The squat and hip thrust are two of the most popular exercises for growing the legs and glutes. But is one better than the other?
The squat is better for quad development, and the hip thrust is better for glute development. Therefore, you should perform both exercises for complete lower-body muscular development.
So how do you know if you should use the hip thrust or squat, and is this the only difference?
Hip Thrust vs. Squat: What’s The Difference?
Squats preferentially target the quads, glutes, and heavily involve the lower back to maintain posture . The hip thrust primarily targets the glutes and hamstrings but also activates the quads . While they work similar muscles, they differ significantly in their primary means of movement.
For example, the squat is axially loaded, meaning it’s loaded standing with the load bearing down on the spine. The hip thrust is anteroposteriorly loaded, meaning front-to-back resistance. It places less stress on the spine and lower back.
Further, the hip extensors have close to zero contribution at the top of the movement because of the axial loading. The hip thrust maintains a strong glute activation with the hips extended, which is the top of the movement.
Finally, the squat doesn’t work the hamstrings as the hamstrings shorten at the knee and lengthen at the hip during the descent resulting in a near net zero change in muscle length [6,7]. Whereas the hip thrust heavily involves the hamstrings as they are primarily hip extensors.
The hip thrust takes more equipment and is more of a hassle to set up than the squat. The squat requires taking the barbell out of a rack. In contrast, the hip thrust requires setting up a bench and having a pad to protect your hips from bruising from the barbell.
Many lifters skip hip thrusting because of this tedious setup with equipment. Especially if you train in a crowded commercial gym. The hip thrust machine makes it easier to perform the hip thrust without the long setup.
Squats and hip thrusts build the lower body muscles—specifically, the quads and glutes. The squat is primarily used to grow the quads, and the hip thrust is used to grow the glutes. This is a good guideline to follow.
Recently, fitness “professionals” have been poo-pooing the hip thrust for getting a bigger butt because it does not train the glutes at long muscle lengths and instead promoting the squat.
But this is out of touch with reality and experience. We can’t solely extrapolate scientific data from other muscle groups and apply them holistically. That’s not to say the squat isn’t a great exercise for the glutes, but there are better exercises like the hip thrust.
For athletic performance, both exercises are excellent options. I prescribe the squat and hip thrust with athletes I’ve worked with to get bigger, stronger, and faster.
The squat is a harder exercise to learn regarding the technique. But in my experience, learning to squeeze and only use the glutes during the hip thrust is equally as hard. Beginners will typically learn both exercises but will use regressions.
For example, using a goblet squat creates a counterbalance making it easier to hit depth. The hip thrust will regress to a glute bridge performed on the floor, reducing the range of motion.
How To Hip Thrust
One exercise that has gained popularity for building glutes is the hip thrust. This exercise was invented and popularized by Bret Contreras. I caught Bret in the University gym on his first day in New Zealand, where he came to study for his Ph.D. and learned from him firsthand.
Hip thrusts have been widely used by physique and sporting athletes worldwide to develop glute muscles.
Although arguments exist for and against the exercise, it remains an excellent choice for those looking to build stronger glutes.
In fact, the exercise has become a staple in my workout routines aimed at enhancing lower body strength and size. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit on the floor with your back against a bench. Roll the barbell so it is in the crease of your hips. Use a barbell pad or mat to cushion between you and the barbell.
- Bring your feet flat so your shins are vertical at the top of the movement. Shift your back up the bench so your shoulder blades are against the edge.
- Drive through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top.
Stronger hip extension: The hip thrust targets and loads hip extension, making it an excellent exercise for targeting the glute and hamstring muscles.
Reduced knee and back stress: Other glute exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts can aggravate knee and back pain. The hip thrust doesn’t stress the knee and back to the same extent making it an excellent way to load the hips.
Build huge glutes: That is why the hip thrust was invented. To grow a booty worth looking back at.
A hassle to set up: I’ve been in busy commercial gyms trying to set up the hip thrust. Wheeling a bench to the wall and finding a barbell, plates, and a pad is a workout in itself. It’s much easier with a home gym or a hip thrust machine.
How To Squat
The squat is a staple lower body exercise for strength and size. It is often considered the king of leg exercises. If a heavy load on your back has ever challenged you, you can relate. Here’s how to do it:
- Position your feet slightly outside shoulder width with your toes turned slightly out. This will allow your knees to track out so you have space to sit in the hole.
- Initiate the squat by breaking at the knees and hips simultaneously. Push the knees out so they track your middle toe.
- Control the descent as you sit between your legs while maintaining a big chest and straight back. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Once your hamstrings smush your calves, drive with your legs until they are straight.
Unmatched lower body strength: No other exercise allows you to load the legs this heavy through a full range of motion while involving your upper body.
Build huge quads: Use the squat to build massive quads as they’ve done for decades. Old-time physical culturists and golden-era bodybuilders all used the squat to great effect.
Can be hard on the knees and back: If you have pre-existing knee and back issues, the squat may not be the exercise for you.
Is The Hip Thrust Better Than Squats For Glutes?
The hip thrust is better than squats for building the glutes. We see approximately 3x greater glute activation during the hip thrust than squat . That doesn’t make the squat a poor glute exercise. It makes the hip thrust superior for glute hypertrophy.
Can You Replace Squats With Hip Thrusts?
You can replace squats with hip thrusts, but the question is, why? The only reason I see for doing this is if you have bad knees. If the squat irritates your knees, you can forgo the squat and use knee-friendly quad exercises that don’t force the knee far forward.
For example, sled drags and pushes, reverse lunges, and sometimes the leg press. Then you can use the hip thrust to target the glutes. For strength development, it’s not a good idea since the squat strengthens most of the legs with one exercise.
Replacing it with the hip thrust doesn’t make sense since they emphasize different movements and muscles. Squats primarily target knee extension with some hip extension, whereas the hip thrust targets hip extension with no knee extension.
Should You Squat And Hip Thrust On The Same Day?
You can squat and hip thrust on the same day. If you are a Powerlifter or increasing your squat, you can squat first and use the hip thrust as an accessory exercise. You can reverse this order if you are squatting lighter in that training session and use the hip thrust as a warm-up.
If your goal is to get an upper glute shelf, hip thrust first, then use the squat as an accessory exercise, typically for higher reps.
Hip Thrust vs. Squat: Which Is Better?
As with most exercises, there is rarely one better than another. It depends on your training goals, current fitness level, and what you’ve done previously. For example, if you’ve squatted for years and never hip thrust, you’ll make mad gains performing the hip thrust.
Typically, the hip thrust is better for the glutes, while the squat is better for the quads. Knowing this makes programming easier as you can use each exercise for its intended purpose.
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