Hip Thrusts – A Guide To The Main Muscles Worked

The hip thrust proves to be highly effective for enhancing strength and size in the lower limbs, but, what muscles does the hip thrust actually work? 

Here, we’ll explore the muscle groups worked during the hip thrust and how various variations can be used to target specific muscle groups, enabling you to adapt your training for specific goals. 

What Muscles Do Hip Thrusts Work? 

Hip thrusts are a compound exercise that is based on extension at the hips, effectively working the muscles in the posterior chain. Specifically, the main muscles worked by the hip thrust include:

  • Glutes 
  • Erector Spinae (lower back) 
  • Hamstrings (to a lesser extent)
  • Quads and Adductors (to a lesser extent) 

Hip Thrusts Muscles Worked Diagram 

In-Depth Analysis: How Each Muscle Works During Hip Thrusts

Glutes

The glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus, play a crucial role in the hip thrust as the prime mover. It’s most active during the lifting phase of the exercise, where it undergoes a concentric contraction (shortening) as it extends the hip and provides the force necessary to lift the torso and hips.

During the lowering phase of the hip thrust, the gluteus maximus engages in an eccentric contraction. This controlled lengthening of the muscle allows for a smooth descent.

Erector Spinae (Lower Back) 

The erector spinae muscles are the group of muscles that run along the spine and act as a stabilizer during the barbell hip thrust. The erector spinae is engaged throughout the exercise, maintaining an isometric contraction (staying the same length) to support the spine and prevent it from rounding. Its role as a stabiliser is essential for maintaining proper form and ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the exercise. 

Hamstrings

The bicep femoris, one of the hamstring muscles located at the back of the thigh, plays a supportive role in the hip thrust.

During the hip extension phase, as the gluteus maximus undergoes concentric contraction to extend the hip and lift the torso, the bicep femoris assists in this movement by actively contracting as well. It acts as a supportive element or synergist, supporting the glutes in achieving hip extension and contributing to the overall strength of the posterior chain during the exercise. 

Quads and Adductors

During the hip thrust, the quads and adductors contribute in a supportive and stabilising role. While the main focus is on the glutes, the quads, located at the front of the thigh, engage to stabilise the knee joint as you lift your hips. At the same time, the adductors, located on the inner thigh, play a role in maintaining leg alignment and overall stability during the movement. 

Muscles Worked for Variations of Hip Thrusts

Muscles Worked by Single Leg Hip Thrust 

The single-leg hip thrust involves performing the hip thrust with one leg, increasing the demand for single-leg hip extensor strength and stability.

Main muscle groups worked:

  • Glutes: The primary emphasis on the single leg hip thrust is the gluteus maximus. This variation increases the importance of balance and stability in the hips, with a specific emphasis on the single working leg.
  • Hamstring: As with the standard hip thrust, the bicep femoris assists in hip extension. The single-leg nature of this variation places a more isolated demand on this muscle. 
  • Core: The rectus abdominals and obliques play a more significant role in this variation. They work to stabilize the torso and maintain pelvic alignment, undergoing isometric contraction throughout the exercise.

Usefulness:

The single-leg barbell hip thrust is particularly useful for addressing muscle imbalances between legs. It’s beneficial for athletes who require single-leg strength and stability, such as runners. 

Muscles Worked by Banded Hip Thrust

The banded hip thrust involves adding a resistance band around the knees during the hip thrust. The resistance band encourages more glute activation, particularly in the gluteus medius, to maintain knee position against the band’s pull.

Main muscle groups worked:

  • Glute Maximus: The gluteus maximus continues to be the prime mover, performing a concentric contraction during the lifting phase. The band adds resistance, increasing activation.
  • Glute Medius: This muscle, located on the outer surface of the pelvis, is more actively engaged to stabilize the knees against the inward pull of the band, undergoing isometric contraction.
  • Adductors: Located in the inner thigh, the adductors work alongside the gluteus medius to maintain knee alignment, also undergoing isometric contraction.

Usefulness:

The banded hip thrust is a useful tool for individuals who are experiencing their knees collapsing inwards during the exercise. The band can serve as an external cue to support the refinement of technique, whilst enhancing lateral glute strength and promoting knee stability. 

Muscles Worked by Glute Bridge

The glute bridge is performed by lifting the hips off the ground while lying on your back, with the upper back and shoulders staying in contact with the floor during the exercise. This movement features a smaller range of motion when compared to the hip thrust.

Main muscle groups worked:

  • Glute Maximus: This is the main muscle worked, activating concentrically during hip extension.
  • Hamstrings: This muscle engages to support hip extension. 
  • Core: The core muscles are engaged to maintain spine alignment and prevent overaching of the lower back.

Usefulness:

The glute bridge and hip thrusts work the same muscles, but the glute bridge is performed with less range and without equipment, making it a useful introductory exercise. It proves useful for beginners learning the hip hinge movement or can be incorporated into warm-ups to activate the glutes before performing compound lifts the hip thrust. 

Hip Thrust Muscles Worked Frequently Asked Questions

Do hip thrusts work your abs?

Yes, hip thrusts do work your abdominal muscles to a certain extent, although they are not the primary focus of the exercise. 

The abdominal muscles contribute to stabilising the spine and ensuring proper posture during hip thrusts, such as preventing excessive arching of the lower back. 

For a more targeted abdominal workout, consider incorporating exercises like dead bugs and the paloff press instead. 

Do hip thrusts work your hamstrings?

While hip thrusts primarily target the glutes, they do involve the hamstrings to a certain extent. The hamstrings act as supporting muscles, assisting in hip extension along with the glutes.

The level of hamstring activation is generally lower compared to the emphasis on the glutes. If you specifically want to target your hamstrings, incorporating dedicated hamstring exercises such as Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) would be more effective. 

Check out this article to learn more about hip thrusts vs deadlifts.

Do hip thrusts work your lower back?

Hip thrusts work the lower back to some extent. The lower back muscles, specifically the erector spinae, play a role in stabalizing the spine during the movement. However, hip thrusts should not strain the lower back, and proper form is crucial to prevent any discomfort or potential injury. 

Do hip thrusts work your quads?

Yes, hip thrusts work your quads, but they play a supporting role to the main emphasis on the glutes.

The quads act as stabalizing muscles during the hip thrusts, particularly in helping to event the knee and maintain leg alignment. 

If you specifically want to target your quads, exercises that involve more direct knee extension, such as squats or leg press, may be more effective.  

Summary

Hip thrusts are a compound exercise that strengthens the glutes, whilst the lower back, hamstrings and quads play a supporting roles to perform the movement.

Happy Training!

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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.