Category Archives: Glute Training

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.


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

How a 41 Year-Old Mom of Three Got Her (Figure) Groove Back

How a 41 Year-Old Mom of Three Got her (Figure) Groove Back
By Shelley Cook

The Beginning: Bret didn’t want me.

Seriously, though, when I first reached out to him and asked him to coach me, I didn’t even expect a reply.

But much to my surprise, I did hear back from him about a week later – and it was much more wordy and polite than I could have imagined! Right away I was thinking, Wow, what a genuinely nice guy! Unfortunately, Bret was too busy at the time and wasn’t able to take me on.

I was sad, but I knew exactly what I wanted and needed to do to in order to be successful in a figure competition at my age. I had competed at age 36 and done well, winning the Masters and taking second in Open Short, but my backside had clearly been my weakest area and I hadn’t carried much muscle.

So now, five years of training later, at the tender age of 41, I wanted to do it again. But I wanted to do it under the guidance of the guy that knew glutes, who supported the studies and practiced everything I believe in as a trainer. This wasn’t just another figure competition to me; it was a matter of principle and testing what I’d learned.

Because Bret couldn’t work with me, I went ahead and hired the next trainer that came recommended to me. This coach was very quick to reply to every email, but the training program ended up not being the best fit for me. The volume was simply too high, and the five-days-a-week body part split was more than my body could handle. By the end of the fourth week with him, my old injuries were starting to flare up. I was weary and exhausted, and I was beginning to dread going to the gym. I knew that I had to change course.

While I felt discouraged, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. I knew I could do it alone, but I didn’t want to; I wanted someone who would support me and guide me on my journey back to the figure stage.

So naturally, I did what any persistent and driven mother would do in my position: I went back to Bret and I begged him to reconsider taking me on as a client and I must have caught him at a weak moment because this time he agreed!

After swearing up and down that I would be a model client, he said he would help me provided that I work with Sohee Lee for my nutrition. They came as a package deal: either I work with both of them as a team or not at all.

I thought about it for a split second and agreed. I mean, come on! Sohee Lee?! As if I’d say no to that! Honestly, who gets to say that their training team is Bret Contreras and Sohee Lee? I signed up with them as fast as I could before they changed their minds. Here is where I started:

ShelleyCook Beginning Front ShelleyCook Beginning Back

OMG did I really just post those?


For Everyone: Choose your trainer wisely. Just because they sell themselves well or your aunt lost 16 pounds in a week or the program is overly complicated or they train all the best figure girls does not mean it’s the right trainer or program for you. Do a little research and think about what you are getting into before you commit. Be patient enough to shop around, ask questions, and get to know potential coaches you’d like to work with. In the end, you will likely save time, money, frustration, and potentially an awkward breakup with your trainer!

For Professionals: Lead by example, but please remember that your clients are individuals. Listen to them, check in to see how they are doing, and support them. Above all, try to help them find the diet and training plan that will make them feel confident, happy and excited about their effort and results.

The Diet: Flexible Dieting or Bust

This wasn’t my first rodeo.

Following my competition in 2009, I put on 10 pounds in two weeks and another 10 in the month following that in a completely uncontrolled manner. I had felt so trapped and deprived by my low calorie meal plan that when I was awarded cheat meals, they would start at 4pm and go all night. I couldn’t seem to come to terms with not being able to eat my favorite trail mix or homemade soup simply because it was too hard to track. I was so hungry for all the things I was missing that once I started I just couldn’t stop. And then the guilt and remorse of what I had done would set in.

This started a chain of bad patterns that were really compounded once the competition was over and I didn’t have a plan or any idea of how to back out. I didn’t even see it happening until I hit the 125 lb mark. Twenty-five pounds over my competition weight in little more than a month…. Wow. That’s when I first started to dig for a better way.

I studied all kinds of diets and their effects, from the studies done on the aftermath of concentration camp survivors to the current trends in physique diets. I soaked it all in and experimented on myself out of thirst for knowledge over the course of three years. During that time I also fell in love with coaching. I had been working with Elite hockey athletes doing off ice training and the more I did it, the more I loved it and realized my niche had been found. It was time to get the education I needed to coach and once again the studying began. I became an NSCA-CPT in 2012.

All those years of nutrition coaching and eating to support training meant counting macros was second nature to me and that is what made flexible dieting the obvious choice.

I was excited to try out this approach firsthand, and Sohee was amazing. Quick and thoughtful replies, impressively fast turnarounds, and prompt weekly check-ins. For those that don’t know her, this girl is organized and runs a phenomenal program for online clients.

The macros she set for me surprised me at first because they seemed far too high for dieting calories. I mean, I know I can eat a lot of everything and take it like a champ (thanks to a great metabolism!) but I certainly expected the process to be a lot more excruciating. But it really wasn’t that difficult. Just focus on hitting the macros, don’t stress, and everything will turn out fine, she assured me.

Sohee started me out at a daily calorie intake of 1770, and by the end of my three-month prep, I was at 1570 calories a day with a weekly refeed. During this time, my bodyweight dropped from 118.0 to 110.0lbs and my waist measurement decreased from 25 to 24 inches.

Not only did I come in leaner, stronger and more energetic than I had before but I actually enjoyed my prep. I had no problem cooking and baking for my three teenaged athletes while keeping up with my workload and maintaining a healthy social life.

Yes, there were days that I got a bit hungry and I went to bed earlier because I needed the rest, but there were no feelings of deprivation, moodiness, lethargy, or fogginess that often accompany competition dieting. More importantly, I never felt like I had to fight feelings of impulsive eating or wanting to cheat or binge because I felt nourished and satisfied with my food choices which honestly included whatever I wanted. I had lattes and Starbucks breakfast sandwiches when I wanted them, ate with my family most meals and was even able to enjoy a Dairy Queen dipped cone with my girls on the Wednesday before I competed.

I would say this was by far the best part of my competition experience this time around. Honestly, I was a bit of a miserable bitch during my first diet experience, to the point that I felt sorry for my family. I wouldn’t eat out, didn’t want to socialize, hated cooking or baking because I was too hungry to handle it and I had little control over my temper or emotions.

This time there really wasn’t a big impact – in fact, my 17 year-old daughter bragged to her coach that it seemed easy and she might want to do it someday. And we went to Cabo San Lucas for a week mid-prep with no big setbacks and had a total blast!

Here are a couple of the everyday meals I ate during prep (always plenty of colour and flavour when I’m cooking) and a pic of me in my size 25 jeans. Even though I wasn’t overly hungry, I think it’s safe to say I was pretty lean.

Shelley FoodShelley Jeans


For Everyone: There are a thousand and one ways to diet, but be wary of titles, fads, and buzzwords. Know what you are looking for and research your trainer. You want someone who is genuine and science-based and practices what they preach.

For Professionals: Please remember that people hire us to help them. They trust us to show them the way to achieve a healthy balance lifestyle and that can look different for every client. You have the power to transform their lives in profound ways – do not take this responsibility lightly.

The Training: Should It Really Still be Fun?

Upon receiving my first training program from Bret, I felt scared. Umm, seriously… that’s it? This can’t be right. The training volume was a fraction of what I was used to. I combed through the workouts over and over, convinced that some pages were missing or that I’d overlooked some detail. But nope, that was it. Four to six exercises per day, three to four days a week, plus 10 minutes of optional time at the end of each session.

What really took the coaching to the next level were the things Bret said and didn’t say to me. He talked about the mind muscle connection and striving to reach for PR’s every week, focus on form and getting a strong contraction where you are supposed to. Those simple instructions stuck with me though every workout.

No empty pump ups, meaningless explanations, or self-promoting words were ever spoken. When I needed support and encouragement, it was given, and there was praise for every deserved achievement.

Bret gave me a lot of freedom with my plan and trusted me to do the work I needed to do. I felt more like I was part of a special team than just another dollar sign. This inspired me more than any other method ever had.

The real magic was in the programming, of course. It seemed so simple, yet my glutes responded within weeks, and I could literally feel them developing higher and rounder than they had ever been before. And I don’t use the term “magic” lightly: at 41 years old, I didn’t know my body was still capable of responding in this way. I even continued to hit PR after PR throughout the first 10 weeks of my contest prep while in a caloric deficit. I looked forward to every workout and stayed injury-free – and that was just as important, if not more, to me as the final result. Throughout this prep, no feelings of inadequacy, weakness, or failure ever crossed my mind. What a concept!

Here is my rear view 2009 vs. 2015 (please forgive the picture quality):

Shelley Rear


For Everyone: More isn’t always better; it’s just more. Try not to get caught up with chasing fatigue or thinking that hours of cardio or two-hour lifting sessions are the answer. It doesn’t have to suck. We are only built to handle so much before we burn out or get injured. Hire a trainer that knows how to get the same results with the least amount of work possible so you can maintain it long term. Workouts should you make you feel better over time, not worse, so why kill yourself if you don’t have to?

For Professionals: It is our job to build confidence in our clients. Some respond well to the drill sergeant approach but others might need a bit of hand holding, independence, or encouragement to help them find their way. Try to be open to feedback to your clients and tailor your coaching style to the individual.

The Competition: It’s Not Really That Complicated

Prep week was almost anti-climactic compared to what I had done before.

At first, I was a bit disappointed that there was nothing drastic happening. No water loading, low calorie days, depletion workouts, or pre-comp fat load. Basically, it was just more food, less heavy training, and a little extra glute work.

But I didn’t realize until after the show how great this really was. The program was easy to follow, stress-free, and had little impact on my regular life. Show day was a breeze!

As I mingled backstage with the other competitors, I was once again appalled by their stories of dehydration, starvation, deprivation, and exhaustion. To hear that some trainers were cutting clients water on Wednesday for a Saturday show made me question the sanity of the trainer and client alike. I was saddened to learn that in the six years since I’d competed, little had changed in that respect.

Shelley Backstage

When my turn came to hit the stage, I was pumped, energetic, and ready to pose my head off – and that is exactly what I did.

Admittedly, I was scared, and the nerves of show day got to me temporarily as I scrutinized my physique. My prep was pretty easy – should I have suffered more? I asked myself. Should I have eaten less? Maybe done more cardio?

I got all worked up for nothing, apparently, because the judges liked what I brought to the stage! I was rewarded with a first place finish in Figure Masters, which qualified me for Provincials (where I placed 5th two weeks later as an all-natural athlete in an untested show, thus qualifying me for Nationals next summer).

Shelley Show

Throughout the process, I had some moments of doubt, but throughout it all I managed to keep my initial promise to Bret and stuck to the plan. I trusted my trainers and maintained a high level of commitment to the program, and they were right there with me every step of the way.

Bret and Sohee made this not just possible but enjoyable by giving me a joint program that suited my lifestyle in a healthy, well-balanced way. I went into the competition confident, energetic and excited thanks to smart, sane, science based coaching, and came out a winner.

Here’s a shot from the between show photo shoot, just me in my suit and heels chillin with a big ass rope, naturally.

(p.s. If you ever book a photo shoot, please remember to bring a change of clothes 😉 but hey, who cares… I mean look at that GLUTE!)

Shelley Rope


For Everyone: Competing requires consistent time and effort but it by no means has to suck. If you have the discipline and genetics to build muscle don’t let the horror stories hold you back.

For Professionals: Coaching a physique competitor requires unique skill, sensitivity, knowledge, and experience that isn’t covered in most certification courses. If you aren’t confident that you can provide your clients with a safe, healthy, and effective experience, please take a step back and invest the time into getting the experience and education you need.

The Aftermath: No Rebound, No Problem

After the show, while my fellow competitors were gorging on all the foods they could get their hands on at once, I was pretty disinterested. I enjoyed a nice meal and glass of wine out with my family and friends and was perfectly full and satisfied. Considering my other experiences with dieting, this was the most comforting feeling.

I am always conscientious of the fact that I am a role model for my athletic teenaged girls and my clients. I am also a huge advocate of leading by example so it very important to me to show them I was making smart, healthy choices throughout the entire process. I feel like we accomplished that and then some.

It has been a month now since I competed, and after a thoughtful week of reverse dieting, I had a discussion with Sohee about what nutrition approach was best for me during my off season. After a little bit of back and forth, we determined that, while some people fare better when diligently counting their macros year-round, moving away from strict macro tracking and instead wading the waters of intuitive eating would be in my best interest and help me maintain my happiness and mental sanity.

[See related: Should you track your macronutrient intake?]

Nowadays, I’m holding my weight easily at 115-116, which is a mere 5lbs from the weight I competed at. Though my look is softer, I’m still lean and athletic because I train consistently and moderate my nutrition intake. I’m perfectly happy right where I am without weighing or measuring a thing.

Within three weeks of competing, I was back setting lifetime PRs in the gym with endless energy and motivation to thrive in all areas of my life. I’m looking forward to competing in Nationals next year the exact same way!

And here is a shot of the most important reasons for staying healthy and well balanced: myself and my two beautiful daughters on Mother’s Day 2015.

Shelley Daughters


For Everyone: There are so many ways to diet, from simple portion control or macro dieting to repetitive or restrictive meal plans to extremely complicated and low carb diets, but at the end of the day we all show up lean and ready. The only difference is how much we enjoyed the process and whether or not we will rebound when we return to our regular lifestyle. Try not to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

For Professionals: It seems to me that a lot of coaches will get their competitors to the stage in shape by any means possible but some will ignore the rebound or forget to help them return to a normal diet and lifestyle. The fallout can be difficult, lonely, even disastrous for some. Please make sure you have a plan for your clients safe and healthy post competition experience.

Here are the real life before and after photos. No tan no filters… just a 42 year old mom in her underwear.

Shelley Underwear

How to Get an Amazing Workout With Just Your Partner for Resistance

This weekend, I visited my girlfriend Diana in Nogales – a tiny border town in Arizona. She’s in school right now doing her rotations, and I intended on training at an actual gym. However, the town’s only gym was already closed for the day, so the only option was to train at her home. We didn’t have any free weights or resistance bands, or even any chin/dip bars for that matter, so we had to either go with bodyweight exercises, or use each other for resistance. In my Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy book, I provide what I believe to be the best bodyweight exercises in existence.

However, I believe that all lifters, personal trainers, and strength coaches should have a firm grasp of training with every type of loading. Partner resisted training is highly effective, and it is very useful when traveling.

The particular workout featured in this article is best suited for stronger males with smaller partners. The Zercher koala bear and piggy back reverse lunge hammer the glutes and quads, the straddle single leg hip thrust hammers the glutes and hammies. The weighted push up hits the pecs, front delts, and tri’s. The straddle one arm row hits the upper back and bi’s. And the weighted RKC plank annihilates the abs. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of these exercises – they work incredibly well.

This guy probably won't be able to do these exercises...

This guy probably won’t be able to do these exercises…

I will film another workout down the road that strong women can do with their partners; the exercises are different but the workout is equally as effective.

Piggy Back Reverse Lunge


Set up like you’re going to give your partner a piggy back ride. Lean forward slightly (this increases glute activation by the way), step significantly far back into a deep lunge, then propel your body back into position. You can alternate legs, or hit all the reps with one leg before switching to the other leg.

Zercher Koala Bear Squat


I know, I know, this looks highly sexual. If this offends you, get over it and quit being such a prude. It’s actually one of my favorite squat variations for the glutes. She’s going to hug you like a koala bear, and you’re going to hold onto her legs as if you were doing a Zercher squat.

By the way, when I tested glute activation with all different types of standing squat variations, the Zercher variation ranked the highest. Some of my clients get higher glute activation from moderately-heavy goblet squats than heavy barbell squats. The Zercher koala bear squat feels like a combination between a goblet squat and a Zercher squat, and you feel tension on your glutes through most of the movement (unlike traditional barbell squats) if you do it right. Squat down deep, keeping the knees out, and as you rise upward, sort of thrust the hips forward as if doing a hip thrust.

Straddle Single Leg Hip Thrust


Yes, this appears highly sexual in nature as well, I get it. If it gets you and your partner all riled up, then great – maybe you can follow the resistance training session off with some “cardio.” But really it’s not that big of a deal…in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) we were constantly in this position with other dudes, so again, no need for prudes getting offended.

Have your partner straddle you. She needs to keep her feet off the ground so that you’re lifting her entire bodyweight. Make sure you keep your torso level and avoid hyperextending the spine. Tuck the chin slightly as this encourages posterior pelvic tilting, which equates to more glutes and less erectors. You can alternate legs, or hit all the reps with one leg before switching to the other leg.

If the single leg version is too hard, you can do double leg hip thrusts with a controlled tempo; this works well too (I included a few reps in the video of these done bilaterally). 

Weighted Push Up

push up

With the weighted push up, she needs to sit high up on your upper back so that the resistance is pushing straight down on the shoulders. Try to avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine or raising the shoulders faster than the hips, make sure you use a fairly full range of motion, and keep the arms at roughly a 45 degree angle relative to the torso (if looking from an aerial view from above).

Straddle One Arm Row


Straddle your partner’s torso and row her toward your body. The more upright you are, the more you’ll work your upper back, whereas the more horizontal you are, the more you’ll work your mid back and lats. I like trying to feel the row in my upper back as this region tends to get neglected in traditional S&C rowing movements, so I stay more upright (I don’t really have a choice as in order to get full ROM, I have to stay pretty upright, but I’ve stood on top of two tables and had Diana lay in between them so I could be more horizontal – this worked very well too). Make sure your partner tucks her chin – you can see in the first two reps of the video that I almost gave Diana a whiplash.

This exercise is pretty challenging for her too, as it’s very hard to maintain a solid grip onto the arm, especially if you’re sweaty. She’ll need to place her feet on a table and bridge up, and maintain this position throughout the set.

Weighted RKC Plank


Make sure your partner sits on your low back and places her feet on the back of your legs. This effectively loads the abdominals and obliques by placing a huge extensor moment onto the lumbar spine and anterior tilting moment onto the pelvis, which are countered by the aforementioned muscles.

If you slightly 1) tuck the chin, 2) round the upper back, 3) bend the knees, and 4) posteriorly tilt the pelvis, you’ll feel it in your glutes and abs to a much greater degree.

Here’s a video showing the movements in action:

I did this workout yesterday and my pecs and glutes are very sore today! I did:

2 x 8 with the piggy back reverse lunges
2 x 15 with the Zercher koala bear squats
2 x 8 with the straddle single leg hip thrusts
3 x 6 with the weighted push ups
3 sets of 8 with the straddle one arm rows, and
2 sets of 25 seconds with the weighted RKC planks

Your sets and reps will necessarily differ according to your strength and how much your partner weighs (Diana weighs around 120 lbs), so adjust accordingly. Please give this workout a try and let me know what you think.

Proper Hip Thrust Technique: Head and Neck Position

Bret’s Introduction

Ben Bruno is kind of a big deal. He’s known as one of the most innovative trainers in the fitness industry, and he’s provided useful information that is being put to use in gyms around the world. You may recall that he wrote THIS guest blog for my site 6 months ago which provided 12 tips for better hip thrusts. You also might remember Ben from the Evolution of the Hip Thrust blogpost, where Ben’s videos were featured numerous times. I’m going to give today’s article from Ben a thorough introduction as I believe that the advice contained within is very important.

For quite some time, I’ve been noticing that my best clients in terms of glute capacity tend to flex their necks during hip thrusts. I do it, Diana does it (see picture below…this picture was taken around a month ago during a set of hip thrusts), and several of my clients do it as well. Now, some of you who have been reading my blog for many years will recall that several years ago, I noticed that my best clients tended to round their upper backs during back extensions. However, it still took me time to realize that I should actually coach and cue the rounded thoracic spine approach when teaching back extensions (see HERE) for greater glute activation.

Diana hip thrusting - note the head/neck position which prevents overarching of the spine and encourages slight posterior pelvic tilt.

Diana hip thrusting – note the head/neck position which prevents overarching of the spine and encourages slight posterior pelvic tilt.

Along the same lines, before last week, I hadn’t yet thought of coaching and cueing a flexed head and neck position during hip thrusts. When Ben called me last week to discuss the epiphany he had for this article, I immediately began utilizing it more with my clients with great success. I should mention that I have found that I’m even more lenient than Ben in terms of the amount of neck flexion I’m okay with – Ben prefers slight flexion, but I prefer moderate flexion.

This flies in the face of how many coaches teach the hip thrust – with neutral spine and neutral head/neck, but I think we modeled this off of squats and deadlifts, where high erector spinae activation is vital, and which likely doesn’t apply to hip thrusts. Please give it a try, as I’ve found that it works very well with the majority clients. That said, some folks who experience neck pain when moving into flexion or those with individuals with pronounced kyphosis are better off sticking to neutral. 

Proper Hip Thrust Technique: Head and Neck Position
By: Ben Bruno

I love hip thrusts and use them with just about all of my clients, men and women alike.

For men it’s generally more of a secondary exercise that I use later in the workout after squats, deadlifts, and single leg work, or on days where I want to give the spine a break from heavy loading but still want to achieve a training effect for the posterior chain. The being said, we still focus on progressive overload.

For many of the women I train though, it’s actually my primary lower body exercise. Most of the girls I train want to improve their glutes without building up their thighs, and for that goal I think the hip thrust fits the bill better than any other lower body exercise. As such, I treat it as a primary exercise and do it first in the workout and then follow them up with squats, deadlifts, and single leg work as secondary exercises.

What I like most about hip thrusts is how “user-friendly” they are.

I define user-friendly by several criteria:

  1. Safe: I’ve never seen or even heard of anyone getting hurt from hip thrusts.
  2. Quick learning curve: Most clients pick up hip thrusts very quickly and there’s generally a very steep learning curve, meaning they can pick up the movement quickly and start to get a training effect right away.
  3. Fits many different body types: A lot of clients just aren’t built to squat well and find a continual uphill battle to do so with good form. The same goes for deadlifting, as a lot of folks have an extremely hard time deadlifting from the floor with a neutral spine despite lots of practice and mobility work. Hip thrusts on the other hand seem to work for just about any body type with slight form and setup manipulations.

That being said, while people generally pick up hip thrusts very quickly, there’s one issue/mistake that I see a lot of people make both when they’re first starting out and as they get stronger and strive to use heavier weights, and that’s arching the lower back too much and going into anterior pelvic tilt as they thrust up. (See related post: Quit Going So Darn Heavy on Hip Thrusts: Train Your Glutes, Not Your Ego)

This is usually well-intentioned as it comes from trying to get full hip extension and a complete range of motion, but overarching is both potentially dangerous to the lower back and also ineffective for training the glutes, as you want the stress on the glutes and off the lower back as much as possible. To work the glutes optimally in the hip thrust, I think you want to maintain a neutral spine or even a slight posterior pelvic tilt.

That being said, I don’t like to instruct my clients to posteriorly tilt the pelvis as they end up doing it excessively, which I also don’t think it optimal.

So the challenge then becomes: how to achieve the ideal spine position in the simplest way possible?

I’ve found that while the problem is occurring in the lower back and pelvis, the answer actually lies in the head positioning, and more specifically, the eyes.

Most people tend to crank their head and neck back as the thrust, presumably to help gain momentum to lift more weight. What’s more, a lot of people keep their heads cranked back even as they lower their hips, so their butts are on the floor while their necks are overly extended and their eyes are focused on the ceiling or even the wall behind them.


Hyperextension: Bad

This position clearly puts a lot of undue strain on the neck, but it also sets you up to go into excessive lumbar extension and anterior pelvic tilt.

As a coach I think it’s a good idea to keeping your cueing as simple as possible, so I’ve found that rather than explain the spinal biomechanics of the hip thrust to clients, which will just confuse them and cause them to overcompensate the other way, I just tell them where to look, and the head position ends up cleaning the positioning of the pelvis and lower back on its own. (Bret’s Note: Don’t bust THIS detailed explanation out on lumbopelvic hip complex biomechanics during hip thrusting when training a client, just tell them where to look like Ben says).

The instructions are simple. At the bottom position of the hip thrust when your butt on or just above the floor, you should be looking at the wall directly in front of you, which makes for a neutral neck position. And you should return this position on each rep.

Starting Position

Starting and Ending Position

At the top position, focus on where the wall meets the ceiling. Doing so will again create a neutral neck position, or even very slightly flexed. As long as the neck isn’t flexed excessively you should be fine.


Slight Flexion: Good

Moderate Flexion: Good

Moderate Flexion: Good

It’s important to note that while some neck flexion is fine at the top, you don’t want to overdo. A little moderation goes a long way. Here is an example of what you don’t want to do.

Hyperflexion: Bad

Hyperflexion: Bad

It’s really that simple. I’ve noticed that altering the line of sight and the head position cleans up the movement pretty much instantaneously and gets clients into the right positioning without the need for confusing and complicated cueing.

Also, I used to instruct clients to strive for a straight line from the head to the knees at the top position of the hip thrust to encourage a full range of motion and complete hip extension, but I think the cue can be confusing to some folks and lead to excessive arching and anterior pelvic tilt. So now I made a slight adjustment and cue a straight line from the shoulders to the knees (while focusing the eyes where the wall meets the ceiling), and that’s helped tremendously as well.

I think these slight modifications will really help and lead to better and safer hip thrusts for you and/or your clients.


Ben is a personal trainer in Los Angeles and publishes a blog and free newsletter at

You can connect with him on social media as well.




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Bret’s Conclusion

Something interesting that I noticed when viewing the pics embedded in this article. I wasn’t focused on my trunk position, just my head/neck position. But you can see in the pictures that spinal posture follows head/neck posture. In the hyperextended neck picture, the spine is hyperextended, and the more flexed the neck gets, the less extension you see in the spine…in fact the last picture you see spinal flexion with ample posterior pelvic tilt.

In the future, I need to conduct a study to examine the effects on head/neck position on 1) spine posture, 2) pelvic posture, 3) gluteus maximus activation, 4) erector spinae activation, and 5) hamstring activation. In the meantime, simply use the tips Ben provided and cue/think of eye gaze direction, as that solves the problem most of the time. So simple!

I’ll end this blogpost with screenshots of my clients doing hip thrusts and some pics I found off of the Internet. Note the natural tendency for neck flexion along with the lack of spinal extension, which is what we want. This way the glutes push the hip up instead of a global extension from shoulders to knees. In fact, when reviewing videos, I noticed that the only time my head goes back into extension (along with that of my client Ciji and some others who are prone to hyperextending their spines) is on the last rep of a challenging set when I can no longer maintain proper lumbopelvic position. That is very important to note!

Bret - neck flexion

Bret – neck flexion

Booty Queen Amanda Kuclo (Latona) - neck flexion

Booty Queen Amanda Kuclo (Latona) – neck flexion


Gaby – neck flexion


Sohee – neck flexion


Mary – neck flexion


Camille – neck flexion


BJ Gaddour – neck flexion

Random Internet woman - neck flexion

Random Internet woman – neck flexion