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A Better Way to Teach Barbell Glute Bridges and Back Extensions

Last week, I wrote an article titled, Why Do I Anterior Pelvic Tilt?  It discussed the reasons why lifters rotate their pelvises anteriorly during hip extension exercise (or core stability exercises requiring anti-extension lumbar strength and stability). While weak abdominals can be a culprit, when it comes to hip extension exercises, usually weak gluteals are to blame. I mentioned several exercises that can help improve pelvic posture during heavy resistance training, including the hip thrust, American deadlift, and RKC plank.

It’s important that you perform the exercises properly. Doing them improperly will not help correct excessive anterior pelvic tilt during exercise, but doing them with good form will indeed. Two other exercises that can help with strengthening the glutes at end-range hip extension and with the posterior pelvic tilting mechanism are the barbell glute bridge and the back extension.

Lately I’ve been teaching these exercises differently. Do not let the lumbar position fool you – you’re taking the back out of the equation here and focusing on hip motion. More specifically, you’re silencing the erectors and making the glutes (and hamstrings) do the work. Having experimented with this on clients, I now believe that teaching the exercises in the manner I show below yields the quickest results.

If you perform the movements for 1-2 months according to how I demonstrate in the videos below, it will most likely change the way your lumbopelvic-hip complex functions for the better. Your glutes will strengthen, you will learn to not over-rely on the hamstrings, your erectors will learn to chill out, and you will start to feel the glutes pushing the hips upward in a glute bridge and erecting the torso in a back extension. Equally as important, you won’t feel your back doing the work – it’ll be all hips!

Okay, without further adieu, here are the two instructional videos:

Description: These days, when I teach people how to bb glute bridge, I have them posterior pelvic tilt and flatten out their lumbar spine. This prevents anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar hyperextension, it shuts down erectors and forces all of the burden onto the hip extensors (primarily glutes). Give it a try for a month or two and then resume normal bridging form, you’ll use more pure hip extension without accompanying pelvic or lumbar motion.

Description: I realize that this is not going to look as functional, but just trust me on this one. By rounding the spine and posteriorly tilting the pelvis, you take the erectors out of play so that the glutes and hamstrings perform the movement. You want to pure hip extension with some posterior pelvic tilt when you do back extensions, NOT anterior pelvic tilt. The vast majority of individuals do these with excessive anterior pelvic tilt which involves too much erector and hamstring activity and not enough glute activity. Do back extensions this way for a month or two and then resume normal back extension form – it will cure excessive APT and strengthen the glutes so you can do the movement properly.

Give these a try for 1-2 months and then go back to normal form. I suspect that your mechanics will greatly improve and you’ll be relying on glutes for terminal hip extension with no compensatory pelvic motion, thereby protecting the spine. Shout out to Dr. Conrad Stalheim who gave me the idea in THIS guest post.

When you perform barbell glute bridges and back extensions properly, you feel the glutes doing all the work. Most feel erectors and hammies because their glutes aren’t strong. But when they’re strong, you rely on them, and you feel them big time!

It's all about the glutes!

It’s all about the glutes! Figure Competitor Marissa Rivero

41 Comments

  • Sam says:

    If the goal is to maximize erector activity and strengthen the lower back musculature you should still do the back extensions with “normal form” correct ?

    • Bret says:

      If trying to maximize erector activity, you’d want to anteriorly tilt the pelvis and hyperextend the lumbar spine as you perform them.

  • Neal W. says:

    I’ve already been teaching BB glute bridges this way. Does that mean I am as smart as you? 🙂

  • I love that you end your very informative and well researched blog posts with random pictures of hot chicks. The contrast always amuses me (and makes me want to go do hip thrusts).

  • marci says:

    Bret, is it ok to continue to perform the exercises in this manner even after the 1-2 month initiation period? Ive seen you talk about this in the past, therefore Ive been exclusively performing my back extensions, and my bridges and hip thrusts for the most part, like youve described for months now. I definitely feel it more in my glutes, so can I keep doing it this way, or is it important to switch back?

  • Stacy says:

    Hi Bret – I have been struggling with hip pain and sciatica for three years. Your blog has gotten me as close to pain free as I have been during all of that time. Strengthening my glutes has been more helpful than – chiro visits, PT visits, sports medicine doctor visits, Pilates and yoga. However, I still feel adductor tightness and hips feel off balance. I have recently read about anterior femoral glide syndrome and think that may be what I have. Apparently then, stretching my hip flexors and adductors is making the problem worse. Do you think that working on PPT alone can help rectify this syndrome? Have looked tirelessly on the Internet for an article where you address this syndrome. Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again for all that you do and for providing so much helpful information!

    • Bret says:

      Yes Stacy, I believe that strengthening PPT and end-range hip extension (as shown in this article) can dramatically help with Anterior Femoral Glide Syndrome – in fact I think it’s the best possible solution based on biomechanics. Stay positive, I’m sure you’ll continue to feel better as you keep training.

  • Andrew says:

    Doing glute bridges like that is how they are taught in pilates classes. I’m a powerlifter but going to a few pilates classes really opened my mind to how to use my core better.

    • SteveD says:

      As a Pilates instructor, I second that observation. At my studio we call them plank bridges (as opposed to arched bridges), and I cue to rotate the pelvis in a posterior direction first, then deeply engage the glutes, draw the deep and superficial abs in toward the spine and push through the heels.

  • martina says:

    Hi Bret, thanks for another great post! I’ve been working out for years, but I just see real results since I am aquiring (and usung!) the knowledge that u share on your books, articles and posts. I’ve noticed that most (if any!) trainers do know how to train on some female curves over here in Europe. Would be great so spread out your “good news” to the ladies here! I try, but people still look kind of strange at me when hip thrusting or glute bridging heavily…

  • Yeah that’s my picture ur using! Lol thank you 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Nice work Marissa!!! Your body is amazing – I can tell you’ve worked very hard. Good to know your name – I saw this picture and was blown away but couldn’t figure out who the person was. I actually received several emails from people asking who the lady in the picture was. Now I can tell them who. Keep up the great work! I’ll put a caption on the pic with your name, now that I know.

  • CAPSLOCK HUSTLA says:

    IT’S “WITHOUT FURTHER ADO”, YOU CRAZY KID.

  • Nick McCray says:

    Thanks for this post Bret! It served as a great reminder to me to keep tabs on my potential errors in form. You would use the same que’s for hip thrusts as well, right? I think so but figured I’d go ahead and make sure haha.

  • Strini says:

    Thanks for the post.

  • Ulyana says:

    Cool! I’ve already figured out myself, that the use of PPT during Glute Bridges produces less lower back strain, I also saw Marianne Kane doing this in some video.
    Question: what about Hip Thrusts? Does the same rule apply here?

  • Polina says:

    Hi Bret,
    I have a question about the position of the wrists during hip thrust snd glute bridges.
    I feel that my wrists fatigue during the set from holding the barbell to prevent it from moving . Is it normal? (maybe I overextend the wrsits too much?)

    • Bret says:

      I’ve actually heard of this before by a Get Glutes member. Nobody I’ve trained has experienced this though. I think you’re probably hyperextending them. Use the glutes to push the hips straight up, keep the load centered right over the hips, hold the bar with neutral wrist position. This should help.

  • Eric Moss says:

    You’re looking like the white Mr. T here 🙂

    “I pity the fool with the weak glutes”

  • Graeme says:

    Bret,

    I had a microdiscetomy on my L5S1 last year. I have implemented BB Glute Bridge in the last 6 months. Do you think this version will be safe for me? Cheers

    • Bret says:

      Graeme – not sure. Try it and see how it feels. If it feels dodgy, don’t do it. If it feels right, stick with it. There’s nothing wrong with just doing these the traditional way with a neutral spine/pelvis – that’s probably the safest way. But by doing it this way, in PPT, it forces people to use glutes so they can’t compensate. Best of luck!

  • Arturo says:

    Bret,

    Two questions: one, why don’t you start calling that second excercise “Hip Extension” instead of “Back Extension”? 🙂 It only makes sense in my view.

    And two: during this Hip Extension, do you feel there is a difference between locking the Quads hard vs. keeping them somewhat relaxed? I find if I contract the quads hard, it causes the hamstrings to aid a little less in the movement, and more glute is used. Of course, this is just what I “feel” but I could be wrong, hence my question to you 🙂

    • Bret says:

      I agree but I’ve called them back extensions for so long that it doesn’t feel right switching over. Agree that contracting quads harder will diminish hamstring contribution (and vice versa).

  • Mike says:

    I have been cuing my clients to scoop their tailbone under them as they elevate, it seems to help them understand the motion..

  • dani says:

    Hi Bret,

    It appears that you’re in a bit of turnout at the legs/feet in the glute bridge video. I was wondering if you do this intentionally and if it activates more glute or if it’s just personal preference/anatomy?

    Thanks! Love your humility and gentile manner.

    • Bret says:

      Just personal preference. In testing EMG, some experience increased glute activation when they widen stance and flare feet. In fact some get huge increases, but others don’t. So it’s an individual thing – try it and see what feels best for you. Many like a narrower stance with feet pointed straight ahead.

  • Zeke says:

    Do you use slower concentric actions like 2-4 secs or do you mainly focus on eccentric control?

  • Andree says:

    Hey Bret what qould happen if the bar is over the hips i mean in top the upper abs, and if i do the bridges this way. Do u ever try them this way? It would be another great variation. I guess.

  • Martin says:

    Hey Bret.. I Love the information you are sharing!

    My question is.. Are there any specific glute bridge or hip thrust you should start out with ?

    I have anterior pelvic tilt and it messes with my lower back and knee.. And when I do glute bridges with both legson the ground, its really easy to just use the glutes and get a good form as you teach..

    But when I do one legged glute bridges, and resting my upper body on the edge of the bed, I somehow find that my hamstring gets tired and not my glute musles..

    I must mention, that i do have pretty well developed glutes, from childhood running and sprinting..

  • Jen says:

    Spelling error: should be ‘ado’, as in fuss, not ‘adieu’, as in goodbye. (Apologies, I am a compulsive editor, I wish I could just fix people’s pages for them anonymously and without comment. Feel free to delete this comment…after you’ve fixed the spelling!)

  • Giada says:

    Hey Bret,

    I was wondering if there is any big difference in building the glutes if I do a barbell glute bridge or a barbell hip thrust?

    I saw the video where you explained how to properly hip thrust (looking forward, so your chin tucks in and you’re spine stays straight and your back doesn’t overextend) Does this rule also applies on the barbell Glute Bridge, should I tuck my chin on my chest?

    Furthermore I have the feeling that I have problems to keep the pelvis tilted in the whole range of motion. When I position myself like you instructed with flat back and pelvic slightly tilted and then make the movement, it feels that on the way down I almost stop to keep the pelvis tilted and if I would just keep the weight in the air and don’t make the reset in between, that I am not staying in the pelvic tilting…

    What do I do wrong?

    Thanks, Giada

  • Lamond Middleton says:

    How much should someone be able hip thrust

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