Hip Thrust Progression Guide (Glute Bridge to Hip Thrust)

Marianne Kane performing a single leg hip thrust with shoulders on a bench, and working leg bent, shin vertical and foot on step, creating a bridge between bench and step. The photo shows the top position of the movement, which has hips in full extension.

[Updated 2020]

In this article I'm going to outline a series of hip thrust progressions taking you from the beginner level glute bridge exercises, ending with the most advanced hip thrust variation. 

NOTE: While most of what I discuss is relating to the body weight hip thrust variations, I have added my personal recommended progression for weighted glute bridges and hip thrusts, such as the barbell hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, and dumbbell single leg hip thrust. Right now I only have a short paragraph and list at the end of this article. 

So Why Should You Listen to Me?

Not only have I been coaching for over a decade, I worked with "The Glute Guy" himself. In 2012, Kellie Hart, myself, and Bret Contreras Co-Founded Get Glutes Membership which served over 500 women.

Since my first Interview with Bret Contreras in 2010, I pretty much fell in love with the Hip Thrust exercise. Using body-weight only, I personally managed to enhance the curves and the strength of my beloved behind, just by including the Hip Thrust in my workouts and learning about effective activation of the glutes! See below my hip thrust before and after photos.

Two photos side by side showing a woman's body in a profile view to illustration glute growth after hip thrusts. Before, hips were 34 inches. After 1 year, hips were 36-37 inches and posture is much stronger

My One Mistake

One "mistake" I made, was thinking that because I already exercise regularly and do not consider myself a beginner, I did not need to start at the basic level with an exercise such as this one and I skipped to a level too high for me (the single-leg Hip Thrust).

So the first lesson here is understanding and accepting that regression is just as important as progression in building strength and developing good form.


Glute Bridge vs Hip Thrust (what's the difference)?

In some ways this is splitting hairs, since both exercises essentially work the same muscles in a similar way, but there is one main difference between the Glute Bridge and the Hip Thrust:

The Glute Bridge is performed with the shoulders and feet on the floor. It becomes the Hip Thrust when the shoulders are elevated off the floor in some way. In doing this, you increase the Range of Movement (ROM) significantly by having to recruit more force to perform the exercise, allowing you to build strength. I explain in the video below:

However, as you'll see later, there is a glute bridge progression that increases the range of movement while maintaining more stability since the back and shoulders remain on the floor, while the feet get elevated.

[For anyone wanting a more detailed explanation of the difference this elevation makes to the exercise's effectiveness, then check out Bret's post in response to Bianca's question relating to the "Single-Leg Glute Bridge vs Single-Leg Hip Thrust". The same reasoning can be applied to the double-leg variations.]

To save you the trip, basically the reason Single-Leg variations of both the Glute Bridge and the Hip Thrust are considered more advanced than even the weighted Glute Bridge, is down to increased demand to the stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine, calling for greater control and rotary stability of the "core".

When I originally wrote this post in 2011, I was of the mind to keep someone doing the bilateral (double leg) versions before transitioning to single leg. These days, I realize that's probably overly cautious, especially when it's body weight only. Therefore, I introduce a single leg variation pretty early on for my clients, even beginners. You can see my preferred progression series near the end of this article. Skip to it HERE.

Moving on, the video below is my original tutorial on the "journey" from Glute Bridge to Hip Thrust and some issues we need to overcome along the way. Given the progress I made over the first 18 months, I wanted to keep this video here since it might still help you get more from the exercises.  Though the sound isn't great at times.

(NOTE: New, updated video coming soon reiterating my current approach)

Hip Thrust Problem: Are They Bad for Your Back?

I'm adding this section because some people may have concerns that the Hip Thrust is not as effective as the Glute Bridge because the Hip Thrust "over-works" the muscles in the lower back.

This was brought to light by Bianca's trainer back in 2011, but more recently I have been approached by a concerned gym-goer that I would cause harm to my back by hinging my back so low down on a bench for the hip thrust.   

Even though it is clear from the video why this may occur, I ran this query by Bret and he had the following response, which helps in understanding what we can think about when preparing to do this lift (just like any other):

Bret Contreras

(quote from original post in 2011)

"They all work the glutes hard as hip extensors and pelvic stabilizers. If you feel it in your low back it's because you have shitty pelvic stability at the top of the movement near end-range hip extension and you end up hyperextending the lumbar spine and going into anterior pelvic tilt.


Just like you need to learn to control the lumbopelvic region when squatting and deadlifting, you need to do so for hip thrusting motions as well. Think "glutes" all the way through the movement and don't go too heavy to where you end up overarching the back and allowing the pelvis to rotate forward."

In other words, before even lifting the glutes off the floor, squeeze them to tilt the pelvis back (or the "tail bone" forward), like you're trying to flatten the lower back to the floor, then lift. I have found this to be very useful, as it breaks the exercise down more so you are not trying to do everything at once, which is hard to do especially if your glutes have been "asleep" for the last decade.  

IMPORTANT: The hip thrust is very unlikely to be "the" cause of a back injury, but that doesn't mean it can't irritate something that's already brewing, or something chronic, like SI Joint problems (especially during single leg variations). My advice would be to experiment with different foot positions, have the bench much lower down your back to shorten the lever arm, and keep your training volume low to avoid excessive fatigue.

How do you know if you're hyper-extending the lower back while hip thrusting?

As I briefly mentioned at the 01:04 point in the video above (click HERE to return to it) If your lower back is over-extending, you'll know by the position of your ribcage and abs. If your ribs aren't flush with your abs (or your pelvis isn't aligned with your ribcage) then there's a good chance you're over-arching and not effectively using your glutes. When you look down your front at the top of either the Glute Bridge or Hip Thrust, you want to see the hips up, but the abs and ribs flat, not flared or stuck outward. 

Sometimes this can be corrected simply by becoming more aware of your ab engagement, but other times working on some hip flexor stretches *may* help. While you may just need time to master your glute control, another reason may be that you're trying to bridge up too high. 

The next video runs through a basic, yet effective drill to "open" the hips (by stretching the hip flexors) and "activating" the glutes, in all directions.  It is funny actually that my last glute activation video contained the glute bridge as the main exercise. While the glute bridge still remains an excellent activation exercise, the glutes are responsible for more than just hip extension - hence the rotations and abductions:

 The Glute Bridge may look like an easy exercise, but there are a lot of things going on and it can be tricky to get the hang of. Think of the Body Weight Glute Bridge as a place to correct form and build a foundation for amazing glutes. Mine have never looked, or felt better! 😉

Are Hip Thrusts the Best Glute Exercise?

In the interest of being as accurate as I can with this information, I'd like to address an elephant in the room: The Hip Thrust might not be superior to the Squat for developing the Glutes >.< OUCH!

According to the paper “Back Squat vs. Hip Thrust Resistance-training Programs in Well-trained Women” by Barbalho et al. (2020) (albeit a single paper), the squat is king.  However, from what I understand, there are a few problems with this paper, so it's not clear-cut.

Even if this paper was 100% accurate, that doesn't mean there's no benefit to performing hip thrusts (anecdotally, I saw a massive improvement in my ability to do squats and kettlebell swings better after really focusing on my hip thrusts), so not much will change in my training. Here's why this paper probably won't matter to most trainees:

Glute bridges and hip thrusts have never been, or ever will be, central to my programming. They are just one of 6 compound movement patterns I include for my own training, one-to-one clients, and members of Equipped with Strength

Therefore, as you digest the following progression series, remember: these work best within a strength and conditioning program. Now let's have a look at how I integrate and progress the glute bridge to the hip thrust, and when I introduce single leg variations.


My 7-Stage Hip Thrust Progression Series

Rough Guide to Sets, Reps, and when to progress: Once you can complete 2-3 sets x 8-12 perfect reps of your chosen variation below - without any issues -  consider yourself ready to progress.  Note: If the progression becomes too difficult and your form is suffering, REGRESS until your form is more consistent, or perform less reps at the more advanced version.

An info graphic containing all the hip thrust progressions guide below

Glute Bridge and Hip Thrust Progression List (Easiest to Hardest):

Double Leg Glute Bridge (Progression 1)

Things to note: In this variation, notice the vertical shins when hip are up, and ribs are flush with abs. Most people can master this very quickly, and then it can become a warm-up exercise. At the beginning, aim for 2-3 Sets of 10-15 Reps.

Double Foot-Elevated Glute Bridge (Progression 2)

Things to note: While shins aren't vertical in this one, your thighs will start vertical before you lift your hips. And again, my ribs are flush, so not over-arching. I also push downward on the step so as not to tip it over, and I use the arch side of my heel. Use a low, medium, then high step to gradually increase the range of movement for the Glute Bridge. This will increase strength and control in preparation for the less stable variations. 2-3 Sets of 8-12 Reps.

Double Leg Hip Thrust (Progression 3)

Things to note: You guessed it... vertical shins again and flat torso because my hips are fully extended. When the shoulders lean against something, it's no longer a Glute Bridge. This position requires more lumbo-pelvic stabilization, but because it's still double-legged, it's very doable for beginners. 2-3 Sets of 8-12 Reps is realistic for most people.

Single Foot-Elevated Glute Bridge (Progression 4)

Things to note: Same as double foot variation, but with the added attention to keep my hips level right and left. I find this is a great place to begin training the single leg bridges. I normally skip the regular glute bridge variation and begin with the foot elevated on a low/medium step (even about an 8 inch step to start): 2 Sets of 8 Reps is a good start point.

Single Leg Hip Thrust (Progression 5)

Things to note: Shin vertical, hips and ribs level, hips even, and pushing down with my whole foot. After practicing the single leg foot-elevated bridge, it's a good time to increase the stability challenge again and do these. I often have people start with 2 Sets of 8 Reps as fatigue can interfere with the stability.

Double Leg Bottom-Up Hip Thrust (Progression 6)

Things to note: Okay, I'll admit, I needed to have the plyo box a little closer (and lower). I would prefer my feet closer to under my knee (see single leg position below). This imperfection is good for you to see because, while it still works, it's not optimal. With both shoulders and feet elevated the Bottom-Up Hip Thrust variations are very challenging. Whilst you don't need to progress this far with range of movement, if you lack the weights at home, this is good option (this fairly advanced): 2-3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Marianne Kane performing a single leg hip thrust with shoulders on a bench, and working leg bent, shin vertical and foot on step, creating a bridge between bench and step. The photo shows the top position of the movement, which has hips in full extension.

Single Leg Bottom-Up Hip Thrust (Progression 7)

Things to note: This is as close to perfect form as you can get with this. Everything is even and level, and my working side shin is almost vertical and in a great leveraged position for lots of power. Ahh to be 10 years younger again LOL. In terms of movement skill, is the most advanced of all the hip thrust variations (loaded or not). You're not only far more unstable, but you start the movement in full (or almost) hip flexion: Start with 2 Sets of 8 Reps.

Over the last 9 years, since first penning this article, I have come to learn that most beginners can quickly master the Single Leg Glute Bridge and the Single Foot-Elevated Glute Bridge within the first 4-8 weeks of training. Most people I coach are intermediate trainees, and they get great results from the single leg variations with body weight, and double leg barbell hip thrusts and glute bridges (see section below on loading progressions). 

If you have no way of adding additional resistance to the Double Leg Variations then, provided you can perform the Body Weight Shoulder and Feet Elevated Hip Thrust with decent form then there is no reason why you could not try advancing the exercise to the Single Leg options.

The Perfect Bench (or step) Height for Hip Thrusting

[Affiliate Disclosure: MyomyFitness.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.]

Over the years I have realized that MANY benches suck for Hip Thrusts! Not only are there ones with uneven widths, but so often they are just too high for most women to get into an optimal position, especially with bar.

For the average-sized women (I'm 5'5'') a 14 inch step (like my Reebok Deck ->  affiliate link) works great (this is the best aerobic step for hip thrusts IMHO). However, up to 16.5 inches also works great, like the height of the bench (another affiliate link)I had in the single leg bottom-up hip thrust photo above kind of bench (combined with the Reebok Deck, it's perfect. Average-sized men or taller women can use benches above this, but I personally believe most can use 16.5 as a good height. 

Weighted Hip Thrust Progressions

As I mentioned at the top of this epic article, I will be building this section out a little, but for now, here are my recommendations for adding external load to your Glute Bridges and Hip Thrusts (a barbell is best):

1. Kettlebell or Dumbbell Glute Bridge: this allows you to acclimate to the having load on your hips. The down side is for the double leg variation it's hard to get enough load to make it really effective, so that's the main limitation. I would do single leg loaded Glute Bridges in this case.

2. Barbell Hip Thrust: While not set in stone, I like to offer this variation to people who feel ready to progress their hip thrusts. I begin with just the bar (or a light pre-loaded barbell that many gyms have) and allow the person to get used to the feel of a bar across their hips. I always use a bar pad like THIS (affiliate link), but if you're a badass, you can go without.

3. Barbell Glute Bridge: The reason I have this after the BB Hip Thrust is simply because it's easier to get into position for the Hip Thrust than for the BB Glute Bridge. I wait until the person has the ability to Glute Bridge with the full sized plates on the bar so it can easily roll into place without lifting it into position. Then, typically, I program heavy glute bridges one time a week, and moderate but higher rep hip thrusts one time a week. 

4. Dumbbell Single Leg Hip Thrust: Dumbbells are better than Kettlebells because the size and shape doesn't interfere as much with hip flexion. I have this variation after the Barbell options because of the instability coupled with the load. Typically I will program at least one workout with a double leg variation (if loaded is possible) and one workout with a single leg variation (loaded if possible). The reps and tempo will often vary to maximize the growth stressors for the glute muscles. 

That's about it for my loaded hip thrust progression series. Please feel free to reach out if you need help designing a program or know which option would be best for you. 

Wrapping Up


Finally, remember:

  • Hip extension GOOD, Lumbar extension NOT-SO-GOOD.
  • Master the body weight variations before adding weight (especially single leg and loaded).
  • At least master the double leg hip thrust before attempting single leg.
  • When you can perform 2-3 sets x 12 reps with consistently good form, you are ready to progress.
  • Ribcage and abs should stay flush.
  • Experiment with foot position: maybe try pushing more though your heels or through the whole foot, maybe try a staggered stance, or narrower stance... there are loads of ways to vary things.
  • Think Glutes, Glutes, Glutes - this actually really helps!
  • Don't be too proud to regress!!


I really hope I have provided you with adequate information to allow solid form and proper progression of this exercise.  I call it a "Glute Journey" because you will literally see the results within a few short weeks, so long as you include one of these exercises in your workouts 2-3 times per week.


For additional information on a progressive program for your glutes and great exercises to utilize then check out the following sources:


For any further information, feedback or, if you think I have left anything out, then please feel free to comment below.  I hope this article and the videos are helpful.

Cheers

Marianne


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  • October 4, 2020

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