This is THE question and has been for over a decade. Everyone wants to know which is better for #bootygains...the hip thrust or the squat. We are here to break down what research says.
A recent study (link) states that they are similar and yield practically the same results as far as strength and hypertrophy goes.
But are they really? In order to answer that question and better understand the research we must understand a few things:
The glute itself – the muscles that make up the glutes.
The glutes actions – how the muscles work
Hypertrophy vs Strength
Understanding Some Things First...
Let’s start with the glute itself. The glutes is made up a group of four muscles: Gluteus Maximus, the largest of the four and the most superficial layer. Glute Medius, and Glute Minimus are underneath maximus, and are named based on their respective size. Lastly, we have Tensor Fascia Latea muscle, the deepest one of all four.
The job of the glutes is to create movement of the hip joint, stabilize the pelvic girdle, create proper posture, balance and every movement in the “gait cycle,” The gait cycle is the movement pattern circuit that allows locomotion in humans and includes different speeds, terrains, agility you name it.
In other words, the job of the glutes is quite literally to allow us to walk, run, jump, in every direction and then to stand still. To get a bit more technical, abduction & adduction of the thigh, extension of the thigh, as well as internal and external rotation of the thigh.
Lastly, let’s define hypertrophy and strength. Hypertrophy is the increase in size of the muscle fibers whereas strength is referring to the power output of the muscle. This matters because depending on the overall goal it will change the protocols for a training program. Protocols included but not limited to: movement selection, time under tension (tempo), repetitions, sets and rest periods.
In theory, squats and and hip thrusts utilize similar muscles due to the movement pattern. However, the biggest difference in between the two is that squats are loaded axially meaning it loads the spine, and hip thrusts are not. So now, the million-dollar question “which one is better for glute gains?”
Now Let's See What the Research Says...
The study involved the following:
Untrained college-age participants randomized into two groups – hip thrust and back squat
This is very important as most test are not done in untrained* individuals
Electromyograms were placed on glutes to understand the frequency of glute activation
The study last 9 weeks using supervised training
Twice a week training, about 15-17 sessions total
To measure results for both hypertrophy and strength each participant had an MRI done and did a 3 Rep Max test
According to the latest research they both appear to yield similar results. Both groups had similar results in both hypertrophy and strength. This is very different to previous studies that had stated hip thrusts to be superior than squats. However, a few things to note here about these results:
The fact that it was done to untrained individuals who had never done these movements is key. Understanding proper movement patterns could have yielded to different results. Muscle hypertrophy and strength for novice trainees are not as influenced by exercise selection as they are in experience individuals, this is partially due to “newbie gains.” All though the results were fairly similar, the test did in fact further demonstrate that hip thrusts target the glute-specific whereas squats are more quad dominant.
What You Can Take Away From This...
Both hip thrusts AND squats are beneficial for “glute gains.” This goes to show that movement selection is very important, and it is why in almost every single program you will see BOTH. You will also see variations of them and in different planes of motion.
Hip Thrusts fall under a “hip hinge” category which include different variations of deadlifts, all recruiting the glutes and hamstring muscles. There are also many variations of squats and lunges that all though recruit them as well, they have different primary movements.
This is why we program the way we do. Both the squats and hip thrusts fall under the primary movement umbrella which are the foundation of every program. You will not see a single program we write without one if not both. And in order to TRULY get some “glute gains” you have to get good at both, not just one.