Building strong and powerful glutes can be challenging. A lot of athletes rely on the barbell squat, but it targets the entire leg instead of the glutes; or deadlifts (maybe even using a trap bar deadlift), but it engages mostly the hamstrings and lower back; on bodyweight hip thrust or glute bridges, but we know they aren’t as effective since you are using only your bodyweight.
According to several weight lifting trainers hip trust is one of the best hip dominant exercises to build gluteal muscles. The reason is because when performing hip thrusts your glutes are the main muscle your body uses to lift the weight off the floor, in addition to the muscle groups of the adductors (inner thighs), quads, hamstrings and core. Plus, you don’t need a lot of equipment and the technique is pretty straightforward. They are a fantastic exercise to get strong and muscular glutes.
However, barbell hip thrusts can be uncomfortable for your hips and lower back since there is a heavy barbell across your pelvis. Even while using barbell pads, I have experienced some soreness during the workout and ended with bruises around the hip bones. This discomfort can prevent you from adding more weights to the barbell and keep building more glute strength. In this article we will share a list of effective exercises for an alternative to barbell hip thrust. They can be done with general home gym equipment and are easy to perform.
What is a Barbell Hip Thrust?
A hip thrust is a lower body exercise that specifically activates the glute muscles (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus), hamstrings and quadriceps. The most common variation of this exercise is a barbell hip thrust, where you place a barbell crossing your pelvis creating resistance against muscle contraction in the hip.
By strengthening the glutes you are gaining hip power and drive, this is one of the most attractive benefits that this movement offers to weightlifters and powerlifters. Also, recent studies show that hip thrusts help sprinters get faster times. And, they can get you beautifully shaped booties.
To do a hip thrust, you start by sitting on the floor with your shoulder blades (not your neck) against a bench. Place the weighted barbell on your hip crease, bend both knees and keep feet hip width for stabilizing muscles. Squeeze your glutes and core and lift the hips up until your back is parallel to the floor. Remember to always keep your feet flat on the floor.
But as we mentioned before, the weight of the barbell on your hips can create discomfort and pain. So are there any hip thrust alternatives that provide the same benefits of the barbell hip thrust or dumbbell hip thrust?
Great Barbell Hip Thrust Alternative
Below you will find the 5 most effective barbell hip thrust alternatives. These lower body exercises mainly focus on working the glutes while also targeting the hamstrings, adductors and quads.
Stability ball hip thrust
This is a simple yet effective way to work the glutes and hamstrings (same posterior chain muscles as the hip thrust). In addition, it helps with the stabilization of your core, pelvis and lower body.
Equipment: stability ball
- Starting position: Sit on the stability ball. Walk forward, rolling the ball under your shoulders and shoulder blades. Bend your knees (90 degrees) and place them above your ankles. Feet are shoulder width apart. Place both hands on hips and align the body parallel to the floor: chin is tucked, ribs are contracted, back is neutral and straight.
- Lower your hips to the floor keeping your chest up. Then flexing your glutes and hamstrings, lift up the pelvis, until your body forms a straight line from the shoulders to the knees.
- Reset and repeat (12 to 20 reps)
Tip: When the hips are up, hold your blades tightly to the stability ball, so it will be easier for you to keep balance.
Knees should be in line with the ankles and don’t lift the hips above the knees.
To make this exercise more challenging, use a dumbbell or kettlebell on the crease of your hips, add some padding to be more comfortable.
Dumbbell box step-ups
The box step-up is an effective unilateral exercise that helps to improve balance while developing strength and power in the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quads, core and even the upper body.
Equipment: box, or something to step on, and two same weights (dumbbell or kettlebell)
- Make sure the box is high enough that when you put your whole foot on the box your knee is at a 90 degree angle. You don’t want your knee to be higher than the hip joint, especially if this is your first time.
- Hold one weight in each hand by your sides.
- Stand in front of the box, hips square and shoulders in line with the hips. Make sure you aren’t clenching your shoulders.
- With your right foot take a large step placing the whole foot on top of the box.
- Keep your chest up and arms straight, and drive your weight into the foot on top of the box.
- Straight your right leg, bring your left foot up to the top of the box and squeeze your glutes.
- Step down with your right leg first and then the left, turn around so you are facing the box.
- Repeat leading with the left leg this time.
Tip: warming up first with two sets of 10 to 12 reps of light dumbbells. Then do two sets of 4 to 6 reps of the step-overs using a moderate weight. For example, if your goal is to use 20 pound dumbbells during the workout, warm up with 5 to 12 pound dumbbells first.
This hip movement is a great alternative to the hip thrust from a standing position. They are based on the deadlift technique and hit almost every muscle in the body, especially those of the posterior chain resulting in stronger hamstring muscles, back and hips. Kettlebell swings develop lots of explosive power through the hips and legs which is vital for your lifts and movements.
Equipment: One kettlebell
- Starting position: The feet should be placed a little wider than shoulder width apart. Turn your toes outwards, in the same line as the shin and knees. Place the kettlebell in front of you (aprox. 12 inches in front of your toes).
- Bend forward and grip the kettlebell with both hands. Load your hamstrings and entire posterior chain by putting your weight on your heels. Squeeze your armpits together and get your chest up looking in front of you. This keeps your spine neutral.
- Push your hips forwards and actively clench your backside. The harder you clench the more power you will generate.
- Stand tall and stop at the vertical position with your arms extended in front and the kettlebell is at eye level.
- With control, squeezing your glutes, quads and core, bring the kettlebell between your feet.
- Repeat without putting the kettlebell on the ground, 10 – 12 reps it’s a good start.
Tip: Weight should remain on the outside and middle to heel of the feet. You should not end the movement with the weight on your toes.
Kettlebell swings are a very interesting dynamic movement. As the kettlebell descends from above your head, gravity increases the overall weight of the kettlebell (a 16kg kettlebell will feel much heavier at the bottom). At the bottom of the kettlebell swing you are decelerating its load and forcing the muscles to absorb and then reverse the swing’s momentum. This dynamic helps to get some amazing results without having to use a very heavy kettlebell.
Lateral band walks
The lateral band walk is a great way to work your glutes, hips, and thighs. This exercise strengthens the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, helps to stabilize your knees and hips, and prevents injury.
Equipment: Resistance band
- Place a resistance band right above your knees or feet
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Flex your knees and take a step to the left keeping tension in the band
- Bring the right leg slightly in towards the middle but keep the band under tension
- Keep taking small steps to the left and then repeat on the right side.
Tip: Stay low throughout the movement, keep your head, neck, and spine neutral, and fully engage your glutes.
Single leg deadlifts
Equipment: One kettlebell or one dumbbell
The single leg deadlift strengthens the posterior chain meaning the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, lower back and core muscles. In addition to improving your balance and movement skills.
- Start with the kettlebell in your hand, you can do an overhand grip, it helps to stabilize the shoulder muscles.
- Keep a very flat lower back, bend forward from the hip and take the opposite leg straight back as you lower the kettlebell to the floor and it touches the floor.
- The standing leg should have a slightly soft knee and not be fully locked out.
- Return back to the top position keeping a nice flat back.
Tips: You should hold the kettlebell or weight with the opposite hand to the leg you are standing on. Using opposite arms and legs like this activates the same muscles that attach the hip to the opposite shoulder.
If you are not able to touch the floor with the kettlebell, use a small box or step to gauge depth.
Final Frequently Questions:
The barbell hip thrust is a truly useful exercise that has proven to provide athletic, injury prevention/rehab and strength benefits.
Incorporating this movement to your workout routine will help you work the posterior chain, including your glutes and your hamstrings. It also targets the muscles of the hip. These are the prime movers of the lower body and the source of power and drive for your lifts.
For a lot of coaches, the barbell hip thrust gives the most activation of the glut
Hip thrust isn’t meant for every kind of body, they can be painful because they put a lot of pressure on your hips and lower back. Fortunately, there are movements that target the same muscles but get your body working in different ways so you won’t have the weight of the barbell sitting on your pelvis.
The best barbell hip thrust alternative for you will depend on the equipment you have and the intensity you want to add to the movement (using your bodyweight or incorporating weights).
We have proposed alternative exercises that require equipment easy to get, and that you can do at your home. We strongly suggest you start with these alternative exercises and leave the barbell to rest (only for now).
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.