Strong, firm glutes don’t just look nice; they’re also a functional muscle group. As hip extensors, they help you stand, sit, walk, and run – all kinds of regular daily activities. Building strength or mass in your glutes can be a great way to improve performance in your everyday life, as well as in the gym and with sports. Hip thrusts are one of the most effective exercises for targeting the butt and can be used to reach all your booty goals. They’re simple to perform, and there are plenty of variations to keep your program interesting.
What is a Hip Thrust?
A hip thrust is a must-do exercise for building strong glutes. It’s a compound lower-body movement that specifically targets the glute muscles and is a great way to build both strength and mass in your butt. As a hip hinging movement, it also helps strengthen all the hip extensors, which can, in turn, improve performance in other exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
Hip Thrust Muscles Worked
The focus of the hip thruster is to target the glutes; however, you’ll also gain benefits in your hamstrings and adductors.
Glutes: Hit all glute muscles, including the minimus, medius, and maximus. These are the prime movers of the thrust and are engaged in both the eccentric and concentric elements of the exercise. While the maximus provides most of the force, the gluteus medius and minimus help stabilize the pelvis and extend the hip.
Hamstrings: You’ll feel your hamstrings working isometrically to hold your knees in place at 90 degrees. They shouldn’t provide the driving force, but you may feel some engagement as you extend your hips.
Adductors: Your adductors are the inner groin muscles, and during a hip thrust, they help to stabilize your pelvis. You can boost your mind-muscle connection and increase their activation but squeezing a foam roller between your thighs during your thrust.
Hip Thrust Form
Like most exercises, the hip thrust is not complicated; however, getting your form correct is vital. If you don’t, you’ll lose out on gains and work the wrong part of your body. While most people use weights for their hip thrusts, if you’re just beginning, it’s best to get the technique correct before adding load. There are a few things to keep in mind. First, you want to keep your back and upper body straight throughout the movement without arching your spine. You’ll also want to keep your chin tucked into your chest – it can help to pick a spot high in front of you to focus on as you move. Finally, your knees should be bent at 90 degrees at the top of the thrust.
- Set yourself up on the floor in front of a flat workout bench. If it’s feeling a little wobbly, brace it with your arms out wide.
- Position your back against the edge of the bench so it sits around the bottom of your shoulder blades. Place your feet between hip and shoulder-width apart and away from the bench enough that your knees will sit at 90 degrees when you are at the top of the thrust.
- Once you’re in position, squeeze the glutes using them to drive your hips up until your torso is parallel to the floor. Keep your hips in a slight posterior tilt to help prevent your lower back from arching.
- Hold for a second at the top of the thrust before lowering with control back to just off the ground while maintaining flexed glutes.
Hip Thrust Sets and Reps
Choosing your sets and reps for your hip thrusts will depend on your goals. If you want to build strength, you’ll focus on big weights with low reps. Meanwhile, for a juicy booty and size gains, you should opt for moderate reps with a more moderate weight. Just keep in mind that the glutes are made up of both fast and slow-twitch muscles, so it can be beneficial to mix up your training for maximum results.
Strength: Choose a heavy load and execute three to five sets with five to eight reps.
Muscle Mass: Use a moderate to heavy weight for three to five sets with higher reps – around eight to twelve.
Endurance: Pick high reps of 15 to 20 for two to three sets with a moderate load.
Hip Thrust Benefits
In addition to increasing strength or size in your glutes, there are many other benefits to adding hip thrusts to your workout program.
Great for Warming Up
Get ready to smash your workout by using hip thrusts in your warm-up. Choosing lighter weights or just your body weight can prime your hip extensors and improve mind-body connection to nail other big compound moves like deadlifts and squats.
Generates More Power
Your hip extensors are functional muscles that contribute to regular daily movement, including walking, standing, and getting up from a seated position. These movements are also part of exercises such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Improving your strength in this area will help you achieve peak athletic performance and generate more power. The increased range of motion and horizontal position in a hip thrust keeps maximum tension throughout the whole movement for even better results.
Offers Safer Squat Alternative
If you have back, neck, or shoulder issues, it can be painful or dangerous to use exercises that put a load on the upper body. As such, lower body training exercises like squats can be impossible. Hip thrusts offer a safe alternative, as any load is balanced across the hips rather than the upper back. This means you can still get epic glute gains without the risk.
Glute Bridge vs. Hip Thrust
Glute bridges and hip thrusts are both excellent exercises for training the glutes. While they look similar, there are a few key differences between them. Beginning with the hip thrust, your upper body is elevated on a bench. This means you have a larger range of motion, and it’s easier to add weight, especially in the form of a barbell. Then, on the flip side, you set the glute bridge up entirely on the floor with your upper body and shoulders pressing into the ground instead of a bench. While the mechanics are the same, the range of motion is lower, and the angle of your torso makes it harder to stack weight on, meaning it’s better for lower or just body weights. Both are excellent and effective exercises, and your choice will depend on your goals, fitness levels, and body mechanics.
Hip Thrust Variations
Now that you’ve nailed the basic hip thrust exercise, it’s time to mix things up with some variations. You can add weight with a barbell, dumbbells, or smith machine to progressively overload for gains in strength and size. Alternatively, you can work on imbalances between your left and right with a single leg or b-stance hip thrust. Finally, if you’re working out at home or on vacation, you can keep things going by using a resistance band as a simple alternative. Because the glute muscles are a combination of fast and slow-twitch fibers, they respond well to variation. As such, switching up your moves as well as weights, sets and reps will also produce excellent results.
Barbell Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is probably the most common variation of this glute exercise. A barbell makes it easy and safe to load up your weights for even better gains. The set-up is essentially the same as an unweighted thrust, with the exception of sitting the barbell across your lap in your hip crease. This can be a little uncomfortable, so you can use either a towel or a bar pad for cushioning. Then, the execution is the same. You’ll lean your upper back on the bench, position your feet around shoulder-width apart, keep your chin tucked, and ensure your knees are at 90 degrees. Then squeeze your glutes to drive your hips and the weight up to parallel with the floor. Hold for a second or two at the top before lowering down with control. Again, your weights, sets, and reps will vary depending on your goals.
Dumbbell Hip Thrust
A dumbbell hup thrust is another great weighted variation. Again, the set-up and execution are essentially the same; however, instead of the barbell, you’ll use dumbbells. You can choose to use two and hold them in each hip crease or use a single barbell sitting across the center of your hips. You probably won’t be able to overload quite the same as a barbell, but this is a good step up for beginners or anyone new to hip thrusts while building up your strength and endurance.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust
A single-leg hip thrust is an excellent variation if you want to work your glutes unilaterally. Doing this targets one side at a time, putting more load on one glute. It’s also a great way to identify and correct imbalances. A dumbbell or body weight is probably the most accessible weight to use, but you can use whatever you’re most comfortable with. Set up the same as your regular hip thrust exercise, with your pelvis tucked, glutes squeezed, and abs tight. Then, lift one foot off the ground as you begin. Be mindful to ensure your hips stay straight – you don’t want them twisting or tilting as you perform your hip thrusts.
Smith Machine Hip Thrust
A smith machine hip thrust is an excellent exercise if you struggle with stabilizing your barbell during the movement. You might need to play around with your bench location, as you need to position your body correctly in relation to the machine. However, once you’re there, the mechanics are all the same. You’ll still get a great range of motion and may even be able to overload a little more as it takes the need to balance the weight out of the equation.
Banded Hip Thrust
Banded hip thrusts can be a great variation when you don’t have access to barbells or dumbbells. They’re ideal for home workouts, traveling for work, and when you’re on holiday. You’ll take a band and loop an end under each foot, then bring the two straps up to sit in your hip crease. From here, you can perform your hip thrust, as usual, remembering to squeeze the glutes, tuck the pelvis, and keep your knees at 90 degrees. You won’t be able to overload as much using bands, and the resistance through the move won’t be quite the same, but it’s still an excellent option.
B Stance Hip Thrust
A B stance hip thrust is another variation similar to the single-leg option. It’s a unilateral move that works one glute at a time, helping identify and correct imbalances between the left and right. The main difference between this and the single-leg is that rather than having the non-working leg in the air, it’s staggered slightly in front and only touching the ground with the heel. It’s a great option if the single leg is too challenging as it provides more stability.
Hip Thrust Alternatives
Hip thrusts are brilliant, especially for booty work. However, there are some other excellent alternatives that also hit the glutes. These include glute bridges, as well as more generalized lower body exercises such as squats, Romanian deadlifts, and lunges. These can make your workout program much more exciting and combine well with your hip thrust exercises.
As mentioned earlier, the glute bridge is similar to the hip thrust, just set up on the floor instead. It’s an excellent exercise for beginners and anyone looking at low-weight high-rep options. However, the key is to feel the tension in your glutes. If you can’t, there are a few tricks to ensure you get that engagement. First, you can bring your heels closer together and lift the toes rather than keep your feet flat. If you’re still not feeling it in your butt enough, try squeezing a foam roller between your knees as you lift. The final option is to place a resistance band around your knees and push out as you lift. Choose whichever one gives you the most glute activation, and aim for ten reps with a ten-second hold at the top. The goal is to eventually do the bridge without aid.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Once you’ve nailed your regular glute bridge form using proper glute activation, you can try a single-leg glute bridge. It’s very similar to the single-leg hip thrust and challenges your core as well as your butt. You set up the same but extend one leg out before commencing. Then drive through to lift your hips to the ceiling, lowering with control. As you work, your core will need to stay engaged to prevent your non-working hip from dropping or twisting. This option is great because it doesn’t necessarily need weights, though as you get stronger, you can progress with a couple of weight plates. It’s also a great finisher exercise after squats or deadlifts. Aim for three sets on each side of ten to 15 reps.
Banded Glute Bridge
The banded glute bridge is a great option when you don’t have access to weights. Like the banded hip thrust, you’ll loop a resistance band around both feet before bringing it up to sit across your hips. Then, with your back flat on the floor, hands flat at your sides, and kees at 90 degrees, lift your hips towards the ceiling until your torso is straight. As you won’t be able to get as much tension with the bands, aim for a higher number of reps so you still feel the burn.
Banded Hip Abduction
Another simple exercise that will hit your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus is a banded hip abduction. All you need is a resistance band and a bench to do this. Loop the band so it’s sitting just above your knees and is firm with your legs straight. That will ensure there’s enough tension as you move your hips out. Keep your spine neutral, and slowly open your legs as wide as possible, pushing against the force of the band. Keep it slow and steady, and you should feel the outside of your hips and butt really fire up.
Squats are a fundamental exercise for most people, whether you’re a casual gym-goer, a powerlifter, or a seasoned athlete. They’re a comprehensive lower body workout that works the majority of the muscles but focuses on the quads and glutes. Even though it’s a core exercise, it does have a few inherent risks. However, there are a few tricks to get the most out of it without pain. This includes keeping your weight centered over your mid-foot, so your heels don’t lift and ensuring you activate your hip flexors for better stabilization. You should also aim to keep your knees in line with your toes and avoid going too hard too fast.
The Romanian deadlift or RDL is another excellent lower body exercise. It also seeks to strengthen the hips and posterior chain, focusing on the hamstrings and glutes. It’s a variation of the traditional deadlift, where the movement begins at the top and lowers to the knees, rather than starting from the floor and lifting. This lets you train the hamstrings eccentrically more effectively while being less taxing than a conventional dead. It’s a nuanced exercise that requires you to push your hips back, keep your knees vertical, and don’t let your back round out.
Walking Dumbbell Lunge
Get things moving with a walking dumbbell lunge. This is another compound exercise for the lower body that hits the hamstrings, glutes, and quads. After choosing an appropriate weight, you’ll take a medium-length stride. Sink straight down into the lunge, keeping your front shin straight, with a 90-degree bend in the knee. This proper form will help lower the risk of injury and ensure your hard work and sweat give you the gains you want. Push straight back up, driving through your front foot, before taking a stride on the other side and repeating.
It’s common to think of the hyperextension machine as just for lower back workouts. However, you can get a killer glute workout using it with just a few form adjustments. Start with your toes pointed slightly out on the platform and a posterior pelvic tilt, so your glutes are squeezed firm. Then, tuck your chin, round your back, and cross your arms over your chest. Lower your torso until you’re fully bent while keeping the rounded back. Squeeze your glutes to bring your body back up with a slight hip extension. You’ll probably only need body weight to get your glutes shaking with effort; however, you could hold a weight plate to your chest if you need more of a challenge.
Common Hip Thrust Mistakes
When you’re perfecting your form with hip thrusts, there are a few common mistakes that people tend to make. Thankfully they’re relatively easy to fix and only require minor adjustments to your mental and physical cues.
Incorrect Foot Placement
How wide or narrow you have your feet won’t make a massive difference to where you feel your hip thrusts. As such, find a position that feels best for you with sound glute activation. However, how far away from the bench your feet are will have an impact. If they’re too close, you’ll hit your quads, while if they’re too far away, you’ll feel it in your hamstrings. The best guide is to aim for a 90-degree angle at your knee for maximum glute engagement.
A lazy neck means you’ve let your head drop back while performing your hip thrust. Not only does this tend to make you look overdramatic, but it can also overarch your spine. Combat this by keeping your chin tucked into your chest or choosing a point above and away from you, such as the ceiling line, and keep your eyes fixed there.
The key to results with a hip thrust is full hip extension. This is the most effective part of the exercise where your glutes are at their maximum contraction. However, if your hips are too tight or you’re lifting too heavy, you might not be able to reach full extension. If this is the case, try lowering your weight or switch to glute bridges to help open up the hips.
Lowering Too Quickly
Some exercises are all about the concentric (lifting) phase, while others are all about the eccentric (lowering) element. In a hip thrust, both are important, so it’s essential to lift and lower your hips with control, spending an equal amount of time in both directions of the thrust.
Hip Thrust FAQs
What are hip thrusts good for?
Hip thrusts are excellent for developing your glutes, whether that's increasing your strength, endurance, or mass in the area. They can also help strengthen the hips and have a small effect on the hamstrings.
Do hip thrusts work hamstrings?
You might feel a small amount of work in your hamstrings; however, the target muscle for hip thrusts is the glutes. If you really want to hit your hams, give Romanian deadlifts a go.
Do hip thrusts make your hips wider?
No, hip thrusts won't make your hips wider; however, they can build mass in your glutes, so you might need to size up your jeans if you're aiming for dump truck booty gains.
Are hip thrusts better than squats?
Hip thrusts and squats are both excellent exercises and deserve a place in a well-rounded lower body workout program. Squats target the glutes as well as the quads and hamstrings, while hip thrusts focus primarily on the glutes. As such, they do different things. However, hip thrusts can be a safer alternative to still build the glutes if you can't perform squats.
Are hip thrusts good for people who have lower back pain?
Hip thrusts strengthen the glutes and the hips, so they can be good for alleviating back pain caused by weak muscles. Start with glute bridges and work up to hip thrusts as you get stronger. Focus on getting your form correct, so you don't injure yourself and undo all your hard work. Of course, your results will vary depending on the cause of your pain.
Alexandra Linde is an experienced writer holding a bachelor's degree in Journalism. She is the owner of Alexandra McKiterick Creative and has expertise in travel, fashion, fitness and lifestyle. Alex has previously written for Flightcenter, Travello, and Backpacker Deals.
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