The hip thrust is one of the best exercises for your buttocks. The exercise is usually performed with a barbell, but you can basically also use a dumbbell, kettlebell or resistance bands.
THE BEST BUTT EXERCISE?
The hip thrust is an isolation exercise. That is, there is only movement in one joint, in this case the hip joint. The exercise targets your gluteus, which gets a little help from your hamstrings and quadriceps.
In that sense, it is a good auxiliary exercise for your deadlift and squat. For example, research has shown that you can increase your 1RM in the back squat by more than 30% if you add the hip thrust to your training regime for eight weeks.
But of course it’s also a great exercise on its own, for stronger, firmer buttocks.
The ‘glute girls’ who show their derrières on Instagram mainly do these specific butt exercises: hip thrusts, the glute bridge, cable pull-throughs, glute ham raises and so on. Coach and glutes expert Bret Contreras also swears by these types of exercises.
Still, it’s not a foregone conclusion that hip thrusts are the best butt builders. EMG-studies suggest so, but a muscle-growth study found that deep barbell squats are more than twice as effective for the butt as hip thrusts. This is mainly because full squats have a much greater range of motion (ROM) than hip thrusts. For the record: EMG studies only measure muscle activation during exercise, not actual muscle growth and/or strength gain.
However, deep squats are not for everyone: correct execution demands a lot from your mobility and flexibility (which you can improve by the way). In addition, the squat is a compound exercise, which, in addition to the buttocks, mainly trains the quadriceps. Women in particular sometimes find this undesirable, because they do want a firm buttocks, but do not want very muscular legs. In that case you are dependent on more isolating exercises such as the hip thrust.
Hip thrusts are so-called activators in gluteal jargon, exercises in which there is an anteroposterior load: the weight is pushed forward. These exercises have a relatively small eccentric growth stimulus, a relatively small ROM, and the peak tension occurs at the highest point, where the gluteal muscle is contracted and thus at its smallest.
Anteroposterior exercises cause relatively little muscle damage, so you can recover faster from them than from, for example, squats and deadlifts (the so-called stretchers). Anteroposterior exercises usually have the greatest glute activity – hence the name activators.
For a complete development of the buttocks, you preferably do a back-squat variant (not necessarily deep barbell squats), an activator (for example the hip thrust), a pumper (for example the hip abduction) and possibly a deadlift variant.
The execution of the hip thrust requires some set-up and can feel a bit awkward at first, but don’t let that discourage you.
For the hip thrust, you need a barbell bench, which you have to place against the wall or against a heavy dumbbell to keep it from shifting during the exercise. The latter is not necessary if you have a hipthrust bench.
Sit on the floor with your upper back (the part just below your shoulder blades) against the edge of the long side of the bench. Roll a barbell over your hips. Use a barpad to protect your pelvis and pubic bone.
It is important to use 15 or 20 kg weight plates or bumper plates for sufficient space between the floor and your hips. If this weight is too heavy for you, use a lighter barbell if your gym has one. And sometimes you also have 10 kg discs with a larger diameter.
PLACEMENT OF THE FEET
Place your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and keep them flat on the floor throughout the exercise. Have them point slightly outward so that your knees also point slightly out when you punch up. This increases the activation of the gluteal muscle and is also safer for the knee joint.
Also, position your feet so that your shins are vertical at the top of the movement. This also contributes to maximum tightening of the glutes. If you place the feet too close to your buttocks, you shift some tension to the quadriceps. If you place them too far away from you, the hamstrings will be more active.
Now move the bar upwards by pushing it up from your heels and fully extending your hips. Avoid overstretching the spine. To this end, it is important that you keep your head forward throughout the exercise and therefore do not look at the ceiling with your head on your bench. Squeeze your buttocks together in the final position.
Don’t sacrifice range of motion to get more reps. Only in the highest possible position do the glutes reach maximum activation. Therefore, use your glutes to raise your hips as far as possible.
Lower the weight back by bending your hips and do the desired number of reps.
You can lower the weight to the floor or not, for constant muscle tension. You can also make the exercise more difficult by holding the weight in the top position for a few seconds on the last repetition, thereby training your gluteal muscle isometrically. More tension doesn’t automatically mean more muscle growth though, as you have to use lower weights.
For general fitness purposes, don’t focus on weight, but focus on the contraction in your gluteal muscle.
TIP: USE A DECLINE BENCH
Many experience the hip thrust as a somewhat uncomfortable exercise. Often the back slides off the bench, or the bench slides itself. In addition, it can be difficult to position your arms and elbows in such a way that you can comfortably hold the bar. And if you are short in stature, the bench is in fact too high to do the exercise properly.
You can solve all these problems in one go by performing the hip thrust on the end of a decline (abdominal) bench. Regardless of your height, you will find a comfortable and stable position on it to perform the exercise. And because you use the bench in length and not in width, your elbows have free play and you can hold the bar more easily.
We already saw that the hip thrust does have a high gluteal activation (especially in the peak of the exercise), but that the range of motion is relatively small – especially compared to the full squat. However, you can increase the ROM and thus the effectiveness of hip thrusts by raising your feet slightly.
After some time, if you are ready for a new challenge for your buttocks, try the variant below, according to the 2/1 technique, where you perform the eccentric phase of the exercise (the one in which you sink) with one leg and thus in fact double makes it so heavy. But choose a lighter starting weight.
You can do the hip thrust with your legs training, after large compound exercises such as the squat or deadlift. If you have a pure butt workout, the hip thrust is the best (because heaviest) exercise to start with.
In terms of muscle fibers, the gluteus maximus is composed in such a way that it benefits from different types of load: both light weights with 10 to 20 repetitions, and heavy weights with 5 to 10 repetitions. So vary in weight and rep ranges.
To give you an idea, according to Bret Contreras, with the barbell hip thrust you should aim to do 10 repetitions with a weight of at least 1.5 times your body weight.
In general, it is best to leave one or a few repetitions ‘in the tank’ during your sets and not train completely to muscle failure. This way you avoid a disproportionately great fatigue that is at the expense of the maximum training volume that you can do. And less training volume usually means less muscle growth.
With heavy hip thrusts, hold 1-3 reps in the tank (1-3 Reps In Reserve, RIR). With lighter hip thrusts, i.e. with a lot of repetitions, you have to train a little closer to muscle failure to create a sufficient growth stimulus. In that case, use 1 RIR and possibly train your last set to complete muscle failure (0 RIR).
The optimal training volume for the buttocks differs per person and depends on various factors. For most, during a training career it progresses from 10 to 30 sets per week in men and even more in women.
Training volumes of more than 25 sets are usually only possible if you specialize. Many women train almost exclusively their buttocks, which means they can train at maximum volumes without any problems (apart from the fact that women also recover slightly faster than men).
You should also try to distribute your training volume evenly over:
- different types of exercises: stretchers (squat, deadlift), activators (hip thrust, cable pull-through) and pumpers (hip abduction, band side walk);
- different relative intensity levels (both training close to muscle failure and further away from it);
- different weights and therefore different rep ranges.
Make sure you do no more than 5-12 sets per muscle group per workout, because the growth stimulus stagnates around 12 sets.
Build in enough rest time between workouts (24-72 hours). How long you need to recover exactly depends on training status, gender, training variables and the type of exercise.
You can safely do the hip thrust two or even three times a week, as long as the programming of your training is in order.
We have devoted an extensive article to programming a butt workout.