The hip thrust often serves as a key cornerstone in many athletic development programmes, aiming to increase the strength in the muscles of the posterior chain, particularly the glutes.
In our strength and conditioning programming, the preferred tool for the standard hip thrust is typically a barbell, as it allows for the necessary loading to create the conditions conducive to strength improvements. However, the question often arises regarding the proper execution of hip thrusts with dumbbells.
Now, while we would argue using a dumbbell is quite awkward and you may be better off placing a plate in the crease of you’re hip when performing a single-leg hip thrust instead, we will share the principles of executing an excellent hip thrust using a dumbbell for those with the burning desire to perform this exercise. We’ll also share the key coaching cues and address common mistakes often seen when performing hip thrusts.
A step-by-step guide to performing the Barbell Hip Thrust
- Set Up: Position yourself seated on the ground with a bench directly behind you. Have a loaded barbell over your legs. Use a padded barbell or a squat sponge for comfort.
- Positioning: Lean against the bench so that it is across your upper back. The bench should be just below your shoulder blades. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Starting Position: Roll the barbell over your hips. Your thighs should be perpendicular to your torso, and your shins perpendicular to the floor.
- Execution: Drive through your heels to lift your hips, squeezing your glutes at the top. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Return: Lower your hips back to the starting position without resting the weight on the floor.
Sit on the ground with your upper back against the edge of a bench. The bench should be stable and at a height that allows your shoulder blades to rest comfortably against it. Place the barbell over your hips. It’s important to ensure that the barbell is centered and stable before beginning the exercise.
Press your feet firmly into the ground, focusing on driving through your heels. Begin lifting your hips upward by extending your hips. Keep your chin tucked and your spine neutral to avoid overarching your back. As you lift, concentrate on squeezing your glutes until your hips are fully extended, aligning your knees, hips, and shoulders.
At the top of the movement, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Ensure that your hips are fully extended and your glutes are tightly squeezed. Avoid hyperextending your lower back by keeping your core engaged.
Begin to lower your hips back to the starting position in a controlled manner. It’s crucial to maintain tension in your glutes and core throughout the descent to protect your lower back. Gently touch the ground with your hips before initiating the next repetition.
- Internal Cues:
- “Squeeze your glutes as if you’re holding a coin between them.”
- “Imagine pushing the floor away with your heels.”
- “Keep your chin tucked as if holding an egg under your chin.”
- “Engage your core as if bracing for a punch.”
- External Cues:
- “Drive your hips toward the ceiling.”
- “Think of forming a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.”
- “Keep the barbell path straight and vertical.”
- “Press the bench down with your upper back.”
Different athletes may find certain cues more effective than others. Internal cues focus on the feeling and muscle engagement, while external cues are about the movement and interaction with the environment. Experiment to find which cues work best for you or your athletes.
Common Mistakes When Performing Barbell Hip Thrust
Barbell hip thrusts, while highly effective, are often subject to common errors, especially by beginners and intermediates. Recognizing and correcting these mistakes is crucial for maximizing the benefits of the exercise and minimizing the risk of injury.
Mistake: Arching the Lower Back
Correction: To correct over-arching of the lower back, focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement. A useful coaching cue is to “brace your core as if you’re about to be punched in the stomach.” This engages the abdominal muscles, supporting the spine and preventing excessive arching. Practicing pelvic tilts as a separate exercise can also help in understanding and controlling pelvic and spinal positioning.
Mistake: Not Fully Extending the Hips
Correction: Full hip extension is key to getting the most out of the hip thrust. A good cue to address this is “drive your hips upward until they’re in line with your knees and shoulders.” To practice this, try doing glute bridges before progressing to barbell hip thrusts. Glute bridges involve a similar movement pattern and can help in developing a sense of full hip extension.
Mistake: Rising onto Toes
Correction: Lifting the heels and rising onto the toes shifts the focus away from the glutes. To correct this, the cue “keep your heels planted firmly on the ground” can be effective. Additionally, practicing the movement barefoot or in flat-soled shoes can enhance the connection with the ground and encourage proper heel drive.
Mistake: Neck Hyperextension
Correction: Hyperextending the neck can strain the cervical spine. To avoid this, use the cue “keep your chin tucked and gaze forward.” This helps in aligning the neck with the rest of the spine. Performing the exercise in front of a mirror can provide visual feedback and assist in maintaining proper neck alignment.
Mistake: Uneven Weight Distribution
Correction: Uneven weight distribution can lead to muscle imbalances and reduced effectiveness. The cue “distribute your weight evenly across both feet” can be helpful. Another approach is to start with single-leg hip thrusts to develop balanced strength and awareness in each leg before progressing to the standard barbell hip thrust.
By addressing these common mistakes with appropriate cues and practice tasks, beginners and intermediates can significantly improve their technique and effectiveness in performing barbell hip thrusts.
Understanding and practising these fundamental aspects of hip thrusts will ensure a safe and effective workout, especially for those just starting with this exercise. Remember, proper form is key to reaping the full benefits of hip thrusts and avoiding injury.
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Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.