An Awkward Exercise That Works

There are a lots of awkward things that you find in a weight room. Things such as partner stretching and the thigh abduction and adduction machines usually make people feel a bit uneasy inside. For the most part those things suck, so it’s okay; maybe the should make you feel uneasy inside.  Unfortunately, some really awesome exercises are also awkward; try getting spotted while you squat. Safe, yes, but it’s impossible to avoid the looks. (I pride myself on giving super-awesome squat spots, but that’s besides the point; it’s definitely something that people get the heebie-jeeibies from.)

I’ve seen people refuse to do exercises such as the pull through because they think it looks like “You’re humping the air.” Yes, it does train hip extension, so there not all wrong, but I think it’s something they should ignore because of the effectiveness of the exercise. I’m beginning to emphasize my deadlift in my training, and so I’m incorporating some new exercises to emphasize the posterior chain/hip extension.

We frequently hear about the hip bridge being a great exercise for glute activation. In a society that spends the entire day sitting on our butts, those muscle tend to do their job a little worse. They don’t ‘turn off’, just work less well; think about your muscles being lights on a dimmer switch, and the switch is turned down. Most people rely on their hamstrings and lumbar erectors to drive hip extension, instead of the glute max. The gluteus maximus is the primary extensor of the hip, so we miss out on our deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and deep squats, when the glute max isn’t ‘turned up’ like it should be. The hip bridge is a great exercise to focus on glute activation, but it’s use shouldn’t end there. It works fantastically well as an exercise to train end-range hip extension.

In almost every hip dominant exercise we use, the demands on the glutes decrease as we approach full extension. This is because we’re usually transmitting force through the frontal plane, in the axial vector. (Read up on force vectors with THIS article from Bret Contreras.) The majority of the common lower body exercises occur in the vector, including all the squat and deadlift variations. It’s difficult to isolate end range-of-motion hip extension with these exercise though. The solution is only 90 degrees away.

When you look at the hip bridge, you see that gravity is pulling at an angle that is rotated 90 degrees from what we’re use to. Now, we’re transmitting force through the hips, from the front to the back. With anteroposterior loading, which occurs through the transverse/horizontal plane, we can produce more force as we approach full extension. This is the opposite of what we’re accustomed to, so training the anteroposterior vector can have big impact on your training.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been training end-ROM hip extension religiously; I’ve used hip bridges and pull-throughs in the past, but dedicated anteroposterior training hasn’t been on my to-do list.  I guess not until now, that I’ve decided to stop deadlifting like a 9th grader.  The hip bridge that I showed before is commonly used as an activation drill, but not many people use it as a strength exercise.  Thanks to the previously mentioned Bret Contreras, aka The Glute Guy, the bridge has become increasingly popular for those targeting their glutes.  Strengthening the glutes with the hip bridge is as easy as adding a barbell.

Here we see Dave Rak performing a this exercise 8 times with a 495lb barbell.  Pretty strong, I’d say.  If you search Youtube for ‘Barbell Hip Bridge“, you’ll come up with a number of videos that show people moving some big weights.  I’m going to be using this exercise for a while to a) get really good at it, and b) see what it does to my deadlift numbers.  It’ll be the first strength exercise of my lowerbody days, and I’ll adjust the intensity based on the purpose of the day, but I’ll track my hip bridge progress as well as it’s carry over to my deadlift.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll experience increases in both numbers.

I hip-bridged for the first time in a while in my Monday workout, and focused on achieving full hip extension.  I also focused on ingnoring the perplexing looks I recieved from other people in the gym.  One girl even said to me, “I’m not sure if I feel comfortable using that pad to split squat after you’ve had it on your crotch.”  I just laughed, but my internal dialogue included the following: “A) It’s across my pelvis, just below the anterior superior illiac spine (hip bones.) B) Why would you split squat with the bar pad, that’s just stupid.”  Despite the questioning and judgemental looks recieved, I’m going to be using these twice a week for a 6-8 weeks, and I’ll see if my hips get stronger and my deadlift gets heavier.  I’d certainly suggest you try them out in your program and see how you do with them.  Here’s to a new exercise and a stronger butt!

3 Replies to “An Awkward Exercise That Works”

  1. Lolled at your last paragraph! I’ve had the same situation happen. “You guys training to be porn stars or something?” Being the favorite question I received from one male.

  2. I would be interested to hear if you’ve found any long term benefit to these glute bridges. For me they weren’t really anything I could “progress”, although they certainly feel like work.

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