Hip thrusts are a great way to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings… and once you get the hang of just using your bodyweight, you may want to start adding some additional resistance to progress your workouts.
Along with a weighted barbell, using the Smith Machine is one of the most common ways to do this.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about Smith Machine hip thrusts, including how to do them properly, muscles worked, benefits and things to consider.
We also include tips on how you can leverage this exercise to help achieve your specific fitness goals.
How to Set Up and Perform Hip Thrusts on a Smith Machine
To do Smith Machine hip thrusts:
- Start by placing a bench directly behind you on the smith machine. This should be parallel to the bar and a couple of inches away from the machine, although this will largely depend on your height.
- The bottom of your shoulders wants to be on the edge of the bench so that your upper back will support you as you lift your hips up.
- Rest the bar over your hips. If this is uncomfortable, consider wrapping a towel or a pad around the bar.
- Place your feet shoulder with apart, just in front of your glutes. Your glutes should be slightly raised off the ground in the starting position to maintain good range of motion throughout the exercise. If you find that your glutes are touching the floor, consider resting your feet on an elevated surface so that you can maintain full range of motion in the hips during the hip thrust.
- Squeezing the glutes, lift your hips up so your quads are parallel with your torso. Hold this for a moment, before slowly lowering your hips back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip – This movement is all about isolating the glutes, so you want to really focus on a controlled squeezing of the glutes to lift the hips up, as opposed to trying to use momentum. It’s worth doing this without any weight on the smith machine to begin with and then once you feel comfortable with the movement, start adding additional resistance.
You also want to naturally push your knees slightly outwards (an alternative to banded hip abductions).
- Primary – Glutes
- Secondary – Quads, Hamstrings and Calves
One of the clear benefits of smith machine hip thrusts is that it is beginner-friendly. You don’t need to worry about balancing a barbell or dumbbell on your hips as you perform the exercise, as the smith machine well help assist and support your body as you lift the additional resistance.
This means that it is a great way to add resistance from a regular hip thrust to see how you get on, without worrying about stabilizing or lifting a heavy barbell.
Similarly, one of the benefits of a smith machine is that if you are struggling, it’s easy to re-rack the weight and pause. If you’re working out on your own, this is a huge benefit.
Easier Set Up
Doing hip thrusts with a barbell and plates can be quite difficult to set-up, especially if you’re training on your own. At the very least, this makes it a challenging exercise to include in any sort of HIIT workout or any shorter workout whereby you’re really trying to exercise in a limited time frame.
And let’s face facts, spending a lot of your gym time loading plates onto a barbell isn’t exactly that fun either.
With smith machine hip thrusts, you can simply add plates to a smith machine and start exercising within a few moments.
This also makes it easier to adjust the weight in between sets too… ideal for supersets or short workouts.
Due to the way a smith machine will assist the movement, you’ll likely notice that you can lift a lot more weight using a smith machine than you can barbell and plates. This isn’t necessarily it negative thing, it just means if you are swapping between the smith machine and barbells, you’ll probably notice quite big differences between the what you can lift.
Effective Progressive Overload
As far as adding more weight to the movement and using progressive overload to build muscle, the smith machine makes this very convenient for hip thrusts.
Compared to using resistance bands, a smith machine allows you to keep increasing resistance much more effectively and measurably.
The reality is, many people simply don’t have access to barbells with lots of plates.
Some gyms may not have a wide selection of barbells (especially ones you can add plates to), and even if they do, they might all be in use, so you either need to change what exercises you do, or know how to do your preferred exercise using different equipment, such as on the smith machine.
The ability to adapt exercises like hip thrusts to different equipment ultimately means you can still activate the glutes instead of simply giving the exercise a miss altogether.
Ironically, one of the main criticisms of the smith machine is actually also one of its main benefits too. The fact the smith machine removes the need to stabilize and balance the movement, and therefore not engage more muscles to support the weight, means the machine is actually incredibly effective at isolating certain body parts… in this instance, the glutes.
Doing an exercise such as the db sumo deadlift is a great way to activate the glutes, however, you may find it’s your quads or back that actually contributes to your overall fatigue and ultimately prevent you from doing any more reps.
In contrast, being able to isolate the glutes so specifically on a smith machine means that you can reduce the impact of these other muscles during the exercise, so you can really test your glue strength.
The glutes simply have nowhere to hide.
Hip Thrusts Using a Smith Machine vs Barbell
Doing hip thrusts using a barbell, as opposed to using a smith machine, would likely be the more common recommendation from personal trainers and Physical Therapists. This is because you can move in a more natural way and you’re not restricted to the strict upright direction of the smith machine.
Using a barbell or other free weights will also require more stability and balance during the exercise, which are vital components for overall fitness. Improving your body’s ability to stabilize and balance weights during compound movements will benefit healthy movement and athletic performance.
Nevertheless, there is certainly a convenience to being able to do hip thrusts on a smith machine and assuming you follow correct technique, you can still successfully activate the glutes during the exercise. It also means you can really isolate the glutes during the movement and reduce the influence of other muscles aiding the exercise, which has clear benefits too.
Barbell Hip Thrusts
If you like hip thrusts, the most obvious alternative to the smith machine hip thrust would be to use a barbell instead. This is the more common variation for weighted hip thrusts.
Hip Thrust Machines
Sticking with hip thrusts, another alternative could be to use a dedicated hip thrust machine (these usually use a band for resistance). This is ideal for those exercising at home, where realistically you probably don’t have space for a large commercial smith machine.
BootySprout is a popular brand, and there are lots of similar models on Amazon too. The COBA Board is another similar product which allows you to do hip thrusts as well as lots of other exercises that will better activate the glutes, due to the slight incline.
We also have a guide on the best home glute machines for some shopping inspiration, which are usually focused around the hip thrusts.
Smith Machine Kneeling Squat
If you want to stick with the smith machine, doing kneeling squats on them is a great way to focus on the glutes. The limited movement reduces the activation of the quads or the need for stabilizing muscles to support your body during the exercise and therefore helps to focus more on the glutes.
Smith Machine Donkey Kicks
Smith machine donkey kicks can be quite hard to set up but they are a great way to add resistance to the donkey kick, which is a popular way team build stronger glutes. It’s not really possible to do a donkey kicks with a barbell or dumbbell, for example, because you simply wouldn’t be able to balance it as you lift your foot up, so using ankle weights is or resistance bands is often the only way people add resistance to the movement… however, the smith machine allows you to progressively overload the muscles in a more convenient way due to you simply just having to add plates to the smith machine.
Again, compared to using resistance bands, it’s much more effective for measuring your increases in weight during sets.
If you prefer isometric (without movement) exercises, Chinese Planks are worth trying. This exercise involves resting your shoulders and feet on two elevated surfaces and squeezing your glutes to keep your body straight.
As well as being a great standalone exercise, you may find a few rounds of Chinese planks is a great way to warm-up before sets of hip thrusts on a Smith Machine.
Can You Do Hip Thrusts on a Smith Machine?
Ultimately, you can certainly do hip thrusts on a smith machine. Compared to barbell hip thrusts, it actually provides a few additional benefits in that it is a lot easier to set up and isolate the glutes… however, as with any exercise that uses the smith machine, the movement is somewhat limited as you are restricted by the strict vertical movement, which isn’t necessarily how your body would move in certain exercises.
We would tend to avoid doing exercises like squats or deadlifts on a smith machine because we feel the movement is too limited and compromised, however, because hip thrusts actually involve quite a small movement, the drawbacks and criticisms that many have of smith machines, don’t feel as noticeable when doing hip thrusts.
Whether smith machine hip thrusts are for you or not, will likely be personal preference. If you prefer your more traditional barbell gym routines, you may not want to delve into any sort of smith machine exercise, however, if you’re a beginner or short on time, being able to leverage the smith machine to isolate the glutes through hip thrusts might well become a staple in your fitness routine.
If you do want to try smith machine hip thrusts and don’t feel confident, remember to just start very light and do a few sets without any additional plates on the smith machine, so you can get used to the way you’ll have to push the weight up.
Utilising the experience and expertise of a personal trainer can also ensure you are performing the exercise correctly and with good technique.