Home Posts tagged "Supine Bridge"

In Defense of the Hip Thrust

I've been a fan of barbell hip thrust and supine bridges for approximately seven years now. I'd encourage you to give my What I Learned in 2012 article a read, as it describes how our usage of these drills came about (and does so in an entertaining manner) following a meeting I had with Bret Contreras in 2009. Suffice it to say that initially, I was not a fan of these drills, but in-the-trenches experimentation eventually brought me around.

Recently, there has been some controversy over the utility of hip thrusts, as some newer research publications (here and here) have demonstrated that hip thrust training does not improve sprinting speed. Bret Contreras, the man who popularized the hip thrust, has written a detailed response to these publications. For the record, I think he's handled the situation admirably, and I commend him for all his work adding to the body of knowledge so that we can all have these discussions in hopes of fine-tuning our strength training programs.

That said, not surprisingly, these research findings have created an opportunity for hip thrust critics to say "I told you so" - and several articles have emerged to highlight its lack of efficacy on this front. That said, I found Doug Kechijian's article, 'Science' and the Barbell Hip Thrust, to be the best of the articles that have recently emerged. Doug doesn't utilize the hip thrust, but used this current situation as a means of discussing how we view exercise selection on the whole. I'd strongly encourage you to give it a read.

While I must admit that I wasn't particularly surprised at the lack of carryover to sprinting performance, I don't think it's time to throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. Why? As I've often said:

[bctt tweet="Want to put an exercise in a program? You must be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion."]

In this case, I still have plenty of justifications for including hip thrusts and supine bridges in our programs. I don't think they're ever a perfect replacement for a squat or deadlift, but I do see a role for them in special circumstances, and as assistance exercises. In today's post, I'll outline why I still find these drills to have great utility.

1. Zero Back Pain

Yes, you read that right. In close to a decade of using these drills with clients, athletes, and our coaching staff, I've never seen anyone injured during a hip thrust or supine bridge. For how many other exercises can you say that? Certainly squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or even single-leg work. In hindsight, it's shocking that a drill that looks like it could be harmful (and this was my initial reluctance to include it) actually has such an excellent record on the safety front. Obviously, we're matching it to the individual and coaching technique, but this is still an impressive observation.

Moreover, I've sold more than 8,000 copies of my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook. It includes barbell supine bridges in phase 2, and barbell hip thrusts in phase 3. This is 8,000+ people who've performed these exercises without my supervision, and I've never had a single email from anyone about an injury. Conversely, I've answered a ton of emails over the years from customers who need modifications because squatting and/or deadlifting aren't drills they can perform pain-free. I think this is remarkably telling; hip thrusts have stood the test of time in terms of safety concerns.

Finally, I've actually seen quite a few individuals who couldn't squat or deadlift pain-free actually perform barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges with zero pain over the course of years. They've bolstered a training effect that otherwise would have been markedly attenuated.

2. Hip thrusts allow us to train the posterior chain without deadlifts in a population that may not do well with scapular depression and downward rotation.

One thing we know about throwing a baseball is that it makes you very lat dominant and tends to drive scapular downward rotation.

As I discuss in this video, scapular upward rotation is incredibly important for throwers.

Sometimes, we'll see athletes who sit in so much scapular depression or downward rotation that we choose to avoid lat dominant exercises and heavy carries/holds in their programs. So, drills like deadlifts, farmer's walks, KB swings, and dumbbell lunges are out of the mix. When you lose deadlifts from a program, you realize that you've lost a big bang exercise for training the posterior chain. Barbell hip thrusts have been a huge help to us in this regard, as they give us a bilateral option for training the posterior chain. Otherwise, it'd be just safety squat bar (SSB) squats and single-leg work, the goblet set-up, belt squats, and glute-ham raise (GHR) variations. And, a lot of people don't have a SSB, belt squat, or GHR!

Interestingly, I can actually think of several instances over the years where we dropped deadlifting from a pitcher's program - and replaced it with hip thrusts - and his shoulder pain went away. I don't think improvements like this happen in isolation, but I have no doubt that it contributed to the reduction in symptoms.

3. Hip thrusts prioritize terminal hip extension, which is actually far more important to baseball success.

I want you to watch these videos of the hips during the baseball swing (and while you're at it, check out Jeff Albert's great guest post for me: Hip Extension and Rotation in the Baseball Swing).

What I'm hoping you noticed is that while hip extension is incredibly important (for both the front and back legs), there is very little of it occurring in terms of actual range of motion. The same can be said of the pitching delivery; very rarely would a pitching come close to being a 90 degrees of hip flexion on the back hip.

Tim Collins early in his career was the most extreme hip flexion I've seen, and he's not even all the way down to 90 degrees:

In other words, hips thrusts and supine bridges reflect the shorter range of hip flexion/extension motion we see in hitting and pitching than they do for a higher amplitude movement like sprinting.


Source: Darren Wilkinson

To be clear, I'm not saying that squats and deadlifts don't train this range (especially when accommodating resistances like bands and chains are utilized); I'm just saying that hip thrusts and supine bridges train it exclusively and may provide some extra carryover.

4. Hip thrusts allow us to train the lower body without a grip challenge.

Load of gripping can also be an issue during the baseball season. Guys obviously get plenty of it from their upper body work, but when you add in the stress of throwing on the flexor tendons, more work on lower body days can push some pitchers over the edge in terms of forearm symptoms. This can also be an issue during post-operative elbow scenarios, as some surgeons can "beat up" the flexor tendon a bit more during Tommy John surgeries. With these athletes, we'll often plug hip thrusts in to replace deadlifts for 4-8 week spans.

5. The hip thrust helps to maintain a training effect in post-operative elbow and shoulder situations.

Building on my last point, we utilize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges a lot with our post-op clients. If we are talking about a Tommy John surgery, you aren't using a safety squat bar until two months post-op, or deadlifting until closer to five months (and even then, the loading has to be severely restricted). Conversely, provided they have someone to load plates for them, these athletes can hip thrust as early as 4-6 weeks (assuming we aren't dealing with a lower extremity graft site), and loading appreciably by weeks 8-10. That's a huge deal.

Shoulder surgeries are a bit slower to come around, but you're definitely able to hip thrust well before you use the safety squat bar or integrate deadlifts. In short, if you want bilateral loading in a post-operative situation, hip thrusts below right up there in the discussion with glute-ham raises - and serve as a good complement to sled dragging with a belt/harness and various single-leg drills.

6. Hip thrusts don't create much delayed onset muscle soreness.

It's hard to really overload the eccentric (lowering) component of a hip thrust - and this may be one reason why it doesn't carry over to sprinting as much as a squat would. However, this non-soreness-inducing quality can actually be of benefit, as we often want to avoid it with in-season athletes or those trying to achieve a higher volume of work in their training programs. This is actually a perk of several deadlift variations, too.

7. Hip thrusts are a safe way to get in higher-rep sets.

In the quest to put on some muscle, high-rep squatting and deadlifting often wind up getting pretty ugly by the end of the sets unless they're regressed in some fashion (e.g., goblet squats). And, on a personal note, any time that I deadlift for more than eight reps, I get a massive headache that lasts about three days. I've found that higher rep barbell supine bridge (moreso than hip thrusts) are a good option for sets of 12-15 at the end of a session to kick in some extra volume safely. It's pretty darn hard to screw this up, you know?

Thoughts on Loading

On several occasions, I've heard folks criticize barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges because even seemingly untrained individuals can use so much weight. It's a valid assertion - but only to a point.

My experience has been that many individuals moving big weights are really short-changing themselves on the last 5-10 degrees of hip extension. They're either stopping short or getting lumbar extension (moving through the lower back). Often, when you fine-tune the technique and make them hold for a count at the top, they'll have to reduce the weight significantly. As a rule of thumb, though, I view the risk:benefit ratio with hip thrusts as being comparable to that of deadlifts in an athletic population; going heavier than 495 pounds probably isn't worth the risk or time involved. You're better off changing the tempo (longer pauses at the top) or switching to a different (and possibly more technically advanced) exercise that doesn't "come naturally" to the lifter. In short, find a different window of adaptation instead of just trying to move big weights through a short range-of-motion.

As an interesting aside to this, my deadlifts are actually significantly stronger than my hip thrusts. It's likely a function of "getting what you train," but I think it's an interesting argument against the idea that even weak people can automatically move big weights.

Last, but not least, remember that relatively untrained people can often push a lot of weight on sleds on turf, and rack pulls are usually substantially heavier than one's deadlift. Does that make them useless, too?

Closing Thoughts

New research is always warranted in any field, but particularly in strength and conditioning, a dynamic industry that has changed remarkably over the past few decades. In many cases, it takes a lot of time and experimentation to understand just how something fits (or doesn't fit) in our training approaches. Personally, I always come back to the "justifying the inclusion of a lift" question I noted earlier in this article. My experience has been that barbell hip thrusts and supine bridges have stood the test of time in this regard - and done so safely. I view them much more as an assistance exercise, as opposed to something that would ever replace squats or deadlifts. However, in the special circumstances I've outlined above, I think they will continue to fill in nicely.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 41 (Posture Edition)

Thanks to Greg Robins, here are five tips for the week, with a focus on postural awareness.

1. Monitor head positioning during supine bridge and hip thrust variations.

2. Consider this routine to taking your breath before lifts.

Breathing is a big part of postural awareness.  Check out this video for ensuring that you're locking things in correctly before big lifts:

3-5. Avoid parafunctional habits.

The following three points will be based on a common theme: “Parafunctional Habits.”

A parafunctional habit is a habitual movement, or positioning that differs from the most common, or ideal movement and / or positioning of the body. It can also be a habitual positioning or movement of the body that’s continuous exposure (repetitive practice of) leads to certain asymmetries or dysfunctions.

When I think about how to attack posture changes both with my clients and myself, I look for the most efficient ways to change daily habits. In other words, I look at how we can disrupt parafunctional habits.

“Posture is a composite of the positions of the positions of all the joints of the body at any given moment. If a position is habitual, there will be a correlation between alignment and muscle test findings.” – Florence Kendall (Adapted from PRI’s Postural Respiration)

Many of us tend to default to the same habitual movements and positions. Here are three examples, and three quick fixes. Making a point to apply these corrections will have a tremendously positive outcome in helping you "feel and move better.”

3. Don’t stand on the same leg all the time.

For a variety of reasons, many of us will tend to shift onto one leg when standing in place for a period of time. Our body is always looking for the most efficient way to “survive.” Shifting onto one leg is any easy way to gain passive stability, via our positioning.

Many of us will tend to shift onto the right leg. Why? In short, it’s easier for us to pull air into our left side, in light of the normal structural asymmetries you see with human anatomy. Breathing is kind of important. It’s also not fun to rob ourselves of air. Enter the “right stance," an aberrant posture you'll see all too often.

IMG_8938

Start paying attention to how you stand at rest. Additionally, look around and notice how others stand at rest. I bet it looks a lot like the picture above. This is something we see on extreme levels in some of our right-handed throwing athletes; they're right handed people, in a unilateral sport, in a right-handed world!

Now, let’s make a change. For now on, use the picture below as a guide for how to stand when you shift onto one leg. Place the right leg in front of the left, and shift your weight into the left hip. If you are doing it correctly, your left hip will sit just below the right. Give it a try!

IMG_8939

4. Cross your right leg over the left, and cross your right arm over your left.

In a similar fashion to your default standing position, those who tend to cross their legs will generally go left over right. Why? Same reason: it’s easier to sit into the right hip, and breathe into the left side. Instead, start doing the opposite. From now on cross the right over the left, and feel the left hip dig into your seat.

IMG_8936

Do the same with your arms. Instead of crossing left over right, cross right over left. Close down the left side, and open up the right.

IMG_8937

5. Change the way you sit while driving.

Driving is a GREAT place to work on positioning. Notice that your default is to slump over to the right side, opening the left leg and possibly resting it against the door. Instead, try this:

As you sit reading this, pretend like you’re in your car. First, even up your thighs and feet. Keep a space about the size of your fist between your two knees. At this point, your knees and feet should be even, or you might find the right slightly behind the left. Move the right foot into a position as if it was working the gas and brake pedal. You should look like this:

IMG_8935

Now, pull your left hip back and push your right hip forward. This will leave the left knee behind the right.

IMG_8934

You will notice the upper, inner thigh of your left leg “turning on.” Reach for the steering wheel with both hands. Consider this your new driving position. If you tend to drive with one arm, start making it your right arm. Leave the left arm hanging down to the side, causing a slight side bend to the left.

All of these positions will seem uncomfortable at first. That’s okay! Use them as much as possible, but allow yourself to just “chill” sometimes. Making these small changes is a fantastic way to better your posture and change your habits. Working on them will pay off in the long run, and you may even find your nagging aches and pains disappearing.

For more information on these postural approaches, check out www.PosturalRestoration.com.

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