Taking down the glute god
Against the almighty hip thrust; #WaterTok; brain butter. This is Link Letter 81!
Earlier this week, Slate published a paean to the hip thrust, a movement that has a storied reputation for making people’s butts huge (usually, crucially, without also building up their leg muscles). It’s been surging in popularity again on social media in recent months, for reasons we can never be sure of.
Because of that, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to address the hip thrust, so I will now. I have strong feelings about it, and people do ask me about it regularly (someone asked me about it at the library talk I gave a few weeks ago). I hate to come down on any coverage of lifting,[^1] but I have a few issues with the Slate piece:
Bret Contreras did not invent the hip thrust. Slate credits the hip thrust to “Glute Guy” Bret Contreras. Here is the thing: Strength training majorly suffers from a lack of documentation; information exchange is largely oral, in the tradition of Homer, Plato, et al. It’s bros in the gym together saying to each other “yo have you tried this move bro it’ll totally light up your serratus anterior bro.”
Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to say exactly who invented what exactly when. But there is at least one scrap of evidence I found in an old bodybuilding magazine that suggests the hip thrust did not burst forth fully formed from Bret Contreras’s brain[^2]. (One Liftcord member also attests to doing hip thrusts in the weight room during football team lifting sessions back in the 80s.) One could argue that Bret Contreras popularized the hip thrust, albeit in the interest of selling his glute programs and especially selling this weird piece of hip-thrust specific equipment that he makes (more on this in a moment.)
Bret Contreras has a history of being weird, rude, disrespectful, and allegedly abusive toward women. It’s a major reason that it is painful to see his name held up in esteem and for him to be receiving flowers for anything, let alone things he didn’t actually do, such as inventing hip thrusts. It further annoys me that hip thrust hegemony usually serves as a feedback loop where Bret Contreras never leaves the conversation, due to nothing more than canny marketing on Bret's part. Bret Contreras also pushes the hip thrust because he has an absolute fixation on women building their butts without making their legs bigger, which is just a total weirdo fear that he need not be putting in anyone's heads, let alone selling expensive equipment off it. (As close readers of this newsletter know, a surefire way to get popular online is to insist some obscure niche technique or product is the key to everything.)
But we should let the hip thrust fade into obscurity. Why? Because the hip thrust is overrated. There, I said it.
I posted about this a few years ago and received a lot of backlash. At least one of this newsletter’s powerlifting favs often dedicates a whole training day in her program to hip thrusts. But as time has worn on, I’ve only grown more sure of my anti-hip-thrust stance.
Why is the hip thrust overrated? A few reasons:
The technique is deceptively difficult. Hip thrusts are just not something I see most people doing correctly. They are often moving their upper body too much or not enough, hyperextending, feet in the wrong place, etc etc. Most people are just not good enough at moving their hips and related muscles to make hip thrusts worth it. Even worse, everyone sees women on social media hip-thrusting 300 pounds and thinks they too should throw themselves at extremely heavy weight without regard to how they are moving.
Here is the thing: Form isn’t just important, it is the entire damn thing. It is the entire damn thing ESPECIALLY if you are doing a movement with the goal of making whatever muscle bigger. If you aren’t doing the movement with correct form, it’s not going to produce the results that it’s supposed to. The end! (If you insist upon hip thrusts, here is a good instructional video.)
They are a pain in the ass to set up. You have to prop a bench against a surface where it won’t rock backward, bring over a barbell, load the plates on to it on the floor, corral one of those hip pads, contort yourself under there, and then do your sets. Bret Contreras knows this, which is part of the reason he pushes hip thrusts so hard: He gets to sell an additional hyperspecific piece of equipment for several hundred dollars. If you were going to go this far, you might as well just do hip thrusts on a machine that takes 99% of the setup work out of things (this is what I prefer; these machines are usually quite good). You just buckle in and start thrustin’.
There are better, more functional moves that will better serve most people in learning how to use your hips/butt. Look: I don’t know your life, but I’d venture the way most people use their hips and butt is not well-represented by a hip thrust. I’d put almost anything from this reel up against the hip thrust, but especially deadlifts, RDLs, single-leg/”B-stance” RDLs, step-back lunges, single leg squats to a chair, and lateral step-ups. Learning to load your hips right pays off everywhere, including, yes, in making your butt bigger, and even in the hip thrust.
The last time I posted about hip thrusts on Instagram, a literal world-class powerlifter replied to me and said that nothing can quite replace the hip thrust because your hips are as loaded at the top of the movement as they are at the bottom. This is not true of, say RDLs. I respect the hell out of this powerlifter and she is eminently correct. And yet!: I just don’t believe that the hip thrust is as worthwhile, let alone more worthwhile, of an accessory compared to a lot of other moves. And because the huge-glute goblins will ask, I’ll say it: The above moves can do an equally good, if not better, job building glutes than hip thrusts. More to the point, for most people, having a huge butt is 100% more about having good muscle- and strength-building habits in general (and eating, damn it!) than picking the one precise correct movement.
This is all not to say no one is allowed to do hip thrusts. Do hip thrusts, if it’s your one joy. Just don’t confuse them for the only true and real way to have a strong or huge butt. Don’t waste your time corralling the seventeen different pieces of equipment they require if you don’t want to. And please, for the love all that is good in this world, stop putting shine on the bottom crawlers (pun NOT intended) of the lifting world.
~Discord Pick of the Week: We haven't had a good old-fashioned Photoshop fail in a while, but GQ Mexico did a number on Karol G.~
Drew Magary tried living exclusively on super foods and food supplements for an entire month: protein bars, seed clusters, “brain butter.”
This sounds like it rocks: An opera is opening about the double life of boxer Emile Griffith, who was also a low-key fixture of gay bars and clubs in the 70s. It’s called Champion. GQ has the real-life diet of the lead actor, Ryan Speedo Green.
Hike ‘em up, boys: Short shorts and the power of the male leg.
No matter how scientists try to smooth it out, the health benefits of ice cream refuse to go away.
If it’s advertised to you online, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Is there life after influencing?
WaterTok. [Shakes head and double-takes at the teleprompter] Water Tok?
Beef is the best TV show I’ve seen in a long time.
How to Blow Up A Pipeline is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.
With a Judy Blume doc and Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret adaptation on the horizon, it’s Judy Blume season.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
[F1] Full disclosure that the editor of this piece and series, Shannon Palus, reported to me once upon a time when we both worked at Wirecutter. Shannon is wonderful, we remain friendly, and I let her know I would be lightly eviscerating the hip thrust piece; she welcomed the challenge, as she is a good sport.
[F2] Update: This link functions weirdly, so for posterity, here is Bret Contreras on his own blog citing several other experts (a few of whom are authors of one of the lifting bibles, Supertraining) as creators of hip thrust variations, though he notes also that they were not popular. It is also worth nothing the term "hip thrust" is relatively modern, just as "squat" is a relatively modern term for what used to be called a "knee bend"; earlier terminology for this genre of movement appears to include "hip lift," "pelvic lift," or in the case of Bret's variation, "shoulder-elevated hip lift." "Hip bridge" and "glute bridge" are similar.