Category Archives: Glute Training

Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part III: Forcetime Data

Quick Summary:

  • Squats involve almost twice as much range of motion (ROM) in terms of barbell displacement than hip thrusts, in addition to more time under tension at identical rep ranges
  • The force output during the eccentric phase during squats is only around 10% lower than it is during the concentric phase, whereas the force output during hip thrusts is almost 3X greater during the concentric phase compared to during the eccentric phase
  • Individuals tend to let gravity lower the bar during hip thrusts, whereas much more muscular output is involved during the lower phase when squatting
  • The hip thrust generates greater concentric force output than the squat, whereas the squat generates greater eccentric and total force output than the hip thrust
  • Due to the greater ROM and eccentric force output involved in squatting, the squat produces greater total work, total impulse, and total power outputs than the hip thrust
  • The squat is a large ROM concentric and eccentric exercise, whereas the hip thrust is a short ROM mostly concentric exercise
  • Future research should be undertaken to confirm these findings; to split each variable of interest into concentric and eccentric components; to test different styles of squatting and hip thrusting; to determine how anthropometry effects forcetime data, and to determine how these variables of interest impact neuromuscular adaptations

Hi Fitness Friends! This is part III of a 5-part series on squats versus hip thrusts. The data from this series comes from my doctoral thesis, which should hopefully be posted online for anyone to read next year (assuming I pass my defense in December…wouldn’t it be hilarious if I hyped this up and then failed my defense and PhD?). Parts I and III look at mechanistic data, namely what happens when you perform the two exercises while wearing electrodes or while on top of a force plate. Parts II and IV will look at what actually happens following a 6-week training protocol. Part V will summarize the findings and point out limitations and directions for future research. I posted part I three weeks ago and part II two weeks ago, and I’ll post parts IV andV over week or so.

This study portrays an awesome aspect of learning as a researcher. My PhD supervisor John Cronin wanted me to carry out force plate research on the squat versus the hip thrust as part of my thesis. Several years ago, I wrote an article about how silly I think forcetime data is with regards to optimal exercise selection (see HERE). Since then, my stance has softened, primarily due to the process involved in the present study I’m discussing – one can indeed glean valuable and practical information from performing exercises on a force plate and analyzing the data. However, longitudinal training studies are needed to test and validate any hypothesis that are generated from the mechanistic forcetime data.

Prior to the study, I was talking on the phone to my colleague Andrew Vigotsky. Here’s what I said to him. “Andrew, this study is so stupid. People are stronger in the hip thrust compared to the squat. The hip thrust is also the more explosive lift. Since force equals mass times acceleration (f = ma), the hip thrust will generate greater force. And since force output lays the foundation for work since work equals force times distance (w = fd), impulse since impulse equals force times time (i = ft), and power since power equals force times velocity (p = fv), the hip thrust is going to kick the shit out of the squat in every category. This study is merely a formality to show the obvious.”

Turns out I was quite wrong. Had we just looked at concentric data, I might indeed have been right (well, definitely for force and probably for power, but maybe still not right for work and impulse). However, what I failed to consider ahead of time was the eccentric phase and how this impacted total outputs that combined the concentric and eccentric phases. This isn’t the first time I’ve been wrong as a scientist and it sure won’t be the last time. What’s important is that I update my knowledge-base, inform my followers about the truth, and learn from the experience (which I’m doing). Now let’s talk specifics.

We had ten fairly strong dudes with an average of around 7 years of resistance training experience and a 10RM of around 216 lbs in the squat and 252 lbs in the hip thrust perform the two lifts on a force plate. Luckily, I spoke to badass UK biomechanics researcher Jason Lake prior to collecting my data – he was adamant about having the subjects hover silently on the force plate for a moment before starting their sets and performing their reps. This allows for the system load to be cancelled out when analyzing the data so that only the effects of muscular effort can be examined (we want to know what the muscles do, not what gravity + muscles do in concert with the body + barbell system).

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Here are the results:

Chart

When I got the data, my initial instinct was like, “This is all off, there’s no way this is correct, something screwy occurred with the software.” At this point, I hadn’t looked at barbell displacement, time under tension, or concentric force, so the data didn’t make sense to me. I pondered what I knew about biomechanics and what factors could have impacted the data to come out the way they did. I decided to have my assistant check out barbell displacement, and I was shocked to find out how much greater ROM was used in the squat compared to the hip thrust.

I recall back when I invented my Skorcher, I tested barbell ROM in the hip thrust and it wasn’t much different compared to a parallel back squat or sumo deadlift. But the Skorcher involves more ROM than the traditional hip thrust because the feet are also elevated and there’s considerable dorsiflexion that occurs throughout the concentric ROM. In addition, we examined the full squat, not the parallel squat. Hip ROM isn’t drastically different in a squat compared to a hip thrust depending on how the two are performed and depending on the height and anatomy of the lifter, but since there’s not much knee ROM in a hip thrust, the total ROM in a squat is much higher. So this makes some sense indeed.

So I went into my garage and performed a set of barbell hip thrusts with a meter stick lined up with the barbell – turns out the forceplate/motion capture data was legit and my assumptions were off-based. I also had my assistant check out time under tension, and it wasn’t surprising to see that the squat took more time due to slower lowering speeds and more ROM.

Next, I asked my assistant to split up the concentric and eccentric force phases, and this is when I discovered how glaringly different the force outputs are during the lowering phase of the two lifts.

Between the differences in displacement, time under tension, and eccentric force, all of the data make perfect sense. Now, one could astutely point out that lifters can indeed lower the barbell slowly during a hip thrust. What’s great about this study is that we examined what people naturally do during the two lifts. Future research can examine how the effects of hip thrusts with controlled eccentric phases impact forcetime data, or how higher box heights (this study used a box that was around 16″ high) impact forcetime data, or how anthropometry impacts squat versus hip thrust forcetime data, etc.

You’ll note that we didn’t separate all variables into concentric and eccentric phases. This is because my thesis deadline came to an end and we ran out of time. Had we had more time, I surmise that the hip thrust has greater concentric power outputs than the squat, but I’m not sure about concentric work and impulse. Everybody in S&C loves to talk about eccentrics, but it’s important to note that acceleration sprinting is mostly concentric in nature. This could impact training adaptations.

To wrap things up so far, Part I demonstrated a clear advantage of the hip thrust over the squat in terms of EMG activity. Part III (this article) demonstrated a clear advantage of the squat over the hip thrust in forcetime data (force, work, impulse, power) and displacement. Part II provided some clues as to how the two lifts differ in terms of actual training adaptations. In part IV, we’ll look at the effects of an actual training study. These are vital in S&C as they show what DOES happen, not what SHOULD happen based on humans’ often limited and biased opinions pertaining to acute mechanisms and sensations and transfer of training theories. Then in part V I’ll wrap it all up.

10 Steps to the Perfect Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is likely the most rapidly rising exercise in terms of popularity in strength & conditioning. It is performed by physique athletes, strength athletes, and sport athletes alike. Hip thrusts can be performed with bodyweight, barbell, or resistance band loading. The barbell hip thrust lends itself well to heavy loads, which is precisely why it’s mandatory to execute the exercise properly and master bodyweight first. Here are ten steps to the perfect hip thrust.

1. Push Through the Heels

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The Benefit:

Pushing through the heels as opposed to through the balls of your feet shifts muscle activation away from the quadriceps and onto the glutes and hamstrings.

How to:

Make sure your heels do not rise off the ground. You can choose to maintain flat feet or to raise your toes off the ground via ankle dorsiflexion and holding that position throughout the set.

2. Ensure Vertical Shins at the Top of the Movement

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The Benefit:

Having the shins vertical and perpendicular to the ground maximizes glute activation. Setting the feet too close to the buttocks shifts more tension onto the quads, and setting the feet too far away from the buttocks shifts more tension onto the hamstrings.

How to:

Figure out the proper foot distance so that when you’re at the top of the hip thrust, in the lockout position, your shins are vertical and not angled forward or backward.

3. Keep Knees Out

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The Benefit:

Keeping the knees out increases gluteal activation and is healthier for the knee joints.

How to:

Don’t let the knees cave inward throughout the set; keep tension on the glutes so that the femurs track in line with the feet.

4. Achieve Full Hip Extension

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The Benefit:

Full hip extension is where the glutes achieve their highest level of activation. Failing to reach this range of motion will lead to diminished tension on the glutes.

How to:

Make sure you use the glutes to push the hips as high as possible during each repetition of the hip thrust. Don’t skimp on ROM just to perform more reps; if you can’t reach full hip extension then end the set.

5. Slightly Posterior Tilt the Pelvis

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The Benefit:

Posterior pelvic tilt prevents lumbar hyperextension which isn’t ideal for spinal health, in addition to increasing glute activation.

How to:

As your hips extend and start to reach the top of the movement, think of bringing your pubic bone closer to your ribcage via gluteal contraction.

6. Keep Ribs Down

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The Benefit:

Keeping the ribs down prevents spinal hyperextension, which can be injurious to the spine over time.

How to:

Many coaches like the “chest up” cue during squats and deadlifts, but for the hip thrust this cue is the opposite of what you want. During the hip thrust, think “ribs down” so that your ribs stay glued to the pelvis throughout the movement.

7. Maintain Forward Eye Gaze

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The Benefit:

A forward eye gaze encourages posterior pelvic tilt and prevents anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar hyperextension while simultaneously shifting tension onto the glutes and away from the erectors and hamstrings.

How to:

Look straight ahead when at the bottom of the hip thrust. As you rise upward, maintain your forward eye gaze which will cause your neck to flex forward during the movement.

8. Make Fists and Dig Arms Into the Bench

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The Benefit:

Digging the arms into the bench and making fists will increase strength and total body muscular tension through a process known as “irradiation.”

How to:

When you set up, get tight, squirm into proper position, dig your arms into the bench, and squeeze your fists together forcefully.

9. Breathe Big and Brace Core Prior Before Each Lift

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The Benefit:

Bracing increases spinal stability, prevents hyperextension of the spine, and allows for better performance.

How to:

At the bottom of the movement, take a deep breathe and then “lock it down” by tightening the abs, obliques, and diaphragm muscles.

10. Pause at the Top with a Big Glute Squeeze

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The Benefit:

Pausing for a moment at the top of the hip thrust increases time under tension and ensures proper tempo and control throughout the movement.

How to:

At the top of each rep, squeeze the glutes and count to one before descending.

How it Looks in Action

The video below showcases some of these tips and portrays how hip thrusts should look in action, delving into bodyweight and barbell mechanics.

Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part II: The Twin Experiment

Quick Summary:

  • Squats and hip thrusts both lead to improvements in squat strength, hip thrust strength, horizontal pushing force, and upper and lower gluteus maximus hypertrophy
  • Squats are better suited at increasing squat strength, at least in this experiment
  • Hip thrusts are better suited at increasing hip thrust strength, maximum horizontal pushing force, and upper and lower gluteus maximus hypertrophy, at least in this experiment
  • Squats grew the upper glutes by 20% and lower glutes by 21% over the 6-week period
  • Hip thrusts grew the upper glutes by 28% and lower glutes by 28% over the 6-week period
  • Squats increased maximum horizontal pushing force by 20%, hip thrusts increased maximum horizontal pushing force by 32%.
  • A randomized controlled trial with ample subjects is needed to expand upon these findings

Hi Fitness Friends! This is part II of a 5-part series on squats versus hip thrusts. The data from this series comes from my doctoral thesis, which should hopefully be posted online for anyone to read next year (assuming I pass my defense in December…wouldn’t it be hilarious if I hyped this up and then failed my defense and PhD?). Parts I and III will look at mechanistic data, namely what happens when you perform the two exercises while wearing electrodes or while on top of a force plate. Parts II and IV will look at what actually happens following a 6-week training protocol. Part V will summarize the findings and point out limitations and directions for future research. I posted part I last week, this article is part II, and I’ll post parts III-V over the next couple of weeks.

  • Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity
  • Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part II: The Twin Experiment
  • Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part III: Forcetime Data
  • Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part IV: Training Effects
  • Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part V: Wrap-Up

As many of you know, I recently trained a pair of identical twin sisters three times per week for 6 weeks using a daily undulated (DUP) approach, with one performing only squats for lower body and the other performing only hip thrusts. It was cool to attain a pair of identical twins since the genetics of strength and hypertrophy gains is huge (see HERE for an intriguing write-up from yours truly from 4 yrs ago). The twins have been exercising regularly for 12 years (randomly, their dad is actually the inventor of Powerblock dumbbells!), but they’d never progressively trained the squat or the hip thrust. The 6-week program led to incredible gains in strength, glute mass, and function, and I’m excited to share the results with you below.

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Force Vector Theory

First, let me set the stage. In 2009-2010, I created a theoretical model pertaining to transfer of strength training to performance that related to the force vector. Of course, there are many more factors to consider with regards to transfer of training, but I surmised that the force vector played a huge role in determining the nature of transfer to sport action and functional performance. HERE is the article I wrote on my blog six years ago, but I’d prefer that you click on THIS link as I updated the article  for the NSCA’s website last year.

load-vectors

The model was accepted and applauded by many S&C professionals and scoffed and ridiculed by others. Even now, there isn’t much previous research to go by as the published studies examining the transfer of horizontal to vertical exercise and vice versa mainly used plyometric and not strength exercises. There are plenty of correlational studies to go by, but correlation does not imply causation.

Horizontal Force Test

While this “Force Vector Theory” is sexy and intriguing, it was purely theoretical. There were no experiments that had been conducted to test the model’s validity. While there are numerous tests of vertical strength that have been previously used in sports science, for example the 1RM squat, 1RM deadlift, isometric squat, and isometric mid-thigh pull, there isn’t a single horizontal force test used previously in the literature. That is, until now.

I came up with the idea of a maximum horizontal push test during my last week in New Zealand several years back, and it’s such an obvious effective test in my opinion; it should be used frequently in future research to come. To perform the test, you simply stand on a force plate with your arms parallel to the ground and your torso at a 45 degree angle and push into the wall as hard as possible for 3-seconds while standing on the dominant limb. Maximum horizontal force is recorded over 3 trials, and you record the average peak force of the 3 trials. I put grip tape on the force plate and set it on a rubber mat to ensure that no slipping or sliding occurs. We tested the reliability of this test and it’s very reliable. This will be published in time.

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The Maximum Horizontal Push Test: a very reliable test for measuring maximum horizontal force production

The Training

Three times per week, the twins performed 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps of their individual lift (hip thrusts or parallel back squats). Day one was 4 x 10 (with around 75% of 1RM), day two was 5 x 6 (with around 85% of 1RM), and day three was 3 x 15 (with around 65% of 1RM). However, if the subject could perform more reps on the last set, she did (so the last set was an AMRAP set which stands for “as many reps as possible”).

After their lower body lift, the twins performed 2 sets of either incline press, bench press, or close grip bench press, then 2 sets of either inverted rows, lat pulldowns, or negative chin ups, then 2 sets of either ab mat crunches, straight leg sit ups, or hanging leg raises.

Loads were increased each week. It should be pointed out that the twins’ weight didn’t change much throughout the study and they were instructed to follow identical caloric and macronutrient plans throughout the 6 weeks.

The Results (and Some Observations)

Squatting or hip thrusting 18 times over a 6 week period in a DUP fashion elicited the following results:

Twin Chart

Click on the chart for a larger image

Early on in the study, I realized that the time under tension (TUT) in the squat was way higher than the hip thrust. The twin performing squats was taking much longer to complete her sets (due to the greater ROM and slower eccentric phase) than the twin performing hip thrusts. Conversely, the volume load (VL) in the hip thrust was way higher than the squat. The twin performing hip thrusts used much heavier loads and did more reps (due to the AMRAP sets) than the twin performing squats.

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I calculated the time under tension and the volume loads for the entire 6-week period (18 sessions). Squat TUT was 2,964 seconds whereas hip thrust TUT was 1,386 seconds. Squat VL was 25,143 kgs whereas hip thrust VL was 58,978 kgs. Interestingly, when multiplying the TUT by VL (I suppose this is slightly similar to impulse, but not quite the same), the two protocols yielded similar data (squat 75,000,000 kg*s and hip thrust 82,000,000 kg*s). These data don’t completely jibe with our force plate findings that you’ll read about in part III, so it can’t be said that everyone experiences these same results. However, it probably applies well to taller, lankier individuals.

As per the law of specificity, the squat improves the squat better than the hip thrust and the hip thrust improves the hip thrust better than the squat. However, with these twins, the hip thrust built the squat to a better degree than the squat built the hip thrust. This doesn’t hold true in a bigger group, as you’ll see in Part IV of this series that the two lifts transfer pretty equally to one another.

What fascinated me is that the twin that performed hip thrusts didn’t perform a single squat during the six weeks. She never even performed a bodyweight squat during her general warm-up. Her 1RM at the beginning of the test was 95 lbs, but at the end of the six week hip thrusting protocol, she could squat 135 lbs with better form. It just looked cleaner and smoother. Conversely, the twin that performed squats didn’t improve her hip thrust form much…in fact she seemed to get worse at the hip thrust in that she didn’t want to lock out the load and achieve full hip extension. It’s important to note that this is just a single subject design involving two subjects; it’s not a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sufficient sample size.

The squat twin started out squatting 95 lbs and hip thrusting 225 lbs and ended up squatting 155 lbs (60 lb improvement) and hip thrusting 265 lbs (40 lb improvement). The hip thrust twin started out squatting 95 lbs and hip thrusting 195 lbs and ended up squatting 135 lbs (40 lb improvement) and hip thrusting 315 lbs (125 lb improvement).

Based on this experiment, it appears that the hip thrust is better suited for improving maximum horizontal pushing force than the squat. The squat twin started off exerting 309 Newtons of horizontal force into the wall and ended up with 370 Newtons. The hip thrust twin started off exerting 320 Newtons of horizontal force into the wall and ended up with 422 Newtons. These were calculated 3 times on 3 separate days so they’re definitely legit.

Interestingly and anecdotally, I’ve always noticed that I can generate a ton of horizontal force even though my squat sucks. In high school football, I was very good at slamming into opponents and pushing them forward, and I had the weakest squat in the history of mankind. When my interns Andrew Serrano and Joey Percia were with me, we did a horizontal force test and I could outperform both of them, but their vertical force production was much higher than mine as they could probably perform 10 reps with my 1RM squat. I can out hip thrust them, so this jibes with the twin findings. A comprehensive RCT is needed to test the hypothesis that hip thrusts are better suited than squats at improving the maximum horizontal push test.

During the 6 weeks, the hip thrust twin kept talking about how she could feel her entire glutes getting bigger and rounder, however the squat twin would remark that she could feel her lower glutes getting more muscular. I believed that the ultrasound findings would mimic the EMG findings in that hip thrusts would grow the entire glutes whereas squats would preferentially grow the lower glutes, but this wasn’t the case. Based on this experiment, the hip thrust appears to be better at building the glutes than the squat, but the squat is still highly effective at packing on glute mass. And interestingly, the squat still builds upper glute mass even though it doesn’t lead to high levels of activation. An RCT with sufficient sample size is clearly needed to expand upon these findings.

As a personal trainer, I can attest that these twins are fast responders with regards to glute gains, and their muscle thickness results are very impressive compared to those of other muscles in other studies, however there are a couple of studies that show similar gains in muscle thickness in a 6 week period (but it didn’t examine the glutes). Surprisingly, this is the very first experiment that has examined gluteus maximus hypertrophy in the barbell squat and in the barbell hip thrust. Let’s get with the program sports science researchers!!!

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Conclusion

This experiment lends support to the force vector transfer of training theory. It will hopefully be published in time so you can examine a full report of the methods.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks to learn how squats compare to hip thrusts in forcetime data (barbell displacement, set duration, force, work, impulse, and power) and in transfer to training (vertical and horizontal jump, 10 and 20m acceleration, 3RM front squat and hip thrust, and maximum isometric mid-thigh pull).

 

Squats Versus Hip Thrusts Part I: EMG Activity

I’m very proud to announce that today, the first original research from my PhD thesis was published ahead of print on the Journal of Applied Biomechanics website. HERE is the link to the abstract on PubMed, and HERE is a link to the abstract on the JAB site. If you want the full paper, I’ve uploaded it into my site HERE. Published ahead of print articles usually aren’t fully-formatted, which makes for a rather annoying reading experience because there’s just a sea of writing with all the tables and figures tacked onto the end of the article.

Good Science Requires Patience

A good scientist is patient. This EMG paper is not the “nail-in-the-coffin” with regards to the “Which is superior for glute hypertrophy – squats or hip thrusts?” controversy. We need more research. EMG doesn’t measure hypertrophy; it measures muscle activation. This study is a cross-sectional study that examined mechanisms of hypertrophy. What we need are a handful of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), with each hopefully painting a similar picture with the data. Here’s a quote from the discussion portion of the study:

“Caution should be taken when interpreting the practical implications of this study. It is tempting to speculate that muscle activity can be used as a gauge to predict strength and hypertrophy gains. After all, two recent papers have linked muscle activation with hypertrophy (52, 53), and another with strength gains (54). However, at this point in time no training studies have been conducted comparing the hypertrophic effects or transfer of training in the back squat and barbell hip thrust exercises. Future research needs to be conducted to 1) test the hypothesis that the barbell hip thrust exercise leads to greater gluteus maximus and hamstrings hypertrophy than the back squat exercise, 2) discern whether adaptations transfer to sports performance, particularly in relation to sprint running, 3) verify that male and female subjects activate their hip and thigh muscles similarly during the back squat and barbell hip thrust exercises, and 4) analyze the joint range of motion, heart rate, force, velocity, power, joint power, impulse, work, and torque angle curves between the back squat and barbell hip thrust exercises.”

Much of this needed research is currently underway, so you can expect plenty of interesting data to come. EMG provides mechanistic clues with regards to training outcomes. I happen to be a supporter of EMG and I believe that surface EMG data can indeed be used to help ascertain exercise superiority for hypertrophic purposes, especially for large muscles like the gluteus maximus. However, there are three primary mechanisms of hypertrophy (click HERE for a primer on this topic), with activation influencing tension and metabolic stress to a greater degree than damage. In addition, EMG has its share of limitations (click HERE and HERE for two articles on this topic). Therefore, the “team hip thrust” camp needs to wait until more research emerges to before they do the crotch chop dance in front of the “team squat” camp.

Not there yet team hip thrusts...

Not there yet team hip thrusts…

What I Love About Science

Science hones in on the truth over time. You’ve got this vocal guy (me) who has championed hip thrusts over the past nine years (6 years online). You’ve got all sorts of trainers, coaches, athletes, bikini competitors, and physical therapists around the globe who are in agreement with the efficacy of hip thrusts. On the other hand, you’ve also got a bunch of skeptics who apparently think that the hip thrust is moronic, inefficient, and/or non-functional (I’ve noticed that these people tend to have their own forums, they tend to need to be perceived as world experts on every topic, they tend to dis on anything they didn’t think of first, and they tend to not conduct any research of their own – they just dis on research that emerges, but I digress).

Here’s what I love about science…it doesn’t matter what in the hell I say. It doesn’t matter what in the hell these other people say. The truth is the truth. Science is true whether you believe in it or not. The “truth” about hip thrusts exists. It’s up to us (humans) to discover the truth through research and experimentation.

In five years, we’re going to know much, much more about hip thrusts. I will personally publish probably a dozen papers on the topic, but I expect many other researchers and labs to take interest in the hip thrust and start conducting research (both mechanistic and training studies) on them as well.

My thesis is just the start. I have examined 1) the EMG activity between squats and hip thrusts, 2) the EMG activity of 3 different squat variations, 3) the EMG activity of 3 different hip thrust variations, 4) the force, power, work, and impulse between squats and hip thrusts, 5) the transfer to vertical and horizontal jump, 10 and 20m acceleration, 1RM front squat and hip thrust, and max isometric mid-thigh-pull between front squats and hip thrusts, and 6) the transfer to upper and lower gluteus maximus muscle thickness, 1RM squat and hip thrust, and max horizontal force between squats and hip thrusts in a pair of identical twins. This will provide a great foundation for future research and will generate many hypotheses that require testing.

Even after my thesis is published, we still won’t know much. We’ll definitely know a lot more than we previously did, but we need 50-100 quality studies on the hip thrust before we can confidently discuss its efficacy across the board for varying purposes and populations. The truth will emerge over time, and no guru (not me and not the naysayers) can effectively suppress the truth in the long run. Charismatic leaders can definitely distract people and lead them in the wrong directions, but in the end, science always prevails. Maybe I’ve led people in the wrong direction, and maybe the skeptics have led people in the wrong direction. Maybe the converse is true is well. The truth shall prevail.

In the End

In the end, what I can already say with MUCH confidence is that athletes should perform both squats and hip thrusts. Squats appear to outperform hip thrusts in certain very important outcomes and hip thrusts appear to outperform squats in certain very important outcomes. Most of you reading this are probably nodding your heads like, “no shit,” but there are indeed people that think you shouldn’t squat or shouldn’t hip thrust…hopefully their minds will be changed when they see my findings and future findings of others.

I would think that my TESTIMONIALS would have changed their minds, but apparently that doesn’t matter to them. Anecdotes are cool, but they’re not the be-all-end-all since variables are not controlled which prevents us from pinpointing the mechanisms responsible for improvements.

And Now, the EMG Study Findings

Again, click HERE to download the full paper. There isn’t much more I have to add that’s not included in the paper. The study examined 13 trained women. Here is a chart from the study:

chart

As you can see, hip thrusts appear to be superior to squats in terms of upper gluteus maximus, lower gluteus maximus, and biceps femoris activity. Interestingly, vastus lateralis activity wasn’t far superior in squats compared to hip thrusts – this is something I noticed many years ago. Hip thrusts heavily activate the quads, but squats indeed have the edge considering that they move the knees through a much greater ROM and have slightly higher quad activation.

Here are some graphs that we made that didn’t make it into the article (I never agree with this practice, but peer reviewers want either a chart or a graph, but not both as they believe them to be redundant…I prefer both for numerical and visual puproses).

Mean

This shows mean activation for squats and hip thrusts

Peak

This shows peak activation for squats and hip thrusts

Isoholds: Bottom of the Squat Versus Top of the Hip Thrust

Here is some fascinating data. When I do a pause squat, I feel my glutes working very well. I’m sure that many of you do too. My glutes can get rather sore the next day as well if I do a high volume pause squat session – you can probably relate to this as well. However, the glutes (and the hamstrings for that matter) barely activate at the bottom of a squat. Vasti and the erector spinae activation is through the roof, but it seems that the hip extensors provide force mostly through stretch, not activation. This EMG data jives with the findings of Worrell et al. 2015 and Robertson et al. 2008. The gluteus maximus activates to a much greater degree in full hip extension compared to hip flexion, hence why the barbell hip thrust isohold is so high.

Battle of the Isoholds: Bottom Squat versus Top Hip Thrust in Muscle Activation

Battle of the Isoholds: Bottom Squat versus Top Hip Thrust in Muscle Activation

Iso Mean

This is average muscle activation in the isoholds (bottom of the squat and top of the hip thrust)

Iso Peak

This is the highest muscle activation in the isoholds (bottom of the squat and top of the hip thrust)

Conclusion

There will be much more research to come. We need a high quality training study that looks at actual muscle hypertrophy before confidently claiming that hip thrusts are superior to squats for gluteus maximus growth and development. Better yet, we need a dozen. In the meantime, we should certainly consider these EMG findings along with other forms of evidence such as anecdotes, tradition, logic, and expert opinion. However, we should properly frame these lesser forms of evidence (click HERE to read about the hierarchy of knowledge) and eagerly await the arrival of RCTs.

Team squat camp: You don’t need to dismiss surface EMG evidence and call this research idiotic; it provides good clues. These clues can be useful in predicting the transfer to various activities, which will emerge in time. You should, however, open your mind to the possibility that hip thrusts are indeed highly effective for glute growth

Team hip thrust camp: Don’t be jerks and claim that hip thrusts are superior to squats for glute growth; we don’t know that yet. They might or they might not be, but you don’t want to look like an idiot if the experimental data (actual hypertrophy) doesn’t jive with theoretical findings (EMG). It’s better to be cautious and reserved.

In summary, we’ll know more in time.