I guess we all know that if you want great glutes then you need to hip thrust.
In fact, there are few exercises that will target your glutes as well.
However, quite often you may feel the movement elsewhere other than the target muscles.
And it just so happens that the knees can take a beating during hip thrusts.
So, don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only one who’s knees hurt whenever they do hip thrusts.
So, allow me to explain what’s going on here and how you can fix it.
Why Do My Knees Hurt When I Do Hip Thrusts?
There are various reasons why your knees hurt when you do hip thrusts. The most common of these is that you have weak or inactive glutes. This leads to poor movement mechanics from your hip to your knee. Furthermore, it’s likely that you’re engaging your quads, which in turn places more stress on the knee joints.
1. Weak or Inactive Glutes
The number one reason that your knees hurt when you do hip thrusts is because you have weak or inactive glutes.
That probably sounds quite strange initially, as you’re performing an exercise that specifically targets the glutes.
However, in truth, many of us have focused solely on exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges for many years.
And more often than not this may be the only “glute exercises” that you’ve done in years.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these lower body exercises will definitely activate and work the glutes.
But realistically, they’re not the best.
In fact, this is similar to only ever performing pull ups in order to work your biceps.
Yes, once more, your biceps will get a good going over, but not as well as targeting the muscles with bicep-specific exercises.
The exact same can be said for squats, deadlifts, and lunges when it comes to training the glutes.
So, even if you’ve been performing these lower body exercises with regularity you’re still leaving a lot of glute work on the table.
And unfortunately, you’ll soon get found out when you start performing hip thrusts.
Basically, weak or inactive glutes will lead to poor movement mechanics from the hips to the knees.
And it is for this reason that you feel knee pain whenever you hip thrust.
2. You’re Engaging Your Quads
Another reason that your knees hurt when you do hip thrusts is that you’re engaging your quads.
Okay admittedly, one of the main complaints that many people have about hip thrusts is that they feel them in their hamstrings.
But, yet again, this could be a sign of weakness, but this time in the hamstrings.
This typically occurs if much of your training has been quad-dominant, and this is definitely the case for many of us.
And unfortunately, in these circumstances your quads tend to take over whenever you perform hip thrusts.
The quads cross both the hip and knee joints.
The quads will flex at the hip joint and extend at the knee joint.
So, whenever you activate your quads you’ll also activate the hip and knee joint to some extent.
However, there is definitely much more stress placed on the knees than the hips.
Therefore, if you are quad-dominant you’ll need to work on various exercises to strengthen the posterior chain, especially the glutes and hamstrings.
This in turn will ensure that your quads don’t take over every time you hip thrust.
3. Increasing Weight Too Quickly
Something you may need to consider if your knee pain is a recent occurrence is how much weight you’re using.
Okay, we all know that progressive overload is the name of the game.
So, whenever we train a specific muscle group or exercise, we want to get better and use increasingly more weight.
With that being said, if your body isn’t ready to move up in weight, this is typically reflected in your form.
And there’s nothing that can lead to joint pain quicker than sloppy form.
So, in effect, it could be a case that your glutes aren’t quite strong enough yet to take on more weight during hip thrusts.
But, if you force it, not only will your form be off, but you’ll probably start using your stronger lower body muscles to lift the weight.
And we’re then back once again to using our quads rather than our glutes to get the weight up.
The result of course is that you end up placing additional stress on the knee joints.
So, this could be a simple case of leaving your ego at the door and simply hip thrusting a weight that your glutes can handle.
4. The Bench isn’t Right For Hip Thrusts
Something else to consider is the height of the bench that you’re using when doing hip thrusts.
You’ll typically support yourself by placing your rear delts against a bench, and then start thrusting.
And for most of us this generally means leaning against a standard bench in the gym.
However, you also need to take your height, leg length, and overall physique into account.
This is definitely not a case of a standard bench being ideal for everyone.
In fact, if a bench is either too high or too low when you hip thrust then you’re likely to feel the movement elsewhere rather than the glutes.
I will say that this is especially true of feeling hip thrusts in your knees when the bench is too high.
With that being said, if the bench is too low then your quads may take over again.
And as you now know, excessive quad activation during hip thrusts will place stress on the knees.
So, this is a case of finding an ideal platform that is appropriate for your size.
This is fine if you have an adjustable bench or even a vast array of plyo boxes.
However, if you only have access to one type of “support platform” then I’d recommend converting to glute bridges.
Basically, you’ll go through the same movement pattern, but now your back is directly on the floor.
If you can master glute bridges without your knees hurting, it won’t be long before you’re progressing in weight, and perhaps even able to return to pain-free hip thrusts.
5. Try Feet-Elevated Glute Bridges
The position of your feet can also make a huge difference in where you feel hip thrusts.
So, it could simply be a case of playing around with foot positioning.
As an example, if your feet are too close together you’re more likely to engage the quads once more.
Having your feet too far apart could engage the adductors more which will place more stress on the knee joint.
Even something like having your feet turned in or turned out too far can put the knees in an unnatural position.
With that being said, depending on your current hip thrust form, any of these scenarios could actually relieve stress on your knees as well.
So, you must find what feet positioning best suits you as an individual.
Something else you should try is the feet elevated glute bridge.
This involves lying on the floor and placing your feet onto a bench.
You then want to have only your heels in contact with the bench and push through the heels to raise your butt off the floor.
This position will allow you to really isolate the glutes, which is fantastic if you’re feeling hip thrusts incorrectly.
In fact, you’ll probably find that a few sets of bodyweight feet-elevated glute bridges will fire up your glutes more than you can possibly imagine.
And of course, no knee pain.
Feet-Elevated Glute Bridge
So, I hope you have a better idea of why your knees hurt when you do hip thrusts.
As you see, this mainly comes down to weak or inactive glutes.
Furthermore, if your quads tend to take over when you do hip thrusts then you’re likely to feel this in your knees.
I would also recommend that you’re not in too much of a hurry to increase weight, as poor form can usually lead to feeling hip thrusts anywhere but in the glutes.
Finally, play around the positioning of your feet, while also using the feet-elevated glute bridge to build strength in the lower body posterior chain.
Admittedly, hip thrusts are the best glute exercise for pure strength, plus they hit all three parts of the glute muscles. However, there are also many accessory movements which will improve glute size and strength, So, I suggest you check out the 36 recommended exercises in the Unlock Your Glutes Workout Program.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.