Strong, firm, and well defined glutes don't just look good in a pair of jeans. The bottom line is that strong glutes matter. Pun intended. The glute muscles are the largest, and quite possibly, the most influential muscle group in the human body. Glute bridges and hip thrusts are two fantastic exercises that will help you strengthen and develop your glutes. Both of these exercises can be performed bilaterally or unilaterally, and come in many different variations.
Before I get started, let me differentiate between glute bridges and hip thrusts. With glute bridges, you are lying on the ground. There is less range of motion, the exercise is less technical, and it is easier to use more resistance. With hip thrusts, your shoulders and upper back are positioned on a bench. There is a greater range of motion, and the exercise demands more technical proficiency. With both of these exercises, you can use bodyweight, bands, barbells, and sandbags for resistance. You have the option of touching down to the ground between reps, or stopping just before your hips touch the ground. This technique is the more challenging of the two, and will keep your muscles under tension for the duration of the exercise.
- Benefits of glute bridges/hip thrusts
- Proper form
- Mistakes that people make
- Rep range, weight, exercise order
- Different glute bridge/hip thrust variations
Benefits Of Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusts
Glute bridges and hip thrusts offer a tremendous number of benefits. Some of these benefits include:
- improved strength and function of the glutes
- more muscular, firm, and shapely glutes (surgery-free butt lift)
- improved running ability as these exercises have a positive carryover to running and sprinting
- decreased risk of injury (both chronic and acute) as strong glutes are highly influential in full body stability and proper biomechanics, and other factors that reduce the likelihood (and or severity) of potential injuries
- improved performance in the gym as strong glutes will have a positive carryover to most exercises
- improved athleticism and sports specific performance
- fat loss (the glutes are the largest muscle group in the body so more muscle = greater fat burning potential)
How To Perform Glute Bridges/Hip Thrusts
In order to obtain the benefits of glute bridges and hip thrusts, they need to be performed properly. While both of these exercises seem fairly straightforward, they are often butchered by many. These tips (some you might not have heard before) will help you improve your ability to perform glute bridges and hip thrusts:
- If you are performing a glute bridge, lie down on a mat and position your feet so they are approximately hip to shoulder width apart. If it is more comfortable, you can point your feet out a bit. If you are performing a hip thrust, the same applies, but your shoulders and upper arms will be resting on a bench. If you are smaller in stature, you might prefer to use a slightly lower bench.
- Rest the barbell in your hip crease. If it is more comfortable, you can rest the barbell on a foam pad or wrap a towel/sweatshirt around it. If you are lucky, you will have access to the foam pad that some people use on the barbell when they squat. This pad is much more suitable for glute bridges/hip thrusts than it is for squats, but that's a topic for another day ;).
- Position your shins so they are relatively vertical or else your hamstrings will take over.
- Before you pick up your hips, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around the spine), tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), and brace your core (imagine blocking a soccer ball with your stomach). This will dramatically increase your lumbo-pelvic stability, will safeguard your back, and will give you much more ability to generate force with your glutes.
- Extend your hips by pressing through the mid-back portion of your feet and squeezing your glutes, NOT by arching your lower back. This is extremely important.
- At the top position, pause for a count as this will really utilize your glutes to the max. Make sure that you lock out by squeezing your glutes, not by arching your lower back.
- During the lowering/eccentric portion of the movement, control the movement with your glutes.
- For the duration of the exercise, it’s important to keep your rib cage tucked toward your hips (close the space in your midsection) and keep your core braced. Do not allow your rib cage to flare or lower back to arch.
- Make sure that your weight remains on the mid-back of your foot, but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toe. This will dramatically improve your stability, and ability to perform this exercise.
- If you are performing a single leg variation, engage the glute of the nonworking side as well. Failing to do so will cause one hip to drop faster, and your pelvis to twist. Obviously this is not ideal.
- Do not allow your knees to collapse in or fall outside of your feet.
- Keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Grip the bar as hard as you can. This will create a lot of tension in your upper body, will safeguard your spine, and will allow you to generate even more force.
- It is crucial that you really feel the movement and make sure that your mind-muscle connection is present. This will make or break your results. If I am not required to hold onto a barbell, I will often palpate my glutes.
- With both the glute bridge and hip thrust, you have the option of touching the ground between each rep, or stopping just short of touching the ground. If you do not touch the ground between reps, your muscles will remain under tension for the duration of the exercise. This option is significantly more challenging and demands a greater level of technical proficiency and strength.
- Reset before each rep
- Choose a weight or band resistance that allows you to do all of the above.
Mistakes That People Make:
Many people screw up the glute bridge and hip thrust, and put the health of their spine at risk, by using their lower back to perform the bulk of the movement, particularly the lockout. This can lead to a very angry back, and will definitely shortchange your results. Both of these exercises are to be completed with your glutes, not your back, end of story.
No control = much less muscle tension, and significantly inferior results. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times. I will always pause for a count at the top, and this count will range from .5 to 5 seconds. The same applies to the lowering portion. More muscle tension means better results, so don't just mindlessly drop your hips down, do so with control.
Shins too angled
If your feet are too far ahead and your shins are too angled (I like for my knees to form about a 90 degree angle when I'm in the top position), your hamstrings will likely overpower the glutes and will dominate the exercise. Keep your shins in a relatively vertical position. The exact position will be a matter of personal preference.
Not feeling the movement or using the mind-muscle connection
If you just go through the motions and do not truly feel your glutes working, figuratively speaking (although palpating the glutes is also an effective technique to increase the overall muscle activation), you will not achieve very good results at all. The key is that you absolutely need to make sure that you are using the mind-muscle connection, are maximizing each contraction, and aren't just going through the motions. You need to be present mentally, not just physically.
Forgetting to engage the glute of the non-working side
If you are performing a single leg variation, do not forget to engage the glute of the nonworking side. Failing to do so will cause one hip to drop faster, and your pelvis to twist. Obviously this is not ideal.
Forgetting to engage the musculature of the anterior core
As I have mentioned on many occasions, any exercise that is perform correctly is a core exercise, and glute bridges/hip thrusts are no different. In order to stabilize the body and maintain proper alignment for the duration of the exercise, it is imperative that you engage your core muscles at all times. Before each rep, I will take a deep breath in (360 degrees of air around the spine), actively tuck my rib cage towards my hips (close the space in the midsection), and will brace my anterior core (imagine blocking a soccer ball with your stomach). I will reset before each rep.
Only performing bilateral exercises
Most sports specific movements, and most basic tasks that you are required to perform in everyday life are unilateral in nature. Therefore, it is important to include glute bridge and hip thrust variations that use both one and two legs. Also, performing unilateral exercises will help make your glutes more symmetrical, and will help even out any imbalances that might exist.
Using a weight that is too heavy
Check your ego at the door and focus on form first, and only add additional resistance when your form is spot on. Otherwise, your results will suffer. This also applies to band resistance.
Reps, Weight, and Exercise Order
While I prefer to use a rep range of 8-15 reps, you can go as low as 3-5 reps, and as high as 20-25 reps. No matter what rep range you select, the key is to make each rep count.
When it comes to the glutes, less (as in load or band resistance) is often more. Whatever rep range you decide to use, check your ego at the door and use a weight/resistance that allows you to execute each rep to perfection. If you don't feel a lot of tension in your glutes, the chances are good that you are not obtaining the most benefits possible.
You can use bodyweight or band resisted glute bridges or hip thrusts as a warm-up to prepare your body before leg workouts or sprint workouts. If your main focus for the workout is your glutes, you should place the glute bridge/hip thrust towards the beginning of your workout. If you are going to be doing heavy squats, deadlifts, or other heavy compound lower body exercises, you should place the glute bridge/hip thrust after you have performed these exercises. You can pair the glute bridge/hip thrust with an upper body pulling or pushing exercise. You can also make it part of a metabolic conditioning circuit, or perform it at the end of your workout as a glute finisher. You have many different options. Just be mindful of your form, and make good form your number one priority.
Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust Variations:
Glute bridges and hip thrusts are extremely versatile exercises as they can be performed both bilaterally and unilaterally, and there are many variations that can be performed. Generally, when it comes to hip thrusts, I tend to opt for single leg variations. With glute bridges, I will usually perform bilateral variations, and with greater resistance. Here are some of my favourite exercises:
Bilateral Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust Options:
- Pause for a count at the top before lowering back down. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times.
- Pause for 5 seconds at the top before lowering back down. This increases the overall time that the muscles are under tension. Maintain control at all times.
- Place a resistance band above your knees. Pause for 5 seconds at the top before lowering back down. Actively press the knees out against the band for the duration of the exercise. Maintain control at all times.
- Place a resistance band above your knees. Each rep should consist of an isometric hold in the top position, and 2-3 banded abductions. It is crucial that you do not allow your hips to drop when you are performing the banded abductions. Maintain control at all times.
- Pause for 3 seconds at the top, take 3 seconds to lower yourself down, and stop before the weights touch the ground. This increases the overall time that the muscles are under tension. Maintain control at all times.
- Attach resistance bands to either side of the barbell. Pause for a count at the top before lowering back down. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times. Choose a tension of band that allows you to perform the movement correctly.
- This is a very old video and I figured out a much better way to set this up. I would anchor the band under 2 pairs of heavy dumbbells (or 8 singles) and would use two bands instead of one. The picture of this setup is below.
- You can also perform band resisted glute bridges and hip thrusts without the barbell. The band would rest under your feet and would sit in your hip crease.
Unilateral Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust Options
- Set yourself up so your upper back is on one slightly higher bench or box, and your foot is on a slightly lower box. Perform a single leg hip thrust. Pause for a count at the top before lowering back down. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times. Start out using bodyweight and ONLY add additional resistance when your form is spot on.
I got this unique exercise from a co-worker who used to live in South Africa. When he lived there, members of the German national sprinting team would train there 2/year, and he saw them performing this exercise in many occasions.
- Set yourself up so the back of your foot is resting on your partners shoulder, and grab onto a pull-up bar. You can use a prone or supine grip. Perform a single leg hip thrust. As you are returning to the starting position, drive the knee of the non-thrusting side up as this mimics the mechanics of sprinting. Pause for a count at the top before lowering back down. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times. Start out using bodyweight and ONLY add additional resistance (you can use a weight belt) when your form is spot on.
This bang for your buck exercise strengthens the entire posterior chain.
- Set up a barbell in a squat rack at about belly button height, and position a bench in front of the barbell. You can also use a Smith Machine. Grab onto the bar. You can use a prone or supine grip. Perform a single leg hip thrust. At the top of the hip thrust, transition into a single-leg curl and really squeeze your hamstring. Return to the starting position performing the reverse movements. No matter what tempo you are using, maintain control at all times.
This innovative and hugely bang for your buck exercise strengthens the glutes, anterior core, and upper body.
- Perform a single leg isometric glute bridge. While keeping your hips elevated, simultaneously perform a single arm bottoms-up kettlebell press and a single leg lowering movement. Make sure that you keep your rib cage tucked towards your hips (close the space in your midsection) for the duration of the exercise, and do not allow your torso or hips to rotate. Keep the knee of the lowering leg extended, and point your toes towards your face.