I want to start straight out of the gate with this disclaimer:
Obviously there's more to these two lifts if you're going to realise your latent speed/agility potential. So no. You're not going to find these two lifts alone will increase your speed, win you that elusive World Championship Gold, cure world hunger AND eradicate Ebola all in one go.
What I will say, however. Is you're missing out on some goodies if you don't complement your training with these two exercises. Training which includes a 360 approach to strength & performance.
Putting that spin on it.
When I talk about speed & agility. I'm really thinking about two distinct contexts within the martial arts space. One is in the sparring ring, another is good jumping mechanics. Typically required for high technical aerial breaks you oftentimes need for successful grading assessments. Or kicking tall people in the chops.
Both contexts require pretty sound hip extension power. Obviously the quads play an enormous role in jumping, as do the hamstrings and calfs. It's just that, people don't tend to have a problem with their quads.
Someone who has a lack of quad function - without some crazy injury or flesh eating bacterium - Is a rarity. I've only seen it in one client. Which had much more to do with being genetically predisposed to having one side of their body slightly smaller and underdeveloped than the other.
They have to buy two pairs of shoes, two sizes apart, in order to get the right fit. Just to give you a little more insight into what I mean.
It's an anomaly.
People tend to have more problems with powerful well functioning hip extension patterns. With that, we segue into the meat and potatoes.
They're both the same, they're both different. They both involve heavy shit, they're different in their delivery. One is the Barbell Hip Thrust, the other is the Kettlebell Swing.
Barbell Hip Thrust
It's fairly self explanatory. There's a bar, you put it on your hips and you thrust while grimacing and making strange noises.
What's not to love?
There's also some variations of the standard hip thrust. But we'll keep it simple and stay with this variation for today, perhaps saving the rest for another article, another day. Which should get you excited to come back.
To whet your appetite, there's many variations.
Without further ado, here's the lift in action demonstrated by World Silver medallist Jenine.
What's it do?
It primarily works the Glutes during the hip extension phase. But I would be silly not to underscore the role the quads and hamstrings play. Not to mention the intra-abdominal tension you're required to generate. Which should be a given for pretty much anything which requires physical grunt.
Lax core? Lax strength.
Stuff to think about?
There's some cheeky gremlins which come out to play with this exercise. Namely we get too involved with our quads.
The clue is we feel the burn in the quads with negligible fatigue in the glutes. Two solutions I like is to think about driving the heels down more. Also, if you can set up on carpeted floor, take your shoes off.
The slipperiness of the socks on carpet makes it crazy hard not to use your glutes. If you keep using your quads you'll just push 'n' slip the feet forward, ruining your position and leverage. You should also find the shins are vertical at lockout.
I also find people tend to lose optimal ribcage/hip positioning. The goal is to maintain a stacked position with the ribcage and hips pointing at each other. You know, not cranking through your spine and pushing your belly up into the air.
All that said, I don't want to encourage people to start going all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum and being overtly silly with going into posterior tilt and getting into a flexed spinal position from neck to hips.
As per the demo the chin is gently tucked, abs are rock solid, and the hips are driving extension all the way to the top.
Think standing hip thrust with turbo-sauce.
Because this time you're going for max power, explosive drive to create the swing phase. All coming from that sexy posterior chain, of course.
Thing is, I rarely see these get coached correctly. In fact, the most common hunting ground for KB Swing egregiousness has got to be those 24/7 Gym classes designed to get you in and out in 30 minutes with a big grin on your face.
Or, the epitome of Kettlebell heinousness - Jillian Michaels.
Do not Kettlebell Swing like this, if you want to preserve -
Your progression rates.
I hope that clears up that.
Here's what I want you to do in order to maximise the glutification of your glutes, and promote powerful hip drive.
Sexy AF, right?
What's it do?
If you haven't already gathered by now. This is hip extension + power. It's also a fantastic metabolic conditioning workout in and of itself. I'd say my go-to training tools - For if I'm tight on time and need to pop workout with maximum bang for buck. - Are Kettlebells.
This isn't an exercise you do with 6-12kgs. Assuming my technique and patterning is down, I'd be starting at 14kg minimum. Me? I like to bust a groove with 20-24kgs. I'm a 71kg medium sized guy, there's your barometer. From there, the sky is the limit.
Although I must stress. If you haven't mastered the hip hinge on its own, or hip extension with Deadlifts or Hip Thrusts - I'd build some success with the individual components first.
Stuff to think about?
Mainly that it's not a squat, or a shoulder raise. When that weight comes back down, you need to accommodate the load with your hips shifting rearward. With your ribcage/spine neutral. The final piece of the puzzle? Don't let the weight leave your hips, before you snap and drive them forward.
Think about it. As far as training effect goes, if you thrust after the KB has left the hip? You may as well stand there and hump the air.
I mean, you can do that if you want. As far as training effect goes, it's by far the silliest mistake people make. With most people making it! Take a look at a still frame I took of my swing. You'll notice two things.
I bet he can deadlift 500kg. What a badass.
So why are these exercises going to help? I'm already doing lunges, squats and deadlifts.
Short answer? Strength is joint angle specific.
The thing that squats, deadlifts and lunges don't have over the Hip Thrust and KB Swing. Is with the former(s) the highest mechanical loading/tension through the working muscles is achieved at or around 90-110 degree of hip flexion.
Or thighs parallel with the floor. As you reach lock out with lesser hip flexion angles, less force is required to fully extend the hips.
Whereas with the KB Swing and certainly with the Hip Thrust. Your highest mechanical loading/tension on the working muscles happens from 90 degrees all the way to 0, or more if you're predisposed to hip sockets which allow for greater hip extension angles.
Great for back kicks, I'll have you know.
Here's the real clincher with all of this. We spend most of our time in a sparring ring not down at 90 degrees or more. Rather, we like to generate our hip snap and power in the 45 (or less) degree hip flexion range. Or, in other words. Athletic Stance.
I've already spoken at length regarding the benefits of maximising athletic stance strength and power here. However, as a quick refresher just take a look at this hip flexion. Looks pretty 45 degree-ish to me.
I'm not saying you should ditch the lunges, deadlifts and squats. Hell no. Keep those staples in your programme. It's just that, strength gains are joint angle specific. So you'll mainly develop hip extension strength at much greater angles of hip extension. With negligible forces at lesser angles such as the athletic stance.
So complement your training with stuff and things which develop strength and power at athletic stance angles. This way, you have optimal strength and power available through a larger range of your hip extension pattern.
Maybe now you can begin to appreciate why I roll my eyes at people putting so much emphasis on glute squeezing at the top of a squat. Going into major posterior tilt with the hips, plus swaying those hips in front of their centre of gravity. Like it's going to make it even more amazing and special and awesomerismer.
It's not. Not in those relative positions and loads anyway.
Wrapping it up
That's all I got.