Despite contrary belief, hip thrusts are not only a favorite amongst women who strength train... It's a powerful exercise used by all lifters and even sports athletes! Its popularity in the fitness world is thanks to Bret Contreras, Ph. D., C.S.C.S. He created this powerful glute exercise in the early 2000s after doing significant research in the area of glute strength and growth. And he really knows his stuff because the hip thrust, specifically barbell hip thrusts, are probably the best lower body exercise to grow and strengthen the glute muscles! Yes, it's superior to squats, lunges, and deadlifts (although you should be practicing those exercises regularly) if your main goal is to build a booty. Research conducted by Bret Contreras himself shows that hip thrusts activate more muscle fibers in the glutes than squats do making it a better exercise in terms of glute activation.
Unfortunately, many lifters struggle to feel their glutes while hip thrusting and instead feel the load on the hamstrings or the quadriceps. To maximize your results, you have to do it right, meaning with good form and technique. So if you've been struggling with your barbell hip thrust continue reading to learn the best tips that will help you nail your form and fire up your glutes!
How to hip thrust with barbell
Before we dive into our top 8 hip thrust tips, let's run through how to do a barbell hip thrust first. Just in case there's anyone out there who needs a refresher or wants to make sure they're doing it correctly...
- Load your barbell and wrap a UPPPER Barbell Pad around the bar for comfort. Place your back against the bench, making sure that only your shoulder blades and upper back are touching it. Then either roll the loaded barbell into the crease of your hips or if you are unable to do that, have a spotter help place it comfortably and safely on your hips.
- Plant your feet firmly on the ground a few inches ahead of you and place them close to shoulder-width apart.
- Once you're all set up, maintain your back neutral and flat, brace your core, and squeeze your glutes. Before you push the bar up, maintain a forward gaze with your neck slightly tucked into your chin. This will prevent lumbar hyperextension and a possible strain on your neck.
- Now, using your torso as a lever push your hips up towards the ceiling bringing the bar with it forming a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Then lockout at the top of the movement and pause for one second.
- Begin to decent slowly back to the starting position before bracing for your next rep.
8 Tips for Better Hip Thrusts
To help make your hip thrusts even better and maximize the effectiveness, follow these tips...
Find your ideal foot position
Everyone's body is different, so you might see some people have a different foot placement than you. That's because that's the best foot position for them, which might not be yours. So, how do you find yours?
Bret has a general rule of thumb we'll share with you - position your feet so that when you're at the top of the movement, your shins are perpendicular to the floor. This is the best way to ensure the glute muscles are doing a bulk of the heavy lifting. You might have to play around with your foot placement to find the best one. To help, avoid having your feet too close to your butt because it puts more stress on your quads. And don't have them too far away or else the stress gets placed on the hamstrings instead of the glutes.
This is just a general guideline because, at the end of the day, everyone is different. So, play around with your foot placement until you find the one that has your shins perpendicular to the floor at the top of the exercise - not angled forward or backward. As for the stance width, it's a matter of personal preference. Some do better with a narrow stance, others with a wider one. But if you want a tip, we suggest a stance that is closer to shoulder-width apart and with toes pointed outwards slightly.
Push through your heels
To shift the muscle activation away from your quads and onto the glutes and hamstrings, push through your heels - not through the balls of your feet. A good way to ensure that you're driving through your heels is by slightly raising the toes off the floor. Just be careful, don't raise them too far that you lose your balance!
Maintain your entire back stiff and neutral
One of the most common mistakes lifters make is initiating too much movement through their lower back while maintaining the upper back stiff. Doing this can put too much strain and cause lower back pain, so avoid it by aiming to keep your entire back locked throughout the entire movement. Your torso will still be moving, but it will be moving in unison. The key is to engage and squeeze your core and glutes to avoid arching your back.
If you need further help with keeping back in unison, practice the move using only your body weight by following these steps:
- Place your back against the bench, make sure that only your shoulder blades and upper back are touching it. And find the right foot placement (not too far, and not too close to your butt).
Engage your core, and squeeze your glutes as you begin to drive your hips upwards. Keep your lower back locked in and focus on only moving the hips up and down and using the torso/back as a lever. Think of your back
- Squeeze at the top of the move (the next section will cover this).
- As you descend, keep your core and glutes tight so your hips drop slowly back to the starting position.
Pause at the top of the movement
Don't just push the barbell up and down as fast as you can just because you want to get the exercise over with or it burns too much. In fact, you want to move through the exercise slow and controlled, with at least a one-second pause at the top. This increases the time under tension while also ensuring good form, full hip extension, and that the glutes are doing the work instead of the lower back.
Do this by squeezing your glutes hard at the top while your hands are resting lightly on the bar. Pause at the lockout position for 1-3 seconds. We suggest keeping your duration consistent, so try for one second and then work your way up to three.
You'll be asking more of your glutes at a point where they're already being maximally recruited thus placing an extra challenge on them to help effectively build muscle.
Go through the full range of motion
Avoid the mistake that new lifters often make and perform full repetitions. Aside from pausing at the top of the movement, you want to ensure that you're fully extending your hips. Full hip extension is the point where your glutes reach their highest level of activation, failing to reach that point leads to poor results.
To fully recruit all the targeted muscle groups, use your glutes to push your hips through the entire range of motion and lockout at that top. Pausing at the top of the movement should help you naturally achieve that lockout position.
Practice progressive overload
This one shouldn't come as a surprise because it's something you should be doing for every strength training exercise. The best way to recruit your glutes and see maximal results is by increasing the demands you place on your body to continue building muscle and strength. This is a fitness principle known as progressive overload.
So, what this means is don't use the same weight and techniques every time you do hip thrusts. Instead, track your progress by recording the number of reps and sets performed and the weight used. That way next time you either try to do one more rep, add an extra set or increase the weight. There might come a point where increasing the weight on the bar may not be possible, this is when you can try other techniques to challenge your muscles. One of those techniques is using a short resistance band and placing it slightly above the knees to apply an added resistance that your glutes need to fight against. There's one other technique to drive progress, which brings us to our next point...
Don't neglect other hip thrust variations
The barbell hip thrust is a great exercise that you should be practicing regularly, but that doesn't mean you should neglect all the other variations! Other hip thrust variations, like single-leg hip thrusts, can help challenge your muscles in different ways. For example, single-leg hip thrusts isolate one side of your body thus not only challenging your muscles but also your balance and stability. This variation is more difficult, so you should start with your bodyweight, then move on to using a dumbbell before moving forward with a barbell. Other hip thrust variations that will help improve your barbell hip thrust form include stability ball hip thrust, feet-elevated hip thrusts, and hip thrusts with a 30-60 second isolated hold at the top.
Use a barbell pad
Using heavy weights will make the bar start to get a bit more uncomfortable, and unfortunately, this can discourage you from increasing the weight any further. To avoid that from happening use a barbell pad! Barbell pads are made with a high-density foam that cushions between the body and barbell. They are meant to add cushioning to provide relief to the back, neck, shoulders, and hips while training while reducing the risk of bruising and injuries.
However, not all barbell pads are created equal... Some might not be up to your lifting standards. Fortunately, our UPPPER Barbell Pads were tested thoroughly and were concluded to be a solution to making barbell hip thrusts more comfortable 😉
The best tip that wasn't included because it should be obvious - warm up! Most people are sitting on their butts all day and excessive sitting causes the muscles along our posterior chain to loosen and lengthen, but what does this mean? It relaxes the glute muscles and tightens the hip flexors which can lead to an unfortunate injury. So, warm-up by doing static stretches, bodyweight glute bridges, and glute activation exercises! And now you have all the info you need to crush your barbell hip thrusts and maximize results!