November 11, 2021 10 min read

Building a toned butt has become a workout staple in recent years. And while the de facto exercise recommendation for big buns is the squat, it’s  not the only solid glute-building option out there.

The barbell glute bridge is a fantastic lift for developing the glutes, along with your hamstrings and quads. In fact, it’s one of the best exercises out there for glute development and increasing your hip hinge mobility. However, to reap all of its rewards, we must first learn how to perform them correctly.

The Benefits of Glute Bridges

Although the glute bridge is a relatively simple exercise, there are good reasons why it remains such a popular exercise. Properly done, glute bridges will strengthen some of the largest muscles in our body while also being great for beginners. If you haven’t included them in your training program yet, it’s about high time you do so.

Sporty couple workout with dumbbells

All About the Butt

The glute bridge—as the name might suggest—is one of the best lifts out there for targeting your glutes. Stronger glutes will help you in a variety of daily activities that require your lower body. To add to this, your hamstrings and quads will also be engaged during glute bridges.

Putting it all together, you’re going to develop a powerful set of tree-trunk legs with the proper implementation of glute bridges into your training routine. This also means that the glute bridge has a ton of benefits that carry over to your other lifts.

Strong Carry Over Strength

If you have your eyes set on lifts in powerlifting such as squats and deadlifts, the glute bridge is a great complementary exercise to increase your performance. Along with strengthening the largest muscle groups in your lower body, the glute bridge will also engage your core to a great degree. The core is super essential in a lot of exercises, and it helps to transfer power between the lower and upper body.

This means you can expect to see increased performance in not only everyday activities but also athletics and sports.

And as a cherry on top, glute bridges will also contribute to having a healthier posture and a decreased risk of developing back pain.

Beginner Friendly

But the biggest benefit of glute bridges is how easy they are to do. With a low barrier to entry, you can reap the rewards of much more complicated exercises with similar results. Squats and deadlifts in particular require a lot of coordination, mobility, and strength to correctly perform, and this effectively locks out a lot of people from implementing them in their workout routines.

The glute bridge removes a lot of the barriers that people face when trying to develop their glute strength. This isn’t to say that the humble glute bridge will ever replace squatting or deadlifting, but that it’s a fantastic complimentary exercise that can be used to work up to these more complex movements. And even if you do already know how to squat and deadlift, the glute bridge can increase your performance in these lifts.

The glute bridge is also a great way to warm up for exercises where you’ll be using heavier weights (such as squats). Especially wherever the hip-hinge is used, the glute bridge is a good way to get your body used to the movement pattern before trying to pull or lift a larger load. We often talk about the importance of warming up before heavier lifts, and this is one great exercise to implement in your warm-up routines.

Finally, the glute bridge’s accessibility means that it can be done pretty much anywhere with no equipment. The barbell glute bridge specifically requires some more specialized equipment, but a barbell is easily substitutable for different weights. However, the barbell will allow you to move more weight, which is good (and necessary) for your strength gains.

Muscles Worked

As the largest muscle in the body (and potentially the most powerful), the glutes are the stars of the show when it comes to the glute bridge. The glutes are responsible for primarily responsible for straightening the hips in the hip-hinge pattern, which is used often in daily life.

The “glutes” actually consist of three different muscles called the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius.

As the names would suggest, they range in size and have similar, yet specialized, functions. Since the glutes are so large, they respond very well to resistance training with heavier weights. Although bodyweight variations of exercises can get you far, the glutes will develop faster and more efficiently with exercises such as weighted glute bridges, rather than simply bodyweight.

How to Do the Glute Bridge

Before you begin, you’ll want to prepare a good spot to perform the glute bridge. Rolling out a cushion or a matt is a good way to make the exercise more comfortable. You don’t necessarily need to warm up (since the glute bridge is already a good warm-up exercise), but it’s always a good idea to get your blood pumping with some cardio before you start training.

 

  1. Begin by laying down flat on your back on top of the matt or cushion. Roll the barbell with weight plates across and over your legs, allowing it to come to a rest where your hips bend. You can also use some extra cushioning on the bar to make it more comfortable.
  2. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, angling them so they point straight up towards the ceiling. As you do this, you also want to ensure that your feet remain flat on the floor.
  3. Gripping the barbell to keep it in the correct position, beginning pushing through your heels to bring your hips up along with the bar. Engage your abdominals and glutes to keep you balanced and to drive the movement.
  4. As you come up to the top of the position, make sure that your head and shoulders stay completely flat on the floor. Your knees should also remain pointed towards the ceiling, and your body will be positioned in a straight line from the hips to the shoulders.
  5. At the top of the movement, pause for a few seconds. Feel your glutes engage, along with the rest of your stabilizing and moving muscles. The slower you take this exercise, the more you’ll get from it.
  6. Once you’ve held the position for a few seconds, slowly lower yourself back to the ground. Repeat for the desired amount of reps and sets, which will depend on your fitness goals.

Programming Glute Bridges into Your Workouts

The programming of the glute bridge into your workout routine will largely depend on your overall fitness goals: are you aiming for strength training or bodybuilding?If increasing your strength is the end goal, the key is to load up with heavy weights while doing fewer sets and reps. This will push your muscles further over a shorter range of repetitions, eliciting more strength gains. In terms of sets, aim for 2 or 3 with around 5 reps each.

On the other hand, for growing muscle mass you want the opposite—light to moderate weights with higher rep ranges. Increasing the volume of the load while decreasing the intensity is a fantastic way to get a good pump, and to elicit more muscle growth over the long term. Try to go for 2 to 3 sets of up to 10 repetitions each time.And as we’ve mentioned above, the glute bridge is a fantastic beginner exercise for those looking to get into hip thrusts and other, more advanced movements.

Although it’s an entry-level exercise, that doesn’t mean more advanced lifters can’t find it to be very useful. However, this should be kept in mind when programming this exercise. You’re likely not going to be trying to specialize either for strength training or hypertrophy at the early stages of working out, so it’s best to do a mix of both.

Tips on Improving Your Glute Bridge

Although the glute bridge is a relatively simple movement, that doesn’t mean you should throw all caution to the wind and grab the bull by its horns.There isn’t too much of a risk of injury (yet this also mostly depends on the amount of weight you’re using), but perfect form will allow you to get the full benefits of the glute bridge. Good form means proper muscle activation, and therefore, efficient muscle growth that actually hits the target muscles.

Using a Mini Band

One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your glute bridge is to use a mini band or resistance band. It does two things for you when bridging.It comes down to the fact that a mini band will force the lifter to push their knees outward as they glute bridge. For one, this fixes a common problem that people with weak glutes have: knees collapsing inward during the movement.

Secondly, having to push out against the mini band will also engage your glutes even more, since you’ll be forced to push out laterally during the entire exercise. By adding just slightly more tension in the right place during the glute bridge, it brings this exercise to an even higher level.

Posture is Everything

Along with preventing your knees from falling inward, there are several other ways to ensure that you’re glute bridging correctly.The shins should be either perfectly vertical (perpendicular to the floor) or, slightly angle forward. Your toes should also either be straight or slightly angled out, but this will largely depend on the individual and their preferences. Try out different methods before sticking to one.

Your back should also remain perfectly flat throughout the entire movement. You’ll need to engage your core muscles in order to protect your spine, so if you feel your back moving, you’re probably doing it wrong.A lack of mobility in the hips might also prevent you from creating a straight line once you get to the top of the movement. This is okay, and your mobility will develop over time. Just go as far as you’re able to before coming back down to the starting position.

The Glute Bridge vs. Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust deserves a mention beside the barbell glute bridge because, at first glance, the two movements look exactly the same. However, there are some important mechanical differences.We already know how to perform a glute bridge, so let’s take a closer look at the hip thrust.

 

In order to hip thrust, you’re going to need a bench and some sort of weight (we’ll use a barbell in this example). You begin sitting down, with your shoulder blades against the bench and your feet flat on the floor. Move the barbell so it’s resting comfortably in the crease of your hips, and then similarly as with the glute bridges, drive through your heels and move your hips up with the weight.You’re going to be activating similar muscles as you do so: namely, the core and the glutes.

You continue until your back is parallel to the floor, where you’ll hold the position for a few seconds before coming back down.Now, the only difference is the fact that you’re “bridging” from a raised surface: the bench. But this results in a much higher range of motion throughout the lift in order to reach the point where your body forms a straight line.

Which One is Right for You?

By opting out of the raised surface, glute bridges require much less of a range of motion. This means you’re going to be taking your muscles through less, meaning less activation. But when should you choose to do either one?The glute bridge, as we’ve seen, is a relatively simple exercise that’s fantastic for beginners who are just getting into working on their glutes. The lower range of motion is especially useful for this, and lifters can work their way up to the hip thrust.

For similar reasons, the glute bridge is also a good idea during a warm-up session before you begin any hip-hinge exercises. These can include things like kettlebell swings and deadlifts. The glute bridge is also fantastic in a pinch since you need very little equipment to successfully pull it off. Even though a barbell will generally allow you to load more weight on the lift, you can even use kettlebells or dumbbells (or other heavy and sturdy objects).

The hip thrust comes out stronger in both mobility development and to build strength. Mobility is a result of the larger range of motion that’s required. Strong and functional hip flexors are useful in all areas of life, and so developing mobility in this area will carry over to many other daily activities and gym lifts.The hip thrust is also great for developing strength—in fact, it’s considered to be one of the best exercises for your butt.

Research done by Bret Contreras (who’s known as the glute guy…so you know he gets what he’s talking about) has even shown that the hip thrust leads to more glute activation than the almighty squat. So, if you’re ready to spice up your glute bridges, the hip thrust is a perfect and natural progression that’s guaranteed to get you even more results.

Other Variations and Alternatives

Although the weighted glute bridge performed with a barbell is very common, there are several other variations you can give a try.The barbell will generally allow you to use more weight which will help out with strength gains, but a dumbbell or kettlebell will work well too. And if you’re traveling or don’t have access to any equipment at all, bodyweight glute bridges are also a good option. Just remember to place a high amount of focus on the movement itself and the proper muscle activation.

Straight Leg Glute Bridge

The straight leg glute bridge (also known as the single-leg glute bridge), is another great alternative to add to your bridge repertoire.Using a single leg will obviously add a greater level of difficulty to the exercise. No longer will you be able to rely on both sides of your body to power you through, which comes with some interesting consequences.

 

The benefit of unilateral movements is that only work a single side at a time, is that they can do a lot in fixing any imbalances that we may have.

These imbalances might not even be consciously felt, but they will lead to unequal development on the sides of our body. Not only will this affect any aesthetic goals we may have (especially when it comes to the butt), but it could also lead to injuries and aches down the road since some of our muscles won’t be as strong as they should be.

Bridging to Better Wellness

Whichever method you choose in your hip thrusting journey, it’s going to all come down to hard work, the right food, and enough rest.

The glute is the largest muscle in our body, and so it deserves some extra attention even if big and toned buns aren’t at the top of your physique wish list.