Men's Health Your Body is Your Barbell

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Chapter

BODYWEIGHT 8: HIP THRUST

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#1 HIP THRUST

There is no more important muscle group in your body than your glutes, or your butt muscles. They are your biggest and most powerful muscles, and they contract to move your hips in every which way, driving every activity. Because they are so large, they have the biggest potential impact on your metabolic rate. Develop them well, and you’ll become more athletic and burn more calories 24-7. Unfortunately, most people’s glutes are doing a disappearing act that would make Houdini envious. Here’s why....

We spend most of our day sitting, which causes the muscles in front of our hips to shorten and tighten. Also, bloodflow becomes restricted, limiting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the area and clouding the communication between your brain and butt. The result? Your glute muscles stop firing. Fitness experts call this “gluteal amnesia.” Over time, it makes your glutes wither away like melting glaciers. You’ll be left with a butt that curves in instead of out, and your hips will be so weak that your knees and back have to pick up the slack for your gluteal delinquency. That makes your knees and back ache. You have a new appreciation for your ass now, don’t you?

Well, there is no better exercise to turn your glutes on and open up your hips than the Hip Thrust. It’s super safe to practice and incredibly easy to learn. You can do a version of it anytime, anywhere, even in a chair at your desk, on the couch while you’re watching TV, or in an airplane seat when traveling. For optimal health and performance, hold the top position of one of these Hip Thrust variations for at least 20 seconds for every 20 minutes that you’re in a seated position during the day. Sure, you’re going to look like you’re humping the air, but there’s nothing wrong with becoming a highly proficient pelvic thruster. I often say that the glutes are like hot dogs—they plump when you cook ’em—and we’re gonna be cooking those butt cheeks in a serious way.

The HIP THRUST Progression

Level 1 Ground Zero: HIP THRUST

Level 2 Beginner: SHOULDERS-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

Level 3 Intermediate: FEET-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

Level 4 Advanced: SHOULDERS- AND FEET-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

Level 5 Superhero: SINGLE-LEG-HIP TRUST

Level 1: Ground Zero

HIP THRUST

This entry-level Hip Thrust is a bridging exercise, basically a Plank for the back side of your body. The key is to maintain what’s called a posterior pelvic tilt throughout the exercise by bracing your core and tilting your pelvis backward. The best way to ensure you nail this position is to start the movement with your lower back fully compressed into the floor with no daylight sneaking in under your spine. This keeps your lower back fixed and forces all of the movement to come through your hips. If you feel pain or discomfort in your lower back as your hips rise upward, it’s probably because you’re hyperextending your lower back. Fix that!

Hand placement: Place your hands on the floor with your palms up or down. The palms-facing-up version has the added benefit of externally rotating your shoulders and activating the muscles of your rear shoulders and upper back to correct the poor rounded-shoulders posture. You can also place the back of your hands on your lower back while performing the movement to rotate your shoulders internally, stretch your chest, and help you notice when you are overextending your lower back.

Foot placement: You can perform the Hip Thrust on your toes, on your heels, or with feet flat on the floor to work different muscles.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps, maintaining a straight torso line from your knees through your shoulders while in the top position.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90-degree angles.

 Place your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart.

 Keep your weight placed in the center of your feet (in front of your anklebone).

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• Place your hands at the small of your back this way.

Perfect Execution

 First, crunch your abs and tilt your pelvis back so that your lower back is flat against the floor. You must maintain this posterior pelvic tilt throughout the duration of the exercise.

 Then push through your feet and raise your hips as high as you can without arching your lower back.

 Briefly hold this top position and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

• Brace your abs.

• Squeeze your glutes as you raise your hips.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Hold the top position isometrically for time.

EVEN EASIER: Move your feet wider apart to increase your base of support.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Hip Thrusts by placing your hands on your butt and pushing your hips up with your hands.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Reduce your base of support by holding your hands at your sides so that only the backs of your upper arms are making contact with the ground.

EVEN HARDER: Further reduce your base of support by placing your fingertips on your forehead or by crossing your arms and grasping your shoulders.

HARDEST: Increase the range of motion by bringing your feet closer together until they touch.

Level 2: Beginner

SHOULDERS-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

Elevating your shoulders on a stable box or bench allows you to increase the range of motion at your hips, provides a greater challenge for your quads (making it a great move to protect your knees and complement your Squats), and results in maximum glute activation to build your butt better. That’s why top trainer and Hip Thrust enthusiast Bret Contreras calls this exercise “the Bench Press for your butt.” The ideal height for shoulder elevation is one where your trunk forms a 45-degree angle with the floor, with your hips resting on or hovering just above the ground in the down position, and where knees and shoulders are directly aligned in the top position.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps, maintaining a straight line from your knees through your shoulders while in the top position.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place your upper back/midback on a stable box or bench with your arms at your sides and hands on the small of your back.

 Place your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart.

 Keep your weight placed in the center of your feet (in front of your anklebone).

• Place your back against a bench or step.

• Push your knees out.

• Place your hands against the small of your back.

Perfect Execution

 First, crunch your abs and tilt your pelvis back so that your lower back is flat. You must maintain this posterior pelvic tilt throughout the exercise.

 Then push through your feet and raise your hips as high as you can without extending your lower back.

 Briefly hold this top position and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

• Don’t bend your head forward, but keep your neck neutral.

• Keep your shins as vertical as possible.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Hold the top position isometrically for time.

EVEN EASIER: Increase your base of support and decrease the range of motion by widening your foot placement.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Hip Thrusts by placing your hands on your butt and pushing your hips up as much as needed to achieve full hip extension without moving your lower back.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Reduce your base of support by holding your hands at your sides so that only the backs of your upper arms are making contact.

EVEN HARDER: Further reduce your base of support by placing your fingertips on your forehead or by crossing your arms so that each hand is placed on the opposite shoulder.

HARDEST: Increase the range of motion by bringing your feet closer together until they are touching.

Level 3: Intermediate

FEET-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

Elevating your feet on a stable box or bench tests your hamstrings because your hips drop below the level of your feet. This makes your hamstrings work double duty by having to both bend your knees and extend your hips. Exercising both functions of your hamstrings will provide the most complete development for your rear thighs and make you a better runner. Strong hamstrings are critical to knee health, and when they can work in perfect concert with your glutes, they’ll deliver some serious horsepower. Another cool benefit is that well-built hamstrings make your legs look really attractive when viewed from the side. The optimal height to elevate your feet is about the same as with the Shoulders-Elevated Hip Thrust.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps, maintaining a straight line from your knees through your shoulders while in the top position.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Lie on your back and place your feet on a stable box, bench, or chair.

 Your hips should be a couple inches in front of the elevated surface.

 Keep your weight in the center of your feet (in front of your anklebone).

• Optimal height of the bench is the same as the height used for Shoulders-Elevated Hip Thrust.

• Place your hands against the small of your back.

Perfect Execution

 First, crunch your abs and tilt your pelvis back so that your lower back is flat. Maintain this posterior pelvic tilt throughout the exercise.

 Then push through your feet and raise your hips as high as you can without extending your lower back.

 Briefly hold this top position and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

• Avoid overextending your lower back.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Hold the top position isometrically for time.

EVEN EASIER: Increase your base of support and decrease the range of motion by widening your foot placement.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Hip Thrusts by placing your hands on your butt and pushing your hips up with your hands.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Hold your hands against your sides so that only the backs of your upper arms are in contact with the ground.

EVEN HARDER: Further reduce your base of support by placing your fingertips on your forehead or by crossing your arms so that each hand is on the opposite shoulder.

HARDEST: Increase the range of motion by bringing your feet closer together until they touch.

Level 4: Advanced

SHOULDERS AND FEET-ELEVATED HIP THRUST

This is the most challenging Hip Thrust variation on two legs because it takes your hips through the greatest range of motion. In most cases, your shoulders and feet should be elevated at the same level, if possible. Having your shoulders elevated higher than your feet will shift more work to your quads. Having your feet elevated higher than your shoulders will shift more work to your hamstrings. Again, all are good options, so feel free to mix and match.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps, maintaining a straight line from your knees through your shoulders while in the top position.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Place your upper back/midback and hands on a stable box, bench, or chair, with your arms extended out to your sides on top of the step for support (not shown).

 Place your feet on another bench of similar height that is about 3 feet away.

 Raise your butt an inch above the floor.

• This arm position makes the move harder.

• You can use an ottoman or a chair if you don’t have two exercise steps.

Perfect Execution

 Keeping your back flat, push through your feet, and raise your hips as high as you can without extending your lower back.

 Briefly hold this top position and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

• Brace your abs as if preparing to be punched.

• Keep your hips in line with your upper legs and torso.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Simply hold the top position isometrically for time.

EVEN EASIER: Increase your base of support by widening your foot placement.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Hip Thrusts by placing your hands on your butt and pushing your hips up as much as needed to achieve full hip extension without moving your lower back.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Reduce your base of support by lifting your arms off the elevated surface so that only the backs of your arms are making contact.

EVEN HARDER: Further reduce your base of support by placing your fingertips on your forehead or by crossing your arms so that each hand is placed on the opposite shoulder.

HARDEST: Increase the range of motion by bringing your feet closer together until they touch.

Level 5: Superhero

SINGLE-LEG HIP THRUST

This is the granddaddy of them all. Lifting your hips one leg at a time requires a great deal of hip stability and strength. It will also help you iron out any strength and flexibility imbalances between sides of your glutes and hips. The Single-Leg Hip Thrust is the ultimate companion exercise to the Single-Leg Squat (see Chapter 11) because it builds the prerequisite backside strength, core stability, and hip mobility needed to pull that movement off. If you have a history of knee and back pain, this move should be a staple of your weekly training routine. Plus, this is the one move that most people with lower-body injuries are still able to perform pain-free, making it great for rehabilitation.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps per side, maintaining a straight line from your knees through your shoulders while in the top position.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Lie on your back with the foot of your working leg placed flat on the floor and underneath your knee so that it’s bent at a 90-degree angle.

 Bend the knee of your nonworking leg toward your chest without moving your lower back.

 Keep your weight in the center of the foot of your working leg (in front of your anklebone).

• Bend your knee to 90 degrees.

Perfect Execution

 First, crunch your abs and tilt your pelvis back so that your lower back is flattened against your hands or the floor. Maintain this posterior pelvic tilt throughout the exercise.

 Push through the foot on the floor and raise your hips as high as you can without extending your lower back.

 Briefly hold this top position and then slowly reverse the movement and repeat.

• For Marching Hip Thrusts, alternate raising and lowering each leg.

• Don’t allow your hips to sag.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Place the foot of your nonworking leg on top of your working leg just above the knee. The knee of the nonworking leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle.

EVEN EASIER: Perform Marching Hip Thrusts by slowly alternating legs every couple seconds while holding the top Hip Thrust position for the full duration of the exercise.

EASIEST: Perform Gyrating Hip Thrusts. Place both feet on the floor with knees bent and slowly shift your pelvis side to side to make one glute work harder than the other.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Perform Single-Leg Hip Thrusts with your shoulders elevated on a bench.

EVEN HARDER: Perform Single-Leg Hip Thrusts with your feet elevated on a bench.

HARDEST: Perform Single-Leg Hip Thrusts with your shoulders and feet elevated.

Variations

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1. Externally Rotated Hip Thrust–Knees Out

Your butt is made up of three muscles, the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Maximus lifts your hips; medius and minimus provide lateral and rotational hip movement. This variation works all three muscles. It loosens tight groin muscles and improves your ability to get your knees out when squatting. Place the bottoms of your feet together and push your knees out as far as you can, like an open clamshell, while squeezing your outer hips.

• Bend your knees and place the bottoms of your feet together.

• Clench your glutes.

• Press your knees out as wide as possible.

Variations

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2. Internally Rotated Hip Thrust—Knees In

Perform Hip Thrusts with your knees touching when in the bottom position and out as normal during the thrust. The wider your foot placement, the harder it will be to get your knees together and the more intense the stretch. This variation will improve your internal hip rotation and make it easier for you to keep your toes pointing straight ahead when standing, walking, and squatting.

• Squeeze your knees together in the bottom position.

• Use a wide foot stance to intensify the hip stretch.

• Press your knees out to shoulder width in the top position.

• Tense your glutes and abs.

Variations

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3. Straight-Leg Hip Thrust with Feet Elevated

You’ve learned to do Hip Thrusts with knees bent. In this movement, also known as the Hollow-Body Bridge Hold, you thrust with legs straight, which forces your hamstrings to work harder to lift your hips and calls on your hips and abs to stabilize your spine.

• For a greater challenge, place your feet on a Swiss ball.

• Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

• Make it harder by raising one leg off the bench.

• You’ll feel it right in your hamstring.

Variations

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4. Squeezing Hip Thrust

Squeeze a ball, foam roller, rolled-up towel, or the head of your arch nemesis between your legs while doing Hip Thrusts. This will activate all of the muscles of your pelvic floor, providing even greater stability to your lower back.

• Squeeze your knees; don’t let the ball drop.

Variations

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5. Single-Arm, Single-Leg Hip Thrust

Place your right hand on the floor with your right foot fully extended in front of your body, the leg resting on the floor. Place your left foot on the floor so it’s positioned directly underneath your left knee and raise your left arm (a). Now drive through your left foot and extend your hips as high as you can without moving your lower back (b). Pause briefly, reverse the movement, and repeat. Make it harder by keeping the nonworking leg elevated throughout the duration of the exercise (c).

• Raise one arm toward the ceiling.

• Your foot should be directly under your bent knee.

• Rise until your thigh and armpit are in alignment.

• Your weight should be on your right hand and left foot.

• Repeat the exercise with your left hand and right foot down.

• Raise your leg for greater challenge.