How to Perform a Barbell Hip Thrust (and Why You Should)
Everything you need to know about the booty-building exercise you keep seeing on Instagram.
If you follow fitness influencers or trainers (or Chelsea Handler) on Instagram, you've probably encountered the barbell hip thrust.
The move was created in the early 2000s by Bret Contreras, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a mega-famous trainer who has done significant research in the area of glute strength and growth. In fact, he's actually known as "the glute guy." These days, fitness pros all over the world recognize what a powerful tool the exercise can be. The hip thrust has continued to be widely used and celebrated simply because it works so well, it's relatively easy to execute, and you can really feel and see the results, says Menachem Brodie, C.S.C.S., head coach at Human Vortex Training. (FYI, here's how to engage your butt for stronger glutes.)
And people are seriously obsessed with it. "Fans of the hip thrust are so passionate about it because, like me, they've never seen one exercise make such a large difference in how they look and move," says Steven Mack, C.S.C.S., owner of Simple Solutions Fitness.
So why is the barbell hip thrust exercise so great, and should you be incorporating it into your workout routine? Here's what experts have to say.
Fitness Benefits of the Barbell Hip Thrust
It helps strengthen and build your glutes. For both aesthetic and performance-related reasons, a lot of people want bigger, stronger glutes. Strong glutes support better posture and help you run faster, for example. "The hip thrust is the ultimate glute-building exercise," says Cassie Lambert, a certified personal trainer. "It is far superior to squats, lunges, and deadlifts for building up the booty." Research conducted by Contreras has actually shown that hip thrusts activate more muscle fibers in the glutes than squats do. That doesn't necessarily mean they're a better exercise in general, but if you're looking for glute activation, the hip thrust is your best bet.
It's easy to feel how hard you're working. When you do hip thrusts, "you actually FEEL your glutes working," Brodie points out. "This is kind of revolutionary for a lot of those looking to sculpt and build their bodies, as tapping into the glutes can be really tough." The mind-muscle connection is a big deal since it can help you maintain proper form and increase bodily awareness. It may even help stimulate muscle growth and increased strength gains.
It's a gentler way to train your glutes. As long as you maintain good form, that is. "The main benefit of the hip thrust is you are able to train the glutes with heavy weights while likely avoiding back pain," says Sean Kuechenmeister, a certified athletic trainer at New York Sports Science Lab. Squats and top-loaded barbell movements can compress the spine, but because of where the weight is placed in a hip-thrust, it can be more back-friendly. Lambert agrees, noting that "it is one of the safest lower body compound movements with little risk of injury when performed correctly." (While we're on the topic of back pain, try this weird trick that can prevent back pain during strength training.)
How to Perform a Barbell Hip Thrust
Start with the basics. As with any new exercise, you'll want to start with the simplest version. "I think everyone should do hip thrusts. However, the barbell hip thrust is an advanced progression," says Lambert. "Beginners should start with bodyweight hip thrusts and master the basics first, such as hip mechanics, foot placement, and feeling the connection between the movement and the glutes. From there add weight with a dumbbell, and then advance to the barbell hip thrust."
Set up properly. If your gym has a hip thruster bench (which was created by Contreras especially for this exercise), you're in luck. If not, you can use any weightlifting bench that is approximately 12 to 14 inches off the ground, says Lambert. The bench height is very much up to personal preference, so what works for others may not work for you. You may have to experiment a bit (with no weight, ideally), to figure out what level is best.
Perform the movement effectively. "In order to reap the rewards of the hip thrust, make sure to extend the hips to the top position, and make sure your pelvis is in posterior pelvic tilt, where the glutes are at peak activation," says Lambert. An easy tip to ensure you can feel this is to imagine tucking your "tail" between your legs as you extend up." Lastly, "tuck your chin at the top, so you're looking at your belly button, as this has a protective mechanism for the back," says Brodie.
Don't feel self-conscious. Look, hip thrusting kinda looks like you're humping the air, and that makes a lot of people reluctant to try it in a public gym. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it! "If you've never tried it before, you'll likely notice that not many people in the gym have caught on yet," says Mack. "The hip thrust is still making its way around the country but, in my own gym, I see three out of maybe 400 people perform it. They're all women. It may feel awkward, but no one really knows what they're doing at the gym anyhow." Do you, and you'll be fine.
Try out different variations. Different glute exercises work for different bodies, and there are many different ways to do the hip thrust. You can do them single-legged, with a pause at the top, with a mini resistance band, with your feet elevated, between two boxes, and more. (FYI: Watching Kate Upton Do 225-Pound Hip Lifts Is the Motivation You Need) To try out all the different ways to hip thrust, check in with a trainer who can help you execute them with good form.