I've made a career out of transforming backsides. My weapon of choice is the hip thrust. While my routines always include a wide variety of glute exercises, including the squat, the focus is always centered on hip thrusts. In my experience, hip thrusts do the best job of building the glutes, they're easy to learn, and they're well tolerated by the vast majority of lifters. I even use relative 10RM hip-thrust strength (10RM hip thrust divided by your bodyweight) as a way to gauge my client's glute building progress, in addition to the tape measure. Let's cover various aspects of hip thrust performance and programming so you can start thrusting your way to a better butt and increased performance.
- You want to wedge yourself into position, get tight, and take in a deep breath before initiating the concentric (lifting) action.
- The back hinges on the bench at the line that's just beneath your scapulae – do not slide up and down the bench.
- Set up with a medium to wide stance with your feet pointed straight ahead or slightly flared.
- Push through your heels and avoid rising up onto your toes.
- The bar rests just above your pubic bone and stays there throughout the duration of the set – don't let the bar roll forward or backward.
- Make sure you reach full hip extension. If you can't lock out the hips, then you're going too heavy.
- Your shins should be fairly vertical when at the top of the movement and the knees should track over the toes – do not allow the knees to cave.
- Of utmost importance is lumbopelvic mechanics – your ribcage is kept down during the set to prevent your chest from arching, which ensures that your lumbar spine doesn't hyperextend and your pelvis doesn't anteriorly tilt (think stable, flattened torso with pure hip motion).
- Use a smooth tempo and avoid flinging the weight upward.
- Lower the bar while keeping eccentric tension on the glutes. Reps can be brought all the way to the ground and reset, or reversed in mid-air without touching down.
- Focus on using the glutes to push the hips straight upward. This focus is critical for building the glutes.
- Hold the last rep of each set isometrically at the top for 3-10 seconds. This will build good habits and ensure that you're strengthening end-range hip extension.
There are two right ways to hip thrust in terms of lumbopelvic-hip complex mechanics.
- The first is to keep a neutral spine and raise the hips to full hip hyperextension.
- The second is to posteriorly tilt the pelvis using the glutes (which mimics hip hyperextension in the hip socket).
Either way is fine, but those prone to experiencing lumbar extension-related pain will find the posterior pelvic tilt method more comfortable. Just make sure to avoid spinal hyperextension.
Since the hip thrust became popular, I've seen hundreds of variations on the internet. Despite the number of variations, there are six main ways to alter the movement:
- Loading: You can use bodyweight, or add resistance through the use of kettlebells, dumbbells, sandbags, chains, bands, barbells, barbells plus chains, and barbells plus bands.
- Rep styles: Pause reps, constant tension reps, rest-pause reps, clusters, speed reps, iso-holds, eccentric-accentuated, or 1.5 reps.
- Limb number: Double leg, single leg, or alternating.
- Pelvic action: Stable neutral pelvis or posterior pelvic tilt action.
- Back position on the bench: Bench under the scapulae or bench at mid-back.
- Foot elevation: Feet on floor or feet elevated onto box.
With 9 loading options, 8 rep styles, 3 limb variations, 2 pelvic actions, 2 back positions, and 2 foot elevations, there are 1,728 different hip thrust variations, but in my own training and coaching, I pretty much stick to these three:
- Barbell hip thrusts
- Band hip thrusts
- Single leg hip thrusts
I use my Hip Thruster for all 3 variations, but you can do barbell hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts off of a bench or aerobics step with risers, and you can do band hip thrusts inside of a power rack.
Anywhere from 1-4 days per week is advisable. If you perform one hip thrust session per week, then pyramid your sets and do more volume. If you perform hip thrusts four days per week, just do 2 sets on each day. A popular option is to perform one heavy, low-rep barbell session per week, one medium-rep single-leg session per week, and one high-rep barbell or band session per week. For a couple of years, I did 3 sets of 5 reps of barbell hip thrusts one day per week and 2 sets of 8 reps another day. A final option is to perform a heavy/light/medium schedule where you go heavy on Monday (3 sets of 5), light on Wednesday (2 sets of 20), and medium on Friday (3 sets of 8).
Sets and Reps
There are dozens of excellent set and rep schemes for hip thrusts. I've employed each of these in my training and coaching:
- 3 sets of 5
- 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 1
- 1 set of 8, 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3
- 3 sets of 8
- 1 set of 10, one set of 8, one set of 6, one set of 15-20
- 4 sets of 10
- 2 sets of 20-30
- 1 set of 50
- 3 sets for max reps with the same load (e.g., monster band for 26 reps, then 20, then 17);
- 50 total reps with a certain load, taking as many sets as needed (e.g., 225 pounds for 15 reps, then 12, then 9, then 7, then 5, and then 2).
In general, I like any rep range for barbell hip thrusts (1-5, 6-12, 13-20 reps), whereas I like medium-pause reps for single-leg hip thrusts (8-12 reps with a 1 second pause at the top), and high reps for band hip thrusts (15-30 reps). The rest time in between sets can be anywhere from 1-5 minutes.
The ideal bench height is approximately 16 inches for most men and around 14 inches for most women. Benches at commercial gyms are usually higher, though, so it's often beneficial to set up with aerobics steps and 5-6 risers instead of using the bench.
When you first start out, you won't be using much weight. As you gain strength, the pain caused by the bar pushing down onto the pelvis can become intolerable. In fact, it can even shut down glute activation and prevent you from achieving an optimal workout! Therefore, you really need to invest in a good bar pad. There are a number of options, but don't underestimate the importance of padding. Many lifters are amazed at how much stronger they are and how much harder their glutes fire when they finally purchase a good bar pad.
Lifters with muscular thighs or those using really thick bar padding will find that the bar doesn't fit over their thighs. A simple solution is to roll the bar up onto mats or plates stacked on both sides of the lifter. This creates the extra space needed, which makes your hip thrusting much more functional.
Over time you want to aim for doing 10 hip thrusts with at least a 1.5 times bodyweight, with advanced lifters aiming for double bodyweight for 10 reps. However, you shouldn't chase progressive overload to the point where you stop feeling the movement primarily in the glutes. When you hip thrust, you want to achieve a deep burn in the glutes and walk around with a glute pump in between sets. This requires a solid mind-muscle connection, which is just as important as the weight you use.
The hip thrust might be intimidating or embarrassing at first. After all, the movement mimics a humping motion. However, celebrities as well as professional athletes in bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, UFC, track and field, rugby, wrestling, figure, and bikini are all using the hip thrust to strengthen their glutes and build their strength, speed, and power. If they can do it, so can you. Start hip thrusting today, your glutes will love you for it.