Are you looking to build size and strength in your glutes? Then the hip thrust definitely deserves a spot in your glute workouts.
First created in the early 2000s by Bret Contreras (aptly named, ‘The Glute Guy’), the hip thrust has truly blown the OG butt-building move – barbell squat – out of the water in terms of growing the glutes.
The only problem? The hip thrust is a pretty challenging movement to master (even if it looks simple enough!)
There’s the setup to think about. Where should the bench land on your back? Where should your feet be? And, of course, there’s the actual thrusting to think about.
All these ‘moving parts’ determine: 1) your level of glute activation and 2) how safe the movement is for you.
If you’re serious about getting the most out of your glute training, check out this guide on how to get a bigger butt. It covers everything from you need to know about training your butt.
So … let’s get started on learning how to do a hip thrust.
How to do a hip thrust
Let’s start with a great example of what a hip thrust looks like – demonstrated by Lauren Simpson.
Ready to start building bigger glutes? Be sure to get your setup right first so everything else can fall into place.
How to set up the hip thrust
The most commonly-practiced (and recognized) version of the hip thrust involves a weight bench and a barbell. And that’s what we’ll be going with here.
And before you start to wonder, just know that there are plenty of hip thrust alternatives that don’t require the barbell as well.
I know you can’t wait to get going … but there are 2 things you have to do before thrusting: 1) set up the bench, and 2) get the bar up to your hip crease. So, let’s do that first.
Setting up the bench
Start by ensuring your bench is stable. Position the long end of the bench against a solid surface (e.g. a wall or squat rack) if necessary.
After the bench is set up, load your barbell with weight. Rest your upper back on the bench; the contact point between your upper back and the edge of the bench should be right under your shoulder blades.
Getting the bar into position
It’s now time to load the barbell onto your hip crease.
Of course, there’s a glaring problem when you use lighter weights. Smaller weight plates provide inadequate elevation for you to roll the barbell up across your hips – where it needs to be.
The obvious solution to this would be for you to use bumper plates. But if you don’t have access to those? Place weight plates right where your barbell lands for additional elevation.
Also, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but the pressure on your hips can significantly increase as you add weight to your barbell.
It can get pretty painful – which can, in turn, limit glute activation. So, you want to avoid that. Always use a pad, sponge, or even a mat to cushion the force of the barbell on your hips.
Awesome. You’ve now gotten the barbell right where it needs to go when it comes to how to do a hip thrust. There’s only one thing left to do: thrust.
Make sure you anchor the bench to something stable. Use bumper plates to elevate the barbell where possible. Use a pad, sponge, or mat to cushion the barbell when it’s on your hips.
Performing the hip thrust
Once you’ve got the setup down pat, you might think that the ‘how to do a hip thrust’ part is pretty much self-explanatory.
Just squeeze your glutes and thrust the barbell up, right?
Well … it’s not that simple. There are plenty of execution tips you’ll have to keep in mind when performing the hip thrust for optimal glute activation and safety’s sake. Let’s run through 3 of them together.
#1: Hip thrust method
This might surprise you, but when it comes to how to do a hip thrust, there are 2 ‘thrusting’ methods you can use:
- Scoop/posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) method: This is where you keep your chin tucked in throughout the movement. As the name of the technique implies, you’ll be quite literally trying to ‘scoop’ the barbell up with your hips – then posteriorly tilting your pelvis into lockout at the top position.
- Hinge method: This is where you think of your head, neck, and torso as a solid, straight unit. That’ll mean that you’ll be looking forward when at the bottom position, then higher up towards the ceiling when you get to the top position. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top position.
Here’s a video showing these two methods.
Which hip thrust method should you use, then?
Honestly, both are fine. I prefer the ‘scoop’ method because I feel like it maximizes the posterior pelvic tilting action I can get with the glutes. But this differs from individual to individual.
So, as cliché as this advice may be … give both hip thrust methods a try. See which is more comfortable for you or makes you feel like you’re working your glutes better.
Fun fact: you can only use the ‘hinge’ method when doing single-leg hip thrusts. The ‘scoop’ method prevents your glutes from contracting fully.
Regardless of which method you eventually decide on, though, you should:
- Brace hard to keep your core strong
- Have a horizontal torso at lockout (i.e. neutral or posterior pelvic tilt)
- Squeeze your glutes hard
What you want to avoid would be overextending (at the top) – and having an excessive anterior pelvic tilt (at the bottom). These two positions can place unnecessary strain and stress on your lower back.
There are 2 hip thrust methods you can use with the hip thrust: 1) the ‘scoop’ method, and 2) the ‘hinge’ method. Both are fine. Experiment and see which is most comfortable for you.
#2: How you generate force
Another tip for doing the hip thrust correctly is to pay attention to where your force generation starts when performing the thrust.
More specifically, make sure you’re pushing through your heels – instead of the balls of your feet. Doing so keeps your quads from taking over the load (from your glutes).
Because you’re not trying to target your quads with the hip thrust here … you want to do everything you can to prevent your heels from lifting off the ground when thrusting the barbell up.
Find it almost impossible to keep the pressure off the front of your foot?
An easy way to address this would be to raise your toes off the ground entirely by flexing your ankles. Then, hold that position as you perform your hip thrusts. Pushing off the balls of your feet would become physically impossible. Go ahead and try it out for yourself!
Push through your heels instead of through the balls of your feet. This keeps your quads from taking over the movement. If you find this challenging, raise your toes off the ground entirely as you complete your reps.
#3: Feet position
Run through all the above steps relating to how to do a hip thrust – and yet, still barely feeling the activation in your glutes?
The issue may lie in your feet positioning.
In general, you want to aim for vertical shins (i.e. perpendicular to the ground) at the top of the movement.
Here are 2 common feet positioning mistakes to avoid:
- Feet too far front out: This shifts the tension to your quads
- Feet too far back: This shifts the tension to your hamstrings
Here’s a video for better clarity.
There are better ways to specifically target your quads or hamstrings – so let’s make sure your glutes are the stars of the show.
Now, you’re going to want to figure out the ideal distance between your feet and your butt such that your shins are perpendicular to the ground at lockout. This maximizes glute contraction.
That said, as with nearly all exercise form tips, individual variations should be considered.
Play around with the angles. Find one that you feel activates your glutes the best – then stick with it.
Aim for vertical shins when you’re at full hip extension. Of course, the ideal feet positioning for maximum glute activation will vary. So, be sure to experiment with how far your feet are from your buttocks – and find the distance that best works for you.
Common hip thrust mistakes
Congrats! At this point, you should already have a pretty solid understanding of how to do a hip thrust properly.
Before you grab the bench, barbell, and bumper plates, though … just a few common hip thrust mistakes to be mindful of:
#1: Getting a bench that’s too high or low
Doing your hip thrusts on a bench that’s too high makes it physically impossible for you to achieve a complete lockout at the top position.
In other words: you’d still be hinged at the top.
On the other hand, a bench that’s too low will significantly cut your range of motion. This brings your range of motion closer to that of a glute bridge (i.e. shoulders on the floor).
And that means your glutes wouldn’t be working as hard as they should be.
In general, you’ll want to get yourself a bench that’s of a height that’ll allow you to have your torso at 45 degrees or less at the start of the hip thrust movement.
#2: Failing to achieve full hip extension
As mentioned earlier, full hip extension is where your glutes achieve the highest level of activation.
That means you should be pushing your hips into lockout on every rep.
To be exact, you should go into a posterior pelvic tilt (or at least a neutral pelvic tilt) at the top.
You should never compromise on your range of motion just so you can add weights to the barbell. You’d be cheating your reps – and slowing your progress.
#3: Knees caving in during the movement
Here’s a critical pointer on how to do a hip thrust safely: you have to keep your knees out during the movement. You should avoid allowing your knees to cave in (i.e. knee valgus) during the hip thrust for 2 reasons (1, 2):
- Puts your knees at risk: Knee valgus can lead to several injuries, including knee pain, ACL tears, and iliotibial band syndrome.
- Reduces glute activation: Keeping your knees out during the hip thrust movement involves 2 of your glutes’ functions: hip abduction and hip rotation. Thus, explaining why allowing your knees to cave in would reduce your glutes’ activation.
But how do you prevent the caving in of your knees during the hip thrust movement?
One of the most straightforward things you can try would be to cue yourself to keep your knees out.
That’s where a resistance band (small loop type) placed around your quads could help.
Just remember that the band is just a teaching tool – and not something you keep adding more resistance with. Once you’ve addressed the caving in of the knees, you can move on without it.
If that doesn’t solve the issue, you could be looking at weaknesses in ankle mobility, hip stability or coordination.
Here’s a guide to knee valgus by Bret Contreras if you’re interested to learn more.
Be mindful of the following common hip thrust mistakes – and be sure to avoid them:
- Getting a bench that’s too high or low
- Failing to achieve full hip extension (i.e. not locking out at the top of the movement)
- Allowing the knees to cave in
How often should you do the hip thrust?
Alright. It’s safe to say that you now know how to do a hip thrust correctly – and safely.
Now, here comes the million-dollar question. Just how frequently should you be scheduling the hip thrust into your workout routine?
The answer can be found in how often you need to train your glutes.
As with all muscle groups, you can expect to see optimal muscle growth when training each muscle at least 2-3 times a week. The ideal frequency depends on your lifting experience; beginner and experienced lifters have very different training volume requirements.
The key here is to ensure there’s progressive overload on your hip thrusts so you’re always seeing results.
Of course, you should space out your glute workouts to give your muscles enough time to rest and recover.
This is when your body repairs and rebuilds muscle tissues for bigger, stronger glutes.
As a rough guide, here are a few exercises you should avoid (or minimize) before your hip thrust workouts:
- Squats (both front and back)
- Romanian deadlifts
- Bulgarian split squats
These movements place the most tension on the glutes when they are in a lengthened position. This increases muscle damage – which means a longer recovery time is needed.
Working out with fatigued or sore muscles is just going to hurt your workout’s effectiveness.
As with all muscle groups, you’ll see optimal growth and development in your glutes when you train them 2 to 3 times a week. Just be sure to space out your glute workouts, so your glutes have enough time to recover.
Hip thrust vs. back squat
“I finally know how to do a hip thrust correctly!”
That’s great, but do you know why the hip thrust – instead of the back squat – is regarded as the king of glute exercises? I mean … people commonly refer to the back squat as ‘The King of Leg Exercises’, after all.
So, the hip thrust has got to be really special to earn that accolade.
Right off the bat, the mean activation of the glutes during squats is way lower than what you’d get from the hip thrust.
Here are the figures (3):
- Back squat: 50% to 70% of maximum voluntary contraction
- Hip thrust: Roughly 100% to 120% of maximum voluntary contraction
But just how does the hip thrust pull off the increase in glute activation? To understand this, we’ll need to look into 2 things:
- Main functions of the glutes
- How the glutes work during the two movements
Glute activation patterns during the squat and the hip thrust
Your glutes perform 4 primary functions at the hip:
- Extension: Pushing of your hips forward
- Abduction: Moving of your thigh away from your body’s midline
- External rotation: Rotating of your thigh bone outwards
- Posterior pelvic tilt: ‘Tucking in’ of your butt
Now, looking into the squat’s and the hip thrust’s movement patterns:
- Squat: Your glutes are the most activated as you’re coming out of the bottom position of the squat. This is where they’re in a lengthened state. Once you’ve achieved full hip extension and your hips are in a neutral position, however, there isn’t much glute activation to speak of. So, essentially, there’s ‘on-and-off’ tension placed on your glutes through the full range of motion.
- Hip thrust: Your glutes are the most activated at the top position of the hip thrust. This is where they’re contracted fully (i.e. in a shortened state). As you lower the barbell, glute activation does decrease – but it doesn’t completely turn off. Your horizontal positioning forces your glutes to work hard in resisting the load’s downward pull. Meaning there’s constant tension placed on your glutes through both the concentric and eccentric phases of the hip thrust. In other words: through a full range of motion.
Given how the hip thrust wins out over the squats in two-thirds of the key drivers of muscle growth (i.e. mechanical tension and metabolic stress) … it’s clear that it’s truly the superior butt-building exercise (4).
Of the three key drivers of muscle growth (mechanical tension, metabolic stress, muscle damage), the hip thrust wins out over the squat at two of them – mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
That’s why hip thrusts are the favorite for building glutes.
Here’s a disclaimer.
Don’t go thinking that you can just throw squats out of your routine. Squats are still good for the remaining mechanism of muscle growth: muscle damage. Include both the hip thrust and the squat in your workouts – so you cover all three drivers of muscle growth.
The hip thrust elicits the most glute activation of all exercises – including the squats – because its biomechanics allows for:
- Peak tension at full hip extension (i.e. mechanical tension)
- Constant tension on the glutes through a full range of motion (i.e. metabolic tension and metabolic stress)
Master your hip thrust through practice
Now that you know how to do a hip thrust correctly, start practicing!
Remember that as with any new movements, take the time to improve your technique before you start going really heavy. Building a bigger butt takes time.
I know you’ve seen many people hip thrust a crazy amount of weight, but that’s a job for progressive overload – and it shouldn’t be rushed.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should include a variety of movements to train your glutes. Here’s some of the best glute exercises you can add to your training – neatly divided into 4 different categories.
Have fun thrusting and building that booty!