The most popular exercise to do if you’re looking to light up your all-important glutes and hamstrings is the glute bridge and its many variations. If you’re looking to up the ante in your lower body workouts, though, try including some barbell hip thrusts into your workout routine.
Fitness trainers turn to the move for a number of reasons, mainly because it’s a go-to weight training move that strengthens your posterior chain. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about the exercise.
What is a barbell hip thrust
In a barbell hip thrust, you use a barbell to create resistance on your hip area as you recruit certain muscles to push it forward. “A barbell hip thrust is when you place a barbell on your lower abdomen above your quads and below your abs, then lie down with your shoulders on a bench,” says Quan Bailey, certified personal trainer and Isopure athlete. “You then thrust your hips from the ground. The lift mainly focuses on your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings.” To do it correctly, follow these instructions:
1. Begin seated with your back against a bench. Place a barbell on your hips.
2. Place your shoulders and upper back on the bench.
3. Lift your hips up from the ground until they’re aligned with your shoulders. Or, if you’re doing the thrust from the floor without a bench, your hips will end up in an upright position as the highest point of the lift.
For a modification, you can place a pad or mat underneath the barbell if your lower abdomen is sensitive. You can also perform the barbell hip thrust with one or two dumbbells in the same position, or use your body weight to get your body used to the movement.
Whenever you’re doing the exercise, be sure to avoid one of the most common mistakes in form, which involves the placement of your gaze. “I often see people tilting the head up with their gaze towards the ceiling,” says Megan Davies, Beachbody Super Trainer. “This forces the rib cage to flare up and the back to arch, and though it feels like the barbell is getting higher, you’ll be taking the focus off of the glutes.” Instead, keep your gaze forward with your chin down and a rigid torso. “This ensures that the action comes from the hips only, maximizing your glute engagement,” she says.
Benefits of doing barbell hip thrusts
Working through barbell hip thrusts means that you’re strengthening crucial muscles within your body. “The exercise works the posterior chain, including your glutes and your hamstrings,” says Luke Milton, celebrity trainer and founder of Training Mate. “It also targets the muscles of the hip. These are the prime movers of the lower body.”
Since the exercise gives your glutes a major burn, it gives you a heads up in other workouts. “Glute stability is huge for athletic performance,” says Bailey. Your glutes are made up of so many different muscles, all of which allow you to move efficiently through any lower body-focused workout. Davies says that strong glutes are essential to lifting, strength, and longevity, and even says that the barbell hip thrust “gives you the most activation through the glute max of any other exercise.”
Incorporating the exercise move into your workout routine also benefits your lower back. “Having a strong posterior chain and strong hip flexors goes a long way in the prevention of lower back pain,” says Milton. “The hip thrust also builds strength and stabilization through the lower back, which results in a healthier, more functional, and pain-free body.” And who doesn’t need that?
Alternative exercises to try
To round out your exercise routine, incorporate these moves that target the same muscles but get your body working in different ways.
1. Wide stance squats
Bailey is a fan of this squat variation if you’re looking to continue burning your glutes. “This is my favorite alternative because it gives you the same glute engagement but offers more core and quad recruitment,” he says. His tip? Hold a glute squeeze for two to three seconds at the bottom for extra oomph.
Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart (about twice as wide as your hip width) with your feet turned slightly outwards. Squat down as if you’re sitting in a chair, keeping your torso tall. Turn your knees out as you squat and lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Press from the bottom of your heels to push back up. You can do this with or without weights.
2. Barbell deadlift
The barbell deadlift, which Milton recommends, hits your glutes and hamstrings but also works on core stability and your balancing skills.
From standing, place your hands on a barbell with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. Engage your core as you lift the bar, keeping your arms straight as you engage your hamstrings and glutes. Keep your back flat as you engage your glutes and hamstrings. Then return to the starting position.
3. Lumbar hyperextension
Another exercise Milton likes to add in with barbell hip thrusts is the lumbar hyperextension, which involves using a weights machine.
Place your hips on a hyperextension machine, then fold from your hips and lift your body using your glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae (muscles along the spine).
4. Glute bridge
The classic glute bridge is a tried-and-true move for hitting your glutes and hamstrings, and also for strengthening your hip flexors. Davies says that this exercise is almost identical to the muscle recruitments done in a barbell hip thrust. Her tip? “I even like reversing the position as you progress and put your heels on a bench or stability ball with your back on the floor and performing the glute bridge that way,” she says.
Lie on the ground with your knees bent, feet hip-width distance apart. Your fingertips should be able to reach your heels. Engage your glutes and hamstrings to raise your hips high, keeping your upper back on the mat. Release back down.
5. Kettlebell swing
If you’ve got a kettlebell or a heavy dumbbell to work with, the kettlebell swing is great for strengthening your lower body muscles and your core.
From standing, place your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Bend down into a deadlift position with your weight between your feet on the floor. Grab the weight and squeeze your arms together as you lift it off of the ground. Start with some momentum to swing it from your hips in a thrusting movement. Push your hips back and then forward as you use your glutes and hamstrings, and keep your core tight and your back straight.
6. Single-leg deadlift
With this deadlift variation, you’re not only hitting your glutes and hamstrings but also improving your overall balance.
Stand tall with your weight in the opposite hand of the planted leg. With a slight bend in your standing knee, press your tailbone back as you raise your other leg and lower the weight towards the ground. Square your hips to the mat and keep your back flat when you’re lowered. Make sure the floating leg has a flexed foot.