Most lower-body exercises can be split into two main categories: knee-dominant exercises and hip-dominant exercises.

The difference between these two lies in the degree of knee-flexion, or how much your knees bend.

Knee dominant exercises combine deep hip bend with deep knee bend. Hip dominant exercises combine deep hip bend with little knee bend.

To picture this, think about the difference between a squat motion and a deadlift motion. In a squat, the hips and knees bend simultaneously. In a deadlift, the knees stay mostly fixed and relatively straight, while the hips bend.

Squat pattern – deep knee bend

stiff-leg deadlift hinge position

deadlift pattern – minimal knee bend

Hip dominant exercises are also called “hinge” exercises, but I like to use the term hip-dominant.

Oh look, a neat little table of contents.

What Do Hip Dominant Exercises Target?

Another way to consider the difference is to think of hip-dominant exercises as the exercises that target the glutes and hamstrings.

One of the main functions of both the glutes and the hamstrings is to extend the hips. Picture this as the motion you do when you stand up straight after you’ve bent down to pick something up, or as a thrusting motion when you squeeze your glutes.

When you think of it in these terms, there are two main types of hip dominant exercises.

Deadlifts and Bridges: The Two Categories of Hip Dominant Exercises

When we’re talking about hip dominant exercises most of them are direct siblings or cousins of a classic deadlift and a classic glute bridge.

Why You Should Do More Hip Dominant Exercises

In our modern society, we spend too much of our time sitting down staring at computers. When we sit, our hips remain in a “hip-flexed” position. Then, we go play sports or we go squat heavy, all of which places further strain on the hip flexors.

Hip-dominant exercises are the reset button for our posture.

These exercises undo all of these imbalances. They strengthen the hip extensors, the glutes and hamstrings, which are antagonists to the hip flexor muscles.

More specifically, in athletes they can help prevent hamstring tears, groin tears, and pesky hip flexor problems.

They even play a huge role in relieving the all-too-common lower back pain.

That’s why having hip-dominant exercises is crucial to your program.

Every program should have at least a balance of hip dominant and knee dominant exercises. We’d even go as far to say, from a purely health and postural standpoint, you should have more of these exercises that target the glutes and hamstrings than quad-dominant exercises like squats.

1) Stiff-Leg Deadlift

A stiff-leg deadlift differs from a conventional deadlift in that, well, the legs are stiff; the knees don’t bend as much. This is not to be confused with a straight leg deadlift.


In a stiff-leg deadlift, you start with a soft knee bend, only a few degrees. Then, you hinge at the hips.


Because there’s less knee bend, you’ll target the glutes and hamstrings more than a conventional deadlift. Sure, you won’t be able to use as much weight, but you’ll tap into more of the benefits of hip dominant exercises: stronger glutes and hamstrings and more hip extension.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift Progression

Start with a single kettlebell for beginners. The classic is what I show here with dumbbells. Then for those really trying to get strong, go with a barbell stiff-leg deadlift.

You can read more more about this exercise in my article on the stiff-leg deadlift.

2) Single-Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlift

This exercise is the same, except you’ll use one leg at a time. Unilateral leg training has a whole host of benefits.


First, it will require more activation of muscles like the side glutes and groins, which stabilize us and keep us from falling over when we stand on one leg. These muscles also play helpful roles in improving posture.

Second, you can get the same training effect while using lower weights. Naturally, this will decrease the risk of injury. So if you’re doing extra hip dominant exercise to improve your posture and reduce the chance of lower back pain, this is a great option.

You can do this with one dumbbell, holding it in the opposite hand as the working leg, or two dumbbells.

3) Glute Bridge

The glute bridge is a classic hip-dominant exercise. You can do them with a barbell, a dumbbell, or just about any setup like a sandbag.

The most important part of this exercise is that you extend up using the glutes, NOT the lower back. Commonly, people will extend into the bridge mostly by extending their back. This defeats the purpose, to train your glutes.

This is why I first teach the hip lift hold.


To test whether you’re doing it right, warm up without any weight. Do a single-leg variation where you bring the non-working knee as close to your chest as you can (without using your hands).

Then, extend up.

When the knee is pulled in like this, your back will have a much harder time taking over the movement, so you can see how much hip extension you truly get. This is great to include in a warm-up protocol.

4) Hip Thrust

A hip thrust is like a glute bridge except you elevate your upper body, usually onto a bench.

This means to do the exercise, you increase the range of motion, particularly on the way down. That makes this exercise a bit more challenging for beginners, but intermediate and advanced lifters may prefer it over the glute bridge.

I will say, though, it can be awkward to set up with heavier weights, so even advanced lifters often prefer the glute bridge.

You can see all the pro tips in this article on hip thrusts.

5) Ball Hamstring Curls (Hamstring Curl Machine Alternative)


The hamstring curl machine is one of the most popular in any commercial gym. And while there’s nothing wrong with lying leg curls on a machine, because the machine has a bend where you lie down, the hips don’t fully extend.

And remember, the goal of hip dominant exercises is to extend the hips.

In contrast, a ball hamstring curl begins with your hips in the air like a glute bridge. When you’re in this hip-extension position, your hamstring will contract more.

In fact, if you’ve never done these, and you do them right, you can expect to be sore the next day. The goal is to keep your hips high in the air while you curl the legs in and out.

Prevent Injuries, Build the Posterior Chain

These types of exercises are an essential in any exercise program. Whether you want to build muscle, lose fat, or are just trying to become a healthier, better version of yourself, at least one or two hip dominant exercises should be a foundation of your program. For more on hip-dominant training, check out our article on hamstring curl variations.

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He’s the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he’s also the head editor for, the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

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