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. 

Hip Thruster barbell band

The Hip Thruster is the best way to do the hip thrust – stable and versatile!

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.

2-Hyperextension

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.

3-Neutralish

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.

Bio

Ben is a personal trainer in Los Angeles and publishes a blog and free newsletter at http://www.benbruno.com.

You can connect with him on social media as well.

Instagram:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/benbruno1

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

You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/bruno082985

Ben-Bruno

A Typical Day in the Life of Ben

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

Gaby – neck flexion

Sohee

Sohee – neck flexion

Mary

Mary – neck flexion

Camille

Camille – neck flexion

BJ

BJ Gaddour – neck flexion

Random Internet woman - neck flexion

Random Internet woman – neck flexion

 

39 Comments

  • Maleah says:

    Oh good! I’ve been naturally doing this since I started and have been working on staying neutral! Glad I read this. 🙂

  • kellie says:

    Bret, sometimes I notice when I’m doing these thrusts that I end up on my heels. I was looking at people’s feet in this article as well. is that bad for thrusting?

    • Bret says:

      Kellie, you can either push through the entire foot, or dorsiflex and push through your heels (pick toes off ground). You’re doing the latter so that’s fine. Just don’t push through or rise up onto toes.

  • Candace says:

    Random internet woman is Massy Arias aka @MankoFit 😉 Never seen it done on that machine before… I do prefer the bench, but good to know that’s another option.

    • Bret says:

      Good call Candace! I found the clip: https://instagram.com/p/tElgc0rqKK
      Great form…serious posterior pelvic tilt. But she rips on barbells so she’s not getting a follow out of me LOL. How do all of these people have > 1 million followers?! My measly 31K followers doesn’t look so impressive haha.

  • Emma says:

    The random internet woman looks like Massiel Arias

  • Victoria says:

    I was thinking about a tip to instruct the neck position and I came with a tennis ball… We could imagine that we have to keep still a tennis ball with our chin, but softly without pressing the ball so we wouldn’t force the neck down too much.

    Another thing was to not lose sight of the barbell or the band while we’re doing the exercise -it wouldn’t be neccessary to look at it directly all the time, only keep an eye on it to mantain the head posture. That’s how I’ve been doing it without noticing, glad to see that it’s not a bad thing.

  • Ethan Keane says:

    This blog has been very helpful to me as I have never done hip thrusts before, and as I am a brand new coach/PT, and soon to be working at a gym purely for PT/coaching, much like your garage gym Bret. This is great as my manager (owner of the gym) has asked me to go away and research this, and also go away and practice this myself. So I can now go back to him feeling confident with how to properly perform and cue hip thrusts. Although one thing I did want to ask you Bret, was the importance of the positioning of the feet in this exercise as I’ve seen a post on it before and how having them in the wrong position will focus more on the quads/hamstrings, rather than the main aim of the exercise which is the glutes. What is the correct way to position your feet in this exercise? Thanks

    • Bret says:

      Ethan, I like the tibias to be vertical when at the top of the movement, so knees should form 90 degree angle at the top. Feet can be shoulder width and straight, or wider with slight foot flare. Ask the client if they have a preference; most prefer slightly wider with flare. Push through heels and either remain flat on ground or rise toes into air in dorsiflexion.

  • chad says:

    Hey Brett, im just curious – how did the deal with Miley Cyrus go? Some guy who said he was friends with Mileys keyboard player said he wanted to contact you through email. Did it work out?

  • Natcha says:

    Bret and Ben, meet the first person who has gotten hurt from hip thrust. (That would be me.)
    I was at the top of the thrust, and somehow let go of my muscles (I don’t know which) in the wrong order and then I started feeling a pull in my lower back and connective tissues around there. I had to stop doing glute exercises for a week. To this day I still don’t know what I did wrong (and I’m not clueless about exercises either). I just gotta respect the hip thrusts a little more. I love the exercise, though.

    Also, glad to know that flexing my neck is okay. I’m learning to use submaximal loads and more isometric holds at the top so I can do it without that neck flexion because it really messes up my jaw muscles that got released by TENS from my TMJ treatments (Painful!). But being able to thrust really heavy is just outright glorious and fun. I am disallowed from full-on heavy deadlifts right now so hipthrusting is a glutesaver in the meanwhile.

    • Bret says:

      Hmmm, I wonder if you hyperextended your lumbar spine Natcha. You should be fine if you stay in neutral, but it could also be from fatigue/insufficient recovery. So it’s good that you’re paying close attention and learning, that’s what the iron game is all about.

  • Victoria T says:

    I was one of the culprits who hyperextended when doing hip thrusts. After reading this article, I focused on staying in a slightly flexed neck position. Can I just say, wow! Complete turn around; I was pushing more, I felt it more in my glutes, and I felt like the motion was more controlled.
    Thank you for saving me!

  • Cassye says:

    Thank you Bret, I am so glad you posted this because I’ve been wanting to ask about neck injury/strain relating to hip thrusts. I personally hit a PR this past winter and then acquired a mysterious neck ‘injury’ shortly after. I’ve never felt neck strain in the moment, but being 46 I sometimes don’t feel injuries until well after I’ve inflicted them. Ben mentions how safe this exercise is, but I have noticed that clients like me, with long, straight necks can feel some strain and need neck support during the lift. Here is an example of my form on my heaviest lift. Sorry the angle isn’t optimal, but I can see a decent amount of flexion. Any insight is greatly appreciated! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmDMKQrOdaw

    • Bret says:

      Hi Cassye, I’ve had a couple of clients feel neck strain with hip thrusts, and I’ve employed 2 different strategies to help:
      1. Put an Airex balance pad behind their head and have them rest their head on the pad. The problem with this method is that it usually places them into neck hyperextension at the bottom of the lift. So if you have towels and other padding to help beef up the support behind the head, it’s better.
      2. Strengthen the neck muscles. When I started training my mom, her neck was so weak she could hardly do floor exercises. I had her do 10 neck extensions and 10 neck flexions for 2 weeks each day. Then I bumped it up to 15, then 20, then 25, then 30. Eventually her neck had sufficient strength and stamina to endure sets of hip thrusts or other exercises.
      Hope that helps!

      • Cassye says:

        The foam roll works great behind the neck, so long as I hold it for the client. I’ll begin adding the neck moves into my own program once I’m better healed. I really appreciate your taking the time to reply!

  • Hi Bret! I am currently doing Gluteal Goddess for advanced lifters. ( LOVE). My questions is how do you know whether or not you need to lose weight or not? I am 32 years old, 5’6″, and 128 lbs. Some women my height weigh closer to low 120’s, so I have for the past 6 months been trying to see if I should cut or maintain? I have a lot of cellulite on my butt, but up top I’m so lean I have vascularity in my arms and even shoulders during a pump. Would you recommend maintaining and recomping based on my #’s or doing a short cut?

    • Bret says:

      Rachael, I think 5’6″ and 128 lbs is perfect. I recommend staying there and eating at a maintenance while building up your strength. Over 6 months, if you gain a ton of strength on all the main lifts, you will gain muscle, lose fat, lean out, improve your shape, and your cellulite won’t be as noticeable. It’s common for women to have lean upper bodies and still carry lots of fat on their thighs/hips.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Rachael!

      I am so glad to find your post! I am also 32 years old and 5’6” and based my training program on “strong curves” for last 18 months. I do not look bulky at all but still i gained a lot of muscle in my lower half (which was my objetive). So guess what I have started at 128 lbs and now i weight 152. This sounds a lot! But i have diminished my cellulite notoriously and gained some curves, though i still have with to do… So based on my experience it is more important to reach your goals visually then based on your weight. If you are not comfortable with your body fat % on your lower half adding some cardio and clean diet can help you to eventually reach your goal. But depending on genetics as in my case (i also tend to store fat in my thighs while getting more lean faster on top) it can take time! You can monitor your progress with caliper measurements made only on your thighs skinfold as this is the problemático area.

    • Cassye says:

      Hey Rachael, at 5’5″, I weigh about the same as you and tend to be lean on top, but carry my extra groceries in my lower half too. In the past I was never able to balance my upper and lower body. I’d have to hit the cardio hard and really reduce my intake to get lean on the bottom – but then my top half would get too stringy. Bret’s right. If you keep training for strength, the body composition will naturally work itself out. I look my best when I’m working lower/glutes 3x per week, eating well with minimal cardio. My hams and glutes have never been as developed as when I was hip thrusting my heaviest. The biggest logs on the fire burn the hottest, so keep training and know that it will all pay off!

  • Esther says:

    This is excellent. I have been hip thrusting for three months now (thanks to you) and have experienced (finally!) glute and hamstring activation for my glutes. The best part of this article, for me, was the explanation of the site lines. Specifically, where to set your eyes for appropriate form: looking at the wall directly in front of you then looking at place where the wall meets the ceiling. I need the same “site cues” for squats and was wondering if you could give me site cues for squats as well.

    • Bret says:

      Squats…sit back (unless doing full squats, then you sit down in between the legs), knees out, push through heels, chest up (unless prone to hyperextension of spine), squeeze glutes, etc. Just depends as cues are tailored to the individual’s issues.

  • Nancy Anne Martin says:

    Thank you! I kept thinking neutral was best. This will probably help with my neck issues when doing this.

  • victoria says:

    Hi Bret, Thank you so much, this is a great article, very helpful. I can’t wait to try it tomorrow. I wanted to know, does this apply to elevated feet hip thrusts as well? When I do it this way I leave my neck in neutral position.

  • Jason B says:

    Hi Brett, I’m a big of your posts and I use hip thrusts with a lot of my clients and find that spine position is key; this article is very helpful! I have a strange inquiry though: do you think there may be a link between lat contraction and optimal activation of the glutes? I ask because flaring of the lats can also encourage the slight to moderate thoracic flexion that the neck flexion accomplishes…though focusing on the eyes is a far superior cue. I just find it interesting that the muscles of dynamic propulsion and locomotion may be linked.

    • Bret says:

      Jason, a few years ago Sparta Science made a hip thrust video and they used an underhand grip with lat contraction. I tried this and didn’t care for it, but several of my clients prefer it. So I think it depends on the individual. On a side note, I don’t feel my lats helping my bench, squat, or deadlift either, so maybe I’m just different anatomically (or doing it all wrong LOL).

  • Jenni says:

    Thank you Bret! I love your blog! I have queston about belted training, i havent seen you written about it? What you think about that if im able to do hip thrust without any pain anywhere with 80kg or so and need belt with over 110kg or so, is it unnecessery to do it with that much weight with belt of should i stick ONLY with lower weight not to any lower reps? Thank you so much if you could help me and sorry about my english!

    • Bret says:

      Jenni, you should have back pain when hip thrusting…try the American hip thrust method and make sure you’re posteriorly pelvic tilting. No belts with hip thrusts. Belts for top sets of squats and deads though, yes.

  • Rob Palmer says:

    When I interned at Cressey Sports Performance last summer, I coached many clients who had never performed a hip thrust before. I noticed the same thing: if someone was performing the hip thrust with a hyperextended cervical spine, then they often (and seemingly always) had a hyperextended lumbar spine and anterior pelvic tilt. In addition, cuing them to keep a more neutral cervical alignment often corrected the lumbar and pelvic alignment. I still don’t understand why it’s the case that neck position influences the lumbar and pelvic alignment the way it does, however, and what it might signify.

    I may have noticed the same thing occurring in pull-throughs, too, in that people tend to be in slight cervical flexion at lockout.

    Unrelated to the above, Bret, I’ve been wondering whether or not the hip thrust is an appropriate exercise for someone who has tight rectus femorises. Since the hip thrust lengthens the rectus femoris from both ends, it seems like these people might have difficult achieving hip extension. It seems like the pull-through might be a better option (at least for beginner and intermediate lifters because advanced lifters might not be able to load heavy enough with a pull-through) until they improve their hip extension range of motion. (Once the person can achieve full hip extension, then it seems like they could progress to doing the hip thrust.) Do you have an opinion on that or have any experience dealing with people who present with a significant limitation in hip extension?

    • Bret says:

      Yep Rob, I’ve noticed the same with pull-throughs. Dr. Stu McGill pointed out to me years ago that the hip thrust is actually an excellent active stretch for the rec fems, so I believe it’s even better than the pull through for this purpose for the exact reasons you were against…because it lengthens them from hips and knees (and pelvis if PPT at top).

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Late to the party! But I’ve seen this movie before. Wait a tick.

      Here’s where I was exposed to it. Strength Sensei.com. Awesome, right?

      http://www.strengthsensei.com/as-strong-as-your-weakest-pattern/

      When I read this last year, I found it illuminating and brilliant, an accurate common denominator of spinal bracing movement problems, both into extension and flexion.

      The tonic labyrinthine reflex.

      Or as I process it: the neck and lumbar co-contract in both directions, and its a primal movement pattern. Can it be coached out? Probably. Or why not just take advantage of it, and incorporate it?

      It works.

      Guy like me? Extension, hard arch? Hurts. Hurt myself squatting over and over due to the mantra, arch, arch, arch….Arch harder.

      Yes I hurt my back hip thrusting. My glutes were powerful. My lumbar couldn’t control the runaway extension without abs. My abs fired better with some neck flexion.

      For this reason, I posit that strong glutes outside of a necessary strong abdominal force to stabilize the spine might end up causing low back pain, no different than imbalance with the hip flexors on the other side. If the femur is going to swing in either direction, you better have a counterforce to control the spine.

  • Sama says:

    Hey bret,
    i find that when doing hip thrusts my knees tend to hurt. do you have any idea what i could be doing wrong and what i can do to fix it, thanks!

  • INIGO says:

    Does ankle dorsiflexion produce more glute activation or is there no difference with a flat ankle position?

    thanks!

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