There are no 2 ways about it, the hip thrust is the best exercise you can do to build your glutes – period. Whether we opt for a barbell or dumbbell hip thrust, it doesn’t make a difference. The movement pattern and resistance profile are the same.
Sure, we can target the glutes to some degree with exercises such as the squat and the deadlift, but these involve working in an upright position. On the other hand, hip thrusts are performed led horizontally with the resistance on your hips meaning you’re fighting gravity directly throughout the entire movement.
This article aims to teach you everything you need to know about the dumbbell hip thrust including how to, training tips, alternative exercises, and more.
The dumbbell hip thrust is an exercise that uses the glute muscles (butt muscles) to extend the hip and drive them upward toward the ceiling.
The exercise involves sitting on the floor and placing the shoulders on a bench, you then bring the feet closer to the buttocks and keep them planted on the floor. To lift the weight, we'll contract the glutes to move the hips towards the ceiling, whilst maintaining a neutral spine.
With the dumbbell placed on your hips, the glute muscles are placed under load and forced to fight gravity to drive the hips upward – working the glutes through hip extension.
As mentioned, the primary muscles involved during the dumbbell hip thrust are the gluteal muscles. But other muscles are involved to assist with the movement.
If you didn’t already know, the gluteal muscles are made up of 3 muscles – the gluteus maximas, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus; let’s touch on each of them quickly.
Gluteus Maximas – The gluteus maximas is the largest of the 3 muscles and is the main muscle involved in the dumbbell hip thrust. It’s the most superficial muscle (closest to the surface) and is responsible for the majority of the shape in the buttock region. Its main role is hip extension, which is when the angle between the pelvis and thigh increases ie. The concentric part of the hip thrust movement.
Gluteus Medius – The gluteus medius is the second largest muscle in the glute region. It is situated above and to the side of the gluteus maximas. The medius is responsible for hip abduction and hip external rotation and will help stabilise the pelvis during the hip thrust.
Gluteus Minimus – The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the 3 gluteus muscles and works in synergy with the medius to adduct and externally rotate the hip. Likewise, the minimus has a role to play in hip stabilization during the hip thrust.
The hamstrings are the muscles at the back of the leg and are also involved during the hip thrust, just to a lesser degree than the glute muscles. The role they play is to aid the gluteus maximas and extend the hip joint. Because the hip thrust is an effective exercise to build both the glutes and hamstrings, it makes for the perfect underbutt exercise as this is where the two muscles meet.
The quadriceps, the muscles at the front of the leg also have a role in performing the hip thrust. Acting as a direct antagonist to the hamstrings, the quadriceps help with extension at the knee joint and aid with hip flexion.
Keeping a neutral spine is vital when performing the hip thrust. Along with our back muscles, keeping the core tight will prevent the back from rounding during the exercise. If we fail to maintain a rigid core we may lose the important neutral spine position and we run the risk of a nasty injury.
The movement is performed with our feet planted on the floor and our shins in a vertical position. Our calf muscles help keep our legs stable so that we can drive through our feet to lift the weight.
Similar to the role of the core muscles, the back muscles need to remain tight to maintain the neutral spine position. If we lose control of them during the movement we may end up rounding the back, and under load can lead to a horrible injury.
Foot placement has a big impact on which muscles we’re targeting when performing the hip thrust. If we bring the feet too close to the buttocks during the lift then it will be the quads doing the majority of the work, whereas if we keep the feet too far away from the buttocks – then the hamstrings will be doing most of the work.
Play around with foot positioning before you start to work with weights. You’ll want to find a position where when performing the movement, you feel it most in the glute muscles. Make a mental note of this position ready for your working sets.
As you know, the glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and a powerful one at that. Being such a powerful muscle, they are capable of moving some serious weight. Some lifters get carried away and load up the hip thrust to such an extent that they sacrifice their range of motion for being able to lift more.
This isn’t a good idea. Not performing the full range of motion suggests you’re working with weights you aren’t ready for. Not only are you running the risk of picking up an injury, but you’re also avoiding the positive hypertrophy benefits that working through a full range of motion can bring. A better approach would be to drop the weight to something you're comfortable working with and complete your desired rep range by working through the full range of motion.
When performing any hip thrust variation it’s important to push through the heels, this promotes glute activation and helps you get the most out of the exercise. One way to help enforce this is to physically lift the toes off of the floor, or if this feels weird, then try and touch the toes to the top of your shoe. This small change can make a big difference.
The hip thrust is an awesome exercise for building the glutes, but only if we do it correctly. Start off with bodyweight hip thrusts, and only once you’ve mastered the form you should begin to add resistance. If at any time you feel like the form is slipping away, drop the weight down and focus on lifting with sound form.
There is no exercise quite like the hip thrust when it comes to building strength in the glutes. Because of the position of the resistance, we keep constant tension on the glutes throughout the entire movement placing a huge demand on the muscle. Progressive from bodyweight hip thrusts to dumbbell hip thrusts is a great way to build strength in the glutes.
Hip thrusts have been proven to be effective glutes builders so if we’re looking to add some size to the rear, then we need to be incorporating a hip thrust variation into our routine. Focus on progressing with the dumbbell hip thrust, whether that’s through lifting heavier weights, or doing more reps – and you’ll be rewarded with some sizeable gains to the backside.
The dumbbell hip thrust is a great way to warm up the glutes. Many of us have jobs that require us to sit at a desk for the majority of the day. This sitting position keeps the glutes in the lengthened position and can result in them becoming ‘inactive’. The dumbbell hip thrust is a great exercise to wake up the glutes and get them firing ready for our compound exercises where we’ll be relying on our glutes to help shift the weight.
The hip thrust, whether that’s bodyweight, dumbbell, or barbell, is an exercise that is easy on the joints. Unlike exercises such as the deadlift and squat where the force is applied vertically to the spine – during the hip thrust, the force angle is horizontal. So if we want to take a break from loading the spine, then hip thrusts are a great go-to exercise.
The dumbbell hip thrust is the perfect ‘progression’ exercise to the superior barbell hip thrust. Performing the dumbbell hip thrust will help to familiarise ourselves with the feeling of having weight resting on our hips and allows us to progress from the bodyweight hip thrust in smaller increments.
If you’re not a fan of putting a weight across your pelvis, then the banded hip thrust could be the perfect exercise for you. Utilising a band to perform the hip thrust changes the resistance profile as it gets progressively harder as you move through the movement and the band gets stretched. The top of the movement will be the most difficult so make sure you contract the glutes as hard as you can!
If you don't already have a set of resistance bands, we highly recommend these ones:
Many people confuse the glute bridge and the hip thrust and although the movement pattern is very similar, there is one important difference. The difference is that the glute bridge is performed lying on the floor, but the hip thrust is performed using a bench. Performing the glute bridge on the floor does limit the range of motion and can make adding resistance difficult – but it does make an ideal hip thrust progression exercise.
If we’re training glutes at home we’re probably limited to the equipment we have, if any. Well with the single leg hip thrust, you don’t need any. The exercise is difficult enough just by using our body weight. Incorporating some unilateral exercises into our routine is a wise choice as it helps to iron out muscle imbalances that could cause us problems down the line.
If you’re progressing well with the single leg hip thrust you can always make it more difficult by turning it into a deficit single leg hip thrust (by putting a platform under your resting foot).
When looking for a hip thrust alternative, we need to be searching for exercises that target the same muscles as the hip thrust, ie. primarily the glutes, but the hamstrings too. Take a look at the following exercises that bring about similar levels in muscle activation.
The dumbbell step-up, is probably not an exercise you instantly think of when it comes to glute training – but don’t sleep on it!
A study conducted in 2020 looked at glute activation among a number of different exercises including squats, deadlifts, and lunges .
As you can see from the table above. The dumbbell step up had the highest level of glute activation – even topping the hip thrust, wow!
So if the step-up isn’t already part of your routine – now might be the time to reconsider.
Not only is the Bulgarian split squat an awesome quad builder, but it also hammers the glutes. Unlike the traditional squat where a large portion of the load goes through the lower back, the Bulgarian split squats shifts the emphasis to the legs creating giving the back a well earned break.
Again, being a unilateral exercise you can ensure that each side of the body is worked evenly and help prevent one side from overcompensating (which does happen in double leg movements!).
To further activate the glutes when performing the split squat; lean forward. This small change will get the glutes burning up!
The cable pull through is a similar exercise to the dumbbell hip thrust, but instead of performing the movement on the floor, you’re performing it stood up. Think above the movement pattern, it’s basically the same.
The benefit of performing the exercise on the cable machine is that the machine provides the same tension throughout the lift, and it’s constant. With mechanical tension being a primary driver for muscle growth, keeping tension on the muscle throughout the lift is ideal for muscle building.
And there we have it, the dumbbell hip thrust. Hopefully, we’ve given you something to think about for you to go away and decide whether this exercise is for you and whether it deserves a spot in your workout routine.
Whether it’s right for you or not, one thing is for sure – we need to be including some exercises in our routine that target the glutes. They’re the biggest, and one of the most powerful muscles in the body so they need attention. Plus, they’re responsible for daily tasks such as walking, running, jumping, and stepping so we need to keep them strong.
Lastly, the strength we build in the glutes is transferable into other exercises such as the squat and deadlift – so if we’re looking to build up our lifts in these areas, glute training needs to be part of the game plan.
 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.