On very rare occasions, a new free-weight exercise shows up or an old one is brought back and suddenly it seems like everyone is doing it, so much so that it’s hard to remember what it was like when no one was. At the start of Ronnie Coleman’s Olympia reign in 1998, his focus on walking lunges made them a gym staple. And as his era ended in 2006, along came another glute-centric lift, the barbell hip thrust.
The exercise, as we know it today, was created that year by Bret Contreras, PhD, aka the Glute Guy. The first few times you saw it, it probably looked like a mistake, like someone squirming out from beneath a failed bench press. Who lays a barbell across their crotch? But 15 years later, it’s as omnipresent in gyms worldwide as the lunge and a favorite of both glute-toners, strength athletes, and celebrities from Kate Upton to The Rock (who has hip thrust benches in his home gyms) to former NFL star James Harrison (who famously hip-thrusted 765 pounds for reps).
Is the thrust a must?
Recently, there was a systematic review of 12 hip thrust studies. Its conclusions highlight three great reasons to include this exercise in your routine.
1. TO BUILD YOUR BUTT: The Kate Upton reason
Electromyography studies highlight which muscles are used during an exercise, and they prove the hip thrust is a great glute exercise. In fact, it’s better than the squat for butt-building (and easier on the knees). If you do a glute-centric workout, like Upton, the thrust should be a staple.
2. TO WORK THE LOWER BODY TOGETHER: The Rock reason
Those same EMG studies conclude the hip thrust works the hamstrings, erector spinae, and quads, with the glutes. That’s your whole posterior chain. So, for anyone, like The Rock, searching for an effective compound exercise to compliment the squat and deadlift, this is it.
3. TO IMPROVE EXPLOSIVE POWER AND SPEED: The James Harrison reason
Former NFL linebacker Harrison was thrusting over 700 pounds of metal so that he could more quickly propel himself forward with an offensive lineman or two in front of him. Likewise, studies have also shown that hip thrusting translates to the track, improving sprint speeds. If you need to accelerate quickly, this will help you put your petal to the metal fast.
HIP THRUST SET-UP
1. If your gym doesn’t have a hip thrust bench (and most don’t—yet), use a flat bench, low box, or aerobic risers. For trainers of average height, the ideal bench height is 14-16 inches (35-41 cm). If, instead, you lie on the floor to start each rep, that’s a different, but similar, exercise, the glute bridge.
2. To cushion the bar, wrap it in a squat sponge or similar padding. Your groin will thank you.
3. Place your feet so that your lower legs are approximately vertical to the floor at the top of each rep. With practice, find the foot placement that best activates your glutes at contractions.