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Smith machine hip thrust: Discover our 6 thrusting tips for bigger, firmer glutes

By James Jackson
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

One thing's for sure. Heavy barbell hip thrusting builds the glutes—and fast.

However, recently, I've been trying something a little bit different in my Smith machine workouts. I've been doing my hip thrusts on the Smith machine.

It all started when I was in a rush one lower body day and had only 30 minutes to work out. Rather than spend a third of my precious time loading weight plates onto barbells like a glorified gym servant, I decided to take the Smith machine hip thrust for a spin.

And I have to say, out of all the Smith machine exercises for glutes, I think it's just about my favourite.

And you'll soon learn why...

Smith machine hip thrust exercise details

  • Main muscles: Glutes
  • Supporting muscles: Quads, hamstrings, lower back, abs
  • Exercise type: Isolation
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine, bench
  • Recommended gear: Bar pad, hip circle, knee sleeves
  • Exercise purpose: Develop stronger, thicker glutes
"Many people in the industry unfairly dis the smith machine. I’m a barbell guy through and through, but you can get a darn good glute workout using just the smith machine."
Bret Contreras PhD

How to do Smith machine hip thrusts

  1. Place a bench or step up box at the entrance of a Smith machine. I recommend a bench if you're taller and a box if you're shorter.
  2. Attach a thick squat sponge to the centre of the bar. Alternatively, use a balance pad for extra protection.
  3. Dig your upper back into the bench and then place your feet out in front of you, roughly shoulder-width apart.
  4. Flare your feet out around 15 degrees to put your hips into external rotation (increases glute activity).
  5. Centre the bar on the crease of your hips—you might have to experiment with the bench position to get this right.
  6. Place your hands on the barbell just outside the diameter of the bar pad
  7. Unrack the bar by extending your hips, ensuring that your core is tight, that your rib cage is depressed (as opposed to elevated), and that your chin is tucked (don't stare at the ceiling).
  8. Lower the bar by stretching your glutes and then reverse the motion in mid-air by thrusting your hips as forcefully as you can.
  9. Squeeze your glutes hard at the top position, taking care not to hyperextend your spine as you lock out the rep.
  10. Lower the bar down while maintaining tension in your glutes and repeat for 3-5 sets of anywhere from 8-30 reps (yeah, hip thrusts hammer the glutes at all rep ranges).

Smith machine hip thrust workout tips

Feel the burn with iso holds

woman and her coach performing weighted hip exercises

Since the glutes are most active during hip extension, it pays dividends to get strong in the lockout position. And, in my experience, there's no better way to reinforce the glute contraction than to perform hip thrust iso holds.

Here's what I do:

I pick a weight that I can do for at least 15 solid reps. But instead of thrusting at breakneck speed like a lion that's just been released into the wild, I perform controlled sets of 8 and hold each contraction for about 3-5 seconds.

The trick is to actively squeeze your glutes as hard as you possibly can during these uncomfortable 3-5 seconds. While it might be tempting to extinguish the gluteal fire by letting your hips sag—don't, because doing so deemphasises the contraction and defeats the purpose of performing iso holds.

Harness the power of hip abduction

Side view of strong and fit athletic young caucasian woman in sportswear with bands training legs and glutes

The gluteus maximus is the most prominent glute muscle, contributing to virtually all of your visible glute mass. Yet, if you want complete glute development and healthy joints, then you need to train your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, too.

The best way to train these two glute muscles is via hip abduction.

Of course, these days, you can train hip abduction with a gazillion different exercises (people are so inventive when it comes to glute training). And many of them really are great ways to round off your leg workout.

What I like to do, however, is add a hip circle around my knees while performing medium to high rep thrusts. This way, my glutes get the crucial mass-building hip extension, but I also get that glute burning hip abduction. Plus, when you train these two gluteal functions together, glute activation goes through the roof!

I also find that wearing a hip circle reinforces the proper hip thrust form by placing my hips into external rotation, which greatly limits any potential knee valgus.

Always look forwards

two girls training glutes

No, I didn't get this advice from some Fit Tea seller's Instagram caption (though it is admittedly a great life motto).

Anyhow. If you stare at the ceiling while doing hip thrusts, your pelvis will likely shift into an anterior tilt and, eventually, you'll end up in lumbar hyperextension. Not only does this put excessive strain on your lower back, but it also robs your glutes of tension.

Instead, keep your chin tucked and look towards the point at which the wall and ceiling meet.

Believe it or not, there's a big difference between staring straight up at the ceiling like a mesmerised chicken and looking just below the ceiling like a sensible human being.

The latter will increase your glute activation because you can posteriorly tilt your pelvis, which ensures that your glutes do all the work at lockout.

Just don't take this forward head posture to the extreme—your neck posture shouldn't give you a triple chin. Unless, of course, you already had a triple chin to begin with...

Never make eye contact

a man and a woman on exercise bikes at the gym

Ah, yes, the unwritten rule of all hip thrust variations. Never. Make. Eye contact.

What more do I need to say?

They should teach this in school.

Experiment with your foot position

woman training her glutes at home

While there are many hip thrust best practises, there's no such thing as the perfect hip thrust foot position.

But as a rule of thumb, having your feet closer to the bench will increase your quad activation, while placing your feet further away will recruit more of your hamstrings [1].

I like to keep my shins as vertical as possible (which is to say have a 90-degree angle between by upper and lower legs). This foot positioning tends to keep the pressure off my knees. But it also ensures that my feet don't feel like they're slipping, which is a common side-effect of excessive knee extension.

Stick to higher reps

female performing a glute bridge

Now, I'm not telling you to never dip below 10 reps or attempt a new hip thrust one rep max. However, Smith machine hip thrusts, in particular, are exceptionally well suited to high reps because you tend to reverse the bar in mid-air and maintain constant gluteal tension.

Also, the range of motion is comparatively smaller than the likes of squats and RDLs.

So, to get enough time under tension for actual glute growth, spend most of your time in the 12-15 rep range, perhaps even higher.

Recommended training gear for Smith machine hip thrusts

1. Bar pad

When I was a young lad, I used to hip thrust without protection. My glutes grew, but so did the bruises on my hips. But since meeting my wife, I've matured. And she's got me into using the Advanced Squat Pad.

a black and pink power guidance barbell pad

I can't promise that it'll add inches to your glutes—only hip thrusts, protein and ice cream can do that. However, this ergonomic bar bad does let me perform heavy hip thrusts—pain-free—and it's much thicker than the crap that you find in the average gym.

I've also had great success with this heavy-duty balance pad when attempting new one-rep maxes. It's incredibly useful for day-to-day glute bridging if you have delicate hip bones (or if you just want an extra layer of protection). However, it's more awkward to keep in position than the Advanced Squat Pad.

Swings and roundabouts I guess.

2. Hip circle

The Sling Shot Hip Circle By Mark Bell has to be, besides the hip thrust itself, one of the most genius glute-training inventions in the last...pfft...I don't know, 25 years?

woman doing hip thrusts while weaing a band around her knees

Not only does it add size to your glutes via simultaneous hip extension and hip abduction, but it's also one of the best tools for preactivating your glutes and warming up your hips.

If you're serious about glute training, then the Mark Bell Hip Circle is definitely worth the investment. It's far more durable than the other knock-off that I've tried (and snapped).

3. Glute Lab Book

Ok, so it's not a gym accessory per se, though it does make for interesting reading (and interesting looks from passersby) between sets. However, I thought that Bret Contreras's Glute Lab book was just too damn good to leave out.

glute lab book by Bret Contreras and glen cordoza

In his 600+ page mega guide, Bret 'The Glute Guy' Contreras puts personal trainers out of business by sharing his training system for building strong, powerful glutes the right way.

There's no more guesswork as to which kind of hip thrust is the best, or how many reps and sets you should do to maximise your glute gains. Bret lays out everything from glute anatomy to technique and training program design—all for less than a tub of protein powder.

I highly recommend checking out Glute Lab: The Art and Science of Strength and Physique Training, if you're serious about glute training (or if you just enjoy fitness in general). There's something for everyone in this glute encyclopedia.

Smith machine hip thrust muscles worked

Glutes

Illustration of the gluteus maximus anatomy

As I'm sure you're well aware by now, the glutes get absolutely hammered during the Smith machine hip thrust. However, to enjoy the best effects of this awesome glute-builder, you need to come all the way up, as this is the position in which the gluteus maximus exhibits its peak tension.

Hamstrings

Illustration of the hamstring anatomy

When you're doing hip thrusts on Smith machine apparatus, or with any other equipment for that matter, the hamstrings play a minor stabilisation role. However, you can increase their activation by moving your feet further away from the bench, which can also take the pressure off your knees [2].

Quadriceps

Illustration of the quadriceps anatomy

Since the rectus femoris head of the quadriceps crosses both the hip joint and the knee joint, you'll feel a fair amount of quad involvement during the Smith machine hip thrust.

This is because, unlike the other 3 quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris flexes the hip and extends the knee. But the catch is that it can't perform these functions very well at once. So train it properly, you have to extend the hips while simultaneously extending the knee, which is essentially what you're doing at the top of a hip thrust.

It's also why you might have seen people doing leg extensions while lying down—they're extending their knees while fully extending their hips.

Smith machine hip thrust benefits

Ridiculously easy setup

fitness equipment for strength training at a gym

Who actually enjoys loading weight plates onto barbells?

I certainly don't. Loading heavy plates onto barbells is cumbersome, time-consuming and, if you're lifting a lot of weight, it'll sap your energy. Oh, and did I mentioned it can also hurt your back?

With the Smith machine, on the other hand, setting up for hip thrusts is laughably simple. Sometimes I almost feel guilty that other people are still using barbells.

Since the bar is already elevated, all you have to do is slide the weight discs on. There's no bending down, no putting the bar away after and certainly no need to go on a treasure hunt for collars.

You just put the weight on and thrust. Now that's what I call fast and stress-free glute growth [3].

Bigger, rounder glutes

woman performing banded glute exercises

I can't deny that barbell hip thrusts are a great mass-builder. I mean, apart from maybe squats, they've built more pairs of firm glutes than virtually any other exercise [4].

That said, Smith machine hips thrusts really allow me to focus on lifting with my glutes. As I just explained, the setup is way easier and, for me, a lot more comfortable. So given how vital feeling your glutes is during hips thrusts, I'm going to stick with the Smith machine variation for the time being.

And, if you want to improve your mind-muscle connection (and therefore, your glute size), then I recommend giving the Smith machine hip thrust an honest try for a few weeks.

Increased hip extension strength

Young woman practicing yoga at home

Perhaps I'm just more used to it, but in my experience, you can lift considerably more weight on the Smith machine hip thrust than you can on the barbell version.

Once again, you don't have to focus on the setup or stabilisation. You can devote 100% of your attention to getting stronger and using the proper form—the two most essential factors in the glute growth equation.

Smith machine hip thrust alternatives

Smith machine glute bridge

Smith machine glute bridges are a time-pressed person's best friend. The setup is the least complicated out of any glute exercise, you can lift a ton of weight and it's much safer than the barbell version because the bar can't roll down your torso and hit you in the face.

However, I still prefer doing Smith machine thrusters on a bench because of the deeper glute stretch [5].

Smith machine kickback

woman doing a smith machine glute kickback

If you want a symmetrical backside, then I recommend adding Smith machine kickbacks into your workout routine. You might get a few weird looks doing these (especially if you're a bloke), but kickbacks produce a peak contraction that's so intense, that I can barely put it into words.

Suffice to say that you will not be able to sit down after a set or two of these bad boys.

Smith machine kneeling squat

Smith machine kneeling squats produce higher glute activity than any other exercise. As such, I recommend doing them as a pre-activation movement along with other hip circle or banded warm-ups. Works like a charm for firing up your glutes.

FAQ

What is a Smith machine hip thrust?

woman doing lower body exercise on the floor

A Smith machine hip thrust is a glute isolation exercise that's a variation of the popular barbell hip thrust.

What's the difference between Smith machine hip thrusts and barbell hip thrusts?

weight lifting bar on the rack in a fitness centre

Here's a quick Smith machine vs barbell hip thrust comparison:

A Smith machine hip thrust is easier to set up and perform than a barbell hip thrust because you don't need to stabilise the weight or bend down excessively to load weight discs onto the bar.

Both are great glute builders, but you'll probably be stronger and have an easier time feeling your glutes working during the Smith machine variation.

Are Smith machine hip thrusts good for abs?

woman with her hands on her back because she is in pain

No, not really. While you might feel an isometric contraction when using heavy weights, you should feel 90% of the tension in your glutes.

Are Smith machine hip thrusts good for bodybuilding?

bodybuilder flexing his upper body

Yes, absolutely. If you want to add mass and detail to your glutes, few exercises will do it faster than Smith machine hip thrusts [6].

What if my Smith machine doesn't go low enough for hip thrusts?

thinking women with question mark on white background

You can try using a taller bench and elevating your feet. If not, then just stick with the barbell version or try dumbbells.

You can also check out Bret Contreras's highly-rated book Glute Lab, for more test-backed alternatives.

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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