Strong glutes can help with lower back pain, improved hip mobility, deadlifting (especially lockout) and can even help you run faster. The barbell hip thrust is a fantastic all-around exercise and needs to be in your training program.
However, not everyone feels great with a heavy bar across their pelvis and sometimes you need a break from the barbell. With these variations, you can still train and pump up your glutes so you can look like you might want to in your favorite pair of pants.
Relative to the standard barbell version, the variations below are performed with less resistance and more instability. That means they’re perfect for higher reps at the end of your leg training or as a finisher. You’ll also learn how to warm up for these moves and how to integrate hip thrusts into your program.
Hip Thrust Variations
- Stability Ball Hip Thrust
- Chaos Hip Thrust
- Frog Pump Hip Thrust
- Single-Leg Hip Thrust
- Feet Elevated Hip Thrust
- Isometric Hip Thrust
- Glute Bridge
The stability ball hip thrust can be performed with just your bodyweight. You can also use resistance from bands or dumbbells, which can be a more challenging variation due to the required balance and stability. Studies suggest that the use of a stability ball can help increase strength, stability, balance, neuromuscular control, and overall health. (1)
Benefits of the Stability Ball Hip Thrust
- Increased balance and stability, which is essential for walking down the street, climbing up the stairs, running, and lifting heavy objects.
- Recruits the core muscles to aid in balancing on the ball.
- Helps improve posture and function.
How to Do the Stability Ball Hip Thrust
Lie back on the stability ball with your head, neck, and upper back supported on it. Add a weight or band on your hips if needed. Plant your feet on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Press through your heels to push your hips up until they are parallel with the ground. Be sure to engage your core so as to not arch your back. Hold for one to three seconds before dropping your hips back to the floor.
Studies suggest that exercising with resistance bands may have a greater effect on balance and flexibility. (2) This variation isn’t for the faint of heart: it requires the lifter to balance their feet on the resistance band. The chaos hip thrust requires balance and stability, and it forces you to move in a slow, controlled manner. The instability that the band creates can be a great technique fixer, involves more of the hip stabilizer muscles, and really works the hamstrings. You’ll either love or hate this exercise.
Benefits of the Chaos Hip Thrust
- Sport-specific training method that can be beneficial for athletes who sprint or jump.
- Helps improve balance, stability, and flexibility.
- Helps fix the standard hip thrust technique.
- Recruits core muscles.
How to Do the Chaos Hip Thrust
Loop each side of a strong resistance band on the lower rungs on the squat rack, just about parallel to the bench you’re on. Place your midfoot on the band, hip width apart, and knees bent. Keep your chin tucked, ribs down, and press your feet through the band to lift your hips up. Squeeze your core to help stabilize your body. Lift your hips until they are parallel to the ground, then slowly lower back down.
With the frog pump, you’re abducting and externally rotating the hips and flexing the lower back. This eliminates the hamstrings and erectors while engaging the glutes more. Strong glutes help to stabilize the hips and can improve your life just standing and walking around. Add a band for even more resistance and range of motion. And maybe avoid eye contact doing this one.
Benefits of the Frog Pump
- More intense gluteus medius and maximus activation.
- Studies suggest strong glutes can help improve athletic performance in sports like basketball, football, and volleyball. (3)
How to Do The Frog Pump
Set your back on a bench. Place your heels together and spread your knees out. (This is where it might get awkward, but the glute gains will be worth it.) Squeeze your core to avoid arching your back and losing glute activation. Press your hips up to the ceiling and squeeze your glutes before bringing them back down again.
The single-leg hip thrust is similar to the hip thrust, but you use—you guessed it—one leg. With this variation being unilateral, you can increase your ability to equally target both sides of the body. Studies suggest that unilateral training can produce several benefits such as improved athletic performance and hypertrophy. (4)
Benefits of the Single-leg Hip Thrust
- Reduces muscular asymmetries and strength imbalances.
- Improves form and weight for the standard hip thrust.
- Helps prevent potential injuries.
- Recruits the core to help with balance and stability.
How to Do the Single-leg Hip Thrust
Set yourself up on a bench like you would a normal hip thrust. Keep one foot planted on the ground and keep the other foot elevated. Squeeze your core to help balance yourself. Press through your planted heel to drive your hips up until they are parallel to the floor. Slowly lower back down and repeat on the other side.
This variation looks like the hip thrust, but upside-down. Instead of resting your back on the bench, you’ll place your feet on it. The feet-elevated hip thrust can offer a greater range of motion and may give you more glute activation. You can still add weight or bands for more resistance, but be careful not to drop it on your face.
Benefits of the Feet-Elevated Hip Thrust
- Studies suggest more range of motion with proper form can be beneficial in increasing hypertrophy and strength. (5)
- Can allow for more glute activation.
How to Do the Feet Elevated Hip Thrust
Lie flat on the floor with a bench out in front of you. Place your heels on the bench, sitting close enough so your knees are at about a 90-degree angle. Press your heels through the bench to lift your hips off the ground. Make sure not to lift too high, so your back doesn’t start to arch. Slowly lower your hips back down.
If you’re looking for a great glute burn, try the isometric hip thrust. Isometric just means you’ll hold the exercise when the muscles are contracted. In this case, you’ll hold at the top of the hip thrust. There are several benefits to implementing isometric exercises into your workout, such as helping to correct sticking points and building strength.
Benefits of the Isometric Hip Thrust
- Helps improve the hip thrust lockout.
- Helps improve athletic endurance.
- Improved hip thrust form.
How to Do the Isometric Hip Thrust
Set yourself on the bench like a normal hip thrust. You’ll perform the first part of the thrust as normal, but you hold it at the top when your hips are extended. Hold for 10-30 seconds before resetting for another rep.
Often confused with the hip thrust, the glute bridge is performed on the floor without a bench. You can do it bodyweight or add resistance for an extra challenge. If the hip thrust tends to bother your low back, the glute bridge may be a better choice. This can also be a good warm-up exercise, and an important progression for the hip thrust.
Benefits of the Glute Bridge
- Help prime the glutes for heavier loads like the squat and deadlift.
- More hamstring activation.
- Help build the glutes for a heavier hip thrust.
How to Do the Glute Bridge
Lie on the floor with your feet planted and knees bent. Your heels should be close to your butt to help with glute activation. Tighten your core to avoid arching your back. Press through your heels to lift your hips off the ground, keeping your belly button pulled in the entire time. Lower your hips to get ready for another rep.
How to Program Hip Thrusts
When you’re trying to build any muscle, believe it or not, less can be more. Recovery is just as important as your workout, so you can give your muscles time to repair. Studies suggest that not allowing an appropriate time to recover can result in poor athletic performance and an increased risk of injury. (6)
Training too much can actually decrease muscle size, leaving you with glutes Sir Mix-A-Lot wouldn’t rap about. There are plenty of factors that play into training methods, but Dr. Brett Contreras recommends glute training two to six times per week. That may seem like a big range, but it does depend on fitness level and the type of glute activation.
Contreras reasons that since the hip thrust requires less range of motion than an exercise like the squat, they can require less time to recover in between. Therefore, performing the hip thrust every two to three days gives enough time to recover. (7)
How to Warm Up for Hip Thrusts
You probably hear all the time about how important your warm-up is, but how often do you actually do it? Failing to properly warm up your glutes could result in your knees and lower back feeling the pressure. Below are some recommendations on how to help avoid an injury and make your workout more effective.
- Glute Bridge: 3 x 10
- Clam Stretch: 3 x 5 each side
- Bird Dog: 3 x 10 each side
- Banded Squats: 3 x 15
- Fire Hydrants: 3 x 5 each side
The hip thrust — and the different hip thrust variations — are some of the best ways to target your glutes and build a stronger lower body. When done properly, these exercises can help improve your overall health and performance.
Using different tools for the same exercise adds variety to your accessory exercises and gives your spine a welcome break from the barbell. Plus, working more muscle with less resistance still keeps your intensity high. Put these into practice to build a behind that will steal the show.
- Jakubek, Mark D. Stability Balls: Reviewing the Literature Regarding Their Use and Effectiveness. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2007; 29(5).
- Kwak, Cheol-Jin, Kim, You Lim, Lee, Suk Min. Effects of elastic-band resistance exercise on balance, mobility and gait function, flexibility and fall efficacy in elderly people. 2016; 28(11). doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.3189
- Gallego-Izquierdo, Tomas, Vidal-Aragón, Gerardo, & Calderón-Corrales, Pedro. Effects of a Gluteal Muscles Specific Exercise Program on the Vertical Jump. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17. doi:10.3390/ijerph17155383
- Núñez, Francisco Javier, Santalla, Alfredo, & Carrasquila, Irene. The effects of unilateral and bilateral eccentric overload training on hypertrophy, muscle power and COD performance, and its determinants, in team sport players. Plos One. 2018; 13(3). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193841
- Schoenfeld, Brad J, Grgic, Jozo. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. Sage Open Medicine. 2020; 8. doi: 10.1177/2050312120901559
- Watson AM. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2017 Nov/Dec;16(6):413-418. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418. PMID: 29135639.
- Contreras, Dr. Bret. Your Optimal Training Frequency For The Glutes Part I: Exercise Type. The Glute Guy. 2016.
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