The barbell hip thrust is mainly a lower body exercise targeting the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, quadriceps, and hamstrings while also involving the core muscles in the movement. This exercise has long been used to particularly increase the size of and give definition to the gluteus muscles. However, there are various alternative exercises capable of producing the same gains.
Exercises such as cable pull throughs, hip extensions, single leg hip thrusts, trap bar deadlifts, and kettlebell swings are all alternatives to the barbell hip thrust. Although most of these exercises recruit several muscles in order to strengthen the lower body, they require a greater activation of the hamstrings and gluteal muscles, thus increasing muscle bulk and strength in the area of the buttocks.
Proper execution of the barbell hip thrust and its alternatives is important in achieving an individual’s desired lower body strength and muscle definition. Additionally, understanding the muscles activated and common mistakes in glute exercises help in attaining proper form and performance of these workouts.
A barbell hip thrust is an activity wherein the individual puts a barbell on the anterior hip to create resistance against the muscles recruited to push the hips forward. It is basically a glute bridge with weights applied.
A barbell hip thrust is performed with the use of a barbell and a bench. To begin, the individual sits on the floor with the knees bent, the back against a bench, and a barbell situated at the hips. The barbell must be placed comfortably on the crease of the hip before lifting the hip by pushing the feet into the ground, and driving the back towards the bench.
At the top of the movement, the torso must be parallel to the ground with the knees flexed at around a 90-degree angle. The scapula (shoulder blades) should be stable on the bench as the lifter leans back to assume a straight line from the hips to the torso. The position is held for a second before slowly lowering the hips to complete one repetition.
Hip thrusts primarily target the gluteal muscles. However, this exercise also enhances the core, quadriceps femoris, adductors, hamstrings, and calf muscles. The gluteus maximus is the primary mover for this activity since it involves strong hip extension. The gluteus medius works to stabilize the pelvis and assists in extending the hip. In addition, the hamstrings also assist in extending the hip. Since the knee movement involved in doing hip thrust is knee extension, the quadriceps femoris muscles fire to lift the barbell.
The calves work to stabilize the lower leg as the weight is lifted. Upon transitioning, the weight shifts from the heel to be evenly distributed throughout the foot which involves an isometric
contraction of the calves. Furthermore, maintaining the position at the top of the movement engages the core muscles which stabilizes the spine and controls the trunk movement.
Because the barbell hip thrust makes use of additional weight, this exercise allows for greater activation of both the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius as compared to the traditional glute bridge. Greater activation of muscles leads to increase in strength, muscle bulk, and definition.
Barbell hip thrusts also have the benefit of working the entirety of an individual’s lower body as it activates the whole lower body posterior chain. This includes the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, and even the erector spinae muscles.
Another benefit of the barbell hip thrust is the improvement in the hip flexor muscles. The hip flexors help in natural leg movements such as running and walking. Strengthening of these muscles also prepares the individual for more advanced exercises that require hinging of the hips.
The cable pull through, also known as the glute pull through, is a compound exercise that trains the posterior chain muscles. These muscles include the glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles in the lumbar area. It promotes gluteal muscle hypertrophy and may help in activities that require hinging of the hip.
Cable pull throughs involve the use of a cable machine and a rope handle. Before starting, the desired weight is set on the machine. The machine’s pulley is set to the lowest height setting as the individual is positioned facing away from the machine. The hands reach in between the legs to grab the rope handle, and the individual moves forward until the weight lifts off the stack; far enough that the weight doesn’t come in contact with the stack at the bottom of the movement.
Standing tall, the feet are situated slightly wider than hip-width apart with the knees slightly bent. The movement begins by hinging at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine. The hips are pushed back until a stretch is felt at the hamstrings and the torso is almost parallel to the floor. While keeping the spine in neutral, the upward movement is initiated by extending the hip. The gluteal muscles are squeezed as the hip travels forward until the individual is standing erect.
The kettlebell swing is an exercise that enhances overall strength, power, balance, stamina, and cardiovascular endurance. Like the barbell hip thrust, it is a low impact exercise that strengthens the gluteal muscles and induces hypertrophy.
Kettlebell swings primarily activate the gluteal and hamstring muscles. Hip extension drives the weight upward and forward, and the upper extremity only controls the height of the bell.
Performing kettlebell swings must start with having the individual grab the kettlebell by hinging at the hips and slightly bending the knees. Upon grasping the bell and positioning it between the legs, a momentum is created by pulling the weight backwards. The hips move forward while the individual maintains a neutral back and sends the kettlebell up to shoulder height. As the gravity pulls the weight downwards, the kettlebell returns back between the legs and the activity is repeated until the set is completed.
Hip extension exercises engage the gluteus maximus and the hamstring muscles. Using a resistance band to challenge the hip extensors is an effective way to increase strength and focus control. Resistance bands recruit stabilizing muscles and due to its lightweight characteristic, it is a great alternative to large equipment and machines.
Using a looped resistance band, hip extensions are performed by placing the band around the ankles in standing position. The hands are placed on the hips and the core is activated to increase stability. While keeping the knees straight, one leg is pushed backwards, hinging on the hip, until it reaches about 45 degrees. The position is held for a second before slowly bringing the leg back to the starting position. The movement is repeated until a set is completed before switching to the other leg.
The trap bar deadlift is a variation of the traditional deadlift, but it is performed using a specialty bar that allows for a more neutral grip. This modification reduces the forces acting against the back extensors and primarily engages the gluteus maximus muscle. The gluteus medius, hamstrings, and the quadriceps muscles assist to stabilize and complete the movement.
To do a trap bar deadlift, the individual stands in the middle of the trap bar and assumes a shoulder-width stance. The handles are grasped by squatting down to reach the handles. The back must be maintained in neutral extension all throughout the movement. To lift the weight, the hips and knees are straightened until the individual stands erect. The gluteal muscles are squeezed at the top of the movement before slowly setting the weight back down.
Although glute workouts, such as those discussed above, are very common and widely used, there are still a lot of mistakes that individuals make when executing them. Some of these mistakes are not maintaining the spine in a neutral position, lack of core engagement, allowing the knees to go too far past the toes, and lack of variation.
In performing any glute workout, the spine should be kept in a neutral position which avoids both caving and curving of the lumbar and thoracic spine. This is done to avoid putting pressure and injury to the back. When the spine is not in a neutral position, the glutes also do not work maximally. Thus, a caved or curved spine reduces the potential gains of glute exercises.
Because glute exercises are often seen as lower body workouts, many individuals do not pay attention to core engagement in performing the movement. However, glute exercises that involve single-leg movements as well as those that involve added resistance are often hard on balance, especially when the core is not properly engaged. Engagement of the core maintains the spine in a neutral position to help with an individual’s balance and form.
Knee movement way past the toes is one of the biggest and most common mistakes in glute workouts. Allowing the knee to move this way places more work on the quads and more pressure on the knee while decreasing the work of the glutes. A slight lean forward to stretch the glutes and redistribute the weight helps in correcting this mistake.
Lack of variation includes the type of exercises and the added weight or resistance. It is important to do different types of glute exercises in order to work the gluteal muscles to their fullest potential. The variations in exercises may target one muscle more than the other which helps in the reshaping of the buttocks.
Progressing through weights is also beneficial in working out the glutes as added resistance places more work on the muscles. Sticking to a single weight may waste the muscle’s potential to increase in both strength and size.
Barbell hip thrusts and its alternatives are useful in growing the gluteal muscles. While one may not be better than the other, a combination of these workouts may actually prove beneficial in working out the glutes as they maximize fundamental lower body movement patterns. No matter the choice of exercise, however, it is important to avoid common mistakes to achieve optimal results and avoid injury.