The Hip thrust is one of the best exercises for building the glutes, so if you’re comfortable doing them, then stick with it and you’ll be sure to see some sizeable booty gains.
On the other hand, we appreciate the hip thrust may not be right exercise for everyone. Some people experience problems such as getting pains in the lower back, not being able to engage the glutes over other leg muscles, uncomfortable bar position and so on.
While the hip thrusts may be out of the question, we do still need exercises to build the glutes. Having strong glutes reduces the chances of lower back issues, improves hip stability, improves mobility, builds better squats/deadlifts, and oh yeah; it adds some size to the backside!
In today’s article we’ll be uncovering the best hip thrust alternatives to include in your training regime to prevent the glutes from lacking.
|Table of Contents|
|What is a barbell hip thrust?|
|What muscles are involved with hip thrusts|
|What makes a good hip thrust alternative|
|7 Best Hip thrust alternative exercises|
|Glute workout mistakes|
The Barbell hip thrust is an exercise that targets your glutes and your hamstrings, but mainly your glutes. It involves the putting a barbell across your pelvis, putting your shoulders on a bench, bending your knees to 90 degrees and pushing upwards (towards the ceiling) by squeezing the glutes and keeping the spine neutral.
The glutes are one of the strongest muscles in the body and therefore can be worked with heavy weights (once we’re confident we’ve got the form nailed). Building glute strength will increase our hip drive which helps with other lower body exercises such as the squat and the deadlift. So, if you want to increase our numbers, building powerful glutes is how we’re going to do it.
The primary muscle involved when performing hip thrusts are the gluteal muscles, but there are other muscles involved too.
Gluteus Maximas – The gluteus maximas is the largest of the 3 glute muscles and provides most of the shape to the buttock region (both upper and lower portions). It’s the gluteus maximas that is responsible for the majority of hip extension therefore it’s the muscle that’s involved the most in the hip thrust exercise
Gluteus Medius – The gluteus medius is the 2nd biggest gluteus muscle and sits underneath and above the gluteus maximas. It’s primary role is hip abduction and it also aids in hip extenal rotation.
Gluteus Minimus – The smallest of the 3 hip muscles, the minimus works together with the other 2 muscles to abduct and internally rotate the hips. Similarly, it has an important role to play in hip stabilisation.
Hamstrings – The hamstrings are the muscles at the back of the leg. These are involved during the hip thrust by aiding with hip extension.
Quadriceps – The quadriceps are the muscles at the front of the leg. If you didn’t know, there are 4 different muscles that make up the quadriceps: the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, the vastus intermedius and the vastus medialis. The quadricep muscle that’s primarily involved in the Hip thrust is the rectus femoris. This is because its functions are hip flexion and knee extension, and it is a direct antagonist to the hamstrings.
Calfs – As we lift the barbell of the floor, the calfs will be engaged to stabilise the lower legs and prevent us from toppling to one side.
Core Muscles– Throughout the movement we need to make sure our core is engaged. It’s our core along with our lower back muscles that work together to keep a neutral spine, thus reducing the chance of an injury.
As you can see from the section above, the hip thrust exercises activates several different muscle groups throughout its range of motion. But, the main muscles involved in lifting the weight is the gluteus maximas, and although the others do help with moving the weight from A to B, there role is arguably more of a stabilisation role.
So, in a good hip thrust alternative would be one that targets the gluteus maximas.
As we touched on earlier, the glutes are one of the biggest muscles in the body and therefore can handle heavy weights. For that reason it makes sense that our alternative exercises involve some sort of resistance which we can increase over time and get progressively stronger.
With strength and size having a close relationship, getting stronger at our movements will likely result in building muscle.
Below you’ll find the best exercises you can use in absence of the hip thrust.
The cable pull through is a very similar exercise to the hip thrust, but you’re performing it stood up as opposed to on the ground. It’s a great exercise that helps to improve our hip hinge technique, and due to the exercise being primarily a hip hinge movement, we can effectively target our posterior chain muscles, namely the glutes and hamstrings.
The cable pull through takes the glutes through a greater range of motion which is ideal for hypertrophy, all while avoiding putting excess stress on the joints.
As this exercise is performed on the cables, we can benefit from an optimal resistance curve as we can keep tension on the glutes and at all times throughout the movement. We can also squeeze at the end of every rep for that added benefit.
The Bulgarian split squats are a great exercise that effectively target the glutes, quads and hamstrings, making them a great compound exercise. Similarly to the hip thrusts, the Bulgarian split squats offer a large range of motion making them a great muscle builder.
The single leg nature of this exercise reduces the chances of developing muscle imbalances and, in fact, some people find single leg exercises more comfortable to perform as they mimic everyday movement patterns.
When performing the traditional barbell lunge (going forwards) we put a lot of the emphasis on the quads, whereas if we perform a reverse lunge, we can shift some of the focus to the glutes.
The reverse barbell lunge is an excellent compound exercise that effectively targets the muscles in the posterior chain. You’ll also benefit from building unilateral strength and help to correct any muscle imbalances that may have developed.
The reverse barbell curl doesn’t get the credits it’s deserver and it’s not often you’ll see someone doing them in the gym. And that’s because they’re hard – but that’s exactly why you should do them.
A study conducted in 2020 compared glute activation across 10 different exercises .
You may be shocked to see, but the step-up exercise took the top spot whilst the hip thrust variations came in second place. Making the step up a great alternative to hip thrusts when the goal is to strengthen the glutes.
The banded hip thrust is the same movement pattern as the barbell & dumbbell hip thrust, but this time we’re performing it with a band. For those who can’t get comfortable placing a barbell on your hips, this exercise is for you.
There is a subtle difference between the resistance profile of the banded hip thrust compared to the traditional barbell hip thrust. As you go through the movement with the banded hip thrust you experience added tension towards the top of the movement due to the band being pulled tighter, which is ideal as this is where the glutes are recruited the most.
If you don't already have resistance bands, we highly recommend getting some of these:
A standard glute bridge is very similar to the hip thrust, except you don’t put your shoulders on a bench, the shoulders remain on the floor. And it’s a great exercise to do and targets the same muscle as the hip thrust variation.
The glute bridge version that we’ve included today has been given a makeover.
Firstly, we’re going to put our feet on an elevated surface. This will allow the glutes to go through a larger range of motion, which is great for muscle building.
Secondly, utilising a band wrapped around the knees, the aim is to push the knees outwards while completing the movement. This means that not only will we be effectively targeting the gluteus maximas, but the gluteus medius will be working hard keeping the legs in the abducted position.
We recommend the following resistance bands for this exercise:
The single leg cable glute kickback is one of the best exercises you can do to isolate the glutes, especially the gluteus maximas. The exercise is based on hip extension, which is the primary role of the glutes, and is relatively simple to perform.
The great thing with the single leg cable glute kick back is that you can play around with lots of different variations, testing which one feels right for you, leaving you with an exercise that you can utilise to pump the glutes.
Lots of athletes like to put this exercise at the end of the workout and use them as a finishing exercise by competing as many reps as possible at desired weight (normally 15-20 reps). It sets the glutes on fire – try it!
Mistakes are common in the gym, this may be down to a lack of education or ego lifting, here our the mistakes you should avoid if you want to build strong powerful glutes.
Regardless of what body part we’re training, we need to be using weights that we can actually lift. Yes, it’s important to push the body’s boundaries to stimulate growth, but there’s no point doing a handful of dodgy reps with our form all over the place. Not only does this not bode well for muscle growth, but it increases the chances of serious injury.
Only when you’ve mastered the form should you increase the weight. It’s much more impressive lifting weights with good form rather than lifting heavy weights with terrible form.
Foot positioning makes a big difference in which muscles are being recruited when completing hip thrusts and their counterparts. If your feet are too far in front of you, then the emphasis will shift from the glutes to the hamstrings. But if the feet are too close to you, then the emphasis will shift to the quads rather than the glutes. It’s a fine balance.
As always, we recommend completing a thorough warm up before any workout. During the warm up we should do a couple of practice sets with no resistance so that we can play around with our foot position to see which position best targets our glutes. Make a mental note, and use this as a guide for our working sets.
It’s extremely important that during the hip thrust exercise, we maintain a neutral spine, if we don’t, we could end up doing some serious damage to our lower back.
You’ve heard us say that the glutes are one of the largest muscles in the body and can therefore be worked with heavy weights. When working with heavy weights, we increase our chances of injury. It’s therefore vital that we nail our form before we start adding resistance.
The hip thrust is a great compound exercise to build the glutes, however not everyone gets on with. Problems such as not feeling comfortable with the bar on your pelvis, struggling to engage the glutes over other leg muscles and feeling pressure through the lower back is some of the concerns we often hear.
Luckily for us, there are a lot of different variation exercises available that are great for targeting the same muscles as the hip thrusts – the glutes. Give them a try today and pick a couple you like the feel of the most and add them into your routine – enjoy!
 Neto, W. K., Soares, E. G., Vieira, T. L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T. A., Sampaio, V. L., & Gama, E. F. (2020). Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19(1), 195–203.