There are many exercises you can use to get stronger but one of the most common is a squat. A great exercise which loads the whole kinetic chain from your ankles to your upper spine. It greatly develops the strength through your lower body focusing on the thighs and glutes. The nature of a squat exercise is you can relatively safely perform low rep, high intensity strength training.
While the benefits to sports performance of regularly performing squats is well known it also brings with it a few problems. These include :
– Injury – The Weight itself directly loads the spine and can exacerbate existing spinal imbalances or knee and hip alignment issues.
– Activation – Most people have many problems getting the glute muscles to work while doing a squat with the thighs doing much of the work.
– Safety – If training alone it is hard to push to the max for fear of getting trapped under the bar.
– Poor Technique – Many people do not have the flexibility or muscle balance to do a squat correctly.
So what would be a safer alternative?
Many people choose dead lifts in favour of squats however a very popular exercise is the Hip Thrust.
I first read about the hip thrust many years ago from strength researcher Bret Contreras but only saw it being regularly done in gym when I was living in Brazil. A country obsessed with the curved look there is a culture of women lifting heavy weights to increase the size of their legs and glutes. This was many years ago and it is now much more common to see the same approach over here in the UK.
Video – Me Training With A Brazilian Fitness Model Doing Hip Thrusts
So What is so great about Hip thrusts? This exercise holds a few distinct benefits :
– Glute Activation – This exercise targets the rear chain of the legs forcing your glutes to work and making it much easier to target them. Many of the gains in speed and on-field strength come from stronger glutes as they are key movers in sprinting and when hitting an opponent in a tackle. Research shows hip thrusts are the most effective of all exercises to target the bum.
– Safety – The exercise has much less loading on the spine which is safer if your posture is not ideal. It is also easier to do alone as you cannot get stuck under the bar like with squats. It is also easier to pick up the technique as not reliant on flexibility.
This is not to discount the squat as they both have merits but this is a great one to add into the routine. Some other tips on the exercise include :
– Bar Height – The height of the bar depends upon the size of the weight plate used. For practicality reasons a higher bar makes it easier to get under it and lift into position.
– Glute Activation – Just because this exercise greatly favours glute usage does not mean they will automatically work. Instead you often need to do a few reps to ensure they are working. See the video above. Likewise you need to learn to ensure your angle of pushing through the foot favours the glutes.
– Bar Protection – As you use heavier weights the bar sitting on your body can cause pain and irritation. To avoid this use a gym mat and/or squat bar padding wrap to lessen the discomfort.
– Bar Position – There is a slight difference in how you feel the exercise based on whether the bar is on the hips or resting on upper thighs
– Foot Position – A different effect can be felt from having the feet wide apart vs narrow, turned out vs straight and whether done on 1 leg or 2. Likewise, you can experiment with the range of motion used from full to the floor to partial reps. These variations allow for for different targeting.
Check out the video above to see this in action>>>