Don’t Feel Your Glutes Hip Thrusting? Try These 9 Tips

9 tips on how to feel your glutes more while hip thrusting

The hip thrust can be altered using various body positions, changes to the lift itself, and added equipment to assist in maximizing glute recruitment. 

Here are my 9 tips on how to feel your glutes more while hip thrusting:

It’s unfortunate, but a number of lifters fail to feel their glutes while hip thrusting. Oftentimes, the quads overpower the movement or the low back takes the brunt of the load. 

Even worse, poor recruitment of the glutes leads to an underdeveloped posterior chain, reduced athletic potential, and a waste of valuable training time. 

Down below, I’ll highlight how you can avoid key mistakes when incorporating each of the hip thrust alterations mentioned above.

Hip Thrust Overview

hip thrust overview

Let’s quickly talk about the hip thrust so you know how the glutes are supposed to function while doing this exercise.  

What Is The Hip Thrust? 

The hip thrust is a barbell based exercise that places an extreme emphasis on the glutes; it typically requires a bench, barbell, a barbell hip thrust pad, and some floor space to perform.

After setting up the equipment, the lifter sits with their upper back against the bench and rolls the padded barbell over the crease of their hip.

The feet are brought in, so they’re flat on the floor and the lifter thrusts the barbell upwards. At the top, an exaggerated glute squeeze is performed to complete the rep.

If you can get your glutes working more in the hip thrust, it has been shown to help you jump higher. Read my complete guide on Do Hip Thrusts Help You Jump Higher?

Muscles Used In The Hip Thrust

muscles used in the hip thrust

The muscles used in the hip thrust are: 

• Gluteus Maximus

• Gluteus Minimus

• Hamstrings

• Quadriceps

• Trunk Musculature

Before getting into the details of how to maximally recruit your glutes during the hip thrust, let’s summarize the actions of the muscles that are working during this movement. 

Driving the barbell upwards during the hip thrust requires a couple of key actions to take place: hip extension and knee extension. 

The primary one here is hip extension: an action almost entirely handled by the gluteal muscles (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus). Since the knee is bent, there is little hamstring activity during this exercise.

Although the quads are activated to lift the barbell upwards, the knees still remain significantly bent at the top of the hip thrust. For this reason, they contribute only a little to the exercise. 

Finally, the trunk musculature (abdominals, lumbar muscles) work to keep the torso stationary and avoid moving under the load applied by the barbell.

Since this article covers how to recruit your glutes more during the hip thrust, let’s review the actions of the glute muscles next.

Definitely check out my article on the 9 Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives, so you can find other variations to add into your training to skyrocket your glute development.

Glutes In The Hip Thrust: In-Depth View

The gluteal muscles perform 3 distinct actions in general:

  • Hip Extension
  • Hip Abduction
  • Hip External Rotation

It’s important to understand how the glutes work in the hip thrust because you can manipulate these actions to increase muscle activation. 

Glute Action #1: Hip Extension

The primary action of the glutes is to extend the hip joint; this is taking the hip from a bent angle to a straight position.

Fun fact: if you can target your glutes more you can actually improve your squats by using the hip thrust. Check out my other article where I discuss the science.

Glute Action #2: Hip Abduction

The glutes also perform abduction of the hip joint, which is to bring the leg away from the body by moving it out to the side.

Glute Action #3: Hip External Rotation

Finally, the glutes also externally rotate the leg at the hip joint — rotating the femur outwards and making your foot turn out. 

The hip thrust almost purely involves hip extension, but we can emphasize the other actions of the glutes in order to recruit them more.

Did you know that the hip thrust can help increase your deadlift? Check out all 18 Exercises To Improve Deadlift Strength (Science-Backed)

How To Feel Your Glutes During The Hip Thrust

1. Complete Full Reps

complete full reps hip thrust

A common mistake that novice lifters make with the hip thrust is failing to perform full repetitions using the entire range of motion.

If you’re not bringing the barbell all the way down to the floor and/or you’re not completely locking out your reps, then you’re making your glutes do less overall work.

In fact, Bezodis et al (2017) theorized that the hip thrust is uniquely designed to increase the tension in the hip musculature as the hip joint reaches full extension, especially when compared to its traditional standing barbell strength counterparts — the back squat and deadlift.

Check out my article comparing the Hip Thrust vs Deadlift, and which one is better for glute development.

Remember: the main action of the glutes is hip extension. Cutting your range of motion in half is going to seriously limit how much they’re recruited during the hip thrust. 

How To Do It

  • Sit down, and roll the barbell over your thighs
  • Pull your knees in towards your chest and set your feet flat on the floor
  • With your back against the bench, drive your hips upwards 
  • Squeeze your glutes hard at the top with your hands resting lightly on the bar
  • Ensure that you descend under control, bringing the bar right to the floor after each rep

Practical Tip: Start your set on the floor, lockout fully at the top, then return the bar to the floor between each rep. 

Ever wonder if performing the hip thrust helps build your squat strength?  Check out my article on Do Hip Thrusts Help Squats (Science-Backed).  

2. Pause At The Top

pause at the top hip thrust

According to Contreras et al in 2014, “the barbell hip thrust activates the gluteus maximus and biceps femoris to a greater degree than the back squat when using estimated 10RM loads.”

Based on this study and others, it’s clear that the hip thrust does a great job of activating the glutes. However, you can exaggerate their recruitment by pausing at the top of each rep.

Although this will reduce the absolute weight that you can lift (a pause makes the exercise more difficult), you’ll be asking more of your glutes at the very point where they’re already maximally recruited — the top of each repetition.

If you can’t feel your glutes while lunging, then check out my article on Can’t Feel Your Glutes In The Lunge? Try These 6 Tips.

How To Do It

  • Squeeze your glutes hard at the top with your hands resting lightly on the bar
  • Ensure that you pause at the lockout position for 1-3 seconds
  • Descend by letting your hips drop and allowing your chest to drift forwards

Practical Tip: At the top of each rep, pause for 1-3 seconds (keep your duration consistent) to work your glutes even harder.

3. Stiffen Your Torso

stiffen your torso hip thrust

This less efficient version of the hip thrust is often seen in commercial gyms: lifters initiating too much movement through their low back, with their upper torso displaying little to no motion at all.

Instead, you should aim to keep your entire back segment locked in throughout the entire set. Your torso will obviously move during the set, but it will move solely as one piece. Pretend your back is a thick tree trunk, it can’t bend or flex because it’s too rigid — but it can still move as a unit.

How To Do It

  • With your back against the bench, drive your hips upwards
  • As you’re ascending, keep your lower back locked in
  • Squeeze your glutes hard at the top with your hands resting lightly on the bar
  • Descend by letting your hips drop and allowing your chest to come forward

Practical Tip: Keep your low back locked in throughout the hip thrust, allowing your hips to drop and chest to move forward during the descent. 

4. Widen Your Stance

widen your stance hip thrust

Lifters who are less experienced with the hip thrust will often default to taking a hip-width foot stance. While this works well for countless athletes, you’re missing out on some additional glute activation by keeping your stance narrow.

Instead, I’d recommend that you opt for a stance that is at least shoulder-width apart. The extra distance between your feet will contribute to creating more abduction at your hip joints (your thighs will be spaced out farther than usual), and recruit more gluteal fibers than a hip-width stance.

How To Do It

  • Ensure that your stance is at least shoulder-width apart
  • For greater glute activation, take a wider than shoulder-width stance
  • Think about spreading the floor apart as you drive your hips upward

Practical Tip: Set your foot stance at least shoulder-width apart to engage more glute fibers during the hip thrust.

5. Place Feet Farther Forward

place feet farther forward hip thrust

A common complaint in the hip thrust is when lifters feel the exercise in their quads more than in their glutes. Typically, this issue can be resolved by placing your feet farther forward than you normally do.

This adjustment will tend to produce a shin angle that is more vertical than what the athlete normally displays. Vertical shins result in less knee extension demands, reducing the amount of quadriceps activity during the lift. 

By adopting this “feet forward” stance, you’ll target your glutes more and feel the movement less in your quads. 

How To Do It

  • Set your feet flat on the floor
  • Leave your feet in front of your knee joint (not underneath or behind)
  • Ensure that your shins are vertical as you lockout the barbell
  • Make any adjustments to your feet position at the bottom
  • Consider combining your foot position with a wide stance for more glute activation

Practical Tip: Ensure that your feet are placed farther out than what seems natural; the correct stance will produce vertical shins during the hip thrust lockout. 

6. Rotate Your Feet Outwards

rotate your feet outwards hip thrust

Keeping the toes forwards or having only a slight toe flare (15 degrees or less) is considered fairly normal for the hip thrust. In fact, this isn’t considered a mistake by any means.

That said, pointing your toes out more (between 30-45 degrees) will recruit even more of your glute fibres. 

Recall that one of the actions that your glutes perform is external rotation of your femur (thigh bone). For this reason, rotating your feet outwards will inevitably cause your glutes to activate to a greater extent.

How To Do It

  • Ensure that your feet are rotated outwards between 30-45 degrees
  • Your feet shouldn’t be rotated beyond what feels comfortable
  • Make sure that you can still keep your heels on the floor as you flare your toes

Practical Tip: Point your toes outwards between 35-45 degrees to recruit more of your glute fibres.  Combine with a stance that keeps your shins vertical and places your feet wide apart. 

If you’re struggling with keeping your knees in line with your feet, make sure to check out my article on how to fix knee valgus while squatting.

7. Achieve Posterior Pelvic Tilt

achieve posterior pelvic tilt hip thrust

The hip thrust starts on the floor and finishes at lockout, this you know. However, a less known secret for feeling your glutes more as you hip thrust is to achieve a bit of posterior pelvic tilt at the top.

Posterior pelvic tilt is when your pelvis tilts forwards when standing. In this case, you’d want to encourage posterior tilt after you achieve full extension at the top (your pelvis will tilt upwards slightly at lockout). 

In a column article by Contreras and colleagues (2011), they explain that going 20 degrees beyond neutral is still considered normal hip extension range (Roach et al. 1991). 

Going into this extended range of posterior pelvic tilt might maximally recruit the glutes since the maximal voluntary isometric contraction activity of the gluteus maximus has been shown to rise as the hip joint proceeds from flexion to extension (Worrell et al. 2001).

How To Do It

  • Squeeze your glutes hard at the top with your hands resting lightly on the bar
  • Ensure that you maximally drive your hips upwards to achieve posterior pelvic tilt
  • Think about ‘tucking’ and ‘rolling’ your hips underneath of you at the top 

Practical Tip: Forcefully drive your hips upwards at the lockout position, to ensure that your glutes are maximally recruited.

8. Add Accommodating Resistance

To help feel your glutes more during the hip thrust, consider adding accommodating resistance — equipment (bands and chains) that changes the resistance throughout the movement.

Remember that the hip thrust keeps high tension on the glutes because as the hips extend, the glutes still support the entire weight of the barbell (unlike a squat or deadlift). This is probably the main reason why Delgado and colleagues (2019) found that the barbell hip thrust displayed higher gluteus maximus activity than in the barbell back squat.

To put your glutes in overdrive, secure a medium or heavy continuously-looped band across your hips using the band pegs on a BC Thruster (or inside a power rack) or loop them around the handles of really heavy dumbbells.

How To Do It

  • Sit down, and secure a medium or heavy band across your hips
  • Perform the hip thrust as normal, but recognizing that you may need to reduce the barbell weight
  • The lift will become harder at the top, so make sure you cue yourself to drive the barbell “fast” on the way up

Practical Tip: Add accommodating resistance by using continuously-looped bands for the hip thrust.

If your gym doesn’t have any continuously-looped bands, pick up a set of KMM resistance bands  (click here to view the price for a multi-pack of bands).  I recommend getting the multi-pack so that you can add more resistance as you get stronger, or to switch up the bands as you increase or decrease your rep ranges.

9. Add A Hip Circle

add a hip circle hip thrust

If you’re struggling to feel your glutes while hip thrusting, this will definitely make them burn.

Recall that the glutes perform hip abduction, which is moving your thighs outwards and away from your body. By adding a hip circle, your thighs will be pushed inwards and you’ll be forced to drive your knees outwards to oppose the band tension.

I’d highly recommend that you invest in a hip circle (click here to check today’s price on Amazon), as opposed to the flimsy rubber glute bands that you’ll find in most commercial gyms. The rubber glute bands won’t provide enough tension, they tear more easily, and are a pain to take on and off.

The hip circle slides on without any trouble, has grip on the inside to keep it in position, and makes your glutes work overtime to keep your thighs in line with your feet.

How To Do It

  • Sit down, slide on the hip circle and roll the barbell over your thighs
  • The hip circle should be just above the knee
  • Actively push your knees out to resist the band from pulling your knees in 
  • Perform a regular hip thrust and avoid letting the knees cave inward

Practical Tip: Wear a hip circle around your thighs as you perform the hip thrust to fully recruit them.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t feel your glutes hip thrusting, there’s a variety of changes you can make to increase the recruitment of your glutes.

For starters, you can adjust your body position by stiffening your torso, widening your stance or flaring your feet out more. You can also ensure to achieve some posterior pelvic tilt at lockout, or place your feet farther out than usual.

In addition, you can modify the movement itself: completing full repetitions that cause the barbell to touch the floor between reps, or by adding in a 1-3 second pause at the top.

Lastly, you can always add a continuously-looped band across your hips in addition to (or instead of) the barbell, or throw on a hip circle for increased glute activation.

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