Everything You Need to Know About the Barbell Hip Thrust
Reasons to hip thrust… need I say more?
The barbell hip thrust has been around for a few decades but it has only recently become popular thanks to the work of strength coaches like Bret Contreras and Ben Bruno.
In this article, I hope to shed some light on how you can fine-tune your technique to reap the most rewards from the exercise.
If your gym doesn’t have a Hip Thruster, you can still find your own perfect set up with a regular bench. Ideally, you want the bench height to be anywhere from 13” to 16”, with the taller benches suiting taller lifters.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you have appropriate padding for the bar. You might be able to get away with no padding as you get used to the technique at first, but once you start going heavier, it ‘ll be nearly impossible to perform the exercise pain-free. I suggest investing in either one of these two:
You should position yourself so that the bottom of your shoulder blades sit on the bench. They’ll act as a “hinge” during the lift. If at any point you experience lower back pain during the lift, try moving up slightly so your mid-back is now sitting on the bench.
Your feet should be shoulder width apart and about a foot away from your butt. Play around with the position until it feels comfortable for you. You can opt for a wider or narrower stance as well.
Regardless of how far apart your feet are, your shins should be vertical at the top of the movement. If your feet are too close to your body, your quads will take on the load more than your backside, and keeping your feet too far might make it hard for you to properly activate your glutes during the lift.
Once you’ve got the weight on the bar and are ready to begin thrusting, all you need to do is simply roll the weight over your stretched out legs until the pad is sitting on the desired spot. If you’re using plates smaller than the 45 lb ones, you’ll most likely need help getting the bar over your hips, or you could prop it up on two aerobic steps under both plates.
From there, place your mid-back against the bench and position your feet where you’d like them to be on the floor.
In order to get weight up from the floor, all you’ll need to do is use your elbows to prop yourself up on the bench.
You’re all set! Now, for the actual execution of the lift…
- Make sure you keep a neutral spine and a relaxed neck. This does not mean letting your head fall back onto the bench. Find a spot high on the wall directly across from you and keep your gaze directed at it. Alternatively, you could imagine holding an orange under your chin. This will allow your spine to remain straight throughout the movement.
- Keep your chest out but your ribs down and packed. You want to maintain tension throughout your core during the entire lift. If you allow your ribs to flare out, you’ll most likely be arching your back excessively and you won’t be able to lock your hips out at the top properly.
- Push through your heels and explosively lift your hips up towards the ceiling. If you feel too much tension on your quads, keep your toes elevated.
4. There are two ways to “finish” the lift, or lock out your hips at the top: one is by using a posterior pelvic tilt and by ‘scooping’ your hips from underneath you. The other is by slightly hyper-extending your back until your hips are higher than your chest. I personally do not recommend the second alternative as it is more difficult to perform correctly and pain-free.
5. As with any other resistance exercise, you should return to the starting position by controlling the weight on the eccentric (negative) portion of the lift.
The barbell hip thrust is a solid exercise that can be performed pain-free by almost anyone, as long as the right technique is in place. With that being said, some beginners may find it difficult or intimidating at first.
If this is your first time coming across hip thrusts, I suggest starting with a more basic version and working your way up as you gain body awareness and allow your technique to improve.
Floor Glute Bridges (Bodyweight/ Weighted)
This is the most basic regression of a hip thrust.
Place your feet about shoulder width apart and about a foot and a half away from your butt. From there, eliminate any gap between your lower back and the floor by tilting your pelvis posteriorly. This should be your starting position on every rep.
By pushing through your heels, raise your hips up towards the ceiling as you squeeze your glutes at the top. Lower back down in a controlled motion.
The next progression once you’ve mastered glute bridging your body weight is to add weights. You can do weighted glute bridges by using a bar, plates or resistance bands.
In a power rack, loop a band around the bottom pegs and position yourself so that the band sits directly on top of your hips.
This is the closest thing to a barbell hip thrust, with varying resistance at different ranges of the thrust – the exercise becomes more difficult as you approach the top of the movement.
Ready to take your thrust game to the next level? The following variations are a nice way to change things up in your routine.
Paused Hip Thrust
This is by far one of my favourite variations of the lift. Including paused reps is one of the best ways to increase TUT (time under tension), which may lead to greater hypertrophy gains.
Aim for a 2-3 second pause on every rep, making sure your hips are fully extended at the top of the movement. You’ll also want to squeeze the bejeezus out of your glutes to enhance muscle activation.
Dead-stop training refers to eliminating the ‘stretch reflex’ that occurs as a muscle elongates under a load, and then contracts again. You do that by starting every rep from a dead-stop, non-moving position. It’s a very effective method of building both strength and size as you’ll be relying solely on your raw strength to overcome the resistance.
Depending on your bench height, you may or may not need to add an aerobic step under each plate so that your form doesn’t fall apart at the end of every repetition.
These are similar to the bodyweight single-leg thrust, but loaded.
The marching hip thrust will test your hip and core stability by challenging you to hold a fully extended position while lifting one support leg from the floor.
Avoid swiveling and aim to keep your hips high and fully extended as you switch from one leg to another.
Similar to the variation above, this version will also test your stabilization but will enhance eccentric loading on the leg that stays put on the floor.
How to Program Hip Thrusts Into Your Training
In order to see muscle growth and strength gains, you need to be hitting the hip thrust hard and heavy AT LEAST once a week.
You could throw them in your leg days, or have a separate day focused on posterior chain work (think deadlifts, thrusts, cable pull-throughs).
I recommend starting with one heavy, strength-focused day. These should be done at the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh. Aim for 3-5 sets within the 3-8 rep range. Make sure your technique doesn’t fall apart as you load up the weight!
On the second day, work on hypertrophy and reinforcing technique at a higher rep range and with a lighter load. Think multiple sets of 8-15 reps.
A simple way to progress on the lift is by adding 5-10 lbs every week. Once you cannot add more weight without compromising your form, scale down on the number of reps per set and work on accumulating overall volume instead.
For example, if you plateau at 3x8, you could then switch to 5x5 while also slightly increasing the load.
From there, I’d suggest working up to sets of 8 and then switching the rep scheme again.