Hip thrust is a very useful exercise, popularized by the “Glute guy” (Bret Contreras). We all know how the major hip extensors important are for overall health/injury prev., and performance – so we need to strengthen them a lot. This one is maybe not that important for improving sprint and acceleration, as people thought, but irreplaceable when it comes to “isolating” strength of glutes – which is the great protector against low back pain and hams injuries very often. Of course, it contributes to better athletic performance. There is even some evidence that force vector theory works when it comes to improving performance. The results of the following study support the force vector theory. Take a look at the research (infographic) below.
Take a look what Chris says, it really makes sense: “When sprinting, the hamstrings need to absorb very high forces while lengthening, while the priority for the other hip extensors is to be able to produce force quickly. This means that heavy barbell hip thrusts, which involve very slow velocities over a short range of motion may not be ideal for improving sprint running ability, especially when programmed with a slow tempo that prevents the development of explosive strength. However, it seems very likely that hip thrusts with a lighter load and a maximal bar speed would be able to enhance sprinting ability by increasing the ability of the gluteus maximus to exert force at short lengths, and at a high-velocity.” – Chris Beardsley
Of course that we should be looking at the body as a whole unit (not isolated parts) because we have the CNS and different (specific) positions, but we need “isolated” strengthening (hip thrust…) in order to “prevent” injuries the least, if we can improve performance in every sense as well – even better for us!
Let’s go back to the topic. You should be feeling this exercise mostly in your glutes (m. gluteus maximus especially) and less in your hams, low back, or maybe even quads. Of course, by doing this exercise hams and m. erector spinae are engaged as well (hams are hip extensors as well; m. erector spinae is engaged isometrically if you are doing it well – more on this later), but don’t forget that glutes are our primary hip extensors and everything around need to stay stable.
I’ve been meeting a lot of clients who feel this one in hams and/or low back. When it comes to feeling it in low back, overarching is the reason in most cases and by putting BOSU ball below head-neck-upper back (if you do supine hip thrust / glute bridge and don’t like holding head off the ground) you are making posterior pelvic tilt and there is no chance for overarching low back – PPT will allow you to squeeze butt harder as well (most people with APT feel cramp/discomfort while walking or doing almost any exercise because spinal erectors are shortened-tight). You are actually moving ribcage down and it doesn’t allow low back to overextend – this is the key point here. Of course, squeeze the butt – “squeeze that walnut” between the butt cheeks (try to isolate/feel the movement in your butt by using your brain as well – VERY IMPORTANT) and feel the difference. It’s important not to flare chest/rib cage up while lowering butt as well (lowering phase of the move), rib cage should stay down nonstop. While doing the hip thrust, the position of your body should exactly look like the 3rd (C) pic below (unfortunately, it’s impossible to put BOSU ball below head now 🙂 ).
Different length of muscles could be the reason for feeling the exercise at the wrong spot(s) as well. By changing legs position (moving feet too much forward is a common example) you could feel the exercise more in hams. Hams are 2 joints muscle, if we bend the knees around 90 degrees (as with hip thrust) it’s less possible that hams will contribute the movement with it’s full capacity because one side of the muscles is pretty shorten (knees). Bend it even more than 90 degrees and it’s going to be even less possible. Otherwise, if we extend them too much they are more capable to produce force and they will be striving to help glutes with hip extension (that’s the most common reason why you could feel the hams while doing hip thrust or glute bridge.
Overactive hams could be the big reason why you feel hip thrust in hams as well. A lot of people have a problem with poor glute activation – “gluteal amnesia” (sedentary life and prolonged sitting position are the main reasons). Glutes are the main hip extensors, and if they don’t do their job well hams are forced to take their role and they become tired/overactive over time. In the case of hip thrust, it doesn’t matter if knees are bended – hams will do most of the hip extension ROM.
Last but not least, you will increase glute activation by moving toes a bit out and pulling knees a bit out as well (knees just need to “follow” toes in order to prevent valgus position), so you can try to add this trick as well while trying to solve the problem. Long story short, by doing this you are making more advantageous angles inside hips for glutes to activate (utilizing their full potential). If you want to increase glute activation even more, put a rubber band around knees which will force them to resist caving in and by pulling them apart you will feel burning in glutes pretty fast.
The cause of cramping is maybe something mentioned above as well, maybe not, but if it’s repeating constantly try these tricks (if it doesn’t work maybe you should “attack” the causes of cramp: dehydration, lack of minerals, fatigue, stress…).
So, pay attention on proper form and technique tricks, strengthen glutes and feel the magic again. With hope that this helps…
For the love of movement,