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Glutes hypertrophy: Hip thrust or parallel squat?

by P. Debraux | 5 December 2023

glutes, hypertrophy, hip thrust, squat, science, fitness, knowledge, strength, training, sport

Resistance training offers wide-ranging benefits for health, sports performance and body aesthetics. Improving muscular strength and hypertrophy is generally the main objective pursued by exercisers. As regularly explained in our various articles, muscular hypertrophy is dependent on numerous training variables. While the total volume (sets x reps x load) to which a muscle is subjected is one of the most important variables for muscle mass gains, there are many others to consider. Among these, the choice of exercises is a particularly important factor. Different exercises may be associated with the same muscle group, but may target different regions of that group, or their effectiveness may also vary significantly. The exercise selection process when designing a training program is paramount, as it can significantly influence hypertrophic adaptations.

While a thorough understanding of anatomy and biomechanics is essential for formulating hypotheses on exercise efficacy, it unfortunately doesn't always provide definitive answers, particularly when it comes to muscle hypertrophy. This is mainly due to the lack of anatomical information on living, moving muscle. Numerical muscle simulation models, although increasingly accurate, are also unable to predict the hypertrophic potential of long-term exercise. The same applies to the limitations of tools such as electromyography (EMG). EMG, used to assess muscle activation during exercise, gives valuable indications, but cannot account for the complexity of muscle growth. It can indicate which muscles are engaged during exercise, but does not necessarily correlate directly with hypertrophy. This limitation becomes more pronounced when comparing exercise variants, where subtle differences in movement can lead to significantly different results in muscle development.

Thus, the debate that exists over the efficacy of hip extension exercises, specifically the hip thrust and squat with regard to gluteus maximus hypertrophy, illustrates the complexity of exercise choice and muscle development. Previous studies have presented conflicting views, leading to uncertainty as to which exercise is most effective in targeting the gluteals and hip extensors. Some research suggests that the hip thrust is superior due to the direct engagement of the gluteal muscles, while others advocate squats due to the full engagement of the lower body and greater range of motion (ROM). But what do the latest scientific data on these two exercises suggest in terms of gluteus maximus hypertrophy?

The Study

To provide a clear answer, researchers studied the impact of hip thrust and parallel squat on gluteal muscle hypertrophy. To do this, they recruited 34 young people (18-30 years old) with no experience of resistance training, and divided them into two groups: Hip Thrust (18 people) or Squat (16 people). Participants trained twice a week for 9 weeks. A session consisted in performing 3-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions at muscle failure. The load was systematically adapted to enable between 8 and 12 repetitions to be performed in each set. The number of sets varied from 3 in the first week to 6 in the last three weeks. In this way, the training volume (sets x repetitions) was equal between the two groups.

Before and after the start of the training program, participants assessed their body composition and muscle cross-sectional area of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, biceps femoris and adductors via Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). They also tested their maximal isometric strength during a "wall push" with one foot on a force platform, and their maximal strength (3RM) during the squat, hip thrust and deadlift.

Finally, before starting the training protocol, a session using electromyography was carried out. The aim was to study the relationship between muscle activation, as indicated by EMG amplitudes, and subsequent muscle hypertrophy. In fact, the researchers wanted to know whether the level of muscle activation during acute exercise could predict the degree of muscle growth achieved through training. This aspect of the study aimed to better understand the link between immediate muscle responses to exercise and longer-term adaptations such as hypertrophy. To this end, participants performed a series of 10 repetitions in squat and hip thrust. EMG was used to assess muscle activation of different portions of the gluteus maximus.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of the study revealed that hip thrust and parallel squat provide a significant increase in gluteus maximus muscle mass, however, the difference between the two is very small with a slight advantage for hip thrust. On the other hand, squats outperform hip thrusts in quadriceps and adductor development. This highlights the squat's effectiveness in engaging a greater proportion of the thigh muscles. These results are logical, since at the lowest point of the squat, in full hip flexion, the lever arm of the adductor magnus is greatest. Conversely, at the highest point of the squat, in full hip extension, the lever arm of the gluteus maximus is the greatest. The hip thurst being a specific exercise for the gluteus maximus.

In terms of maximal strength gains, unsurprisingly, each exercise demonstrated greater improvements in its specific 3RM. This underlines the principle of specificity in strength training, i.e., the idea that gains are more pronounced in the movements exercised. However, both exercises similarly improved performance in the deadlift and wall push, indicating their shared benefits in terms of overall strength.

Interestingly, the study revealed that muscle activation measured by EMG was not a reliable predictor of muscle growth. This calls into question some common assumptions about the direct relationship between muscle activation and hypertrophy.

Practical Applications

Both the hip thrust and the parallel squat are effective in increasing muscle mass in the gluteus maximus muscles, with the squat having the added advantage of targeting the quadriceps and adductors. However, the application of these results is limited to a beginner audience (women and men). A similar study with an audience of advanced exercisers of both movements will reveal more, and show whether the minimal benefit observed here for hip thrust is greater with a more advanced public.

From a practical point of view, hip thrust offers a simple movement pattern that focuses solely on hip extension. Compared to the squat: no limitation in depth of movement due to reduced ankle mobility, not too much technical learning, easier to load heavier and faster. The hip thrust is an excellent isolation exercise for the gluteus maximus.

Finally, the study suggests that punctual muscle activation, as measured via EMG, may not be a reliable predictor of long-term muscle hypertrophy. This underlines the importance of a well-balanced training approach rather than relying solely on muscle activation perceived during exercise via EMG.


  1. Plotkin DL, Rodas MA, Vigotsky AD, McIntosh MC, Breeze E, Ubrik R, Robitzsch C, Agyin-Birikorang A, Mattingly ML, Michel JM, Kontos NJ, Lennon S, Frugé AD, Wilburn CM, Weimar WH, Bashir A, Beyers RJ, Henselmans M, Contreras BM and Roberts MD. Hip thrust and back squat training elicit similar gluteus muscle hypertrophy and transfer similarly to the deadlift. Front Physiol 14 : 1279170, 2023.

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