The 9 Best Alternatives to the Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust is an incredibly popular and effective exercise for working both the glute muscles and the entire lower body. This is because it places a significant amount of work on the posterior chain.

Despite its clear benefits, there are some drawbacks to the barbell hip thrust. Mainly the wide range of equipment needed to do the exercise, including a barbell, bumper-plates, a hip thrust pad for the bar, sufficient floor space, and a bench, box, or step as a raised surface.

If you’re working out in a commercial gym, it’s often difficult to get your hands on such a wide range of high-demand equipment. This problem has led many people to turn to alternative exercises that still provide all the benefits of the barbell hip thrust, but are much more accessible.

This guide will take an in-depth look at 9 of the best barbell hip thrust alternatives, including a detailed step-by-step method on how to perform them correctly and a key tip to keep in mind to ensure you’re using the proper technique from the start. 

Requirements Of A Good Barbell Hip Thrust Alternative

Before taking a closer look at some of the most effective alternatives to the exercise, it’s important to consider the requirements of a good barbell hip thrust alternative.

Needless to say, a good alternative will target similar muscle groups as those used in the barbell hip thrust. These include gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus), hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, adductor magnus, and erector spinae (lower back muscles).

The barbell hip thrust is a unique exercise in the sense that it keeps tension on the hip extensors (gluteals, adductor magnus, and hamstrings) throughout the movement.

While many barbell-standing exercises such as the back squat and deadlift decrease hip extensor tension as the lifter reaches lockout, the barbell hip thrust exhibits the opposite. At the lockout position with this exercise, tension on the hip extensors is at its highest.

The remaining muscle groups mentioned above (quadriceps, calves, and erector spinae) help in extending or straightening the knees to maintain a neutral back position during the range of motion present in the exercise.

To put this all simply, an effective alternative to the barbell hip thrust needs to primarily focus on working the glutes, while targeting the adductor magnus and hamstrings in a minor fashion.

1. Glute Drive

If you’re looking for an exercise that can work the gluteal muscles in an almost identical manner to the barbell hip thrust, the glute drive machine provides an excellent alternative.

With this exercise, a seatbelt-backrest-carriage design enables you to perform the hip thrust movement without needing a significant amount of floor space for a barbell and bench (as is required with the traditional barbell hip thrust).

Moreover, the design of the glute drive helps the lifter in overloading the gluteal muscles in a similar vein to the barbell hip thrust, while removing the stabilization requirement.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, step into the glute drive machine’s footprint and set your back against the glute drive back pad
  • Fasten the seatbelt across your hip bones (or slightly below)
  • Also, make sure that your feet are securely positioned on the platform
  • When set and ready, drive your hips up to take the tension
  • Push the handles forward to successfully disengage the safety stoppers
  • As you descend, let your hips drop and allow your chest to come forward
  • Stop once you reach a comfortable bottom position and then drive your heels into the platform to push back upwards

Key Tip: Keep in mind that some lifters often complain of discomfort on their hip bones when performing this alternative exercise. This is usually because of the seat belt digging into the hips throughout the movement.

To offset this discomfort, it’s a good idea to play around with the position of the seat belt. For example, some lifters prefer to position the seat belt slightly under their hip bones while others prefer to have it slightly higher, closer to the belly button.

2. Bodyweight Hip Thrust

For lifters who prefer to avoid busy commercial gyms, this alternative may be a perfect option. Since it requires no weight, the bodyweight hip thrust can be performed pretty much anywhere you can find a back support. For example, a sofa at home is a particularly popular choice.

In terms of the exercise, the lifter will need to drive their hips upwards, while having their mid-back leaning against a bench or other form of back support.

In comparison to the barbell hip thrust, this exercise - with no external load - is significantly easier to perform. In fact, it may be too simple for many seasoned lifters to get a significant benefit from.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, find yourself a padded bench, box, step, or other similar surface
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back placed against the padded equipment piece behind, and your legs out straight
  • Move your feet towards your glutes and dig them into the ground
  • When set and ready, force your hips upwards while driving your heels down into the floor
  • Stop when your hips have either fully extended or slightly hyper-extended, and lower yourself gradually back to the starting position

Key Tip: For your highest position, you can either stop your reps once your hips reach a neutral position, or when they’re slightly hyper-extended. It’s completely up to individual preference.

Just keep in mind that most people prefer to aim for the slight hyper-extension by performing a strong contraction from their glutes and holding it for a one-second pause at the lockout position. This helps to recruit your glutes as much as possible, as well as maintaining a consistent standard with your reps.

3. Single-Leg Hip Thrust

For lifters who find the bodyweight version too easy, the single-leg hip thrust is a much more effective, at-home substitute for the barbell hip thrust. The unilateral emphasis placed on one side at a time makes it a very underrated bodyweight exercise. Just make sure you perform an equal amount of reps on each leg!

Unfortunately, the stronger and more experienced lifters will still need to do a high number of reps (at least 30 per set for each leg) in order to cause enough fatigue to generate a beneficial adaptation.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, find a padded bench, step or box
  • Then, sit on the ground with your legs straight and your upper back positioned against the piece of padded equipment behind you
  • Scoot your feet towards your glutes and dig them into the floor
  • When set and ready, raise your non-dominant leg off the ground by lifting up at your hip joint
  • Push your hips upwards while forcing the heel of your dominant foot into the ground
  • Stop the thrust when your hips are fully extended or slightly hyper-extended
  • Lower yourself gradually with control back to the starting position and repeat for the same amount of reps on your opposite leg

Key Tip: Some lifters tend to overthink the position of their non-working leg so it’s worth clarifying this confusion.

In short, there are two main options. You can either keep your non-working leg completely straight during the set, or you can decide to pull your knee up towards your chest (with your knee remaining bent throughout).

All things considered, it’s down to personal preference. So, try out both versions for yourself and find out which position works best for your non-working leg.

4. Dumbbell Hip Thrust

This exercise is an excellent alternative to the barbell hip thrust as it’s a comparable free-weight variation that also activates the same posterior chain muscles. What’s more, the dumbbell hip thrust maintains all of the stabilization requirements seen in the barbell hip thrust.

Just be mindful that although the dumbbell hip thrust will do a good job of working your glutes and hamstrings effectively, you may be limited by the size of the dumbbell that you’re able to hold in the crease of your hip.

Trying to push yourself too hard and using a super-large dumbbell may reduce the quality of your technique and the overall benefit of the alternative exercise.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, find yourself either a padded bench, step or box
  • Grab a single dumbbell (ideally a heavy one around 20kg+) and place it on the floor nearby
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back positioned against the piece of padded equipment and your legs out straight
  • Move your feet towards your glutes and dig them into the floor
  • With your feet dug into the floor, lift the dumbbell into your lap (make sure the dumbbell heads are laying across your hip bones)
  • When set and ready, push your hips upwards while also driving your heels down into the floor
  • Stop with your hips fully extended or slightly hyper-extended, and lower yourself gradually (with control) back into the starting position

Key Tip: Using an extremely heavy dumbbell in this exercise will likely feel uncomfortable as it rests against your hip bones.

So, to make this exercise a little more comfortable and enjoyable, it could be a good idea to place a medium-thickness mat on your lap and rest the dumbbell on top. The extra layer of cushion on your hip bones should make the reps more tolerable.

5. Single-Leg Dumbbell Hip Thrust

The single-leg dumbbell hip thrust is a superb substitute for the barbell hip thrust, especially for lifters looking for a greater overload of weight. Moreover, this alternative also retains the unilateral focus of the barbell hip thrust.

Similar to the body weight variation mentioned previously, this exercise places an emphasis on one leg at a time. What’s more, it also allows you to apply prgressive overload by holding a dumbbell (at your hip) to provide a greater amount of resistance.

On the flip side, however, a large dumbbell can quickly become too heavy to hold in position, making the variation difficult for smaller lifters.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, find a padded bench, step or box
  • Grab a single dumbbell (ideally a heavy one around 20kg+) and place it on the floor nearby
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back positioned against the piece of padded equipment and your legs out straight
  • Move your feet towards your glutes and dig your feet into the ground
  • Lift the dumbbell into the crease of your hip on your dominant leg side
  • When set and ready, raise your non-dominant leg off the floor by elevating it up at your hip joint
  • Drive the heel of your dominant foot into the ground and push your hips upwards
  • Stop when your hips are fully extended or slightly hper-extended
  • Lower yourself gradually (with control) back to the starting position and repeat on the other leg with the same amount of reps

Key Tip: While using a heavy and large dumbbell may be tempting for extra gains, it’s common to have problems keeping a bigger dumbbell balanced on your lap without it sliding off.

To avoid losing any of your external resistance during the exercise, it’s a good idea to keep the hand of your working-side resting gently on the dumbbell handle.

This should provide some well-needed extra support, ensuring you can fully focus on your glutes rather than worrying about the dumbbell falling off your lap throughout the set.

6. Single-Leg Banded Hip Thrust

This exercise targets many of the same muscle groups while also shifting the emphasis on one leg at a time, making it a highly effective alternative to the barbell hip thrust.

Much like the aforementioned dumbbell version, the single-leg banded hip thrust provides a unilateral focus as well as dynamic resistance (the tension of the band increases as the lifter reaches lockout).

However, it’s worth noting that this alternative also requires a power rack with band pegs or a couple of heavy dumbbells to secure the band around. As a result of the additional equipment required in this exercise, many lifters may prefer a different alternative instead.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, collect all of the required equipment (padded bench, step, box, heavy dumbbells, or a power rack with band pegs)
  • Grab a single resistance band (either medium or heavy) and place it on the floor near to the bench
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back against the padded piece of equipment behind you and your legs out straight
  • As with the previous exercise, scoot your feet towards your glutes and dig your feet firmly into the ground
  • Cross the band over your lap and secure it on the band pegs (make sure the band is tautly over your hip bones or just below)
  • When set and ready, raise your non-dominant leg off the floor by elevating it up at your hip joint
  • Drive the heel of your dominant foot down and push your hips upwards
  • Stop with your hips fully extended or slightly hyper-extended
  • Lower yourself gradually (and with control) back to the starting position and repeat for the same amount of reps on your other leg

Key Tip: If you’re looking for the ultimate unilateral challenge, you can blend this exercise with the single-leg dumbbell hip thrust mentioned above. To set up this blended exercise, firstly secure the resistance band across your lap and then lift the dumbbell into your lap and hold it during the reps.

This effective combination of dynamic resistance (resistance band) and consistent external load (dumbbell) will offer a unique and beneficial stimulus to your posterior chain muscles.

7. Banded Hip Thrust

The banded hip thrust is a useful alternative to the barbell hip thrust, as it effectively focuses on working the glutes, and can often be performed within the confines of your own home.

This exercise is great for targeting the glutes due to the fact that the banded hip thrust is at its most difficult during the lockout position, which is where the glutes are recruited the most.

However, just like the single-leg banded hip thrust mentioned previously, the set-up for this exercise can be a deterrent for many. Preferably, you’ll need access to a power rack in order to safely secure the ends of the bands.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, find the required equipment, including a padded bench, step, box, and power rack with band pegs (or heavy dumbbells)
  • Grab yourself a single resistance band (either medium or heavy) and place it on the floor nearby
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back against the padded piece of equipment behind you and your legs out straight
  • Move your feet towards your glutes and dig them into the floor
  • Secure the band on both band pegs by crossing it over your lap (or loop it around the handles of the two dumbbells)
  • Make sure the band is tautly over your hip bones
  • When set and ready, push your hips upwards while driving both heels into the ground
  • Stop with your hips fully extended or slightly hyper-extended
  • Finally, lower yourself gradually back into the starting position

Key Tip: If you don’t have access to a power rack with pegs available, using a pair of heavy dumbbells is an effective work-around.

Place them on the floor - making sure there’s enough space to sit between them - and attach the ends of the resistance bands around the handles. Just be sure to allow plenty of room to scoot under the band.

The weight of the dumbbells should be enough to keep them secure on the ground while you drive your hips up against the band.

8. Barbell Glute Bridge

This exercise is an effective one for closely resembling many of the benefits associated with the barbell hip thrust. It targets the gluteal muscles, mimics the motor pattern, and allows seriously heavy weights to be lifted.

Much like the barbell hip thrust, the barbell glute bridge takes the lifter through the same movement pattern. The only difference is that the lifter’s back isn’t positioned upright on a bench or box.

Because of this difference, the barbell glute bridge provides a significantly shorter range of motion than many of the other alternatives on this list. For this reason, you’ll need to add considerably more weight to get a similar beneficial effect on the glutes.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Firstly, set a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you
  • Sit down behind the barbell and being rolling it up towards your hips as you lay back on the floor
  • Scoot your feet towards your glutes and force your feet firmly into the floor
  • When set and ready, push your hips upwards while driving your heels down into the floor
  • Stop the movement when your hips are fully extended or slightly hyper-extended, and lower yourself gradually back to the original starting position

Key Tip: When performing this exercise, some of the more adventurous and experienced lifters like to add a band around their thighs to maximize the work placed on their gluteal muscles.

By using a resistance band around the thighs, the tension from the band will typically drive your thighs and knee inward. To offset this unfavorable position, you’ll need to force your knees outwards, which in turn places a higher workload on your medial glutes.

9. Smith Machine Hip Thrust

The final barbell hip thrust alternative on this list, and by certainly no means the least, is the Smith Machine Hip Thrust. This exercise is highly specific to the barbell hip thrust, so there’s no doubts whether it’s effectively targeting the same muscle groups.

Using this machine, you’ll work your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, adductor magnus, as well as all the same supporting muscles as the traditional barbell hip thrust.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Smith machine will nullify any of the stabilization work you may have been subjected to, due to the fact that the barbell is on a set of tracks. That being said, it’s certainly much easier to load than a standard barbell given the bar is already elevated off the floor.

How To Do The Exercise

  • Find a padded bench, step or box and position it a few feet away (parallel to the Smith machine bar)
  • Sit on the ground with your upper back against the padded equipment piece behind you and your legs out straight
  • Move your feet towards your glutes and then dig them into the ground
  • When set and ready, push your hips upwards and drive your heels down
  • As you force your hips up, rotate the bar to disengage the catch mechanisms
  • Descend to a depth comfortable to your lifting ability, then drive your hips back up
  • Stop when your hips are either fully extended or slightly hyper-extended
  • Lower yourself with a good amount of control back to the starting position
  • Engage the catches by rotating the bar (on the final rep of your set)

Key Tip: Keep in mind that not all Smith machines are built the same. All will allow vertical travel of the barbell on a set of tracks, but some also provide horizontal movement of the bar.

Using a dual-travel machine is ideal, as these types of machine allow for a greater range of motion and freedom of movement, making the exercise feel far more natural and comfortable. They’re not the most common in commercial gyms, but it’s worth keeping an eye out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Barbell Hip Thrusts Necessary?

The barbell hip thrust is a great exercise for engaging the posterior chain, especially the glutes. It’s worth noting that if you’re trying to improve speed, the exercise won’t have too much value.

However, for a figure competitor judged on muscle development, the barbell hip thrust provides plenty of benefits. Furthermore, the exercise also assists general strengthening which is ideal for athletes.

Should The Hip Thrust Exercise Be Avoided?

The hip thrust is considered by many as a non-functional movement. This is because the exercise shortens the muscle over more than one joint. As a result this enables too much slack and can subsequently cause your muscles to cramp.

Your body would never allow you into this particular position, unless of course, you command it to behave otherwise. With this in mind, many people believe that the hip thrust should be avoided if possible.

Final Thoughts

An effective barbell hip thrust alternative will target the same muscle groups, focusing primarily on the glutes, hamstrings, and adductor magnus. If these muscles aren’t suitably engaged, it’s unlikely that the exercise is a good enough replacement for the popular barbell hip thrust.

Ultimately, the best barbell hip thrust substitute for you will depend on a number of factors. The most important include the equipment and space you have available and whether you’d prefer a free-weighted, banded, bodyweight, or machine variation.

When selected with purpose and performed with the correct technique, any of the 9 exercises listed in the guide above can be successfully implemented into your training program as a suitable alternative to the barbell hip thrust. 

Kevin Harris

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