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February 16, 2022 8 min read

Building big glutes is an aesthetic a lot of us in the gym strive for, but strong glutes don't just look good, they help us run faster, jump higher, and lift heavier. The hip thrust is one of the best exercises you can do for your glutes, even more than the beloved back squat and deadlift. This is because the hip thrust helps to isolate the glutes more, ultimately building a bigger and stronger backside. 

The most popular of variations is the barbell hip thrust where you place a barbell on your hips and your back on a bench, but what you may overlook is the smith machine hip thrust. 

What's a Smith Machine? 

You've probably heard of it, and you may have seen or used it before. The Smith Machine is a squat rack where the barbell is fixed to the machine in order to provide a more controlled barbell movement. The bar is positioned to only move vertically and helps stabilize the weight more than a standard, free weight barbell would.     

The Smith Machine sometimes gets a bad rap because the secured bar can limit the type of movement you're trying to do, and the extra stability provided may not give you the full effect. However, there are a lot of great reasons to use the Smith Machine. The first reason is if you're a beginner and need some extra guidance when it comes to gym equipment. The second is if you're more advanced, and going for a PR, but you find yourself alone in the gym. You won't have to worry about dropping the weight or hurting yourself. 

Studies suggest that since Smith Machines provide more support and less work from the stabilizer muscles, it could allow the bigger muscles, such as the pectoralis major in the chest press, to produce more force and lift heavier weight.

Should the Smith Machine replace the free weight barbell? Not necessarily, but it does have its advantages. Particularly, in the Smith Machine hip thrust, you can focus instead on targeting your glutes and not balancing the bar. It also can help you load more weight on the more since you have the extra support. The bar moves in a straight path up and down, which helps get you the full range of motion needed to get the most out of this exercise. 

Muscles Worked by the Smith Machine Hip Thrust 

To burn your lower body out or to warm-up for a heavy leg day, the hip thrust should be in your workout routine. It's a surefire way to build a stronger and better-looking lower body. 

Glutes 

Glutes

Your glutes are the muscle you're probably sitting on right now. That's right, they make up your backside, and they're not just there to make your jeans fit better. This muscle group is the largest in your body, and they're responsible for extending and rotating the hip.

Anytime you walk, run, or jump, your glutes are working.

They are made up of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. As you can tell by the name, the gluteus maximus is the largest of this bunch, but all three of these muscles are recruited during the hip thrust. 

If your glutes are weak, it can affect your hip mobility, as well as cause knee and lower back pain. The most common cause of weak glutes is simply a sedentary lifestyle. You may have a desk job where you sit all day, then come home and sit and watch TV all night. In order to build strong glutes to help avoid pain and injury in the lower body, glutes exercises like the hip thrust should be a part of your routine. 

Hamstrings 

Located on the back of your thighs are the hamstrings, which are another one of the largest muscles you have. They are made up of three muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Together, they help to extend your knees and hips and are used anytime you walk, run, jump, or bend over.

Weak hamstrings can increase your risk of injury, and studies suggest that the hamstring muscles are among the most common sports-related injuries.

Aside from a long recovery, a torn hamstring can require surgery and may prevent you from working out like you used to. To keep your hamstrings strong, performing exercises like the hip thrust is important. 

Quadriceps

If you've done a squat before, you've used your quads; the large muscles in the front of your thighs. This muscle group is made up of four muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. When you jump, kick, run, or even walk up the stairs, you're using your quads. 

You can increase your risk of injury if your quads are weak, and daily activities like walking and sitting down can become more difficult. Strengthening your quads can improve your quality of life and help you lift heavier in the gym. It's important to note that, although your quads are activated during a hip thrust, exercises like a back squat or leg extension can be more beneficial at strengthening them. 

Hip Adductors

The hip adductors are the muscles located in the inner thighs and are made up of the adductor magnus, brevis, and longus. When you squeeze your thighs together, your adductors are working. They also work to stabilize the hip during hip extension, such as in the hip thrust. You can rely on your hip adductors during explosive movements such as jumping or sprinting.  

Weak adductors can lead to instability in the hips and low back pain, and studies suggest strengthening the hip adductors can help reduce the risk of groin injuries.

Performing the hip thrust can help to strengthen these muscles, therefore lessening your risk of an injury.

Benefits of the Smith Machine Hip Thrust 

Yes, it helps build your glutes, but the Smith Machine hip thrust can also accrue other benefits that apply in and outside the gym. 

Ultimate Glute Activation

You can do squats and deadlifts, but the activation of the quads, hamstrings, and back could compensate if your glutes are weak. You want to do hip thrusts to primarily target the glutes.

One study suggests the barbell hip thrust can produce the greatest amount of glute activation.

Since the Smith Machine can help a lifter load more weight on the bar, the hip thrust can be a great addition to your glute workout.     

Lift Heavier Weight 

With practice, you can lift pretty heavy weight with the hip thrust, but that also means you have to work harder to stabilize the barbell. Since the Smith Machine provides more stability, you can load more weight onto the bar and help build lower body strength. The machine also makes the bar move in a straight line, so you can spend less time trying to balance it and more time building your glutes. And if you want to build muscle faster to keep lifting heavier weight, check out the Ultimate Mass Stack.

Improve Athletic Performance 

It's rare to see an athlete with a flat backside, typically indicating they're training their glutes right.

Studies suggest that strengthening the glutes can help improve jumping and athletic performance, which can be beneficial in common sports like basketball, volleyball, and football. The hip thrust directly targets the glutes and can be a great exercise for coaches and athletes to implement into their training. 

Prevent Low Back Pain and Poor Posture 

Low back pain is common amongst the population and can be caused by several factors including weak glutes or hips. Since the muscles antagonize each other, if one is weak, it could cause pain, poor posture, or injury.

Studies suggest that strengthening the glutes and the hips can help reduce low back pain, which can have a positive effect on exercise and daily life.  

How to Do Smith Machine Hip Thrusts

Although the Smith Machine helps guide you through each rep, it's still important to know how to do it properly. It's possible to do anything wrong even with the right equipment. Performing it properly can also help if you decide to transition to a barbell hip thrust. 

  1. First and foremost, you want to set up your station properly. That means having a sturdy bench you can rest your shoulder blades on, and setting it close enough so the Smith Machine bar can rest comfortably on your hips. You may need to use a mat or a pad, so the bar doesn't dig into your hips. For beginners, it's recommended to try a few reps without any weight plates just to get a feel for the bar and the full range of motion.
  2. Once you're ready, it's time to add the weight. Depending on your fitness level, load the barbell up with a challenging but doable amount of weight.
  3. Lean back onto the bench so your upper back is resting on it. Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees, and your feet should be planted on the floor. 
  4. With the middle of the barbell resting on your hips, push your hips up while raising the bar until your thighs are parallel to the ground. It's important to squeeze your glutes at the lockout and keep your core engaged to avoid hyperextension. 
  5. After the lockout, slowly lower your hips back to the starting position. 

Smith Machine Hip Thrusts Variations 

There are plenty of ways to get a great lower body workout in, but if you're looking for more ways to target your glutes specifically, check out these variations. 

Glute Bridge 

One of the more commonly mistaken exercises for the hip thrust is the glute bridge. Although similar, the positioning is different, and one can typically push heavier weight with the hip thrust. For the glute bridge, you're lying down with your back flat on the ground, knees bent, and heels planted. Pushing through your feet, you'll lift your hips off the ground and slowly lower back down. You can perform this bodyweight or with a dumbbell for an extra challenge. 

Leg Press 

Leg Press

The leg press offers great variety for your lower body muscles, and depending on how you do it, different muscles can be targeted more. To target more of the glutes, there are a couple of positions you can try. The first is making your reps "deeper" by placing your feet higher on the plate. If you allow for more hip flexion, it will require your glutes to work harder to achieve hip extension. The second is to point your toes out more or widen your stance, similar to that of a sumo squat. These positions can take the focus off your quads and hamstrings and put them on your backside. 

Single-Leg Hip Thrust

To change up your lower body workout, you can try unilateral exercises such as the single-leg hip thrust. Exercising one side of your body at a time can come with benefits of its own, such as improving muscle imbalances. For the single-leg hip thrust, the Smith Machine can be extremely helpful, so you're not worrying about the barbell falling. You won't be able to push as heavy of weight with one leg, but working out each side equally can help improve your conventional hip thrust. 

Hip Thrust Machine

The hip thrust machine is similar to the Smith Machine hip thrust since both provide the stability that a barbell can't. This machine comes conveniently padded already, so you don't have to worry about finding one. If you're a beginner, the hip thrust machine is a great start to building and strengthening your lower body without having to worry too much about a lack of knowledge. The machine can help you find the proper form and range of motion.   

Barbell Hip Thrust 

The more advanced variation of the Smith Machine hip thrust is the barbell hip thrust. With no support from the machine, the free weight barbell requires you to stabilize and balance the bar with your stabilizer muscles. This can make this variation more challenging and popular in bodybuilding and experienced gym-goers. It's definitely a great addition to your leg workout. 

Wrapping Up 

No matter what you've heard about the Smith Machine, know that it's a great tool to have at your disposal for several reasons. Chances are there's at least one in the gym in your neighborhood, and maybe now you'll be more inclined to try it out. 

The best times to use a Smith Machine are if you're a beginner, or if you need a spotter. The Smith Machine hip thrust is an ideal example of why we shouldn't be so quick to ignore this machine and might just be the key to hitting that next PR.

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