Category Archives: Glute Training

Squats Versus Hip Thrusts: 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 Biomechanics website. It’s not yet indexed on PubMed, but HERE is a link to the abstract. 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.

The Gluteus Medius – WTF?

Unless you’ve been in a cave over the past couple of decades, you’ve surely heard at some point about the importance of the gluteus medius in functional performance. To read a summary of the current gluteus medius research, please see Chris Beardsley’s excellent report HERE. Each of the gluteal muscles have functional subdivisions, and the gluteus medius has three distinct regions: anterior, middle, posterior.

Gluteals-II

Glutes: Minimus, Medius, Maximus

It is commonly thought that although the primary role of the gluteus medius is hip abduction (raising leg out to the side or stabilizing the hip during gait), the anterior (ventral) fibers of the gluteus medius assist in hip internal rotation whereas the posterior (dorsal) fibers of the gluteus medius assist in hip external rotation. This has been confirmed in studies measuring moment arms, and it’s explained in the end of the video below.

Interestingly, studies such as THIS brand new one have shown that the posterior fibers of the gluteus medius activate more highly with the hip in internal rotation compared to external rotation. I never gave this much thought until last Saturday when my friend Erin (HERE is her Instagram) visited me at my Glute Lab and trained her glutes (she’s competing tomorrow in bikini in Vegas at the NPC USA Nationals). If you recall, I interviewed Erin HERE where she presented my readers with a bunch of novel and effective band glute exercises. A few days ago I posted a band glute circuit Erin did on Instagram HERE and it received a lot of attention.

When she showed me the exercise below, I didn’t think much of it at first. Just seemed like another nifty hip external rotation exercise to me. However, I started thinking about it, and I quickly realized that this was hip internal rotation, pivoting around the feet. And it’s hip internal rotation in a fairly neutral hip position in terms of hip flexion/extension (it’s close to anatomical position in 0 degrees of hip flexion…considering the way she’s slightly anteriorly tilting her pelvis, I’d guess that she’s at 15 degrees of hip flexion below).

This caused me to be skeptical of this exercise as a glute builder. I know that Erin pays better attention to what areas of the glutes are being worked than pretty much any client I’ve ever trained, but this wasn’t in full agreement with the research.

I palpated Erin’s glutes and verified that it indeed heavily activated the upper glutes, and it seemed to me that the entire glute medius was firing, especially the posterior fibers. Wondering if maybe Erin is just unique in the way she fires her glutes, I tested 3 other clients two days later (and also on myself) and confirmed that their upper glutes fire very well during this band hip internal rotation exercise as well. I haven’t tested the gluteal EMG activity yet, but it’s pretty safe to say based on palpation that this exercise is a good glute exercise to include in your band circuit arsenal. I like to include various hip extension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation exercises, and now there’s this hip internal rotation exercise.

See upper x's - these mark the upper posterior, middle, and anterior origins.

See upper x’s – these mark the upper posterior, middle, and anterior origins used in THIS study.

Please give this unique exercise a try and pay attention (I palpated my own glutes) to what region you’re working – let me know if you think it’s the posterior fibers of the gluteus medius in addition to the entire glute medius, or the upper gluteus maximus.

gluteus_medius

Make sure to not perform this on a super tall bench as you want the hips to just be slightly flexed. I haven’t tried it out yet in neutral (lying flat on the ground), but Erin tried the exercise in greater hip flexion from an elevated bench and didn’t feel it working nearly as well. This is interesting considering that Delp found that hip internal rotation moment arms of the glute muscles increase in hip flexion…so this doesn’t agree with his findings.

It seems like there’s more to the glutes than previously thought and that we’re still coming up with interesting and efficient ways of activating and strengthening these important muscles.

glute med

The Hands-Free Hip Thrust: A Simple (Yet Very Effective) Hip Thrust Teaching Tool

The Hands-Free Hip Thrust: A Simple (Yet Very Effective) Hip Thrust Teaching Tool
By: Ben Bruno

I use hip thrusts extensively with virtually all of my clients, and one of the things I like most about them is that they’re relatively easy to learn and there’s a fast learning curve so most clients can get the hang out if quickly.

Still, there are a few issues that I tend to see arise repeatedly.

  1. It takes people a little while to figure out the proper bar position on the hips, and until you find that sweet spot it can be awkward and uncomfortable.
  1. The name “hip thrust” could imply a fast explosive movement, but I actually prefer that they be done in a controlled fashion with a brief pause at the top of each rep. Sometimes stronger clients start to let their form slip as the weight on the bar increases and they start to try to thrust up violently, often failing to achieve full hip extension at the top. I tell my clients that if they can’t pause at the top, the weight is too heavy.
  1. I notice that a lot of clients tend to go into anterior pelvic tilt and overarch the lower back, especially as the weight gets heavier. This not only takes the stress off the glutes, but it’s also potentially injurious for the lower back. In all fairness, I must say I’ve never seen or heard of anyone getting hurt from hip thrusts (another reason I like them), but it’s still a concern. For both effectiveness and safety it’s important to keep a neutral spine, or if anything even a slight posterior pelvic tilt as you thrust up.
  1. Some clients tend to push harder through one foot than the other, which is easy to spot just by looking at the bar.

As a trainer, I can queue clients ad naueseum when I see form flaws, but whenever possible, I prefer to give drills or exercises that teach them to do the exercise correctly without me giving them too many things to think about.

Enter the hands-free hip thrust.

I’ve found that for clients who struggle with the aforementioned hip thrust issues, doing them hands-free can clear them all up very quickly.

Here’s a video of what it looks like in action.

When you don’t have your hands to hold the bar in place it forces you to find the right positioning on your hips. Just be sure to keep your hands close to the bar in case you need to grab it quickly for whatever reason.

Furthermore, if you thrust up too fast and don’t control the weight, or if you push more through one foot than the other, there’s no way you’ll be able to balance the bar on your hips. Likewise, if you overarch the lower back, the bar will slide down your hips, giving you immediate feedback. In order to keep the bar positioned correctly, it requires you to keep a neutral spine with a very slight posterior pelvic tilt at the top.

In this sense, the hands-free hip thrust is a lot like the hands-free front squat, which I also love and use as a teaching tool.

Form issues with front squats tend to be similar to those with hip thrusts; people struggle to support the bar, and they also tend to rush the reps and lose proper body positioning and fold forward. By going hands-free, it teaches you to support the bar on the shoulders instead of relying on the hands, and it allows forces you to stay upright and do the reps in a controlled fashion.

It’s the same idea for hands-free hip thrusts.

HT

As a teaching tool, I recommend doing sets of 8-10 reps. I actually like doing something similar to what I do with front squats which is going hands-free for a few warm-up sets and then switching to regular hip thrusts as the weight gets heavier. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that my clients are often stronger with their normal hip thrusts after warming up with the hands-free version.

Now it’s important to note that while this may be a good teaching tool, it’s not a beginner exercise. I wouldn’t start off teaching hip thrusts hands-free. But for clients who have some experience with hip thrusts but either complain about feeling them in the lower back, or for clients who’ve gotten stronger but done so at the expense of good form, this method is a great way to take a step back and reset the form before continuing to add more weight.

HT2

For stronger lifters, hands-free hip thrusts can also function as a great standalone exercise that allows you to get an awesome training effect with lighter loads. In this case, I like doing 1-2 higher rep sets of 15-20 reps after you’ve done your heavier sets. You won’t be able to handle as much weight, but a 20-rep set of these with pauses at the top has my glutes begging for mercy more than almost any hip thrust variation I’ve ever tried.

If you’re the type who enjoys watching others suffer, here’s me doing a 20 rep finisher.

Give these a try and see if it doesn’t clean up the technique and allow you to feel the exercise even more in your glutes and less in the lower back.

About the Author:

Ben Bruno is a personal trainer in Los Angeles, California. He also Ben-Brunopublishes a blog and free newsletter at www.benbruno.com. You can connect with him on social media at the following places:

Instagram: https://instagram.com/benbrunotraining/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/benbruno1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ben-Bruno/282118145176459

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/bruno082985

One Small Step for Man; One Giant Thrust for Mankind

Okay, okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. So my PhD thesis isn’t akin to man stepping foot onto the moon, but I can promise you one thing; the hip thrust is going to be much more popular in the next few years as a result of my research findings. Today I received some very important information about the hip thrust and its transfer to performance.

Setting the Stage…

Almost ten years ago, I thought up the barbell hip thrust while training out of my garage (you can read the full story about it in The Evolution of the Hip Thrust – this link also shows video clips of 100’s of different hip thrust variations, and I keep it updated as new variations are being thought up regularly by various strength coaches and personal trainers). After a few months of incorporating the hip thrust into my arsenal, I started noticing various things – the rate at which clients’ glutes grew increased, and clients would inform me that their running speed improved or that they felt their glutes activating more in everyday life. They’d almost always attribute it to the hip thrust exercise, which caused me to ponder the differences in biomechanics between hip thrusts and other popular glute exercises at the time.

My clients began encouraging me to start up a blog and begin engaging in social media, so eventually I decided to take the plunge and take on the role of fitness writer in addition to personal trainer/strength coach. As most of you know, from day one I’ve heavily promoted the hip thrust in my work.

Over the past decade, I’ve encountered numerous skeptics that based their opinions on functional training or the transfer of training from an exercise to a real life activity on how an exercise looks, not by analyzing the biomechanics or actually performing the exercise and noting any actual effects. This has been frustrating because when responding to these individuals (see You Can’t Stop the Hip Thrust, and You Won’t Break Our Stride), I never had any hard data to throw at them, just a bunch of theories (see Force Vector Training), mechanistic data such as EMG activation levels or torque angle curves (see Hip Thrust & Glute Science), and anecdotes and testimonials (see Testimonials).

Finally, the Time Has Come…

That is, until now. I just received data and stats pertaining to a 6 week study comparing the effects of barbell hip thrusts versus front squats. I was sure to be blinded from the training, testing, and analysis so that no accusations of bias could be made. Here are the performance measurements were examined pre and post intervention:

  • 1RM front squat
  • 1RM hip thrust
  • vertical jump
  • horizontal jump
  • maximum isometric mid-thigh pulling force (sort of like a deadlift lockout)
  • 10m sprint
  • 20m sprint

I can’t divulge the findings as I intend on writing up a detailed report and publishing the data, but what I can say is that:

1. The hip thrust led to significant improvements in 4 of the measurements,
2. The front squat led to significant improvements in 3 of the measurements, and
3. The two lifts complement each other very well

Neither group improved in horizontal jump or 10m sprint. Maybe some of my readers could predict the outcomes. It’s so nice to finally have some data to help validate theories and assumptions. Anyone who says that the hip thrust isn’t functional is dead wrong. After this study is published, the skeptics will no longer be able to say that the hip thrust isn’t functional. Training studies determine the functionality of an exercise, not some idiot’s warped view of how adaptations should happen based on how an exercise looks.

hip thrust 4

Yep, the hip thrust has you lying down. It is highly stable and doesn’t require a lot of coordination. It’s not performed in a standing position. It’s not highly technical. It looks silly. It has you humping a barbell. And guess what? Science has just shown that it’s one kickass exercise for improving performance.

So now we’ll have an EMG study involving 13 trained women showing that hip thrusts activate certain key muscles to a significantly higher degree than squats. We’ll have a training study involving 24 teenage male athletes showing that hip thrusts increase certain key functional performance parameters to a significantly higher degree than squats. And then there’s the identical twin case series that’s currently underway that will examine differences in muscle thickness gains between hip thrusts and squats.

Squats are Still Badass!

Now, this is not to say that squats are still an incredible movement – they’re actually my favorite exercise (even though I suck at them), and I have every single client of mine performing a couple of different squat variations. They’re a staple in S&C – that won’t change. The hip thrust is indeed popular in S&C, but it isn’t yet considered a “big basic” exercise by many coaches, nor am I aware of any strength coaches of any professional sports teams that center their S&C program around the hip thrust. Hopefully this will change, since hip thrusts appear to complement the squat and build certain functional features that squats don’t, including a certain feature that lays the foundation for ground sport performance. The squat isn’t perfect and the hip thrust isn’t perfect, but with optimal program design based on scientific evidence, we can create highly effective programs that build comprehensive athletic ability and muscular development.

camille-back-squat

Much More Work to Do…

My PhD thesis studies are just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect that after my studies are published, they’re going to pique the interest of many sports scientists, and we’ll see an abundance of studies examining the hip thrust emerge over the next several years. This is much needed, as my studies are very meager in the grand scheme of things. We need to examine acute/mechanistic measures (EMG, torque angle curves, ROM, force, velocity, power, RFD, impulse, work, etc.) and longitudinal/training measures (changes in hypertrophy, strength, multidirectional power, speed, etc.) in a wide variety of populations (men, women, elderly, middle age, young, beginners, advanced, athletes from varying sports, etc.) in order to confidently discuss the biomechanics and functional transfer of the hip thrust. Nevertheless;

Today is one small step for man, and one giant thrust for mankind!

hip thrust