How to Do a Quadruped Hip Extension

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

quadruped hip extension

 Getty Images/EmirMemedovski

Also Known As: Glute kickbacks

Targets: Glutes

Level: Beginner

The quadruped hip extension, often referred to as the glute kickback, is an excellent, beginner-friendly exercise for targeting the gluteus maximus, enabling you to hit each side of the body independently. "Quadruped" simply means you set up for the exercise on all fours, so you position yourself on your hands and knees, with your palms lined up beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips, with your core engaged and your back flat like a tabletop. From here, you keep your core as steady and stable as possible as you extend one hip, pressing your foot toward the ceiling.

The great thing about the quadruped hip extension is that it offers significant recruitment of the gluteus muscles without requiring the coordination, range of motion, or strength of a squat, lunge, or deadlift. If you struggle with these total-body compound movements, incorporating isolation exercises, like the quadruped hip extension into your strength training program can help you develop more strength in your glutes which can eventually be transferred to other exercises.

Benefits

The quadruped hip extension is designed to isolate and target the largest muscles of the butt, the gluteus maximus, and gluteus medius. But in addition to targeting the glutes, the exercise requires you to maintain a neutral spine by engaging the stabilizing muscles of your core spanning between your hips and shoulders. Done regularly, it can help strengthen your core and your low back.

The quadruped hip extension is an isolation exercise, meaning that it isolates and targets a very specific muscle group, and in this case, does so unilaterally (one side at a time). A 2006 study led by Dr. John Porcari found that the quadruped hip extension was better at activating the gluteus maximus and medius than other common butt exercises, including traditional squats, lunges, step ups, or leg press.

But don't assume that means you should throw out your squats in favor of the quadruped hip extension. This is an isolation exercise, which means it isolates specific muscle groups. Squats, lunges, and step ups are all examples of compound exercises that target and challenge multiple muscle groups at a time. So even though the hip extension is an excellent way to strengthen the glutes, it should be used in conjunction with other exercises, like the squat, rather than in place of them.

If, however, you are unable to perform squats or lunges due to injuries or a limited range of motion, the quadruped hip extension may help you develop greater glute strength that can eventually transfer to these other compound exercises. This makes it an excellent option as a rehab or prehab exercise for those who are new to exercise or are trying to get back into strength training after an injury to the low back or lower extremities.

In this same manner, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice found that including simple hip exercises, such as the quadruped hip extension, into a rehab program for mechanical low back pain, was helpful in reducing the incidence of pain. This is likely due to the strengthening of the deep muscles of the abdomen, erector spinae (the stabilizing muscles of the back), and gluteus medius. These areas are often neglected, and weak muscles can contribute to muscle imbalances and pain. By incorporating core and hip exercises into a rehab program, you can help correct these imbalances and strengthen the core to protect the spine from the undesirable movement that can lead to injury.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The quadruped hip extension is a bodyweight exercise you do on the floor, so you just need enough space to lay down a yoga mat—and you will want a yoga mat to keep your hands and knees from getting sore.

  1. Set up in quadruped position on your yoga mat. Check your hand and knee placement. Your hands should be positioned directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Flex your ankles, tucking your toes into the floor. Engage your core, drawing your belly button toward your spine, and make sure your back is straight and flat from the base of your pelvis to the top of your head.
  2. Shift your weight slightly to the right side, keeping your torso completely stable as you do so—your hips and shoulders shouldn't twist or rotate as you shift.
  3. Press your left foot up toward the ceiling, keeping your knee bent at a 90-degree angle as you fully extend your left hip. Exhale as you perform the hip extension. Again, make sure your torso remains flat and stable—don't allow your left hip to rotate out or up as your hip extends.
  4. Slowly lower your left knee back toward the floor, stopping just before it touches down. Inhale as you lower your knee down.
  5. Continue a full round of repetitions to one side before switching to the opposite side. When you've finished a set, simply sit back on your heels and rise to stand.

Common Mistakes

The whole goal of the quadruped hip extension is to isolate the glutes as much as possible. The best way to "mess this up" is to sacrifice form in a way that requires you to recruit other muscle groups in conjunction with the glutes to perform the exercise. The most common and "broad" way this happens is by compromising your neutral spine and losing the flat, tabletop-like position of your back throughout the exercise. This can happen in a number of different ways.

Sagging the Low Back

It's not unusual for people to allow their low back to sag while performing the hip extension, particularly at the apex of the movement. As you press your heel toward the ceiling, there's a natural inclination to try to "push higher," causing your pelvis to rotate up with your low back collapsing toward the floor. As you do this, you lose the strong engagement of your glutes, recruiting more of your quads and hamstrings to complete the upward press. Plus, you stop engaging your abs and core completely, compromising the stability of your spine, making it somewhat more likely (although still not a major risk) that you could strain your low back while performing the exercise.

If you can, watch yourself doing the exercise in a mirror. If you notice your glutes start to rotate up toward the ceiling and your abdomen sags toward the floor, reset yourself and re-engage your core muscles to keep your back flat. You may also want to imagine you have a rod balancing along your spine as you perform the exercise. If the goal were to keep the rod perfectly steady, you wouldn't be able to do so if your low back sagged. This mental reminder may be what you need to maintain proper form.

Craning or Sagging the Neck

Craning or sagging your neck probably won't make or break the exercise, but it's just generally bad form and a common habit people fall prey to when doing hip extensions, planks, pushups, and other exercises where you're balanced on your limbs in a prone position. By craning or sagging your neck, you're once again taking your spine out of its neutral position. Keeping your neck aligned with the rest of your spine helps strengthen the spinal erectors and stabilizers which generally helps protect your back from injury.

Correcting this mistake is simple—you just bring your neck back to a neutral position so your body forms a straight line from hips to head. The key is remembering to do it. Try checking your form at the top of the movement and making any corrections necessary.

Moving Too Fast

The hip extension isn't intended to use momentum. It should be performed in a slow, steady, precise fashion. As soon as you start swinging your leg up and down with any sort of speed, you stop engaging the glutes to the full extent possible. Plus, you're just generally "cheating" the exercise. And really, when you cheat an exercise, you're only cheating yourself. Slow down and perform both phases of the hip extension to a count of four. In other words, count slowly to four as you press your heel toward the ceiling, then count slowly to four as you lower your knee back toward the floor.

Allowing the Hips to Rotate

This is another major faux pas when it comes to the quadruped hip extension. There's a natural inclination as you lift one leg from the ground for you to allow that entire side of your body to start rotating upward toward the ceiling, essentially using all of the muscles on the working side of your body to help you press your leg upward. So instead of keeping both hips steady and square to the ground as you move through the range of motion, the hip of the working leg angles upward.

Much like the problem with a sagging low back, when you allow your hips to rotate, your core is no longer engaged appropriately and the gluteus maximus is no longer engaged as strongly as it would otherwise be. The other large muscle groups of your legs contribute more to the pressing motion, and you may even feel more engagement of the glute medius (on the outside of the hip), rather than the gluteus maximus (the largest glute muscle). The best solution to correct this mistake is to watch yourself in a mirror as you perform the exercise. If you don't have access to a mirror, try imagining balancing a rod along your spine. If your hips rotate, the rod would fall off your back. Using this visualization can help keep you honest as you perform the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

While the basic quadruped hip extension is fairly beginner-friendly, individuals who have a hard time getting into or out of the quadruped position on the floor may struggle to perform the exercise. For instance, those with bad knees or limited range of motion through the lower extremities. If this applies to you, try to perform the same basic exercise, but place your hands on a raised surface, like a plyo box or the back of a couch. Then step both feet behind you until your body forms a straight line in a modified plank position. Draw one knee forward so your knee is aligned under your hips—your hip and knee joint should both be bent at 90-degrees. From here, perform the exercise just as described, pressing your heel up and back as you extend your hip. Perform a full set of reps to one side, then reset and perform the next set of repetitions to the opposite side.

Up for a Challenge?

The easiest way to ramp up the intensity of the quadruped hip extension is to add resistance. Grab a long, looped resistance band and loop one side around the arch of your foot. Hold the other end of the band in place against the ground with your same-side hand. Perform the exercise exactly as described, but as you perform the hip extension, your foot will press against the resistance band, stretching it and making the movement more challenging.

Safety and Precautions

Fortunately, as long as you're using proper form, it's hard to hurt yourself while doing the quadruped hip extension. The main thing to remember is to keep your pace slow and steady so you aren't swinging your working leg or using momentum to power the movement, which could cause you to strain your lower back. If the quadruped (hands-and-knees) position on the floor is uncomfortable for your knees, wrists, or shoulders, try the modified version of the exercise that doesn't require you to do the exercise on the floor. And of course, if at any point you feel a sharp or stabbing pain, stop the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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