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Is the Hip Thrust Better than the Back Squat for Glutes?

Finger Guns

The Glute Guy, Bret Contreras has built an entire training industry based on his claim that the hip thrust is a superior glute exercise to the squat. As a singular quote he wrote

Ronnie [Coleman]’s glutes would have been even bigger from hip thrusts. Andy Bolton could get stronger at his deadlift lockout if he did hip thrusts. And Usain Bolt could get even faster if he performed hip thrusts. They are that good!

Hahahahahahaha.  You just can’t make that shit up.

From memory, very early on he also claimed that the back squat was poor for building the glutes, a fact that can be disproven by looking at a side view picture of any Olympic lifter.  The whole thing is laughable.

Which isn’t to say the hip thrust isn’t a good exercise.  It takes the upper body out of the movement which can be a huge benefit for women and it can be worked hard with little issues with form breaking.  But that’s not what this is or was ever about.  It was about Bret’s nonsensically overblown claims and whether they were true or not.

But what is he basing this on?  Primarily this claim is based on his own PhD thesis.  There is some additional indirect work using EMG suggesting better glute involvement with the hip thrust versus squats.  The problem being that EMG is no indication of hypertrophy, a point made by several authors including Bret himself in a paper titled:

Greater Electromyographic Responses Do Not Imply Greater Motor Unit Recruitment and ‘Hypertrophic Potential’ Cannot Be Inferred.

That he wrote with Andrew Vigotsky and several others.

Basically that EMG data doesn’t mean a damn thing as Bret himself admits.  Well, except when he’s got something to sell.  There are also one or two studies, one of which is in adolescent athletes showing that the hip thrust improved sprinting.  Well…yay.  Since the claims he makes are generally about glute size, these don’t make an iota of difference.

But are his claims right?

A new study by Barbalho et al., that will assuredly be addressed (and by that I mean dismissed) by the fitness circle jerk just came out. So I figure I’d address it too since I’ll probably present it a bit differently than they do.  So let’s look at it.

The Barbalho Hip Thrust vs. Back Squat Study

I’ve reviewed two studies by Barbalho et al. before both looking at the impact of different training volumes in both women and men.  Methodologically, both papers are heads and shoulders over most of the work in this area.

They had a large enough sample size, the studies were 6 months, and most importantly the Ultrasound measurements were done in a blinded fashion.  You know, they’re good scientists who prefer to do things right rather than make excuses for sloppy methodology when they get called out like Brad Schoenfeld.

Anyhow, this paper was in a similar vein.    Ostensibly the goal of the study was to compare the results of a multi-joint exercise (the squat) to a single-joint exercise (the hip thrust).  Some of their previous work has shown that adding single joint movements to multi-joint has no further benefit although some of the methodology is very poor (i.e. one used a tape measure to measure growth).

So in a sense they were following up on that research, to see which was “superior” in terms of generating growth and strength.

Specifically they recruited 24 women (to ensure they had the 19 they needed for statistical significance) who had been performing resistance training for nearly 5 years.    Their initial squat RM was an average of about 95kg at a bodyweight of 67.5 kg which is a 1.35 bodyweight squat.  So definitely trained.

The women trained for 12 weeks performing either the back squat or hip thrust.    Specifically they did full squats to a knee angle of 140 degrees.  The hip thrust was done as described:

The HT started with the participant sitting on the floor and aligning the upper back on a padded bench. The bar was placed symmetrically at the crease of the hips slightly above the pelvis. Padding was used between the bar and the participant’s body to provide more com- fort.

The participants were instructed to raise the bar in a controlled manner, and it was emphasized that the force should start from the hip and not from the lumbar spine. The movements started with the glutes slightly off the ground and finished when the hips were fully extended.

There were 12 women in each group.  The women did the same undulating periodization program (that I’m not a huge fan of to be honest) they used in their previous studies, shown below although only for 12 weeks (their previous studies were 24 weeks).  Every week, the women did 6 sets per exercise.

Barbalho Periodization Scheme

So they did one week at 12-15RM with a 30-60 rest, the next at 4-6RM with 3-4 minutes, the next at 10-12RM with 1-2 minutes and the fourth at 6-8RM with 2-3 minutes before repeating the cycle.  Sets were taken to momentary muscular failure and the loads were increased to maintain the desired repetition range over the length of the study.

Note, I will always question the reality of doing multiple sets of 12-15RM on a short rest period and still want to see more studies taking video to show the workouts.  The other weeks are very reasonable in terms of their setup and rest interval.

The Results

The study actually looked both at strength gains in the two movements along with growth in both the quadriceps and glutes.  To really drive this point home, for the ultrasound measurements:

All tests were performed at the same time of the day by a technician who was not involved in the study and was blinded to group allocation. Participants were instructed to hydrate normally 24 h before the test. Measurements were performed 3–5 days after the last training session in order to avoid the influence of swelling.

Again, you know….good science that would get past a Cochrane review.

I’ve presented the results below:

Hip thrust vs. Back Squat Results

To no surprise the back squat improved the back squat more than the hip thrust.  It also generated better strength gains in the hip thrust.  The hip thrust only improved the hip thrust (which is no surprise based on specificity alone).

So what about growth.  For the quadriceps, you can see that squats caused a significant improvement of 7.3  which was statistically significant.  In contrast, the hip thrust generated a 1.2 mm increase in the quads which was not significant.  This is not unexpected since the glutes are mostly a glute isolation exercise.

But what about for the glutes?  Here both the squat and hip thrust generated statistically significant growth.  But whereas the hip thrust only generated a 1.3 mm increase in glute size the full back squat generated a 3.4 mm increase or about 2.5 times as much.

Ruh roh, Bret.  An independent lab using very strong methodology just contradicted your claims big time.

The Conclusion

I’ll just quote their conclusion in full:

According to our findings, performing BS training provided greater gains in muscle hypertrophy for the quadriceps and hip extensors, and strength gains in the back squat exercise when compared with the HT exercises. When strength was assessed by hip thrust 1RM, the results were similar between BS and HT exercises.

Thus, the present study suggests that BS should be preferred to HT exercises when the purpose is to promote gains in muscle size in the knee and hip extensors, as well as strength gains in the specific exercise. However, HT could be useful when it is not possible to perform BS, such as when the knees cannot be moved or overloaded.

Basically they conclude that the back squat is superior to the hip thrust for increasing strength in both movements along with quad and glute size.   I’d note once again that, like good scientists, they use guarded language with words such as “suggest”.  Ahem.

They acknowledge that there may still be times where the hip thrust is a better choice.

My Comments

Well, there’s not much more to add to this beyond what’s in the video and above.  Well, that’s not true.  Because after all of this came out and was discussed, people really missed the point of it.  I would see people saying this was stupid because good routines can include both (no shit, people), etc.

But that’s not what this is about.  Bret built his entire career on his claims of the superiority of the hip thrust versus the squat for building the glutes (he calls himself The Glute Guy for fuck’s sake).  And that was based on his own thesis and some research that even he says doesn’t apply.

He wrote an entire book and built an entire industry on those claims.  It’s made him a lot of money.

And his claim, as he’s made it, would appear to be incorrect.   This study in trained women showed quite clearly that a FULL squat was superior to the hip thrust for generating glute growth.  Please note the bolded all caps work.  A FULL squat.

Frankly, anybody can look at the butt of an Olympic lifter to see that any claim of the squat being poor for building the glutes is total bull.  They have huge asses.  And they don’t do hip thrusts.

Female Olympic Lifter Glute Development

Yeah, she’s not lacking for glute mass.

So that’s all the paper said: in a direct comparison the back squat developed greater squat and hip thrust strength and better glute and quad size than the hip thrust.  Nothing more and nothing less.

As you might imagine, people were not happy with this.  Shortly after the paper broke and my own video, someone made me aware the following criticism of the paper.

Hip Thrust vs. Back Squat: The First Criticism

So the first “criticism” of the new hip thrust vs. back squat for glute growth paper has shown up. It is by Pete Holman (who?), who claims to have 30 years in the S&C field (and who listed his FICTION book CRUZ in his letter as a truly lame appeal to authority).   Here’s the letter and it’s hilarious.

Pete Holman Criticism of Hip Thrust vs. Back Squat Study

While he does appear to have that many years in S&C based on his bio, I don’t think he’s been paying much attention because his comments  and criticisms are gibberish.   I address them briefly in the video briefly in the video below and even more briefly below that.

I address his 5 rather nonsensical criticisms in this video. They are

1. The small number of subjects. Yes, it was only 12.  Most of Brad’s studies have even less subjects than that.  If you read the followup article, Bret’s thesis had TWO SUBJECTS.  And yet, I don’t see him making the same criticism.
2. He thinks a 140 degree knee angle is INSANE. Assuming that these women MUST have been trained OL’ers and Pl’ers
3. That load wasn’t equated between movements.  Well, duh it can’t be.  But the effort was most certainly equated.
4. A bunch of gibberish about specific situations where someone might not be able to squat.  None of which are relevant to this study.
5. A bunch of qualifications that while the squat might be better for elite OL’rs and PL’ers (still his asinine assumption from point 2), this doesn’t negate the benefits of the hip thrust.  Nobody said it did.

Remember folks: the easiest argument to win is the one only you’re making.  And all of his arguments were either moronic, wrong or just pitiful strawman arguments.

Because this is just desperate.

And if you want to keep going down this rabbit hole, you can see me revisit the issue of hip thrusts versus back squats where I take apart Bret’s utter joke of a thesis completely.

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