The hip thrust contracts the glutes at the highest level due to the constant tension and metabolic stress placed on the glutes during a full range of motion.
Hip Thrust vs. Squats
There are many that claim that squats are the best exercise to build the glutes, but are they really?
Squats are known to be one of the best lower body compound movements. The main muscles worked during the squat are the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. To be more specific we need to look at how much the squat actually works and activates the glutes.
When we perform as squat as you start descending glute activation is only around 20-30% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). As you come down to the bottom position, the glutes hit their lowest activation level at only 10-20% of MVC! Now, most people tend to think that the glutes are activated the most at this point but this is actually their lowest activation point. However, as you start to come up this is the point where the glutes start working harder and activation will reach 80-120% MVC as you rise up, reaching a peak level around halfway and slowly decreasing as you come up.
Overall the mean activation of the glutes when you perform a squat is only around 50-70% MVC, which is fairly low. This is the main reason why you may have a hard time feeling the burn or pump in your glutes when you perform squats. However, it is important to note that the lower gluteal fibers are stretched too long muscle lengths while they are being activated causing glute soreness.
The Hip Thrust
Now let’s discuss the hip thrust and how it works and how much it actually activates the glutes. When you perform the hip thrust you thrust the hips upward to full extension, at this point glute activation will reach 120-200% of MVC in upper and lower gluteal fibers. As you move the hips back down tension stays consistent due to the short and rapid movement, this keeps the metabolic stress high with a mean glute activation of 100% of MVC, which is really high!
The consent tension and stress will help produce a stunning “glute pump”. However, because the glutes are not fully stretched too long muscle lengths during this movement muscle damage will not be severe.
Both of these movements target different ranges of motion and different gluteal muscle lengths. For example, the squat causes more muscle damage due to the full range gluteal stretch. On the other hand, the hip thrust causes more tension and stress on the glutes due to the short movement. So in order to build the best glute development, it is best to perform both movements for maximal results.
How to do Hip Thrust
Before adding weight to your hip thrust make sure you get your form down first by practicing bodyweight hip thrust.
Body Weight Hip Thrust
- Start with your shoulder blades against a bench, and your arms spread across it for stability.
- Bend your knees to about 90 degrees, and make sure your feet are flat on the floor.
- Take a big breath in, blow your air out fully, and brace your core.
- Squeeze your glutes, lift up your hips, and hold a second or two and repeat.
Tip: It’s very important that you don’t hyperextend your lower back at the top to prevent this make sure your neck stays neutral as you lift yourself off the floor. Don’t let your head drop back.
Barbell Hip Thrust
- Position yourself on the floor, with your shoulders and shoulder blades against the bench. If they don’t reach the bench when you are sitting on the floor you can raise your butt a little bit off the floor.
- Roll the barbell toward you, over your legs until it’s directly over your hips.
- Put your elbows on the bench and your hands on the bar to steady it. It is very important that your body is aligned and your spine is neutral.
- Take a deep breath in, then exhale all the air out through your mouth and brace your core.
- Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips (and the barbell).
- Come down smoothly, and repeat.
Tip: After you start incorporating heavier weight, hip thrust can become painful. To prevent bruising on your hips make sure to protect them by putting some padding between your hips and the bar. You can always fold a yoga mat and use that as padding or you can get yourself a balance foam pad. I like the barbell pad because it is effective and simple to use, it will stay put and won’t move out place. I have done 285 pounds using this pad with no pain or bruising.
How many reps and sets?
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, your set and rep ranges should be as follows:
POWER: 2-6 sets, 3-6 reps, Rest time: 2-5 minutes
*Recommended for intermediate and advanced lifters
STRENGTH: 3-5 sets, ≤6 reps, Rest time: 2-5 minutes
HYPERTROPHY: 3-5 sets, 6-12 reps, Rest time: 60-90 seconds
ENDURANCE: 2-3 sets, 12-25 reps, Rest time: ≤30 secs
*Beginners should stick to performing 1-3 sets, Intermediate and advanced lifters are recommended to perform 3 or more sets.
Whether your goals are to gain strength or gain muscle remember to select rep and set ranges according to your goals.
How Heavy Should I Hip Thrust?
The gluteus maximus is the largest and strongest muscle in the body. When performing hip thrust you want to make sure you select a weight light enough that you can control it but heavy enough that it keeps constant tension in your glutes throughout the whole motion, making it challenging to perform the required reps.
If you are still unsure of the weight you should be lifting try to apply the two-for-two rule. When you can complete two or more reps than the recommended range in the final set of the last two training sessions than it is time to increase the weight.
Why can’t I Feel the Burn in my Glutes?
Your hip thrusting like crazy but you can’t seem to feel the burn or the “glute pump” everybody claims to feel with the hip thrust. Well, there are a couple of variables that could be preventing you from fully activating the glutes.
- Your not Performing Glute Activation: prior to your main lower body workout you always want to make sure to perform glute activation workouts to wake-up and fire your glutes. This is especially true if you have a desk job or are sitting for long periods of time which leads to weak and under-active glutes. For more details check out my glute activation post.
- You are lacking the Proper Form: When you perform hip thrust you want to avoid hyperextending your back. To help avoid this make sure to keep a forward eye gaze and your chin tucked to your chest at the top of the movement.
- Foot Placement is Unique: Foot placement will be unique to each individual. For example, I feel my glutes the most with a wide stance and knees flared out. So play around with foot placement and find the stance where you feel the burn the most in the glutes.
- You are using the Choosing the Wrong Weight: Remember the glutes are the largest and strongest muscle in the body, therefore body weight hip trusts will only work for so long. Just like any other muscle your glutes will recover and adapt to the stimulus placed on them from the previous session. Make sure to continually challenge your glutes by increasing the weight as you get stronger. However, going to heavy can also prevent you from performing a full extension at the top because the weight is too heavy which will also result in a lack of activation.
- Look for a new bench: Look for a bench that is suited for your height. The optimal bench height is 16″ but I find that my body aligns the best with a 14″ bench and I am 5’4. However, if you are having a hard time finding the right bench you can always elevate your feet using a step up or some plated weights. Finding the right bench really helped me improve my overall form.
Hip Thrust Variations
There are hundreds of hip thrust variations. Rob King, one of Bret Contreras clients share the top 10 variations used at his training center.
- bodyweight hip thruster
- Hip thruster with plate between knees
- Hip thruster with band around knees
- Single leg hip thruster
- Barbell hip thruster
- Band hip thruster
- Bar plus band hip thruster
- Iso-hold hip thruster
- Feet elevated hip thruster
- Kettlebell hip thruster
For more ideas make sure to also check out my post on Hip Thrust Variations & Alterations.
As you can see hip thrust do the booty good and have become the ultimate booty building exercise. However, you must keep in mind that for the best glute development the hip thrust is only ONE of MANY. For the best glute development, you must also incorporate different ranges of motion.