What you’ll learn here
The barbells are all snapped up at the gym – and everyone tells you they have just about “20 sets to go”. Does that mean you have to give the barbell hip thrust (aka the ‘King of Glute Exercises’), a miss? Thankfully, no. There are many hip thrust alternatives that’ll get the job done so you’re able to stay on track to getting a bigger butt.
Just so you know: all these hip thrust variations have been selected because of their biomechanical similarity to the traditional barbell hip thrust.
A traditional barbell hip thrust puts your glutes at peak tension when they’re in a shortened state (i.e. fully contracted). So, you’ll find that this applies to all exercises included in this article, too.
Before we begin, here’s a complete hip thrust guide that covers everything you want to know about the exercise – from set-up to common mistakes.
Be sure to check it out as there are many concepts that are applicable below.
#1: Smith machine hip thrust
When thinking about hip thrust alternatives that don’t involve a barbell … one of the most obvious candidates has got to be the smith machine hip thrust.
Of course, the movement looks similar enough. But what about the glute activity?
Well, your traditional barbell hip thrusts will have an advantage over the smith machine (how you move the load is a little different between the 2 movements) – but the difference is not all that dramatic (1).
I’d even go as far as to say that the smith machine hip thrust is ‘The Best Hip Thrust Alternative’ for when you don’t have a barbell because it’s:
- Convenient: Setting up for the smith machine hip thrust is super easy. You don’t even have to worry about rolling the barbell over your legs anymore. Just grab a bench, get under the smith machine bar, and you’re good to go.
- Easy to overload: Balance can sometimes be a real struggle on the barbell hip thrust. While that’s not a bad thing per se, it could be holding you back significantly on the load you could lift. Enter, the smith machine hip thrust. With a reduced need to balance, you’re better able to focus on simply thrusting the load. That can help you go heavier on the smith machine hip thrust than the traditional barbell variant.
Here’s how to do a smith machine hip thrust:
The smith machine hip thrust is a convenient alternative to the traditional barbell hip thrust. Because of its stability, you’d find it much easier to overload with this hip thrust variant.
#2: Resistance band hip thrust
Resistance bands are one of the best things you could add to your home workout routines.
These stretchy bands are affordable. They’re capable of filling in for heavier gear like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells. Best of all? They take up so little space that the size of your gym bag becomes a non-issue.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on resistance bands – perfect for those who are new to this amazing training tool.
So, when you’re in the gym, thinking, “How the heck am I supposed to do a hip thrust without a barbell?” … here’s your answer.
Substitute the barbell with a resistance band (i.e. resistance band hip thrust). Just so you know: I’m not talking about the banded hip thrust, where you put mini bands around your thighs. I’m referring to the regular-sized resistance bands.
Side note: if you are indeed putting mini bands around your thighs during the hip thrust, be clear about why you’re using them.
They serve as helpful physical cues to keep your knees from caving in during the movement. But you shouldn’t be using them as a way to hit your glute medius during the hip thrust. You need specific hip abduction movements (e.g. the side-lying hip raise) for that.
The glute activation you get from a band hip thrust might never rival the traditional barbell variant. But to be honest, this hip thrust alternative is good enough.
Especially when you take into account its unique advantages:
- Offers an ascending resistance that gives you peak tension when your glutes are maximally activated (i.e. top of the movement)
- Don’t have to worry about stability
- Easy to set up
Setting up the resistance band hip thrust
Wait. Easy to set up? Where would the band even go?
That’s a great question. You can anchor your choice of a resistance band (or bands) to under your bench, a squat rack machine, or even under your heels.
You can also crisscross a pair of heavy dumbbells on each side of you – and anchor the ends of the bands onto the lower dumbbells (video below). By the way: crisscrossing is mandatory to avoid the accidental launching of dumbbells into an unsuspecting victim’s face.
Of course, there’s a limit to how much resistance you can achieve with bands. So if you’re simply not getting enough challenge from a regular resistance band hip thrust, give the single-leg hip variation a shot.
Here’s how to do a resistance band hip thrust:
Resistance band hip thrusts are super convenient to set up – and you never have to worry about stability. Just be sure to anchor the bands to somewhere stable for safety’s sake.
#3: Dumbbell hip thrust
As its name suggests, this hip thrust alternative involves substituting the barbell for – yep, you guessed it – dumbbells.
But as you can imagine … trying to use heavier weights with this exercise would be a nightmare. Think about the logistics involved in plopping a 50 kg dumbbell on your hips! Quite impossible unless you have a really supportive gym partner.
So, if you ever find yourself in a situation where the dumbbell hip thrust is the only alternative you have, focus on getting in more reps.
That said, you should still choose a weight that’s challenging enough that you don’t have to perform a large number of reps (i.e. as a rough guide, anything past 30) before you’re close to failure.
If you want to better understand why this is important, here’s a guide on reps, sets and training volume that would really help.
Can’t comfortably hold a heavy-enough dumbbell that’ll challenge you on your hips?
An easy workaround would be to incorporate the hip thrust alternative mentioned earlier: the resistance band hip thrusts. Set up your resistance band hip thrusts as per usual, then add the dumbbell.
The added stimulus will be sure to put your glutes into overdrive.
Here’s how to do a dumbbell hip thrust (scroll to the 3rd slide):
Trying to go heavy with the dumbbell hip thrusts can get a little awkward (or downright impossible). Consider adding resistance bands to the mix just for that added tension, so you don’t end up having to perform over 30 reps per set.
#4: Hip thrust (Glute drive) machine
If you spot the hip thrust machine (aka glute drive machine) in your gym … count yourself lucky. These are pretty new to the market and are pretty expensive for an isolation exercise machine, so many gyms haven’t added it to their floors yet.
I’m all for throwing out a treadmill and adding one of these hip thrust machines instead. But let’s leave this for another day, shall we?
Regardless. Doing a hip thrust on this machine is pretty much self-explanatory. You don’t need to set up anything. Just add the weight plates to the side – and you’ll be ready to thrust.
Plus, the biomechanics are just about as close as you can get to the traditional hip thrust.
That said, this hip thrust alternative might even be slightly better than the traditional barbell hip thrusts because (2):
- It’s easier to overload without worrying about stability
- It supports the entire length of your spine, which may prevent hyperextension
- Your hips won’t come into direct support with the load (less pain, more activation)
Here’s how to do a hip thrust on the glute drive machine:
When you’re wondering how you can do a hip thrust without a barbell, spotting a glute drive machine in your gym can feel a little like striking the lottery; these are hard to come by. But they’re the most biomechanically similar to the traditional barbell hip thrusts.
#5: Leg extension/hamstring curl machine
If you ever find yourself in a gym without an available:
- Weight bench
- Weight plates
… you might think that it’s impossible to do a hip thrust in this circumstance.
But good news: it’s not! You can do a hip thrust with the leg extension/hamstring curl machine!
Position your back on the edge of the seat such that the pad lands nicely around your hip crease. Then, simply do your hip thrusts as you would with any of the above hip thrust variants.
Go into full hip extension – taking care to avoid hyperextension of your back. And make sure to squeeze your glutes as hard as you can at the top.
Just note that you might not be able to achieve tension at the bottom position – simply because of the way the weight is loaded on your hips. This is a result of how the machines were designed; you can’t help this.
However, what you can do is to pick a heavy enough weight that’ll challenge you at the top of the movement.
Here’s how to do a hip thrust on the leg extension/hamstring curl machine:
You might find it challenging to achieve a full range of motion when you try to do hip thrusts with a leg extension/hamstring curl machine. That’s why you’ll want to increase the level of glute activation by 1) picking a heavy enough weight and 2) pausing at the top.
#6: Single-leg hip thrust
As you’ve probably noticed by now, we’ve only been talking about bilateral movements. What about unilateral hip thrust alternatives that’ll help you work on your glutes – one side at a time?
You know … like how the lunges are the ‘perfect complement’ to the squats?
Well, there are actually 2 unilateral hip thrust alternatives you could do.
And one of them is an exercise called the single-leg hip thrust (I know, I know … duh). The good thing about this exercise is that you can load it pretty much any way you like. With resistance bands, a landmine, or even dumbbells.
Just note that you can’t use the ‘scoop’ method where you move mainly from the sternum down (i.e. tucked chin, posteriorly tilted hips) here (6).
Instead, using the ‘hinge method’ will be vital to getting the most out of the single-leg hip thrust. This is where you:
- Set up with your arms to the side on the bench and set your gaze straight ahead
- Keep your neck in a neutral position as you brace your core
- ‘Hinge around the bench’ as you push yourself up
You should be looking further up toward the ceiling at the top of the movement. And your entire upper body (head, neck, and torso) should be maintained in a horizontal line.
Here’s how to do a single-leg hip thrust:
Single-leg hip thrusts are a progression of the B-stance hip thrusts. Just note that you’ll have to use the ‘hinge’ thrusting method (instead of the ‘scoop’ method) on these for maximum glute activation.
#7: B-stance hip thrust
If you find the single-leg hip thrust too challenging, don’t worry.
Give the B-stance hip thrust a go in the meantime to build up the necessary strength and coordination in your glutes before progressing to the single-leg hip thrust.
But wait. What’s a B-stance?
Well, the B-stance is simply a staggered stance. In the case of the B-stance hip thrust, the big toe of your back leg is even with the heel of your front leg.
You can think of your back leg as the ‘working’ leg for this exercise – while the front leg mostly acts as a stabilizer.
So, when you incorporate a B-stance into your hip thrusts, it’s somewhat similar to doing single-leg hip thrusts. Only, you have some degree of additional support (and stability) from your back leg.
Because it’s a form of unilateral training, you’ll find that the B-stance hip thrust to be a real challenge – even with just your bodyweight.
- Correct muscle imbalance (i.e. when there’s a stronger side of glutes)
- Improve core strength
- Build up the coordination and strength needed for single-leg hip thrusts
A form tip for performing the B-stance hip thrusts: keep as much weight as possible off the extended front foot. Push through with the heels of your back foot.
Here’s how to do a B-stance hip thrust:
The B-stance hip thrust forces one glute to work harder than the other. Chances are, you’d find this hip thrust alternative challenging to perform even with just your body weight.
#8: Glute bridge
If it helps, you can think of the glute bridge as something like an ‘abbreviated’ hip thrust motion.
Since your shoulders will be flat on the ground through the exercise’s entire range of motion (instead of elevated against a weight bench), you’d get a smaller range of motion with the glute bridge.
Loading weight on this movement would also be a challenge simply because of your body’s angle.
Any slip ups means that the dumbbell/weight plate you’re using would slip right down your torso – and straight into your face. Oof.
But wait! Before you deem the glute bridge as an ‘useless’ exercise, particularly since you have so many hip thrust alternatives that’d work your glutes to a full range of motion (as mentioned above), here’s something you need to know.
The glute bridge is particularly beneficial for teaching you how to extend your hips while maintaining a neutral spine and braced core (i.e. how to prevent hyperextension).
It also gives you a sense of how it feels to use your glutes effectively during a simple movement. This lays the foundation for you to eventually progress to all the traditional hip thrust movements that call for a full range of motion.
Here’s how to do a glute bridge:
The glute bridge is a fantastic, foundational, exercise that’ll teach you the proper technique to eventually progress to more complex hip thrusting movements (that require a full range of motion).
Keep these hip thrust alternatives in mind
Even if the barbell hip thrust is your preferred variation, it’s always good to keep these alternatives on hand – especially on days where everyone at the gym is hogging the barbells.
Training with any of these hip thrust alternatives beats missing out on training your glutes for the day.
Of course, don’t get that variety is important (i.e. don’t just rely on the hip thrust). Here’s some of the best glute exercises you can include in your workouts.
And remember that as with any exercise or training plan, make progressive overload a priority so you’re going to see the results you want.