Why Should You Care About the Hip Hinge?
Yes it will help with your deadlifting form but there are MUCH more important reasons to properly execute a hip hinge. For starters, we use this position hundreds, if not thousands of times a day. Tieing your shoes? Hip Hinge. Picking up your kid? Hip Hinge. Dropped your pen at work? Hip Hinge. Cleaning up your hair shavings from the bathroom floor after your wife yelled at you? Hip Hinge. If we’re constantly bending the wrong way and putting undue stress on our backs and hips then some type of pain or discomfort is inevitable. FAI anyone?
Another important reason for performing an efficient hip hinge is it displays healthy neuromuscular control of the hip and spine. If the spine goes into flexion (like my back did in the left image) or hyperextension (typical for those with anterior pelvic tilts) then there is likely some type of dysfunction in the surrounding musculature. For me, it was overly tight hamstrings. For others, it might be tight hip flexors. The key point here is the hip hinge is an excellent evaluation tool to see if there is some type of movement dysfunction in the body.
How do I Know if my Hip Hinge is Dysfunctional?
Sometimes, it is really obvious. In my case above, there was so much flexion in my lower back that even a kindergartener would know something is terribly wrong. However, in my clinical experience with clients, I’ve discovered that some compensations are not as clear. For example, a common faulty pattern I’ve seen is individuals who keep their legs locked and can’t push their hips back. Essentially they just bow the upper body forward without engaging the lower body. If you ask them to really push the hips back and slightly bend the knees, there might be some shaking in the knees because the glutes and hamstrings are underactive.
If you’ve ever played a sport, a good cue for the lower body is to get into an athletic position and then straighten the back:
In other words, be like Russell Westbrook. You need quite a bit of posterior strength and mobility to get into this position so if you can’t get into this position without shaking, you know you got some work to do in the glutes and hamstrings. Another common compensation is hyperextending the back which creates an arch in the lower back. If you’re dealing with this issue, I’d also recommend evaluating yourself for an anterior pelvic tilt as this may be the root to your movement dysfucntion and/or pain.
How do I Hip Hinge?
I’ve found personal and clinical success with the following cues:
(1) Take a shoulder-width stance with feet point forward.
(2) Push the hips and butt back while maintaining a slight bend in the knees and a neutral spine.
(3) Keep the movement going until you feel a strong stretch sensation in the hamstrings. Do not go past this point and round your back. This is your end range-of-motion.
(4) Squeeze the glutes to come back up to standing.
The goal here is to locate your range of motion limit which will be evidenced by your hamstrings feeling like they’re about to stretch into death. If you’re having trouble finding that point without your spine either rounding or arching, try placing some kind of stick on your back while you perform the movement. Place the stick on three points of support: (1) your head, (2) your upper back and your (3) tailbone:
If you lose contact with any of these points of support, then your back has either rounded or arched and you should start the movement over.
How do I Improve My Hip Hinge?
I improved my own and my clients’ hip hinges with the following protocol:
(1) Standing Hamstring Stretch
As you can see from my coworker Luis here, this stretch can be quite powerful so really go into it slowly. What you want to do is place your heel on any elevated surface and externally rotate your foot. That might be enough stretch for most of you in the early stages but if you have the capacity, try to hinge slightly forward from the hips. Remember, we want to emulate the hip hinge motion here so no rounding of the spine!
(2) Romanian Deadlifts (“RDL”)
A great way to get deeper into your hip hinge is working your end range-of-motion with some dumbells. Grab a couple dumbbells and follow the same steps as before. Remember, when you feel those hamstrings stretch, clench those glutes and come up.
(3) Continue to Test your Hip Hinge for Improvements
Once you’ve been working on your stretches and RDLs for some time, see how much lower you can get into your hip hinge. As you test, see if you can get a little lower each time. I’ve seen people be able to get their backs quite low but I’d say at bare minimum, attempt to reach a 90-degree angle at your hips.
The hip hinge is a fundamental human movement that each of us should be able to do properly. With enough practice, the movement will become natural and unconscious since this is how our bodies were meant to function. No more picking up boxes with a rounded spine = no more dull aches in the back. This movement goes beyond deadlifting heavy weight or doing pop-ups on a pull-up bar – every man, woman and child should learn how to hip hinge correctly. They should start teaching this movement in preschool! Do you agree? Feel free to leave questions or comments below.