Nowadays, everyone seems to be hammering the hip thrust — and with good reason. A pair of well-developed glutes are something of a status symbol in the gym. Strong, powerful gluteal muscles can help you put up impressive numbers on the squat and deadlift, and the aesthetic benefits speak for themselves.
That said, even an exercise as productive and valuable as the hip thrust comes with its own drawbacks. If you perform thrusts on a regular basis, you know full well that setting up the equipment is half the battle. Nevermind crawling out from under an ultra-heavy barbell to adjust your weights between sets. It can be a workout unto itself and there’s absolutely no shame in wanting to switch things up from time to time.
Luckily, when it comes to growing your glutes, you have quite a few options. Try one of these alternatives out during your next leg workout.
Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives
- Glute Bridge
- Reverse Hyper-Extension
- Cable Pull-Through
- Cable Kickback
- Kettlebell Swing
- Barbell Back Squat
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The glute bridge can be a near-perfect substitute for the hip thrust. If you don’t have access to a bench, or another comfortable elevated surface you can set up against, consider incorporating the glute bridge in its place.
Practically, you can think of the glute bridge like a hip thrust, only starting from the floor. This will limit your range of motion somewhat, but will save you some setup-related headaches.
Benefits of the Glute Bridge
- Powerful glutes carry over to other lifts and improve athletic performance.
- While the glute bridge can be performed with a barbell, the bodyweight variation can also target and grow your glutes.
- Glute bridges can improve hip extension and stretch your hip flexors.
How to Do the Glute Bridge
Set up by lying on the floor, feet on the ground, with your knees bent. If you’re lifting a barbell, it should align directly over the crease of your hips. Grab the bar with both hands to stabilize it and squeeze your glutes to push it upward.
Coach’s Tip: Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders at the top.
Sets and Reps: If you do bridges without weight, go for high reps. Try 2 or 3 sets of 15 to 20 bridges.
The hyperextension is unique among leg exercises in that your legs stay completely still for the duration of the lift. Instead, after setting up on a hyperextension bench, your upper body moves to create the hip hinge.
The hyperextension helps build a strong posterior chain, which is crucial to have during exercises like the squat and the deadlift, and you can make some minor adjustments to your technique to bias either your glutes or lower back as well.
Benefits of the Hyperextension
- By targeting your lower back, the hyperextension helps build a stable core and can improve your squat and deadlift.
- You can effectively isolate your glutes or hamstrings without exceptionally heavy loads.
- You can use almost any type of resistance to load the hyperextension, making the lift both convenient and versatile.
How to Do the Hyperextension
Start by wedging yourself into the hyperextension bench and tuck your ankles under the footpads. The thigh pad should be set to a height that allows you to hinge at the hip comfortably.
Set up with your body in a straight line. Then, break at the hip, allowing your torso to fold forward. Once you can feel your hamstrings stretch, return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes on the ascent.
Sets and Reps: If you use a weight on this exercise, do 3 or 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Kick your rep count up if you’re just working with your body weight.
The reverse hyperextension could be your ticket to a bulletproof lower back. By offering a low-impact alternative to free-weight hinge movements, you can target your glutes and hamstrings without subjecting your joints to unnecessary strain.
Reverse hypers also subject your glutes and hamstrings to a longer range of motion than you can achieve with an exercise like the hip thrust.
Benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension
- Allows you to isolate your glutes while limiting the strain on your back and hip joints.
- Makes for a great leg-day warm-up.
- Can be used as both a glute-builder or a prehab exercise for your back and hips.
How to Do the Reverse Hyperextension
You might have access to a reverse hyperextension bench that comes with a sling for your ankles that allows you to add weight to the movement. If not, you can hop onto a glute-ham developer machine backwards, or even hang your legs off a high table.
Regardless, your torso should be parallel to the floor while your legs hang down behind you. From here, squeeze your glutes and lower back to lift your legs up behind your body until they’re parallel with your torso.
Coach’s Tip: Avoid swinging your legs too much between reps. Control the speed at which you lower them down.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps before you add any weight.
The cable pull-through is a hinge movement that targets your glutes. Unlike most hinges, like the hip thrust, which require heavy loads that tax the entirety of your posterior chain, the cable pull-through will get your glutes in the game without leaving you fatigued for the rest of your workout.
Pull-throughs are a wonderful replacement for the hip thrust if you’re looking to apply consistent mechanical tension to your glutes and hamstrings. The only drawback is that you can’t use as much weight.
Benefits of the Cable Pull Through
- Cables allow you to apply continuous tension through both the eccentric and concentric portions of the exercise.
- Lets you load your hamstrings and glutes without taxing your spine, making it a great choice for high-volume training.
- The tension of the cable serves as an intuitive teaching tool for the motion of the hip hinge itself.
How to Do the Cable Pull Through
First, select your cable attachment. While you can use any number of cable attachments for the cable pull-through, most of the time you’ll see the lift performed with a rope. Set the height on the cable stack to be between knee and ankle level.
Walk out a few feet, holding the attachment between your legs. Plant your feet firmly into the ground, then bend at the waist and allow the cable to pull you into a hinge. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, contract your glutes as you push back to a standing position.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your arms relaxed the entire time. They’re just there to hold onto the resistance.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 or 3 sets of around 12 reps towards the end of your workout.
As a low-impact unilateral exercise, the cable kickback allows you to maximize time under tension and improve your mind-muscle connection with your glutes. As such, you should incorporate the cable kickback as an accessory with higher repetitions in order to get the most out of the lift.
Kickbacks may apply much less overall resistance to your glutes than an exercise like the hip thrust, but they’re also one of the only ways to target each glute individually without having to worry about maintaining your balance.
Benefits of the Cable Kickback
- As a unilateral lift, the cable kickback can help address imbalances in your hips.
- The cable kickback improves your mind muscle connection with your glutes by letting you focus on one side, and one muscle at a time.
- Much like the hip thrust, the cable kickback activates all three heads of your glutes, making it a great leg day accessory if you want a bigger backside.
How to Do the Cable Kickback
Set the pin of a cable tree to the lowest possible height and secure your foot with an ankle strap attachment. Lean forward slightly towards the machine and then kick your working leg up and out behind your body.
Focus hard on contracting your glute and relaxing your other leg. Once you’ve reached the top of the range of motion, hold for a beat and then slowly lower your leg back down.
Coach’s Tip: Standing on a small weight plate to elevate your non-working leg can give you some extra range of motion during the kickback.
Sets and Reps: As an isolation exercise, you should work with higher reps. Try 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg.
You can get your cardio in and build your glutes at the same time by replacing the barbell hip thrust with the kettlebell swing. The kettlebell swing is a dynamic hinge movement that incorporates the glute activation and hip extension you should expect from hip thrusts into a convenient, kettlebell-sized package.
Like the cable pull-through, you’ll see the best results when performing the kettlebell swing at higher volumes rather than with heavy weights. That said, if you have access to heavy kettlebells, you can also swing to improve your muscular power.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Swing
- You can build muscular endurance by performing the kettlebell swing for time, or for a high number of repetitions.
- As a dynamic lift, the kettlebell swing can make you more athletic and explosive.
- The kettlebell swing is easy to learn and can be an effective way to train the hinge.
How to Do the Kettlebell Swing
Set up with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell with both hands. Start by rocking your hips back into a hinge, then thrusting forward. Keep your arms relaxed to allow the weight to swing forward. Once you reach the fully upright position, your legs should be vertically stacked. Then, break at the hips once more to flow smoothly into the next repetition.
Coach’s Tip: Your torso should be nearly parallel to the floor at the bottom of each repetition of the kettlebell swing.
Sets and Reps: If you’re swinging for glute growth, try 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps with a moderately heavy weight.
The step up belongs in the pantheon of lifts that can pay dividends across your entire lifting career. There’s no equipment or special instruction required to start, but as you grow in the gym the step up grows with you. You can work with your own body weight to improve your balance, or hold onto some heavy dumbbells to smash your glutes and grip at the same time.
You can also increase the difficulty by increasing the height of your steps, or by increasing the load. In terms of overall glute activation, some research even indicates that the step-up comes second to none, even ahead of the barbell hip thrust. (1)
Benefits of the Step-Up
- The barrier for entry here is nil. You can do step-ups on any elevated surface, with no special equipment required.
- The step-up helps develop your balance by working one leg at a time.
- Using one leg at a time really lets you focus on contracting your glutes individually.
How to Do the Step-Up
Start by finding a stable elevated surface to perform the step up. This could be a bench or a plyo-box. Plant one foot on the elevated surface, shift your weight onto that foot and press down hard to lift yourself upwards. Once your working leg has straightened, control your descent to finish the movement back where you began.
Of all lower body lifts, the squat reigns supreme. Squatting targets your quads, glutes, and core all at once. However, if you’re squatting as a replacement for the hip thrust, make sure to break parallel if you want the lift to function as a glute-builder above all.
A deep squat means plenty of hip flexion, which puts your glute muscles under both stretch and load. That’s a recipe for growth.
Benefits of the Back Squat
- Back squats build your legs. Period. Whether you want bigger glutes, or bigger thighs, the back squat will help you get there.
- If you want to be more athletic, incorporating squats into your routine can help get you there. Research shows that squats may even help you jump higher. (2)
How to Do the Back Squat
Set up in a squat rack with the bar on your back. Lift the weight and step out of the rack. Brace your core, then break at the knee and hip simultaneously to lower your hips down while keeping your chest fairly upright and your back tight. Once the crease of your hip is below your knee, drive back upwards to finish the movement.
Coach’s Tip: You needn’t actively squeeze your glutes together at the top of the squat. The muscle is under the most tension at the bottom of the squat.
Sets and Reps: Go hard and heavy with 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 6 reps here.
Benefits of Training Your Glutes
This list may contain many viable alternatives to the barbell hip thrust, but don’t forget that the thrust itself is a second-to-none glute exercise. If you have the means (or time) to perform thrusts during your workout, they’re probably worth doing.
Here are several benefits of the hip thrust for you to keep in mind. Also note that you can seize many of these benefits with replacement exercises as well, so there’s no need to limit yourself.
Unparalleled Muscle Growth
It bears repeating — a well-developed backside shows everyone in the gym that you mean business. And when it comes to building that butt, the hip thrust may prove even more effective than the squat, since it loads by loading your glutes in a maximally-contracted position with no loss of tension. (3) You can’t achieve that by squatting, so thrusts win out in this regard.
If you feel stress or pain in either your lower back or your knees when you lift heavy, it might be time to add in some glute-specific training. Stronger glutes can take some stress off of your spine during lower-body movements by influencing the posture of your hips while you lift.
For example, during an exercise like the Romanian deadlift, weak or under-developed gluteal muscles may cause you to adjust your form and finish each rep by arching your back, rather than extending your hips. This can place mechanical tension where you don’t want it to be.
Better Fitness and Athletic Performance
Strong glutes carry over to almost any type of physical activity. Building up your glutes will bolster your strength in the weight room, sure, but they’re also integral for your performance on the field. If you’re an athlete of any sort, your glutes play a pivotal role in your speed, agility, and explosiveness.
How to Warm Up for Glute Training
You probably know someone who likes to jump headfirst into training without a proper warm-up — it might even be you. But a proper warm-up isn’t just something you need to consider if you’re an older individual, or are suffering from an injury.
Warming up primes your joints and muscles for strenuous activity. Not only can a good warm-up reduce your risk of injury, but it will undeniably improve your overall performance. (4) Your glute gains start with your warm-up, not with the first exercise you perform during your session. Here’s how to get it right.
Step 1 — Light Cardio
Breaking a light sweat should be your first priority when you step into the gym, no matter what muscle or movement you intend to train on that day. Five or 10 minutes of low-intensity cardio is plenty; it’ll improve blood circulation, clear your head, and lubricate your joints to bear load.
During a glute-specific workout, you can double-dip your efficacy by hitting up the stair-stepper or prowler sled instead of the treadmill or elliptical. These stations count as cardio, but involve more glute work than walking or jogging.
Step 2 — Mobility Work
Your hips play a crucial role in every lower-body compound lift. So, before you get to the good stuff, consider incorporating a hip mobility routine to your warm-up. Exercises like hip CARs (controlled articular rotations) or the 90-90 stretch help prime your hips for action by exposing them to their “end range” in a low-stress environment before introducing any load.
After general mobility work, take stock of anything that feels tight or stiff. If, for example, your hamstrings feel tight and inhibit you from hinging properly, some extra time spent on dynamic mobilizations or stretches can do wonders.
Step 3 — Exercise-Specific Movements
Think of these exercises like taking your car out of first gear. Moving right into your big lifts would push your odometer into the red. Instead, you should slowly ramp up your activity by performing exercises that relate to your big lifts and prime you to perform them properly.
For a lower-body day, drills like body weight lunges, step-ups, and even unweighted hip thrusts could all provide appropriate stimulus to bridge the gap between key-in-the-ignition and fourth gear. If you’re crunched for time, a few sets of your first movement with just the barbell (or a pair of light dumbbells) will also do the trick.
The Thrust Isn’t a Must
It’s hard to overstate the value of the barbell hip thrust. Few other movements can hit all the beats of a heavy thrust; you can load it heavy without putting too much stress on your back, the technique is relatively simple, and, most of all, it absolutely demolishes your glutes.
However, the barbell hip thrust isn’t the endgame of glute gains. Many other movements work your glutes just as well, and some alternatives even offer unique benefits you can’t get by thrusting your heart out. Swap your thrusts for one of these alternatives and you’ll be shopping for new pants before you know it.
- Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, Aguiar R, Chola TA, Sampaio VL, Gama EF. Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Feb 24;19(1):195-203. PMID: 32132843; PMCID: PMC7039033.
- Wisløff U, Castagna C, Helgerud J, et alStrong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;38:285-288.
- Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Schoenfeld BJ, Beardsley C, Cronin J. A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises. J Appl Biomech. 2015 Dec;31(6):452-8. doi: 10.1123/jab.2014-0301. Epub 2015 Jul 24. PMID: 26214739.
- Shellock FG, Prentice WE. Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Med. 1985 Jul-Aug;2(4):267-78. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198502040-00004. PMID: 3849057.
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