To build serious lower body strength, lifters often turn to the hip thrust and the deadlift.
So, what are the differences between the hip thrust vs deadlift? Hip thrusts require a barbell, a thick pad to cushion your hips, and a bench or box. They maximally recruit the glutes, but also work the hamstrings and quads. Deadlifts only require a barbell. They work the glutes, hamstrings and trunk muscles, and are one of the three powerlifting exercises.
Although the hip thrust and the deadlift are routinely performed in commercial gyms, there are a series of mistakes that tend to appear during these exercises. Brushing off these mistakes as “no big deal” can potentially manifest into inefficient technique, extended strength plateaus, or injury down the road.
Keep reading, so you can learn how to implement ideal technique on these lifts to achieve the full potential of your glute strength and development.
Let’s get started!
What’s The Difference Between A Hip Thrust And Deadlift?
In short, there are 6 main differences between the hip thrust and deadlift.
1. Equipment Required
To perform the hip thrust, the lifter will need a barbell, bumper plates (preferable), a thick barbell hip thrust pad, and a bench or padded box.
To perform the deadlift, the lifter only needs a barbell and plates.
While both exercises use minimal equipment, the deadlift is a movement that anyone can perform with just a barbell and plates.
2. Muscles Worked
The hip thrust primarily targets the glutes, with a smaller focus on the hamstrings, quads, and trunk musculature.
The deadlift focuses mainly on the glutes, hamstrings, and lumbar (lower back) muscles, along with an emphasis on the quads off the floor.
You can use both exercises to target the glutes; however, the hip thrust will target the glutes through a greater range of motion compared with the deadlift. This is because the quads are more activated off the floor in the deadlift. With that said, if you want to target your low back muscles, skip the hip thrust, and use the deadlift.
3. Movement Pattern
In hip thrust, the lifter is performing significant hip extension and a small amount of knee extension. In other words, the glutes need to work a lot harder than the quads.
In the deadlift, knee extension occurs off the floor, with hip extension being the main action at lockout. In other words, both the glutes and quads are working at different points throughout the movement.
Both the hip thrust involve hip extension, but the deadlift will also use some knee extension to bring the weight from the floor to knee height. If you’re seeking a ‘hip dominant movement’, both exercises are suitable, with hip thrusts being slightly more dominant.
4. Weight Used
With dedicated training, the hip thrust will most likely surpass the weights used in the deadlift due to the shorter range of motion and favourable biomechanics. The exception may be if you’re a serious powerlifter who trains the deadlift a lot more.
Even with serious devotion, the deadlift is unlikely to use heavier weights than the hip thrust due to the longer range of motion. The exception is that if you’re a serious bodybuilder or physique competitor who may train the hip thrust more frequently.
While you may be able to lift more weight in one exercise over another, the key is to select a weight where you feel the targeted muscles working and you’re able to execute the movement with sound technique (explained later).
5. Bar Placement
For the hip thrust, the barbell’s position remains across the lifter’s hip bones throughout the movement.
For the deadlift, the position of the barbell (ideally) remains above the lifter’s midfoot and stays in the hands throughout the exercise.
For some lifters, the hip thrust may feel slightly uncomfortable having the barbell resting on the crease of the hips. If this is you, you can either use a foam pad to make it feel more comfortable, or just simply use the deadlift where you avoid this issue altogether.
6. Sport Specificity
There is currently no sport that has participants compete using the barbell hip thrust. However, several physique athletes like bodybuilders and bikini competitors will use the hip thrust to develop more glute hypertrophy.
Check out my article on whether hip thrusts can help your squats.
There are a few sports in which participants compete using the deadlift (or a close variation): powerlifting, Strongman/Strongwoman, Olympic weightlifting, and CrossFit. The deadlift is also used as a primary exercise in many sport conditioning programs (football, hockey, rugby, etc).
Select either the hip thrust or deadlift based on your lifting goals and the muscles that you want to target. However, most athletes will incorporate both exercises into their workouts at one point or another.
The hip thrust is a lower body compound exercise that uses a barbell to predominantly target the glutes, with some additional focus on the hamstrings and trunk musculature.
How To Do A Hip Thrust
Here’s how to perform a hip thrust:
1. Grab a barbell, a thick squat pad, and a bench or soft-shelled box about knee-high
2. Put bumper plates on each side of the bar to raise it up off the floor
3. Secure the squat pad to the centre of the barbell
4. Sit down on the floor with your upper back against the bench/box
5. Roll the bar over your thighs and into the crease of your hip
6. Using your hands, pull your knees towards your chest
7. Ensure your feet are flat on the floor, hip-width apart with toes slightly flared
8. Brace your abs and keep your low back locked in
9. When ready, lightly hold onto the bar and forcefully bridge your hips upwards
10. Push your heels into the floor to drive the barbell up
11. At lockout, squeeze your glutes hard
12. Descend under control by letting your hips drop and chest move forward
13. Ensure the barbell returns to the floor after reach repetition
I wrote a similar article on the 9 Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives (With Pictures), check it out next for some awesome glute-focused exercises.
Technique Tips For a Hip Thrust
Here are some hip thrust tips to help you with your technique:
- Target strength and hypertrophy. For maximum lower body strength and muscular development, make use of a wide range of repetitions. Heavy sets of 3 reps during a strength phase definitely have their place, along with sets of +12 reps when conducting a hypertrophy block. Use both to your advantage when the time is right.
- Try different leg and foot positions. The glutes perform a few actions: they extend the hip joint, they abduct the thigh, and they externally rotate the leg at the hip. To maximize the activation of the glutes, consider doing the following: placing your feet farther out to increase hip extension, widening your stance to encourage hip abduction, and flaring your toes outwards to require more external rotation.
If you don’t feel your glutes while hip thrusting, then be sure to check out my article where I give you 9 tips to try!
- Add in equipment when needed. While the plain-jane barbell hip thrust works just fine, you’ll sometimes want to use additional equipment to increase the recruitment of your glutes. For instance, continuously-looped bands can be added to maximize the resistance at lockout. Alternatively, you could also wear a hip circle to force your legs to perform constant hip abduction.
Related Article: Do Hip Thrusts Help You Jump Higher?
Common Mistakes When Doing a Hip Thrust
The most common faults in the hip thrust are:
- Incomplete or inconsistent reps. In the hip thrust, it’s typical to see lifters cut their range of motion short. At all times, you should ensure that you reach full lockout and return the bar to the floor after reach repetition. Although the range of motion can be altered occasionally for a deliberate reason (like doing half-reps during a burnout set), it’s easier to gauge your progress when you can objectively compare your reps and sets — easiest done when technique is consistent.
- Quads taking overpowering glutes. A common situation with this exercise is when lifters feel the exercise more in their quads than in their glutes. This is usually a result of having your feet too close, your stance too narrow, your toes not turned out, or (often) all the above. Ensure your shins are vertical at lockout, your stance is more than hip-width apart, and your toes are angled out at about 30 degrees.
Muscles Used: Hip Thrust
The muscles used in the hip thrust are the:
- Lumbar Muscles
In the barbell hip thrust, the athlete is almost exclusively performing hip extension. This action is primarily tackled by the glutes (maximus, medius, and minimus). Although the hamstrings are also assisting in hip extension, they are less active because the knees are continuously bent throughout the movement.
Due to the small amount of knee extension happening, the quadriceps also get recruited slightly during the hip thrust.
Lastly, the trunk muscles (namely, the abdominals and lumbar muscles) help out the lifter by keeping the entire torso rigid.
Benefits of The Hip Thrust
Some of the benefits of the hip thrust are:
- Serious glute recruitment. A study by Contreras et al (2014) found that when using estimated 10 rep max loads, the gluteus maximus and biceps femoris (a hamstring group muscle) were activated more than during a barbell back squat. For this reason, you might want to prioritize hip thrusts over back squats if muscle activation is your focus.
- Helpful for sprinting. In 2020, Robert and colleagues found a 32% size difference in hip extensor muscles (the group of muscles that extend the hip joint) between the elite and sub-elite runners. According to this, having a developed gluteus maximus can make a huge difference in certain athletic endeavours.
- Countless variations to try. There’s nothing wrong with performing the barbell hip thrust as is. However, you can provide an even bigger glute adaptation by incorporating pauses at the lockout position (1-3 second holds), using continuously-looped bands or hip circles, testing out single-leg variations, and trying different loading implements (dumbbells, cable machines).
Cons of The Hip Thrust
Some of the cons of the hip thrust are:
- The equipment and space required. One of the biggest downsides to the hip thrust is the equipment required. Not only will you require a barbell and (usually) bumper plates, you’ll also need a thick squat pad to go around the bar, and a bench or padded box. Finding all these equipment pieces during peak gym hours can be a challenge — not to mention the floor space required to do the exercise.
- Discomfort or bruising of hip bones. Even with a thick squat pad around the barbell to provide some cushion for your hips, you might still feel serious discomfort when hip thrusting. The sheer weight of the bar can sometimes put a substantial amount of pressure on your hip bones, and even cause your skin to bruise when you first attempt this exercise.
Related Article 9 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Glutes.
The deadlift is a compound exercise for the lower body that emphasizes the glutes, hamstrings and lumbar muscles, along with some effect seen in the quads, lats, and traps.
How To Do A Deadlift
Here’s how to perform a deadlift:
1. Load a barbell and position it on a lifting platform or any floor space
2. Set forward and place the middle of your feet directly under the bar
3. Ensure your stance is about hip to shoulder-width apart
4. Bend over at your hips and grab the bar just outside your legs
5. Without moving it, bend your knees until your shins touch the bar
6. Upon contact, don’t drop your hips any lower
7. Lift or squeeze your chest upwards to straighten your back
8. When ready, push the floor away to start the movement
9. Drag the barbell up your body on the way up
10. At the top, push your hips forward and stand tall
11. Set the bar down to the floor under control
If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of muscles used on the deadlift, read my Ultimate Guide here.
Technique Tips For a Deadlift
Here are some deadlift tips to help you with your technique:
- Keep the bar close. In order to perform the deadlift as efficiently as possible, try to keep the barbell against your skin during the entire repetition. This will help you maintain the bar’s position over the middle of your feet, which is your centre of gravity. After all, the shortest path from the floor to the lockout position in the deadlift is a straight line.
- Wear flat shoes. Due to the heavy weights that can be lifted in the deadlift, you’ll want to wear a flat, hard-soled shoe. This way, you’ll have utmost stability without extending the range of motion. If you’re unsure of what brand(s) to consider, check out the best shoes for deadlifts here.
- Consider using a belt. Harman and colleagues (1988) found that “… use of a lifting belt increases IAP (intra-abdominal pressure), which may reduce disc compressive force and improve lifting safety.” In addition, a lifting belt will help you lift about 5-15% more after getting accustomed to using it correctly.
If you’re thinking about deadlifting in your squat shoes, then check out my article Can You Deadlift In Squat Shoes? (No, Here Are 5 Reasons) to learn why you shouldn’t.
Common Mistakes When Doing a Deadlift
The most common faults in the deadlift are:
- Turning it into a squat. Novice lifters tend to mistakenly turn the deadlift into more of a squat-based exercise by bending their knees excessively. Not only will this cause you to have to fix your hips shooting up in the deadlift, you’ll also be more likely to scrape your shins to a bloody mess. Avoid this fault by keeping your hips higher to maximize your body leverages.
- Letting your back round excessively. Some amount of back rounding is inevitable when using extremely heavy weights and/or training close to failure. Although a rounded back won’t necessarily put you at a higher risk of injury, it’s definitely less efficient. Whenever possible, prioritize the cue “lift your chest” or “stick your chest out” prior to pulling the barbell off the floor.
To read my article about why it’s Okay To Deadlift With a Round Back, click here.
Muscles Used: Deadlift
The muscles used in the deadlift are the:
- Erector Spinae (lower back muscles)
- Latissimus Dorsi (lat muscles)
- Traps (lower, middle, and upper)
In the deadlift, the athlete is simultaneously performing two key actions: hip extension and knee extension.
To carry out hip extension, the glutes must be highly recruited and the hamstrings assist for this action as well.
Although the deadlift doesn’t have nearly as much knee extension requirement as a squat, the quadriceps still have to perform a reasonable amount of work. The quads get some help from the calves to make the knees straighten.
All other muscle groups (abdominals, erectors, lats, and traps) maintain a strong isometric contraction throughout the deadlift to ensure a stable torso position.
Benefits of The Deadlift
Some of the benefits of the deadlift are:
- It’ll be your strongest lift. Despite some rare exceptions seen with elite strength athletes, your deadlift will almost certainly be stronger than your squat. By following a well-designed training program, you should see your deadlift progress quite well and not plateau for months on end. If it has, here’s how to improve your deadlift strength.
- It emphasizes the hamstrings. In a 2017 study, Vidar et al showed that when compared to both the trap bar deadlift and the hip thrust, the barbell deadlift was better at recruiting the biceps femoris (hamstring muscle group). This is likely due to the smaller amount of knee flexion in the barbell deadlift, which leads to greater hamstring tension — due to its crossing of the knee and hip joints.
- It’s promising for knee rehab. Escamilla et al (2002) found that “moderate to high co-contractions from the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius imply that the deadlift may be an effective closed kinetic chain exercise for strength athletes to employ during knee rehabilitation.” In short, the multi-muscle effort seen in the deadlift might prove its worth as a safe exercise to rehab the knee joint.
Cons of The Deadlift
Some of the cons of the deadlift are:
- Limited weight due to grip. A regular occurrence on the deadlift is being unable to hold onto the barbell with a certain weight on the bar. Your leg and back strength will usually outpace your grip strength, so don’t feel obligated to stick with a double-overhand grip. When your grip strength is the limiting factor, you can just use the mixed grip instead.
- Bruising of your shins. If you are unaccustomed to the deadlift, you might experience some bruising on your shins — especially if you’re doing a good job of dragging the barbell up your body. While some discomfort is normal, bloody shins are not. Ensure that you’re not putting your bodyweight behind the barbell, and forcing the bar to dig into you during its ascent.
Check out my article on How To Fix Bruising Shins During Deadlifts (Technique Tips) to avoid this super common mistake.
Stuck between whether you should use hip thrusts or deadlifts? Let me summarize the take-home points for you here.
Choose hip thrusts if you want to prioritize your glute development or if you just want to lift the absolute most weight possible. Hip thrusts are also a great choice if you’re injured and find that deadlifts aggravate your back.
Choose deadlifts if you’re a powerlifter or you want to emphasize your hamstrings more. Deadlifts are also a fantastic exercise if you lack the equipment required for hip thrusts.
In closing, the choice is yours. Select the exercise that most closely aligns with your training goals to realize the most success in your training.
Interested in learning about other deadlift comparisons? Check out the following articles:
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.