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Smith machine glute bridge: Everything you need to know for firmer glutes

By James Jackson
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

When I'm in a rush and don't have time to mess around with a bench, I always include the glute bridge in my Smith machine glute workout.

Don't get me wrong: the hip thrust is a phenomenal glute builder—probably the best there is. But if just want to get on with training your glutes, then the Smith machine glute bridge is easily one of the most convenient hip-hinge exercises.

And, with just a few tweaks, it'll have you well on your way to acquiring rounder, firmer glutes.

"These days, when I teach people how to bb glute bridge, I have them posterior pelvic tilt and flatten out their lumbar spine. This prevents anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar hyperextension, it shuts down erectors and forces all of the burden onto the hip extensors (primarily glutes)."
Bret Contreras
The Glute Guy

Smith machine glute bridge exercise details

  • Main muscles: Glutes
  • Supporting muscles: Hamstrings, quads, abs
  • Exercise type: Isolation
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine
  • Recommended gear: Bar pad, hip circle
  • Exercise purpose: Build stronger, more prominent glutes

How to do Smith machine glute bridges

  1. Set the barbell to the bottom of the Smith machine.
  2. Get into the glute bridge position by creating a triangle shape between your upper and lower legs while lying on the floor.
  3. Centre the bar over your hips.
  4. Extend your hips to unrack the bar and push them upwards until you can't go any higher without hyperextending your lower back.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second or two.
  6. Slowly lower your hips down until they touch the floor—repeat for 3-4 sets of anywhere between 10-30 reps.

Smith machine glute bridge form tips

Push through your heels

woman in sportwear doing hip thrusts on the mat in living room during a home workout

Pushing through your toes, which is a common glute bridge and hip thrust mistake, shifts the tension onto your quads and knees. Ultimately this leads to knee pain and causes people to claim that bridging movements are bad for your patella, which just isn't true.

Instead, push through your heels. Doing so make you stronger and also ensures that your glutes bare the brunt of the resistance. Curl your toes up if you have trouble conceptualising this, it'll force the weight onto your heels.

Tilt your pelvis up and back

female performing a glute bridge

If you've read his articles or watched his videos, then you've probably heard Bret Contreras tell you to posteriorly tilt your pelvis as you lock out your glute bridge or hip thrust [1].

Not only does this technique prevent your lower back from hyperextending (and the accompanying strain that would come with such hyperextension) but it also creates an intense contraction in your glutes by putting your hips into full extension.

Essentially, you want to tilt your pubic bone towards your face, as if you're trying to curl the barbell towards your head as you finish the rep.

Once you master this cue, you'll never have trouble feeling your glutes work again.

Initiate each rep with your glutes

woman doing lower body exercise on the floor

Most people can lift a lot of weight on Smith machine glute bridges.

However, this relative strength causes lifters to treat the exercise like a deadlift, in that they fling that weight up by whatever means possible and then simply let the barbell drop.

Instead, lighten the weight. Use the empty Smith bar, to begin with, if you have to. Heck, even your bodyweight will do if you're a beginner.

Despite enabling you to lift some serious poundages, the glute bridge is still an isolation exercise—the clue is in the name. As such, you want to initiate each rep by squeezing your glutes [2].

Doing this naturally prevents you from using your lower back to deadlift the weight up, and it also ensures that your glutes are being maximally stimulated.

Once you've mastered the skill—the art of keeping tension on your glutes throughout the entire repetition—then you can add weight. This is when your patience in learning the proper form will pay dividends in tangible glute gains.

Recommended training gear for Smith machine glute bridges

1. Bar pad

reehut bar pad

If you do any kind of glute bridging or hip thrusting with a barbell or Smith machine, then I highly recommend investing in a thick bar pad.

I personally use the anti-slip Advanced Squat Pad, and it works like a charm for preventing bruising and discomfort.

I've also had good success with this thick balance pad, which I tend to save for my max effort sets (because it's quite cumbersome to wedge under the bar). However, my wife thrusts with it all the time, and according to her, its much comfier than any bar pad that she's used.

2. Hip circle

sling shot hip circle

Let's talk about hip circles. These things fire up your glutes and really get the blood flowing to your hip joint. When I forget to use it, I feel like a stiff old man whose been robbed of all mind-muscle connection. In other words, my leg workouts suck.

I've tried a lot of different hip circles over the past couple of years, and I've even managed to break a few (that hip abduction strength!). But now I've settled on the Sling Shot Hip Circle by Mark Bell.

It turns out that a hip circle created by a world champion powerlifter is much sturdier than one created by a no-name brand. Why didn't I realise this earlier?

3. Glute Lab Book

glute lab book by Bret Contreras and glen cordoza

Ok, this book isn't technically a gym accessory—but it's just too good to leave out.

Bret "The Glute Guy" Contreras and his a test-backed approach to training has revolutionised glute building, and in his comprehensive 608-page hardback book, he shares everything that you need to know in order to sculpt bigger, firmer glutes.

Bottom line is, for about the cost of one personal training session with an average PT, you can learn how to build a better bum from the world's foremost glute training expert by investing in Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training.

Smith machine glute bridge muscles worked

Glutes

Illustration of the gluteus maximus anatomy

You'd think that calling an isolation exercise a glute bridge would cause everyone to lift with their glutes, wouldn't you?

Well sadly, this isn't the case. As I mentioned earlier, people love to train their egos by deadlifting the weight up with whatever muscles will contract in the moment. While this might mean a new PR every week, it won't do much for your glutes.

Instead, you want to focus solely on the glutes—initiate and lock out every rep with just your backside. Also, don't forget to control the bar on the way down (think of it as a weighted glute stretch).

Hamstrings

Illustration of the hamstring anatomy

If you're lifting hard and heavy, then there's a decent chance that you'll feel your hamstrings working during Smith machine glute bridges. However, if you feel them burning anywhere near as much as your glutes, then your feet are probably too far forward [3].

But, as you'll learn in just a second, it's important to find the right balance in the realm of foot positions...

Quadriceps

Illustration of the quadriceps anatomy

If you keep your feet too close to your hips, not only will you put a lot of tension on your quads, but you'll also place a considerable amount of strain onto your knees.

Thankfully, if you widen your foot position and flare your knees out a bit, then you can avoid most of the potential knee strain. Just make sure that you don't place your feet too far out in front since this, as we just established, shifts the tension away from your glutes and onto your hamstrings.

Smith machine glute bridge benefits

Simple setup

Young woman practicing yoga at home

As much as I enjoy hip thrusting, I have to admit that the setup is cumbersome at times. Especially if you're training in a new gym, where you have to find the correct bench position all over again.

With the Smith machine glute bridge, however, you can learn the setup once and never have to worry about it again. Seriously, all you need to do is load the Smith machine (much easier than loading a barbell), lie down, and lift.

Building your glutes couldn't be easier.

Easy to master

female in sportwear with her hands on her hips

With the hip thrust, you have to worry about your head position, bench position, hand position and more—It's like learning to drive a car all over again.

But with glute bridges, all you need to do is learn the correct hip, foot and knee mechanics, and then you're golden. Naturally, this ease of mastery means that you can build you glutes faster because you spend less time on technique and therefore, more time on overloading your glutes to make them grow.

Great glute pump

woman performing glute exercises with a hip circle by the pool

Glute bridges have a relatively small range of motion, meaning that they're especially suited to high rep training. As a result, they make an excellent finishing movement to really burn out your glutes and stimulate new growth.

Also, science shows that performing glute bridges while abducting your hips significantly increases glute activation. In the study, the researchers used a resistance band to abduct the hips. However, I find that wearing a hip circle around my knees is even more useful for stimulating the glutes [4].

Smith machine glute bridge alternatives

Smith machine hip thrust

If you have trouble feeling your glutes work during free weight exercises, then giving Smith machine hip thrusts a try could improve your mind-muscle connection.

Since you don't have to stabilise the bar, you can devote 100% of your attention to hammering your glutes, which is bound to produce noticeable results if your diet is good—enough calories and plenty of high-quality protein.

Smith machine donkey kickback

The Smith machine glute kickback is one of the best exercises for building shapely glutes because you can ensure that each side of your body receives equal work by training one leg at a time.

You can't lift a lot of weight on this movement, but even just an empty bar (which can weigh up to 20kg on some Smith machines) produces a peak contraction that's among the most intense that I've ever felt.

Smith machine kneeling squat

Performing kneeling squats on your Smith machine is a great way to pre-activate your glutes before heavy squatting and hip thrusting because you can focus on the squeeze.

I personally prefer warming up with a hip circle, but now and again, I'll do kneeling squats to get my glutes firing, and also to just break up the monotony of 10+ years of weight training.

Overall, a great exercise, much like Smith machine glute bridges.

James Jackson
I'm a former academy rugby union player who specialises in strength and conditioning for competitive athletes. I split my time between coaching the next generation of British talent and creating hands-on gym equipment case studies at Smith Machine UK.
At Smith Machine UK, we create in-depth tests of the latest and greatest gym equipment on the British market so that you can create your dream home gym.
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