Mastering the Single Leg Hip Thrust

Posted on by Ben Bruno

The single leg hip thrust has been a mainstay in my training for the past few months. I really like it because it’s a great back-friendly, knee-friendly exercise to work the posterior chain.

It’s not easy though, and people often struggle to get the hang of it in the beginning, so I thought I’d throw out a few ideas on how to improve it that have helped me.

The first step is mastering the bilateral glute bridge and then the bilateral hip thrust. Start with just your bodyweight and make sure you’re feeling it in your glutes and not the lower back. This may take some time, so be patient.

Once you’ve got that down you have two options for progression: add weight to the bilateral version or go to the single leg version. Both are fine choices and I like both of them, but this blog post is going to focus on the single leg version.

Again, just like with the bilateral version, start with bodyweight until you get the hang of it. It’s a big jump going from two legs to one, so be prepared for that. In the beginning it may actually help to bridge up on two leg and lower yourself down on one leg.

Once bodyweight is no longer challenging, you can start adding some load. At first the best way to add weight seems to be draping chains or weighted vests on your lap, but this can become cumbersome after about 40-50 pounds so you’ll probably find that you’ll need to use a barbell.

Just like it’s a big jump going from bilateral to unilateral hip thrusts, it’s a big jump to start adding significant loads to the unilateral version. For that reason, I recommend starting the whole progression over again.

The first weighted progression would then be bridging up on two legs and lowering down on one. Like this.

Keep the eccentrics on the slow side and make sure you’re really controlling the weight.

Once you feel stable, you can then try the full single leg version. When using load though, I suggest first coming up on two legs and then picking one foot off the floor as opposed to just starting on one leg. This seems to help get you started in a better and more stable position and makes the rest of the set flow better. It’s a small detail that makes a big difference.

Again, it’s useful to use slow eccentrics in the beginning to make sure you’re controlling the weight, and it also helps with learning how to stabilize the hips so the bar doesn’t tip. Remember, using slower eccentrics will require you to use substantially less weight than you think you might be ready for, so plan accordingly.

It looks like this.

The last step would be to do the exercise normally, still under control but just not so slow. Like so:

With any bridging or thrusting variation, I think a good rule of thumb is that you should always be able to squeeze and hold the contraction at the top for a second. If you can’t, the weight is probably too heavy. You’ll see I pause the last rep a little longer. That’s intentional. I find pausing the reps at the top also helps to work the glutes better and ensure that you’re in fact using your glutes and not hyperextending from the lumbar spine.

That’s actually an important point to note. If you’re feeling this exercise in your back, you’re not doing it right and you probably need to lighten the load or slow down the movement (or both) and focus on doing it correctly. I find the unilateral version is more back-friendly than the bilateral version (probably just because of the lighter loads), but this point applies to both exercises.

Follow the progressions and don’t skip steps. Your glutes, knees, and lower back will thank you.

Happy thrusting my friends.

On an unrelated note, I’m taking an impromptu trip down to New York City tomorrow for a few days, so I probably won’t be posting too much. Have a great week, and train hard!

Also, please remember to subscribe to my You Tube page and follow me on Twitter to stay in the loop.

  • Geoguitarman

    Have you ever encountered issue with hips sagging during this exercise? On one side I can do the exercise comfortable but the other my non working hip drops significantly. What would you suggest to remedy this? Great blog by the way! Thanks.

    • Ben Bruno

      Thanks! Could you clarify what you mean by “hips sagging?” I think I understand but just want to be clear.

      • Geoguitarman

        Its hard to describe! Basically if I bridge on my left leg then my pelvis skews down so the right hip is a lot lower than the working left side. I sort of contort. My left glute is a lot smaller and weaker than my right also any suggestions on how to help this (bearing in mind I can’t perform 1 leg glute bridges with out hip sag and compensation from other muscles)? One more thing (sorry!) I’ve been performing hip thrusts with a barbell recently and felt it working well but in the last few sessions my quads Fatigue before my glutes feel like they’ve done much (even with extended hold at the top). Any ideas why this might be? I think my glutes are strong enough (quads tire first on hip thrusts for reps at 60kg+ but I can do 15 reps of 110kg glute bridges which KILLS my glutes!) are my quads just weak? Sorry for the long winded post I really appreciate the time you take to responds and all the articles and videos you make- a brilliant resource!! George.

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  • Megann

    I’ve been working on these (unweighted for now) and I’m definitely feeling it more in my hamstrings than my glutes. Any tips for that? Am I not squeezing enough? Are my glutes just too week and my hamstrings are overcompensating? Help! And thanks!

    • Ben Bruno

      It may just be that the single leg version is too much at this time and your glutes aren’t ready for it. You may just need to try squeezing your glutes harder, but if that doesn’t work, I might spend some time with the double leg version first. Good luck!

  • Starkcat

    Great article, I was thinking about adding these instead of single leg RDL’s because of a history of back issues. I have 3 bad discs in my lumbar spine, and dead lifts and such are totally a no go, especially Anyhing where I bend at the waist. I thought single leg RDL’s wouldn’t be so bad, but even after several reps without weight I start to feel like if I push it any further I may be in bed for a few days. Nutshell: thoughts on using hip thrusts in a back friendly leg workout in place of single leg RDL’s? PS – Bulgarian split squats are *great*, thanks for that.

    • Ben Bruno

      I think you could swap these for single leg RDLs. You also might want to look into slideboard or Valslide leg curls if you haven’t tried those yet.

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  • Taylorpimp96

    What kind nikes are those?

    yes, that is my question.

    • Ben Bruno

      Nike Frees. They’re awesome. Highly recommended.

  • tempest sharp

    uggg i love this , but i would have to start on the floor if i was adding weight the the single leg thrust. I can do the body weight one with single legs from the floor.without much problem, but add weight, and that would be vedry hard for me, but i do love bridges and hip thrusts.