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Squat vs. Hip Thrust: Muscle strength and hypertrophy

by A. Manolova | 4 February 2020

sport, science, fitness, training, workout, glutes, hip thrust, squat, hypertrophy, muscle, strength

Often neglected in favor of the quadriceps, the hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteus maximus) (Fig. 1) have made their comeback in recent years. Whether in the context of injury prevention or for their role in sports performance in disciplines where running speed is a primary factor (team sports, athletics, etc.), these muscles are on the rise. And it doesn't stop there. Thanks in large part to CrossFit and the renewal it has brought to the fitness world, many people are looking to sculpt their bodies, especially their glutes.

hip thrust

Figure 1. Hip Thrust.

Hip Extensor Muscles

Figure 2. Hip Extensor Muscles.

In this search for muscle hypertrophy, the exercise of Hip Thrust (Fig. 2) has become over the years a must. In fact, several studies based on electromyography have shown that this exercise allows better recruitment of the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus compared to different variants of the squat (back squat, front squat). Another study, still based on electromyography, showed that compared to deadlifts with a straight bar and a hexagonal bar, Hip Thrust allowed better recruitment of the gluteus maximus, but not of the hamstrings. The problem is that large electromyographic values do not necessarily imply a strong recruitment of motor units, nor a significant hypertrophic potential. However, until now, no study had bothered to set up a protocol which made it possible to measure concretely the muscle hypertrophy gained thanks to Hip Thrust in comparison with an exercise like the squat.

The Study

To look up for this missing piece, a team of Brazilian researchers compared the impact of a workout with Full Squat (full knee range of motion) or Hip Thrust on muscle hypertrophy and strength. For this, they recruited 24 resistance-trained women (but only 22 have completed the protocol). Their basis strength level is shown in Table 1. For the purposes of the protocol, these women were divided into two groups: a Squat group and a Hip Thrust group. For 12 weeks, the two groups performed one session per week. The training protocol was based on non-linear periodization. Each session consisted of 6 sets, each set was led to muscle failure.

  • During weeks 1, 5 and 9, participants performed 12-15 repetitions with 30-60 seconds of rest between sets.
  • During weeks 2, 6 and 10, participants performed 4-6 repetitions with 3-4 minutes of rest between sets.
  • During weeks 3, 7 and 11, participants performed 10-12 repetitions with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets.
  • During weeks 4, 8 and 12, participants performed 6-8 repetitions with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets.

If participants could perform more repetitions, the load was increased accordingly to match the rep range of the week.

Before and after the 12 weeks of experimental protocol, the researchers evaluated for all the participants the maximal muscle strength and the muscular thickness via ultrasound. For maximal strength, the 1RM Squat and Hip Thrust were evaluated (for ALL participants). For muscle hypertrophy, the researchers used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the gluteal muscle and the quadriceps.

Results & Analyzes

The main results of this study show that the Squat group significantly improved all of its 1RM and gained muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps and gluteus maximus, while the Hip Thrust group only improved its 1RM Hip Thrust and gained muscle hypertrophy in the gluteus maximus. But the Squat group increased their 1RM Squat and muscle hypertrophy significantly more than the Hip Thrust group.

The results can be explained in part by the range of motion in the two exercises. Because in these groups, the 1RM Hip Thrust was not very different from the 1RM Squat, and therefore the training loads were quite similar. In the Squat group, the participants performed full squats. The hip extension was therefore carried out on a larger range of motion in Squat than during Hip Thrust (whose amplitude is around 40-50°). In addition, the greater stretch of the greater gluteal may have played a role, since the muscle tension was greater.

Practical Applications

This study contradicts previous studies based on electromyography which gave Hip Thrust a winner in the gluteal race. Here, over 12 weeks, not only do full squat practitioners gain more muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps and glutes region, but they also improved equally their 1RM Hip Thrust. While the Hip Thrust group only improved the 1RM Hip Thrust and the glutes hypertrophy.

However, there are several points that deserve discussion. First of all, here in this study, we are talking about full squat. As you will have understood by reading our review on the subject, we have absolutely nothing against the full squat, on the contrary. That said, at instant t, not everyone can perform a full squat due to lack of strength, mobility, and many other parameters. It therefore requires a certain amount of work before being able to lift one own bodyweight in a technically perfect movement, and even more before loading the bar... Thus, Hip Thrust remains a completely viable option for many people. It even seems logical to use it as a complementary exercise (it is, after all, an isolation exercise) to a polyarticular exercise like the squat. Especially since the working angles are different. So, do not throw away the Hip Thrust after reading this article!

Second point, it would be interesting to repeat the same protocol but this time with men. In the recent years, scientific studies have shown differences in neuromuscular responses between women and men.

Finally, as the authors point out, it is important to pay attention to the interpretation of the results linked to hypertrophy because measurement by ultrasound only gives a very local indication of hypertrophy. And there are inter- and intra-muscular differences. The hypertrophy may not be homogeneous between two insertions of a muscle.


  1. Barbalho M, Coswig V, Souza D, Cerca Serrao j, Hebling Campos M and Gentil P. Back squat vs. hip thrust resistance-training programs in well-trained women. Int J Sports Med Article in Press, 2020.

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