Exercise Crazes – The Barbell Hip Thrust & More with Bill DeSimone
DeSimone, together with Adam and Mike go on to offer critical insight into potentially better alternatives, answer the most commonly asked questions, and moreover, remind us that not all exercises are created equal and each needs to be analyzed objectively for safety and efficacy. Listen and learn how we set apart the popular exercise crazes from those worth doing.
Arlene [00:00:01] The Inform Fitness podcast with Adam Zickerman and co-host Mike Rogers is a presentation of informed fitness studios a small family of personal training facilities specializing in safe efficient high intensity strength training. On our bi monthly podcast Adam and Mike discuss the latest findings in the areas of exercise nutrition and recovery with leading experts and scientists. We aim to debunk the popular misconceptions and the urban myths that are so prevalent in the fields of health and fitness. And to replace those sacred cows with scientific based up to the minute information on a variety of subjects. We’ll cover exercise protocols and techniques nutrition sleep recovery the role of genetics in the response to exercise and much more.
Adam [00:00:53] Greetings everybody. This is Adam Zickerman. Just wanted to let you know that we’re going to be talking about for this episode an exercise called the barbell hip thrust and we’re also going to be talking about related exercises such as the glute bridge. If you’re not familiar with these exercises I recommend you going to our show notes and clicking on the link there to see what these exercises look like. You’ll have a better idea of what we’re talking about as we discuss this. Enjoy the show and thanks for listening.
Arlene [00:01:31] On this episode the barbell hip thrust and other exercise crazes. We welcome back biomechanics expert Bill DeSimone.
Bill [00:01:41] People’s glutes burn and they get pumped up and clients may find that gratifying and you feel muscle get pumped. And again as a trainer with experience sometimes you do want to do something that registers on the client whether it has a kind of long term result or not because really the secret to a good butt is to be born with it then have the trainer take credit for it that’s really the secret.
Adam [00:02:04] Bill DeSimone is a personal trainer specializing in joint friendly fitness as he likes to say he has over 30 years’ experience. Is a certified health coach an orthopedic exercise specialist and he has his own studio called Optimal Exercise in Cranberry New Jersey. Where is that? His book Congruent Exercise which is basically my Bible subtitled How to make weight training easier on your joints is available in print and on Kindle. Joint friendly fitness emphasizes protecting your joints and spine as you get into shape and it applies material from anatomy biomechanics and rehabilitation to fitness goals. The result is you get more fit toned and flexible without the injuries associated with the more extreme approaches.
[00:02:51] Now Bill and I go back quite a while. How many years I don’t know anymore. And I have to say and you know I don’t really kiss your butt too often. But I have to say you really have changed my whole approach to exercise. When I read your material for the first time I mean I always knew that exercise had to think about safety but you really gave me the ins and outs of that. It wasn’t just surface talk it was it was deep learning on biomechanics that that I. I cannot look at a machine now without those numbers going through my head and levers and strength curves. It’s great. And the best part about is you’ve broken it down for somebody that doesn’t have a degree in mechanical mechanics mechanical engineering and you able to just have the typical layperson actually understand this stuff. So kudos to you and that’s why I have you on the show.
Mike [00:03:49] All the trainers feel that way and like not to kiss your butt also, Bill… We always learn something from you every time we have a conversation. I was very happy to have you back.
Bill [00:04:02] Well thanks. So injuring myself didn’t go for nothing.
Adam [00:04:05] Exactly. So today we’re gonna talk about something that’s a kind of a pet peeve of yours and you actually asked me to talk about this with you. So I’m all for it because it’s true. And what we’re gonna be talking about is the barbell hip thrust or. And also glute bridges and something called a machine based glute bridge called the glute drive station. I think by Nautilus and companies are like that. So we’re talking about the efficacy of basically glute bridges what they do for you. The barbell hip thrust so apparently the last dozen or so years the barbell hip thrust has become an Internet favorite. You have videos of attractive young ladies in skin tight clothes thrusting a barbell and it’s really almost become a cliché on an Instagram more recently right Bill the Hollywood superheroes and really you see a lot of these barbell thrusts being done by NFL players. So let me ask you a question are we as trainers. In facilities such as ours where safety is of utmost importance though are we shortchanging our clients by not jumping on or shall I say thrusting on the bandwagon. Are we as trains passing of a passing up on some magical benefits by not you know dry humping a barbell.
Bill [00:05:29] So the short answer is no we’re not missing anything. Okay. And what set me off was a video of the Nautilus glute drive station which apparently came out in the spring of last year. Popped up on my LinkedIn feed and I saw all the fawning comments about it. I kind of snapped. So if you’re determined to do this exercise the glute drive station is marginally safer than using a barbell for it.
Adam [00:06:03] All right. First of all I want to describe what a barbell hip thrust actually is and what it’s for.
Bill [00:06:09] Well so what it looks like is the exerciser has shoulder blades on a bench. Their feet are on the floor with the knees and their hips bent. And there’s a barbell lying across the front of their hips and then you would push the barbell up vertically theoretically with your glutes extending the hip and the pitch for this. The tout is that’s gonna give you a better butt it’s going to leave lower back problems fix your knees help you run faster decrease the likelihood of hamstring injuries help you leave tall buildings in a single bound,.
Adam [00:06:46] So none of this is true?
Bill [00:06:47] You may have done that they may have gotten a bit carried away with the benefits.
Mike [00:06:51] The picture I think I get the end position is like you’re in a virtual like bridge position like when you’re in the top position.
Bill [00:06:56] Right. Exactly. So your straight you’re going from where you’re sitting on the ground with your shoulder blades on top of a bench and then you push it hopefully straight up and yes you’d be like you’d call it a bridge position.
Mike [00:07:12] Describe to the listener so they can understand what the final position is all that right.
Bill [00:07:17] So the first problem with the using a barbell for this is that if you don’t prop the bench up against the power rack or against something that’s not going to move when you get into position. You have a good chance of tipping the ball. The bench over. Now you land on your back and on your head on the metal bench with the barbell I’ve no idea. Yeah but don’t forget that part. Now I notice in like one of the early journal articles promoting this exercise in the picture the bench is propped up against a power rack. But they don’t mention that in the text. So you can easily see somebody’s well-meaning person trying to do the current exercise just using a bench and just to get in position tipping it over and messing themselves up.
Adam [00:08:06] Well obviously you know you don’t want that to happen you know. But let’s assume that somebody is reminded to prop it up against the wall so it doesn’t slide out from under them and kill them assuming that they can do the actual hips thrust with a barbell across their lap without that happening. I have a funny feeling that you’re going to tell me that there are other problems with the exercise in general. Aside from those external risks like what other risks are associated with putting barbell across your lap with a lot of weight on it and thrusting your hips up in the air like that.
Bill [00:08:43] So here’s what the biggest promoter of this exercise wrote about it. It’s of utmost importance to ensure that the spine and pelvis stay in relatively neutral positions and the extension movement comes from the hips not from the Lambo pelvic region. Slight arch in the low back is fine but excessive lumbar hyper extension can predispose the posterior elements of the spine to injury and increase this defamation and spinal loading.
Adam [00:09:08] And he also that’s it?
Bill [00:09:10] And he also wrote for maximum…
Adam [00:09:11] That’s all you have to do right?
Bill [00:09:13] For maximum safety the head and neck should track accordingly to remain in alignment with the spine.
Adam [00:09:18] Oh there was more.
Bill [00:09:19] Yeah. So now this is from the guy who likes the exercise you know for me as somebody who’s trained clients for over 30 years and trained myself for almost 40 something I will do this sexy shot anyway. Yeah. Congratulations anyway. Now with my experience the difference between hip extensions which would be a straight line between your torso your hip and your thigh. And a slight arch in the lower back. And an excessive arch in a lower back. Trying to draw that distinction is a pretty big ask not only if you are trying to coach a client in it but if you are the person doing the exercise you really can’t see we are in space and if you have a barbell on your lap and you’re really pushing up hard you’re really not able to find that exact that exact position right.
Adam [00:10:17] You gave me a quote from another, I think some other strength coach right?.
Bill [00:10:23] Well yeah. Yeah. The other. Now there’s other. Sports conditioning coach his line. Who’s down on it. His line was by using maximal weight. Athletes try to put more force into the bar which can result in hyper extension of the back spine as processes compressing on each other possible disc protrusion through repeated hyper extension and weighted posterior tilt at the bottom could also cause spinal problems and ligament laxity. So that may be one phenomenal exercise to really take these chances with somebody else’s back.
Mike [00:10:55] Did you say he was down on it or down with it?
Bill [00:10:57] No he was that he was he was he was anti.. Now I know getting down on it. The name of his it down the name of his article which granted wasn’t academic was the heavy hip thrust is ruining our backs and this industry a little on the nose. But his experience is what it was in dealing with athletes and their chiropractors and their physical therapists all of whom were trying to do this heavy barbell hip thrust.
Mike [00:11:22] Let me ask you Bill. Let’s see if you take the book the barbell off completely and just do the exercise on its own. So how so..
Adam [00:11:31] Now we’re talking a glute Bridge.
Bill [00:11:34] No a hip thrust with just your body weight a non-weighted hip thrust. What I mean obviously you have a better chance it sort of maybe having a little bit more attention to your alignment up your back a little bit because you’re not worried about all that other kind of stuff. How safe or unsafe is just the movement of doing a hip thrust without it being weighted.
Adam [00:11:53] And if it is safe what are the benefits.
Bill [00:11:54] It’s really two different exercises. And I think.
Adam [00:11:59] What the barbell hip thrust?
Bill [00:12:01] The barbell hip thrust and the classic glute bridge right. Because I think what they did was take the glute bridge from physical therapy and decide they’re about to improve it by adding a barbell to it.
Mike [00:12:11] Why not. Right.
Bill [00:12:12] Right. So in physical therapy it’s done in the context of lower back health. So one of the approaches out there not mine but Stuart McGill and physical therapists are this idea of glute amnesia. So for whatever reason someone’s glutes stop firing. So for instance if you notice people who look at a phone or tablet all day and their head is down and they’re sitting all the sitting all day when they go to the floor to pick something up they don’t keep their backs straight bend their butt and then lift with their legs and their butt muscles. They tend to crumple to the floor and like anything else if you don’t use it you’ll lose it. And so then they become habitual to not use the glutes to stand up.
Adam [00:13:01] So this is the glute bridge and an answer to that.
Bill [00:13:03] So that creates the glute amnesia and what they do in physical therapy in this case is they try to isolate the glutes just to get it working again. So they may start with the clamshell exercise which is sort of like hip abduction because they know other muscles can help you do that.
Adam [00:13:21] Hold On clamshell when you’re laying on your side. And ways putting pressure on your legs and you’re trying to separate your legs.
Bill [00:13:26] You’re lying on your side knees bent your opening against the right now trying is so similar to the hip abductor machine that we used the Nautilus and medic station. So the next step after that would be the glute bridge. And so what they do is you lying on your back knees are bent. Heels abide by your butt but and this is the key thing here. You tighten your abs because we don’t tighten your abs when you push up you run the risk of the muscles around the spine or arching to try to help with the hip extension. But if you tighten your abs they’re not going to try to arch and tight abs are going to keep you from hip extension or the other thing you do is you hold a yardstick between the person’s a shoulder a rib cage and their knees. And when they fill the gap to the yardstick they may have that they might be a little bit of margin of error that they could go but generally is your least preventing them. The whole point to go into that forest hyper extension interesting hyper extension if you do it say over a bozo over a ball or just in general. You have support underneath. Well it’s not hyper extension is the problem forced hyper extension is a problem. So somebody in a bench press who’s arching their back or somebody who’s doing an overhead press an arching their back so they’re lifting so heavy and constantly and pushing the weight and that way their spine is it’s when you force hyper extension that the litany of back problems can come up.
Mike [00:14:58] What about real quick while doing they the medics or the Nautilus hip abduction machine sometimes you know when you’re extending outward that actually it seems like that happens a lot with clients.
Bill [00:15:11] So. So what I noticed also is early in the set your glutes can overpower the weight stack goods pull on your legs the weight stack separates as you get fatigued and now the weight stack is moving slower. If you insist on pushing with your glutes instead of pulling your thighs towards your hips it’s going to pull your hips towards your thighs and now you’re forcing that hyper extension again on the lower back. So how I’ve been coaching it is towards the end of the set when I see that start to happen. That’s when I tell the person to tighten up their abs. I had a Nautilus nitro where your feet are in like rungs at the bottom. I also have them dig in. So they’re pushing into the rungs. So between the tight abs and pushing into the rungs they’re holding their pelvis in place. Now what will happen is your glutes will burn out quicker that way. So your count will be lower or your TL will be lower but the extra effort that continuing with your spine flopping you got to weigh whether the benefits that are going to outweigh the extra wear and tear of the forced hyper extension of your spine.
Mike [00:16:27] That was the one exercise I’ve like been a little lenient on. Forced extension like everything else been like a Nazi about it like this only when I forced abduction while extension as a result of doing the analogy. Exactly. That’s why I’m.
Bill [00:16:45] Well again if you see the person’s going to have at the end of the set. Yeah. Well if you put too much weight on Barry right. And since the hip muscles can’t overpower the weight stack as easily if you keep pushing it’s gonna pull your pelvis right towards the front forcing that hyper extension right. I think what you do is.
Mike [00:17:03] You we shouldn’t be liberal with that.
Bill [00:17:05] No I will keep that. No I would. You see that happen now. Time to tighten their abs. Right. And they still can’t do it. They’re done. If the person really wants to extend the set I wouldn’t like the way lower the weight or do a forced rep or do something that allows them to protect their lower back. Because part of why you’re doing a hip abduction is to get the lower body some exercise without jeopardizing their back. Right. Otherwise you’d be doing side barbell squats or some silly. Yeah but if you’re doing the machine and the back is going into the position you don’t want to go in what you’ve kind of defeat the purpose.
Mike [00:17:37] Right. So going back to the glute bridge or the hip thrust without barbell without the barbell. So basically if you could stay mindful keeping a neutral spine not going into any forced extension is it a good exercise on its own.
Bill [00:17:52] See I still don’t think the biomechanics work as advertised. You know not to get terribly weedy here but the joint angle. I just happen to have this memorized that the joint tank of a pig Muscle talk of hip extension 70 degrees of hip flexion. So in other words again we do not to get too weedy or I memorize it or prepared before I came here. So in other words at about a quarter squat level so not parallel and not rock bottom but quarter squat. That’s where your hip extension that’s where your strongest bio mechanically just from the sliding filament theory from how the internal moment arms work the further away you get from that you get proportionately weaker in something like a leg press or a squad or a conventional deadlift. The exercise mechanically hardest at about that angle and as you get away from that angle the exercise gets mechanically easier.
Adam [00:18:45] Which is a good thing is congruent.
Bill [00:18:47] It matches. It matters. It’s a built in camp. It pretty much matches the torque curve right.
Adam [00:18:54] For those of you who don’t have any clue what we’re saying right now this is just a good thing. Leg presses, dead lifts in general and squats are bio mechanically correct and not putting certain they’ve done right or not.
Mike [00:19:08] You say its 70 degrees at the hip you said for maximum torque, is that what you said before?
Bill [00:19:13] 70 degrees of hip flexion. So in other words straight full hip extension straight line between the thighs The thighs hip torso that zero hip flexion so seventy degrees of hip flexion is where they strongest right. You know all of the things about squats and deadlifts aside the sticking point now is exercise approximates where that strong angle is and it gets easier as you approach lockout when you go to lockout like press or squat. It gets easier but your muscles are getting weaker so that’s fine. That matches is a very efficient exercise right. In the glute bridge. You start at about that strong drink angle and you’re simply lifting out of that strong joint angle into the weaker joint angle. That’s where the challenge comes from. Because even with a barbell on your lap there’s no lever created for the hips to work against. Right. The barbell is right over the hip joint. It’s the equivalent of standing in the center of a seesaw. Right there’s no lever so the glute bridge is only difficult because you’ve taken the muscle from a strong joint angle to a weak joint angle. It’s not the same as saying don’t do it though because again one of the touts for this thing is that people’s glutes burn and they get pumped up and clients may find that gratifying you know you feel muscle get pumped. And again as a trainer with experience sometimes you do want to do something that registers on the client that gets their attention. So it feels a workout feels a little different whether it has any kind of long term result or not because really the secret to good butt is to be born with it then have the trainer take credit for it. That’s really the secret. So again I context what I would do if you wanted to use it I would I would consider doing say the hip abduction first that addresses the glutes appropriately right go to like a light press or a squat again is gonna challenge the glutes where they’re strongest. And now that they’re fatigued now I would go into the physical therapy style glute bridge because now with no extra weight they’re already fatigued. You’re gonna feel it a lot quicker than if you did it fresh right. Yeah I guess.
Adam [00:21:21] Is it good for the lower back?
Bill [00:21:22] It’s good in the context that if the glutes are working they take the brunt of lifting something off the floor. So the cliché is lift with your legs not your back. So you pick something off the floor your back muscles hold your back posture, you bend at the knees and the hips and your glutes and your quads lift the object while your back is protecting itself. Is it good for your back? If that’s a problem right. If your glutes. If you have glute amnesia and so your lower back is taking more of the strain of standing upright or lifting something. Then yes it’s good for your lower back. So you could include it almost like as an insurance policy just to make sure because I don’t really know physically what my clients are doing outside the gym.
Mike [00:22:08] Do you do you I mean before I wasn’t sure if you believed in glute amnesia by the way you said it before. Is that is that I mean is that real?
Bill [00:22:16] I believe physical therapists think it’s real. And people who study, first of all, it’s not my term. Right. Right. So McGill who studies that there’s a lot of back research and physical therapist who deal this all time they think it’s real it’s not the only reason I qualified it is because it’s not my concept right. But you know yeah I do because for instance I used to do some work with high school football team and one of the things they looked at was if the kid can bend. And by that I meant is that they’d say squat if the kid didn’t stick his butt back shins almost vertical and squatted. If the kid crumpled to get to the floor they said that doesn’t have the skills. So there is something to you know not having a strong hip muscles.
Mike [00:23:08] Well I mean it to me it seems it makes does make sense that glute amnesia does exist. You know who knows whatever but if it does that have to be the primary cause being something that people do like what we’re doing right now which is sitting.
Bill [00:23:20] Yeah. I mean that’s you know it goes on working right now. They’re not working when you’re standing up or walking.
Mike [00:23:26] Right but it’s on the theory that I heard I read through another seminar & another exercise thing was that it was attributed to and we’ve talked about this. We mentioned the term and our last podcast was reciprocal inhibition from the hip flexor because this is activated by being in hip flexion. It’s quieting the glutes and for long periods of time and actually being in that position could over time like you know limit the glutes from firing effectively whether it’s like picking up something as you said before or an athletic movement like a golf swing or you know that what’s involved in a rotational golf movement or something.
Bill [00:24:03] Well that concept applies to other muscles too. When I had rotator cuff surgery and the shoulder was turned in because that muscle was repaired and tight the muscles on the back of the shoulder shut down. Right. And so no rear deltoid no traps no.
Adam [00:24:21] This is the reason I’m hearing this. I’m like this is temporary. They shut down temporarily as soon as you really using the proper way the problem by mechanics they’re going to turn on sound like they’re turned off and right. That’s why I can’t get turned on again just right do a leg press properly turning them back on I don’t get all this modalities of… First thing you got to do is kind of turn your glutes on and then you can start doing a leg press or deadlifts or.
Bill [00:24:44] Well but no the context though in physical therapy is someone has back pain. Someone probably isn’t regularly exercised. Someone’s not right. If someone’s sedentary someone’s not regularly exercise they present with back pain there’s no distinct injury there’s no surgery and they’re not exercising.
Mike [00:25:01] Their backs probably deconditioned, the glutes are deconditioned, the hip flexors are deconditioned.
Bill [00:25:06] Exactly right. They said that his flex is a shorter.
Mike [00:25:09] You do a little of everything and it allows sort of come back together.
Bill [00:25:11] Right. So I’m not judging what the physical therapist is doing I’m just saying where the ideas came from to bring this home the idea is where the idea to put a barbell on the front of your hips come from they I’m sure they took it from the physical therapy glute bridge and said well if it’s good for physical therapy for glutes and backs must be good if we put a bar… it’s better if we put a barbell on it.
Mike [00:25:30] If the Nautilus glute drive station says that you could actually limit it to 70 degrees at the hip.
Bill [00:25:38] Well you can go from 70 at the bottom to zero at the top.
Mike [00:25:40] You know it’s could be a limited movement, would that be a safe exercise if it or if you’re just if you’re cause you’re not got to worry about that but the barbell anymore it’s just that you’re sort of going into that and there’s been.
Adam [00:25:52] But the problem is being loaded up in that zero flexion spot.
Bill [00:25:56] Funny you should bring that up because the guy who biggest promoter of this exercise the glute guy.
Adam [00:26:03] Yeah he’s actually named Glute guy.
Bill [00:26:05] That’s his Web site called the Glute guy who inspired the glute drive machine in trying to set a personal record on the glue drive machine tore his actual gluten really serious. By his own admission on his own Instagram account.
Mike [00:26:19] Don’t want to laugh but…
Adam [00:26:20] Seriously.
Bill [00:26:20] So that should give people the idea that now. Now it’s very tough to tear a muscle while you’re exercising your biceps rupture tendon triceps rupture that’s attendant poppin off the bone or tear near the tendon but to actually tear a big chunk of the meat of the muscle. Well that’s almost unheard of. Now I don’t think most people doing this exercise or at risk of tearing their glutes I think the real risk is lower back right. And if you notice these NFL guys using hundreds of pounds they start slow at the bottom and they don’t hold it at the top. They just kind of pop it out at the bottom because they can’t hold it because it can’t. It’s too heavy and they’re going to a weaker part of the muscle torque curve. The danger of course to even those guys is you’ve done 10 or 15 reps. Even though you did them half assed by our standards you’re still fatigued and you still have 500 600 pounds. And now you pop up that last time and it’s going to come back down on you and your glutes are going to try to contract. They’re going to try to control releasing the contraction when they catch it.
Mike [00:27:28] Right.
Bill [00:27:29] And that’s where you can get hurt.
Mike [00:27:30] It sounds like you get hurt in almost all parts of that exercise getting into it. Doing it the lower part the high part getting out of it.
Bill [00:27:38] I mean aside from that. Yes that’s right. It’s great exercise.
Adam [00:27:41] All right. So to wrap this up then if I may conclude for us. Hip thrusts with weighted barbells is something you probably should not be doing and it’s not necessary to do. Glute bridges have their application to stimulate activation right.
Bill [00:27:56] And that’s the way I would phrase it… right.
Adam [00:27:58] And to be aware everybody in space to an extent. But there is no substitute for ultimately you know when you want to work your butt go into hip extension, do a safe leg press which would be my recommendation of some kind. You know they have the hip machines or also some of them are pretty good right.
Bill [00:28:15] Nautilus had the right idea years ago… the hip extension machine.
Adam [00:28:18] All right. Thank you very much. Bill that was very informative. Anything you want to add Mike before we sign off?
Mike [00:28:23] I would just say that was awesome.
Adam [00:28:27] All right. Thanks Bill. Appreciate it.
Bill [00:28:28] Thank you guys.
Arlene [00:28:29] This has been the Inform Fitness Podcast with Adam Zickerman. For over 20 years. Inform Fitness has been providing clients of all ages with customized personal training designed to build strength fast. Visit Inform Fitness dot com for testimonials blogs and videos on the three pillars. Exercise nutrition and recovery.