Squat Vs Hip Thrust – Exploring the Unique Strengths of Each

The squat and hip thrust are both exercise that can be used to build lower body strength. But, which one is better for you and your training goals? In this article, we’ll take a look at both exercises, which muscles they work, and considerations for each, so you can decide which one is best for you and your goals. 

Squat Vs Hip Thrust

The squat and hip thrust are two different exercises that are completely different, so comparing the two is sort of like comparing apples and oranges. 

The main differencnes between the squat and hip thrust is (1) the movement pattern (2) loading demands and (3) the muscles worked.

The squat requires you to place a weight on the upper back or infront of the chest, requiring a knee and hip bending movement that engages the muscles on the front of the body (as well as the glutes). In contrast, the hip thrust focuses on bending at the hips, placing a barbell across the hips and working muscles on the back of the body. 

The only real similarity is that both the squat and hip thrust are lower body exercises that complement each other, so you might choose to perform them on the same day. 

Let’s break all of this down into more detail…

Movement Pattern

The squat and hip thrust differ significantly in their movement patterns. The squat, true to its name, is a squatting movement pattern that involves bending at the hips and knees, lowering the body into a seated position and then pushing back up to a standing position. 

On the other hand, the hip thrust is a hip-hinge movement pattern, which focuses on hip extension. 

The difference in these fundamental movement patterns contributes to the inique biomechanics and muscle recruitment with each exercise.

Muscles Worked

The muscles worked during squats and hip thrusts differ:

  • Squats: The main muscles the squat works include your quads, glutes, adductors, erector spinae, lower back and core.   
  • Hip Thrusts: The primary focus is the glutes, with some engagement of th hamstrings and erector spinae, quads and adductors.
Labelled diagram of muscles worked during squats vs leg press

Loading Demands

Both the squat and hip thrust offer opportunities for substantial loading, making them effective for building strength in the lower body. However, key distinctions exist in the loading demands between the two exercises.

In the squat, there is axial loading through the spine, as the weight is typically placed on the upper back or held in front of the chest. This axial loading can exert a strain on the body and spine, making it a demanding exercise.

In contrast, the hip thrust eliminates axial loading, as the weight is placed across the hips, reducing stress on the spine. This characteristic makes the hip thrust a more spine-friendly option, particularly suitable for individuals with heightened stress levels, such as runners or triathletes. 

While both exercises contribute to overall lower limb strength, the eccentric component in the squat sets it apart. Squats involve a decent phase, emphasizing the lengthening of the muscles under load, contributing to the strength development of the glutes and quads through eccentric actions. It’s worth mentioning that this eccentric phase can be fatiguing due to the muscle lengthening and increased time under tension. 

The hip thrust predominantly works concentrically, focusing on the lifting phase and placing less emphasis on the eccentric lowering. This offers a less fatiguing approach that targets the glutes. It’s worth noting that while the hip thrust may be less fatiguing overall, the intensity can still be challenging and can build strength, especially when lifting heavy loads. 

Other Considerations

  • Safety: Proper form is crucial in both exercises to prevent injury. Squats require attention to knee and spine positioning, while hip thrusts demand careful weight management to protect the pelvis and lower back. 
  • Learning: The hip thrust is relatively easier to learn when compared to the squat, meaning athletes can load them to build strength within a couple of sessions when compared to the squats which is technically more complex due to the positioning of the load on the back.
  • Equipment: Both exercises require a barbell and plates, but the hip thrust requires a bench in open space whereas squats are safer performed inside a squat rack with safety bars. 

Technique and Execution

  • Squats: Place your feet shoulder-width apart, engage your core and bend at your knees and hips until your thighs are at least parallel to the food whilst keeping a flat back, then drive back up to standing.
  • Hip Thrust: Position your upper back on a bench with a barbell or weight across your hips. Keep your feet flat and hip-width apart. Drive through your heels to lift your hips, squeezing your glutes at the top, then lower back down.

Specific Scenarios for Each Exercise

  • Squats: Squats are ideal for overall lower body strength, particularly in the quads and glutes. Goblet squats are suitable for beginners, but front and back squats are better suited to intermediate to advanced athletes. 
  • Hip Thrust: Hip thrusts are best for targeting the glutes for strength and hypertrophy, which is useful for athletes that require strength and power of the posterior chain, which will support them in jumping higher and sprinting faster. They are suited for athletes of all levels.

Conclusion

Squats and hip thrusts are both invaluable exercises for anyone looking to build strength and enhance athletic performance. Choosing between them-or, better yet, incorporating both into your training programe-depends on your specific training goals and needs. 

By understanding the unique benefits and applications of each, you can tailor your training program to effectively target your lower body, ensuring balanced development and optimal performance.

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Golf Insider UK | Website | + posts

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.

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