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I’m a Cyclist and Physical Therapist, and Here’s Why I Prescribe Hip Thrusts and Donkey Kicks For All Cyclists

Boost Your Cycling Performance: Incorporating Hip Thrusts and Donkey Kicks into the Cyclists’ Routine

Many performance coaches agree that an athlete’s training regimen must go beyond the bike to incorporate various strength and conditioning exercises in the quest for better cycling performance. For some cyclists, that means a primary focus on quadriceps strengthening. However, that’s only a piece of the puzzle.


Considering the role of the glutes in cycling, the well-rounded development of these muscles can enhance your power output and efficiency on the bike. While your gluteus maximus provides the majority of power for cycling, your gluteus medius and minimus play crucial roles in maintaining your stability and alignment on the bike. Therefore, by incorporating glute isolation exercises targeting these smaller muscles into your routine, you can work towards optimizing your cycling performance.

Adding variety to your glute exercises can help stimulate them and ensure cyclists target every aspect of these powerful muscles. Isolation exercises are an excellent way to focus on these smaller, vital muscles. Focused resistance training targeting the glutes can also help achieve greater strength, stability, and endurance.


While compound exercises such as squats, lunges, and deadlifts effectively target these muscle groups, they primarily tend to engage the gluteus maximus. Consequently, the smaller gluteus medius and minimus, which are responsible for hip abduction and internal rotation, might not receive the same level of conditioning. This imbalance in strength can result in back and knee pain, particularly among individuals who spend much of their day sitting.

Incorporate glute exercises into your workout routine to prevent muscle imbalances and ensure a well-rounded development of the cycling muscles. The Hip Thrust and Donkey Kick exercise movements are essential to optimizing cycling performance.

Photo courtesy of TLBVelo Photography at

Add Your Heading Text HereHip Thrusts vs. Squats: A Battle of Cycling Glute Exercises

In the fitness world, performance professionals consider squats and hip thrusts practical exercises for glute development. Both movements have shown their merit in enhancing gluteal muscle hypertrophy, but a June 2023 study aimed to answer the question: which is best?


The results were encouraging for proponents of both squats and hip thrusts. Researchers found comparable glute growth from both exercises after a nine-week program, with one group focusing on hip thrusts and the other on squats. 


The finding is a significant takeaway for athletes who may prefer one exercise over the other. However, it’s important to note that the research also revealed hip thrusts elicited slightly higher glute activation, while squats may be more effective for training your quadriceps and adductor muscles.


For cyclists, this information is crucial. While the quadriceps and adductors play significant roles in cycling, the glutes are the powerhouse muscles, driving much of the power output during pedaling. Therefore, the slight edge hip thrusts have in terms of glute activation can be advantageous for cyclists seeking to maximize their power on the bike.

Hip Thrust Exercises For Cyclists

A variety of hip thrust variations exist that can be added to a cyclist’s training routine, each with unique benefits:

Standard Hip Thrust:

This exercise effectively activates the glutes, providing an excellent foundational move for improving strength and power output.

  • Sit on the ground with a bench behind you and a loaded barbell over your legs.
  • Lean back against the bench so your shoulder blades are near the top.
  • Begin the movement by driving through your feet, extending your hips vertically.
  • Extend as far as possible, then reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
Floor Glute Bridge:

Glute bridges target the same muscles as hip thrusts but from a different angle, offering a versatile way to challenge the glutes.

  • Lay flat on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Push through your heels to raise your hips off the ground by extending your hips.
  • Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Lower your hips back to the starting position.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust:

This variation targets each glute individually and incorporates a greater stability component.

  • Position yourself as if you were doing a standard hip thrust, but extend one leg out straight.
  • Drive through the heel of the other foot to lift your hips off the ground.
  • At the top of the movement, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position, and repeat for the other leg.
B-Stance Hip Thrust with Dumbbell:

The staggered stance of this exercise provides a unique stimulus to the glutes while maintaining balance and stability.

  • Position yourself for a standard hip thrust, but place one foot slightly in front of the other (staggered stance).
  • Hold a dumbbell over the hip of the front foot.
  • Thrust upward, driving through the heel of the front foot.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position, and repeat for the other foot.
Stability Ball Hip Thrust:

By utilizing a stability ball, this variation adds an element of balance and core activation to the standard hip thrust.

  • Lay flat on your back on the floor with your heels on a stability ball.
  • Push through your heels and extend your hips off the ground, keeping your hands flat on the floor for stability.
  • Lower your hips back to the floor, and repeat.
Frog Pump Hip Thrust:

This exercise provides a high-repetition, lower-load glute burn that targets the hard-to-reach upper glute area.

  • Sit on the ground with your back against a bench and your feet together in front of you.
  • Bring your feet in close to your body and let your knees fall open.
  • Drive through your feet and extend your hips upwards, squeezing your glutes at the top.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position, and repeat.
Feet-Elevated Hip Thrust:

By elevating the feet, this variation changes the angle of the hip thrust to provide a new challenge for the glutes.

  • Sit on the ground facing away from a bench, and place your feet on top of the bench.
  • Lean back so that your upper back is on the floor.
  • Drive through your heels and lift your hips until they align with your body.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position, and repeat.
Banded Hip Thrust:

Incorporating a resistance band adds tension throughout the exercise, increasing the activation of the glutes and hip abductors.

  • Set up for a standard hip thrust, but place a resistance band around your knees.
  • Perform the hip thrust as usual, but keep your knees pushed out against the band.
  • Lower yourself back to the starting position, ensuring you maintain tension in the band, and repeat.

These exercises can improve cycling performance, power output, and riding endurance when done consistently and with proper form. Just like with any other exercises, perform these moves with appropriate weight and adjust as needed.

As always, consult a fitness professional if you need more clarification when performing these movements.

Donkey Kicks: More Than Just a Cycling Glute Exercise

Turning our focus to the donkey kick, this exercise, also known as a glute kickback, is another excellent glute training option. Beyond muscle development, the donkey kick brings several additional benefits that many cyclists should be aware of.


It’s an effective exercise for improving hip mobility. Prolonged sitting, common for many athletes off their bikes, can lead to tightened hip flexors. The donkey kick works to lengthen these muscles, adjusting the pelvis and potentially reducing lower back pain.


Furthermore, because a cycling athlete performs the donkey kick while balancing on all fours, it promotes core stability and strength. Bracing the core and lifting one foot toward the ceiling requires simultaneous activation of arm, abdominal, and gluteal muscles, contributing to overall body conditioning. The strength through four points of contact mimics the on-bike demands a cyclist encounters.


The exercise can be modified according to fitness levels, allowing athletes to increase resistance and intensity gradually. Such flexibility makes it a valuable addition to any cycling training program, beginner or advanced.

Donkey Kick Exercises For Cyclists

With its numerous variations, the Donkey Kick exercise is a powerful tool for cyclists looking to improve power output, riding form, and overall performance. Its focus on the gluteus maximus can strengthen the muscle responsible for substantial power generation while cycling. You can target specific muscles and ensure balanced development by incorporating the following variations into your training routine.

Standard Donkey Kick:
  • Start on your hands and knees in a quadruped position.
  • Keep your right knee bent at 90 degrees, and lift the right leg until it aligns with your body.
  • Lower it back to the starting position.
  • Complete your set, then switch to the other leg.

This version of the Donkey Kick targets the gluteus maximus, crucial for powerful pedal strokes in cycling.

Donkey Kick with Ankle Weight:
  • Perform the same movement as the standard donkey kick but with an ankle weight for added resistance.

Adding resistance increases the load on your glutes, leading to greater muscle strength and endurance, which is vital for long-distance cycling or high-intensity sprints.

Banded Donkey Kick:
  • Loop a resistance band around your working leg’s foot, securing it under the stationary hand.
  • Perform the standard donkey kick. The band adds tension throughout the exercise.

The resistance band adds a dynamic element to the exercise, activating the stabilizing muscles around the hips. These muscles are essential for maintaining proper alignment and stability while cycling, especially when tackling challenging terrain or out-of-saddle efforts.

Fire Hydrant Kick:
  • Start in the quadruped position.
  • Lift your right leg with your knee bent, out to the side, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  • Return to the starting place to complete your set, then switch to the other leg.
Banded Fire Hydrant:

Add a band to the fire hydrant movement for added resistance to isolate the smaller glute muscles and challenge your stability.

The Fire Hydrant Kick variation targets the glutes and the hip abductors. These muscles are essential for maintaining stability on the bike and preventing knee injuries. They help control the knee’s position as you pedal, reducing the risk of knee valgus (knees caving inward), which can lead to overuse injuries.

As always, maintaining proper form throughout these exercises is key to their effectiveness and your safety. If you’re unsure about these movements, consult a fitness professional. Incorporating these targeted exercises can be a game-changer for your cycling performance, contributing to greater power output, a more efficient pedaling technique, and a lower risk of injury.

Beware of Improper Glute Exercise Form

While the hip thrust and donkey kick exercises are highly beneficial for cyclists, improper form can lead to less effective muscle activation and a greater risk of injury. One of the most common mistakes with the hip thrust movement is not maintaining a neutral spine throughout the exercise. 


Many athletes tend to excessively arch their lower back at the top of the movement or fail to extend their hips fully. It can reduce glute activation and place unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine. Ensure you’re engaging your glutes and core properly by maintaining a straight line from your knees to your shoulders at the top of the movement. Moreover, avoid fast, jerky movements and focus on a controlled, deliberate motion to maximize muscle engagement.

Bridge Core Progression for Cyclists

When it comes to the donkey kick exercise, improper form usually takes the shape of rotation or lateral movement of the trunk or a failure to keep the working leg’s knee bent at a 90-degree angle. These errors can lead to diminished glute activation and excessive strain on the lower back. 


To avoid this, ensure your core is engaged throughout the exercise, keeping your torso stable, and make sure your working leg’s knee remains bent at a 90-degree angle as you lift. Remember, quality over quantity. 


It’s better to perform fewer repetitions with correct form than more with poor form. Properly executed, these exercises can significantly enhance your cycling performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Bird Dog Core Progression for Cyclists

Conclusion—Combining Hip Thrusts and Donkey Kicks in a Cycling Training Program

Integrating hip thrusts and donkey kicks into a regular training regimen for cyclists can yield significant performance benefits.

Hip thrusts, with their superior glute activation, can help boost the powerful, explosive efforts necessary for hill climbs and sprint finishes. On the other hand, the mobility and balance benefits of donkey kicks can improve pedaling efficiency and posture on the bike, as well as reduce the risk of overuse injuries common in cycling.


Ultimately strength and conditioning for cyclists should encompass a broad range of exercises targeting the various muscle groups involved while pedaling. The hip thrust and donkey kick movements focus on the powerhouse gluteal muscles, and the additional benefits they offer earn a spot on the rider list. It’s about building larger and stronger muscles and improving mobility, balance, and overall physical condition to keep you pedaling stronger and longer.

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Dave Gilliland
22 days ago

Those exercises look like they would help everyone, not just cyclists. In my semi-retired role as an insurance agent, I work with a lot of senior Americans. They lose a portion of strength and balance as they age.

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