Imagine putting numbers into a spreadsheet for several hours each week only to realize, a year later, you've been using the wrong system the whole time.
Doing an exercise with incorrect form is kind of the same thing. And if glute strength or size is your goal, yet you're making a few common hip thrust mistakes, you may be working, at least partially, in vain. The most common symptom of a botched butt exercise: Your glutes aren't growing or strengthening like you want them to.
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FYI, in case you're not totally clear on it, the hip thrust is the pumped-up cousin of the glute bridge. It involves placing your upper back against an elevated surface like a bench, and then extending, or straightening, your hips to isolate your glutes. Most of the time, you do it with a barbell or dumbbell on your lap.
For the best glute burn and results, zero in on your form and avoid these five workout-wrecking hip thrust mistakes. (Bonus: They hold true for glute bridges, too.)
1. Putting Your Feet in the Wrong Spot
To really hone in on your glutes, you need to pay attention to where you set your feet.
"You don't want to place your feet too close to your glutes because then the hip thrust becomes a quad-dominant exercise," says New York-based certified personal trainer Carolina Araujo, CPT. "But when your heels are too far [from your hips], your hamstrings take over."
To isolate their glutes, most people should set up so that, when their hips are fully raised, their shins are completely vertical and perpendicular to the floor. However, everyone is a little bit different.
"Test different foot placements until you find the spot that helps you move the weight with your glutes as much as possible," Arauo says.
If you feel your hamstrings or quad muscles working hard, you probably need to readjust your hip thrust form. Your glutes should always feel like they're working the hardest.
2. Arching Your Back
One of the most common hip thrust mistakes involves over-arching your lower back, according to Washington-based physical therapist Melissa Garcia, DPT, CSCS.
Throughout the entire exercise, your trunk should be as stiff as a board," she says. Not only does a braced core help strengthen your glutes, it also helps keep any extra stress out of your lower back.
One big reason people arch their back: They throw their head back against (or even below) the bench with each rep. Letting your head fall back makes it easy to accidentally curve your neck. And when you arch the top of your spine, the rest tends to follow.
Throughout the entire exercise, keep your eyes focused on the wall in front of you and your chin tucked to your chest. Resist the urge to look up at the ceiling.
Then, as you lower the weight, keep your core braced. Focus on pivoting your back against the bench, rather than wrapping around it, both Garcia and Araujo recommend. Imagine you're one of those teetering drinking birds from the '80s.
3. Pushing Your Hips Too High
One of the most important parts of the hip thrust is a giving your glutes a good squeeze at the top. But a lot of people get a little overly enthusiastic and push their hips too high up, Araujo says.
When you push your hips too high, you overarch (aka hyperextend) your spine, which can stress your lower back, she says.
Even if you don't have any discomfort, this hip thrust mistake reduces how hard your glutes work. Translation: It defeats the purpose of the exercise.
Try to get your hips in line with, but no higher than, your shoulders and knees. Again, focus on keeping your torso stiff and really using your glutes to run the show, Araujo says.
4. Moving Too Quickly
Moving at a lightning pace doesn't help you reap all the glute benefits this exercise has to offer.
Instead, it both reduces the amount of time your glutes are under tension (something you need to grow muscle) and increases the chances you're using momentum, not your muscles, to move the weight, Araujo says.
The solution is pretty simple: Slow down your reps. But if you struggle to keep a steady pace, she recommends you count out loud.
Think: "1, 1, 2." Raise the weight over the count of one second. Pause for one more. Then lower the weight over the count of two.
5. Letting Your Knees Cave In
When people do hip thrusts, they rarely think about their knees. The result: Their glutes kind of phone it in.
Keeping your knees in place is critical to really activating and building your backside. "You want your knees to stay evenly apart through the entire range of motion," Garcia says. They should exactly as far apart as your feet are from each other.
Wrap a light resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. This gives you a physical reminder of where your knees should be — and helps you really feel your glutes working.
And even if you don't have trouble with your knees caving during hip thrusts, band up! Fighting against the band lights your side glutes on fire for more well-rounded results.