Which hip thrust is best? Does it even matter? Surely you can just get on with any old one and see improvements in your ass-ets? Well, maybe. Let’s take a look.
In this article you will learn:
- Three different hip thrust variations
- Which regions of the glutes you work during a hip thrust
- Which type of hip thrust is best, and why
Hip Thrust variations
Let’s start by looking at 3 different hip thrust variations: standard, American and banded. The American-style hip thrust variation is a standard barbell hip thrust with added posterior pelvic tilt (PPT). To see the variations watch Bret’s short video below:
Now let’s look at the research. In a study published last year (by Bret Contreras and his colleagues) in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics, researchers examined the mean and peak EMG of the upper gluteus maximus, lower gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (hamstrings) and vastus lateralis (quadriceps), which just so happen to be the main muscles activated during the hip thrust.
Before we look at the findings of this study what else do you need to know? Well, you should know what mean and peak EMG actually mean. You can skip the next section if you already know!
A primer on electromyography
EMG (short for electromyography) is a measure of electrical activity inside the muscle. This electrical activity is produced by a constant stream of electrical signals from the brain, which are produced in order to make muscle fibers contract. EMG can detect these signals inside the muscle, and we can view them as a waveform.
As a waveform, EMG has an amplitude, or height that we can measure. The mean EMG is the average of the EMG amplitudes recorded over the course of a whole rep, and the peak EMG is the highest EMG amplitude recorded during the same rep, wherever this occurred.
For both mean and peak EMG, the bigger the amplitude of the waveform, the harder the muscles are contracting. Where muscles contract really hard during an exercise, this makes the exercise a really good option for training them.
Finally, to measure the mean and peak EMG amplitudes in a meaningful way, we use the levels normalized to a maximum effort during a standardized isometric effort. So the mean and peak EMG are reported as percentages of this maximum, which gives us a useful way of comparing exercises or exercise variations.
What the researchers found
Let’s have a quick look at the EMG data that the researchers collected. We can look at the upper and lower glutes in turn. For the upper glutes, the standard barbell hip thrust variation trumps the American and band hip thrusts for both mean and peak upper gluteus maximus EMG amplitude (the top of your rump). You can see the results in the chart below:
In contrast, when we look at the lower glutes, the American hip thrust pipped the barbell hip thrust to the metaphorical post in producing the most mean glute activation, while the standard barbell hip thrust was highest for peak glute EMG amplitude.
Although these results are interesting, it’s important to note that neither result met the statistical criteria for being a real difference across all three variations. So although the standard barbell hip thrust is definitely better for the upper glutes, it’s not as clear-cut for the lower glutes.
Some hip thrust variations suit some people better than others
One extra interesting thing that the study did was to report the numbers of subjects who achieved their individual greatest mean and peak EMG amplitudes across the three variations. Seeing a lot a variety here tells us that even though most people will get best results from one type of hip thrust, others may benefit from one of the other variations.
By looking at these numbers, we can see that although the standard barbell hip thrust comes out on top for the upper glutes and (just about) for the lower glutes, there was indeed quite a bit of variation. So there may not be be one perfect hip thrust variation that suits everyone!
Upper glutes (mean and peak):
Barbell: 84% and 77%
Band: 8% and 15%
American: 8% and 8%
Lower glutes (mean and peak):
Barbell: 46% and 38%
Band: 15% and 31%
American: 39% and 31%
Which hip thrust wins?
Overall, we figure that the standard barbell hip thrust variation trumps the American and band hip thrust variations, because it produces higher mean upper glute EMG amplitude, higher peak upper glute EMG amplitude, and slightly higher peak lower glute EMG amplitude.
There is a slight promise of higher average lower glute activation with the American hip thrust, but if surety of results and progress is what you’re after then you should go for the standard barbell variation.
That said, you could be one of the unique responders who activates the glutes more during one of the other variations. Many lifters have reported feeling their glutes “working” more with one or other of the hip thrust variations, and it isn’t always the standard barbell variation.
Overall, there are only small differences in glute activation between hip thrusts, so it’s probably most important to make sure that whichever hip thrust you choose, that it is comfortable. Making sure you enjoy performing a particular variation is an equally important factor, rather than trying to make yourself use the “best” exercise even if you don’t enjoy doing it.
But if you ask me, I’m a barbell kind of thruster.
Rebekah Donovan Writer Bio
Rebekah is a freelance storyteller, amateur creator, and mother, with an unrelenting passion for health and wellbeing. She is currently balancing her master’s degree, at Manchester Metropolitan University, with her unhealthy relationship with all things Hip Thrust.