I use the hip thrust extensively both in my own training and with my clients, male and female alike. Sure, some people still find the movement a little funny looking, but those people are increasingly in the minority. The majority, instead, are people who understand the value of the movement but aren't quite sure how to use it. Should you go heavy with weights or body weight? One leg or two? Hold at the top or just keep cranking out reps? You have plenty of options.
While it's not one of the big three power lifts, I still treat the hip thrust as a strength exercise and focus on progressive overload, especially at first. The reason, quite simply, is that most people need stronger glutes first and foremost. But I've also found that most people reach a point in the progressive-overload spectrum where strength gains come to a screeching halt, or the sheer pressure of the bar on the hips becomes too painful to continue adding weight.
This tipping point is largely individual, but once you reach your weight threshold for hip thrusts, it's time to find other ways to perform the exercise that allow you to get a good training effect with lighter loads. Even if heavy hip thrusts don't bother you, it's still wise to take a break from heavy loading from time to time and challenge yourself with lighter weights, or even just your own body weight.
Similarly, if you're traveling and don't have access to a full gym and heavy weights, the following seven options will give you ways to continue to challenge yourself with limited loading and minimal equipment.1
Tabata Hip Thrusts
Watch the video - 4:09
Do 20 seconds of hip thrusts followed by a 10-second iso-hold in the top position for 8 continuous rounds. If doing 8 rounds is too hard—don't be disappointed if it is—start with 4-6 rounds and build up to 8. Warning: These burn!
Note: Some trainers take issue with putting the Tabata label on things that don't replicate the true 20/10 Tabata conditioning protocol. It's correct that this isn't a true Tabata; however, I've never been that concerned with exercise titles and try to name things in a way that people will relate to. So if you want to call it something different, feel free. It's great regardless of what you want to call it.2
Single-Leg Hip Thrust Century Set
Watch the video - 4:41
Perform 10 single-leg hip thrusts on each leg and repeat for 5 rounds, for a total of 100 reps. The goal is to complete the challenge without resting between sets, but in the beginning it's perfectly fine to rest as needed. If 100 reps is too ambitious at first, start at 40 or 60 total reps and build over time.
This and the Tabata method above provide a surefire way to get a great glute workout with nothing but your own bodyweight.3
Hands-Free Hip Thrusts
Watch the video - 1:15
The hands-free hip thrust is a great exercise on its own, but it's even better as a teaching tool because it usually clears up any form issues with the movement almost immediately, with no coaching or cueing needed.
The word "thrust" implies a fast, explosive movement, but I actually think hip thrusts should be done in a controlled fashion with a brief pause at the top of each rep. Sometimes, stronger clients start to let their form slip as the weight on the bar increases, and they start to thrust up violently, often failing to achieve full hip extension at the top.
Similarly, another form flaw I see a lot is people overarching their lower back at the top of the movement and going into anterior pelvic tilt. This takes some of the stress off the glutes and puts it onto the lower back, which not only makes the exercise less effective but also potentially injurious. Lastly, you'll see a lot of people push harder through one foot than the other, especially as they fatigue.
The hands-free hip thrust helps clear up these form flaws almost immediately. If you thrust up too fast and don't control the weight, or if you push more through one foot than the other, there's no way you'll be able to balance the bar on your hips. Likewise, if you overarch your lower back, the bar will slide down your hips, giving you immediate feedback. In order to keep the bar positioned correctly, you have to keep a neutral spine with a very slight posterior pelvic tilt at the top.
Going hands-free also teaches you where the bar should be positioned on the hips to maximize effectiveness and minimize or eliminate pain on the hips. It's amazing what this simple change can do. That said, keep your hands close by and ready in case you need to grab the bar.
For stronger lifters, this is a great standalone exercise as well, allowing you to achieve a heck of a glute workout with lighter loads. I recommend doing a few higher rep sets (12-20) at the end of a lower-body workout. You'll be begging for mercy.4
Hip Thrust "21s"
Watch the video - 1:26
You've probably done 21s with biceps curls before. Well, buns are the new guns! Start by doing 7 reps from the bottom position to about three-quarters of the way up, focusing on a slight posterior pelvic. Next, do 7 reps from the top position to partway down, pausing each rep at the top. Finish up with 7 full-range reps, again pausing at the top.
In total, it's 21 brutal reps. Be prepared to walk a little funny after a couple sets of these.5
Single-Leg Hip Thrusts with Mini Band
Watch the video - 1:05
You may have heard of performing bilateral hip thrusts with a mini band around your knees, but the technique also works really well for single-leg hip thrusts as well. The band tension increases as you flex the hip of the nonworking leg, so the glute of the working leg has to fire harder to keep the knee from caving inward.
The key is to do these thrusts slowly, with a deliberate squeeze at the top. Try them first with just your own body weight—very challenging in its own right—then add weight if necessary as shown in the video. Either way, these burn!6
Hip-Thrust Iso Hold with Band Abductions
Watch the video - 0:50
As the name suggests, this exercise combines a hip-thrust isometric hold with band abductions. Keep the weight on your heels and allow your toes to rotate as you push your knees out, adding a deliberate pause for sets of 10-15 reps. It ends up being a 30-45-second iso hold, depending on how fast you do the reps.
Start with just your body weight, then add weight if needed as shown in the video. The glutes are responsible for hip extension, abduction, and external rotation, and this extension trains all three functions at once.7
Single-Leg Hip Thrust Jumps
Watch the video - 0:23
(Insert joke about explosive butt power here.)
With that out of the way, the keys here are to make sure to achieve complete hip extension at the top of every rep and to keep from crashing down after each jump before transitioning to the next rep. It helps to try to think about landing as quietly as possible. I recommend sets of 8-12 reps with minimal ground-contact time between reps.
Now go give some of these variations a try and get your rear in gear!