ABC: What Should I Do if I Only Feel Hip Thrusts in My Quads?

Hi Bret, I’ve been following your blog for a while, and it’s filled with great information on glute training. I dig the whole hip thrust thing, but to be honest I’m just not feeling them! I’ve been performing hip thrusts for two months now, and I feel them mostly in my quads, not in my glutes at all. Am I doing something wrong? I look forward to your response. – Dan

Hello Dan! Great question, and I’m glad you asked this for three reasons. First, I addressed Hamstring Dominance (read this if you haven’t already) seven months ago, so it’s about time I address Quad Dominance. Second, there are a lot of people who find themselves in this situation, so it’s an important question. And third, I just recently figured out an excellent solution. Here you go:

1. Do Feet-Elevated Bridging While Pushing Through the Heels (Heel Elevated Glute Bridge)

Some trainers/coaches out there who figured this out long ago will laugh at me for this (being that I’m The Glute Guy and all), but I just recently realized the value of heel-elevated bridging. These were very popular long before I came around. My EMG research showed that shoulder-elevation was better for glute activity, which makes sense as at the top of the lift, the hips are holding up a greater percentage of bodyweight due to the angle of the body (similar to a feet-elevated push-up versus a torso-elevated push-up).

But there are many lifters who feel hip thrusts mostly in their quads. The shoulder-elevation greatly increases quadriceps activation. As a matter of fact, here’s a chart showing mean and peak EMG data from an experiment I conducted a few years back with hip thrusts versus barbell glute bridges:

With 90 less pounds, the hip thrust still activated 35% more mean quad and 75% more peak quad.

With the heel-elevated variation, you’re taking the quads out of the lift for the most part, in addition to increasing the functionality of the hamstrings. In this variation, the hammies have to function as isometric knee flexors to prevent knee extension, in addition to extending the hips in concert with the gluteus maximus. And this knee-flexion component is even more pronounced when you push through the heels (rather than placing your feet on the edge of the bench and pushing through the forefeet) as shown in the video below.

Moreover, since the top range is more unloaded for the hips compared to the shoulder-elevated version, the motor control aspect is easier for the glutes. In other words, it’s easier to control glute functionality with lighter loading since compensation patterns are less likely to emerge. Lifters who struggle to squeeze the glutes at end-range or who struggle to engage in a slight posterior pelvic tilt will find it easier in this variation compared to the shoulder-elevated variation.

This is Diana; a quad-dominant hip thruster. She feels hip thrusts mainly in her quads, and it isn’t until the very end of the set where she actually feels the glutes doing anything. She’s able to hip thrust 155 x 20 reps, but she doesn’t feel the burn in her glutes or get a glute cramp or glute pump when doing them.

Compare that to the heel-elevated glute bridge. She cramps up and is burning like crazy with only 30 bodyweight repetitions. She feel her hammies doing around 30% and her glutes doing around 70% of the lift, but more importantly, she feels the quads doing 0% (nothing).

Therefore, she gets more out of 30 bodyweight heel-elevated glute bridges than she does with 20 barbell hip thrusts with 155 pounds of external loading.

This variation should initially be prescribed to all lifters who feel hip thrusts mostly in their quads.

2. Don’t Go Up in Weight So Fast

Many lifters see my Youtube videos and then rush their hip thrust progression. They might watch one of my female clients busting out 225 pounds and then jump right into heavy barbell loading. What they don’t realize is that it might have taken me 6 months of consistent progressive training to help them reach that point.

Make sure you feel it in the glutes, and progress gradually, making sure to never lose that glute connection.

4. Consider the Barbell Glute Bridge, or a Hip Thrust from a Shorter Box

The less shoulder elevation, the less quad activation. So barbell glute bridges, or hip thrusts off of a smaller box (like an aerobics step with 2-4 risers) will help keep quad activation at bay.

5. Toy Around with Different Positions: Try Widening the Stance, Turning the Feet Out, Dorsiflexing the Ankles, and/or Posteriorly Tilting the Pelvis

You may benefit from tinkering with form which might put your glutes in a more advantageous position to fire maximally. Some folks benefit from slightly widening their stance, some folks benefit from turning their feet out slightly. Some folks benefit from picking the toes off the ground (ankle dorsiflexion) and pushing through the heels, but this probably won’t help much with the hip thrust as much as it might in a glute bridge. Finally, some folks benefit from posteriorly tilting the pelvis at the top of the lift (see this link for a good explanation of PPT). Try these techniques and see if you like any of them.

6. Static Stretch the Hip Flexors First

If your hip flexors are tight, stretch them first so you can reach end range hip extension and get into the zone of maximal glute activation. Many people have tight hip flexors, but not all people do. Stretch the psoas and the rectus femoris (2 different types of stretches) if need-be.

It may also be wise to stretch the hip flexors for other reasons; you may be able to inhibit them a bit and create some slack to make things easier for the glutes. Here’s a video discussing hip flexor stretching:

7. Worst Case Scenario – Just Stick With Heel-Elevated Progressions

Stick with the above advice for a while. When you feel that you’ve achieved good mastery, go back to hip thrusts and give it another whirl. See if it’s helped your glute activation. For some lifters, the problem will have solved itself and they’ll feel the glutes firing during hip thrusts. Other lifters won’t be so lucky – no matter what, they’ll always feel hip thrusts primarily in their quads.

In this case, stick to heel-elevated variations (or perhaps just the barbell glute bridge and single leg glute bridge). You can indeed use a barbell with the heel elevated glute bridges, but if you go this route use a smaller box and make sure you don’t allow the bar to roll downward. Moreover, you can do single leg heel-elevated glute bridges. Don’t underestimate these variations! Many coaches such as Nick Tumminello, Mike Boyle, Joe DeFranco, and Martin Rooney have been doing these for quite some time with success. See below for a simple loading method (plate on the shin of the opposite leg).

So you have plenty of good options, just don’t give up on those glutes! Best of luck.

Hip Thruster barbell band

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

31 Comments

  • Alexander says:

    Wow, thank you for this Bret!!! I had a client today actually that was complaining she had trouble feeling her glutes working. I was able to get her to activate by having her do BW single legs while palpating her working glute, but it did leave me puzzled, as generally most everyone starts feeling their glutes after 10 reps or so. I’ll definitely start utlizing the heel elevated variation to troubleshoot for this

  • Joakim Dilling says:

    wrapping a mini band around the knees, to get an isometric external rotation whilst doing bridges/thrusts works really well for me and my clients. just my 2 cents. /joakim

  • I find cyclists almost always have this problem. PPT usually works within a few workouts but I will try this now as well.

  • Claire says:

    Weird! I did this this week on Single leg barbell hip thrusts as the bench at the gym had wide legs and I couldn’t thrust using my shoulders, so I went with a step and elevated my feet instead…I’ve always been quad dominant and have to really focus on the glutes to get them firing, but this did take them out of the equation completely (and yes, I’m a cyclist)

  • Lisa says:

    Bret – what shoes are you wearing in that hip flexor video? They look pretty minimalist.

  • Tom says:

    Very helpful post

    I am very hamstring dominant (i can deadlift 70% more than i can sqaut) and i feel hip thrusts in my quads. I have found that practicing bridging while lying on the floor helps and stretching the psoas and the rec fem before i bridge. I will try the other things you suggest and let you know how it goes.

    Many thanks

  • Hey Bret, first off great posts, both here and on T-Nation!
    I wanted to ask a question off your T-Nation article, and can’t on there because my livespill is still disabled.
    You mentioned on number 9 how you like increasing the height of the back leg in the BSS. I’m wondering why you recommend that or why you like it?

    I’m wondering because I personally do not like this variation. My opinion for raising the back leg would it puts more weight on the front leg (back leg higher=less support/output from it). But at the same time I feel using a higher support would really put the pelvis into an anterior tilt, putting greater stress on the low back. Just experimenting with this variety I would think it stresses the quads and low back more than the glutes and hamstrings (really don’t feel hamstrings that much at all; glutes are still pretty fired though). Also I feel that most people could not safely get into that position, as many lack the flexibility/mobility in their hip flexors and quads to achieve such a degree of hip extension while loaded. I notice the body compensates by greater torso forward lean, overall lessend posture, and often lack of depth.

    I know you have very good reasons for liking this variation, and just wondering what they are. Thanks Bret!

    • Bret says:

      Hey Michael, great question. APT isn’t just a function of bench height; distance from the bench, tibia/femur height, and natural pelvic tilt will all influence the tilt of the pelvis in this exercise. To an extent, you can control this and keep it at bay depending on form.

      However, since most of the weight is on the front leg, I don’t think there’s much risk of low back injury as the rear leg just gets a stretch in the hip flexors.

      So I like the higher height with a closer stride length, but I especially like a rounded contour for the foot pad. Again, great question!

  • Andy... says:

    If people want flexibility in the hip flexors they better make what they consume the highest priority. Creatine, caffeine, meat etc act as some of the most stiffening products a human can consume & it’s all getting flushed South.

  • Shane says:

    What about putting the feet on a slide board, trx, or something similar while initially teaching? This way, if people try to use their quads, their feel will slip out. I would assume hamstring activation would be much higher as well.

    • Bret says:

      Shane, I actually thought about this…doing them with Valslides while combining knee flexion (from a shoulder elevated position). But the variation I showed works so well for quad-dominant lifters (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it).

  • Hi, i was wondering if the hip-thrust machine is a good buy? Is it superior over a bench or a step up?

    Thanks, Ole Kristian haug

  • Gabe says:

    I have found that cueing dorsiflexion at the bottom position and allowing the foot to go ‘flat on the floor’ at the top helps some. Also urging my clients to ‘pull the heels into the floor’ instead of ‘extending the leg’ helps as well. Great article!

  • Elsbeth says:

    Great stuff Bret. I regularly get clients with this problem. Often adjusting foot position helps, and sometimes I move to weighted glute bridges instead, but I will add this option as well. I also find these quad dominant folks tend to feel kb swings in their quads and sometimes abs. I have been playing with towel kb swings and box squat to jump (bw) with pretty good success (tips from Pavel’s Enter the Kettlebell). Wondering if you have come across any other options there? I would love to be able to ‘cure’ more people of their quad dominance vs just finding work arounds for each exercise. Sometimes these workarounds ‘stick’, but not always.

  • Great post on this topic. I was feeling the same thing as I progressed in weight. Going to experiment with a lower bench and drop the weight a bit. Thanks Bret!

  • Catharina says:

    Thanks, Bret!

    I tried the feet elevated glute bridge today, and wow…now I get what you are talking about! I never felt my glutes like this. Oi. I definitely have to keep doing this for a while, before going back to the normal progression. Thanks.

  • Johnny Fukumoto says:

    Hi Bret!
    I wanted to ask your opinion concerning the kettlebell swing in regards to teaching it to people who have never done it before and more importantly, determining if they should even be doing this exercise.
    1. Is there a progressive method of teaching the hip hinge leading up to the KB swing you find effective?
    2. In what circumstances do you not recommend the swing? What strategies do you use get them to a place where it is safe?

    Thanks.

  • Tim says:

    Hi Bret,

    I’m a big fan of your work. My problem with glute movements such as bridges and thrusts is that I always feel the tension and power coming from my hammies. So my hammies always take over, I tried to open the link to the article you mentioned at the beginning of this article about hamstring dominance but the link wont open!
    Can you help fix me?

  • Martin says:

    The cue of ‘pulling heels into the floor’ as mention by someone above certainly helped with my girlfriend, who has got to be the most quad dominant person on Earth. I have never encountered anything like her before.

  • Luana says:

    Thank you for the info. I used to be a dancer years ago and I can feel everything in my quads and never in my glutes. But the elevated glute bridges work really well!

  • Alexandra says:

    Hi Brett Ive got a lop sided butt from only doing lunges.

    Ive got huge developtment in my lower glutes and no developtment in my upper glutes. So it looks odd. (You could say ive maxed out my maximus)

    Can you reccomend a few exercises that will give me the best hypertrophy in the upper buttock only? So I can balance them out?

    Thanks!

  • taylor says:

    What do you do if you are quad dominant with regular hip thrusts and hamstring dominant with elevated foot hip thrusts and glute bridges….and you’re a female who just wants a decent/ amazing pair of glutes…? Am I forever screwed, or is there a possibility of hope for me?

  • Josue says:

    Hello
    I’ve been wanting to know what warm ups I can do for hip thrusters (using only body weight) or any other body weight exercises ? I ask because In your “Bodywieght Strength Training” book I don’t recall reading much about warming up or cooling down.

  • Ana says:

    Oh my gosh-thank you so much! I had no issues feeling it in my glutes when I first started doing hip thrusts. Over the last month or so I started to only feel it in my quads. So glad I found this page. I immediately applied the feet-elevated bridging method and WHAMMO lol Yay-so happy!

  • Carol says:

    I’m really struggling with feeling anything in my glues. I do squats, hip thrusts, lunges, etc. etc. but the only exercise that make my glutes (the sides to be precise) burn is side lunge with weights. If I do hip thrusts my quads burn and if I switch to feet elevated bridges as recommended in this article I can only feel my hamstrings and omg they burn so bad!! I have firm and muscular legs but my butt looks like a pancake 🙁 Is there anything I can do to feel glute exercises in my glutes and not only in my legs????

  • Faolan Cook says:

    I have a lot of problems with my glutes firing in general, so I tried this. This didn’t change anything; I still feel them in my quads and if not there, then in my calves, but NEVER in my glutes where it should be. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, considering this isn’t rocket science. But I have to add this to my ever growing list of exercises that didn’t make my glutes fire off.

  • Anna says:

    I think another component to this is activation. I took the suggestions found here and they do improve glute firing. But when I switched up my workout to begin with static stretching and activation exercises that are glute focused, and then move right into hip thrusts, I had the most success. I also dropped my weight significantly. My poor ego! Also the cue of pulling your feet into the floor is a good one. So the take away: do all glute work before squats or dead, and use activation to fire gluten and create mind muscle connection.

  • Kevin Gibbs says:

    HI Bret. I am confused now, should it not be “push through the balls of your toes”? That activating the posterior segment of the lower limbs?

  • Kamma says:

    Thank you thank you thank you! SO glad i finally found this post. I have been following your Strong Curves for a over a year now (and yes with too much ego on the bar) and although my glutes are firing slightly more I was still feeling Major Quad Dominance. I thought i was just SOL. I’m looking forward to dialing the weight back and targeting the glutes better.

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