The Hip Hinge: The Foundation of Function and Strength

Humans are all designed to move in the same patterns; squatting, sitting, stepping, pushing, and many others. However, the most widely used pattern is habitually picking things up off the floor, or putting them down. Anywhere from training a maximal load deadlift, to grabbing groceries from the bottom shelf, we find ourselves in a bent over position quite often. Age has no boundaries when it comes to physical therapy, personal training, and others alike. Regardless of what your passion and interests are in life, there are so many tasks revolving around bending at the waist, it is a good idea to actually learn and adapt to the correct way to bend!

What’s a Hip Hinge Anyway?

For those of you who are not too sure on what that exactly is…

“It’s the hip snap, the hip slam and all of the various inappropriate terms coaches have used to teach young virgin ninth graders to tackle like NFL linebackers. Just learning the move right can open up hamstring flexibility. Doing it slowly with a massive load can impress your friends for generations. Learning to have symmetry in the movement can jumpstart you to an injury-free career.

And, to do it fast? It’s the one-stop shop to fat loss, power and improved athletic ability. Swings, the top of the food chain in hinge movements, are the most under-appreciated move in life, in sport and in the gym.”

 That quote is from Dan John; an All-American discus thrower, Olympic Lifter, Highland Games competitor, and highly sought after coach. Taking that quote into consideration, the hinge involves and flexion/extension through the hip joint, resulting in a posterior weight shift back towards your midfoot and heel.

I like to think of it as Bruce Lee karate chopping my hips straight back, but hey, whatever works for you…

During the flexion phase of the movement, we want to maintain a neutral spine (aka flat back), our knees slightly bent, and feet pressing through the floor. THE HIP HINGE IS NOT THE SAME AS THE SQUAT!! To put in the most simple terms possible…

Squat = maximal hip bend, maximal knee bend      Hip Hinge = maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend

 

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Re-read what you just saw above. Then after that, read it one more time. Has it set a mini- light bulb off yet? This could be the most common mistake when executing the hinge, causing people to develop a combination of these two different movements at one time. As far as performance effects, the hinge (and squat too) can be applied to soooo many instances we face throughout daily activity, hence the importance to properly groove the movement!

A quick tip before I go on…

Even if you think you are hinging properly, I encourage you to set up your phone or video camera and then give them a shot, there’s no better evidence than video or coaching feedback. Many of us are quad dominant creatures from a long amount of time recruiting the front side of the body to be overactive. The large majority of tasks we do are all in front of the body, causing a natural asymmetry between our front and back sides. Driving a car, washing dishes, pushing a lawnmower, moving furniture, walking steps, sitting; the list is endless. Speaking of sitting, it’s been coined “the new smoking” for its danger to health? Absolutely, and the studies done can support that claim oh so much. 

This 2010 article was highlighted that even by meeting the daily recommended amount of activity, prolonged sitting can compromise health. Prolonged sitting that is not broken up intermittently with bouts of movement is not favorable.

 “In a follow-up of AusDiab study participants over 6.5 yr, high levels of TV time were significantly associated with increased all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality (9). Each one hour increment in TV time was found to be associated with an 11% and an 18% increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality, respectively. Furthermore, relative to those watching less TV (< 2 hours/day), there was a 46% increased risk of all-cause and an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in those watching four or more hours of TV per day…” (Owen et al, 2010)

Yes I get it, sitting is inevitable at times, so it is important to set yourself up properly when you have to…literally! Did you know there is actually the right way to sit and stand up? It is quite simple but helps keeps your hips, back, and shoulders relaxed and in optimal positioning. Follow the link to my brief article, Take a Stand For Your Health to see the 5 simple steps how to sit properly.

The intent isn’t to scare or intimidate, but it’s my way of trying to overemphasize how dangerous this “relaxing” activity can be without mindful intentions. Our bodies were designed to be moved, used, challenged, and manipulated in order to improve longevity and our ability to function through life. I won’t go off on a tangent-like rant; bottom line, take notice to how long you spend sitting and find convenient ways to do it less. Well, this leads to weakened posterior chain muscles, tighter hip flexors, and ‘gluteal amnesia’, a.k.a. weak butt cheeks that can’t tighten when we want them to. A quick side note, the first sign of gluteal amnesia occurs when we can’t hold our beltline parallel to the floor with your glutes squeezed, pay attention and combat this if you have difficulty.

Do you actively do #buttstuff? Oh, well if you haven’t, you need to check out a previous article I wrote on how and why you should turn on your butt during workouts: #Buttstuff: What’s the Deal With Your Gluteal Muscles

How to Learn, or Re-Learn the Hinge

This section can apply from your competitive powerlifter all the way to a resistance training newbie, the principles stay the same. If you have a hinge pattern mastered, that’s awesome and keep doing what you are doing. But if you have been improperly been moving in a pattern that has chronically accustomed set you up for potential injury, you are not alone. There is an analogy when it comes to our movement patterns, so view this image.

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Imagine this trail is a movement or exercise you have already learned. However, eventually you find out that it is incorrect, and you need to touch up your technique. Your brain is tailored to take the trail you’ve already blazed because it requires less focus, attention, and expended energy. To form a new movement ‘trail’ requires a lot of work, and can be difficult to accomplish at times. So learning a new skill, like the hip hinge, will not be mastered after doing it a few times the right way. It requires multiple different progressions, attention to detail, and training your body to move in a new pattern it is not used to doing…all while trying to push the old style out of your memory bank. A huge reason why middle-aged adults have a more difficult time altering their hip hinge is because their trail has already been ‘blazed’ from picking things up for years and years incorrectly. Thankfully, there are a plethora of resources available for health practitioners we can use to help prevent injuries and maximize performance.

 

Before moving on to more advanced movements such as the Kettlebell Swing, Deadlifts, Tire Flips and Ballistic Rope Slams, you need to nail the basics over, and over again. Although it might seem repetitive, it shouldn’t be boring! There are a bunch of ways to coach and spice up simple movements to keep your brain and body firing. It is important to have a coach that wants your strength to have relevance in your life because that is where it matters most. The reason the top performers, coaches, and athletes remain improving is that they never forget that stripping the movement down to its most simple form is the best way to condition the body for resiliency. The fun and fancy stuff are enjoyable and empowering, but unless your foundation is established and maintained, the house built above it can eventually come crumbling down.

Prepare yourself with proactive behavior, not reactive.

 

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