What Defines a Hip Hinge?
The hip hinge is exactly as it sounds, it is a hip dominant movement. We want the most out of the hip joint (or in more technical terms the “acetabulofemoral joint “) range of motion with minimal knee bend. This is a posterior weight shift through the hips.
You can also think of it like this:
HIP HINGE = MOST HIP RANGE OF MOTION + MINIMAL KNEE BEND
= all flexion and all extension is coming from the hip joint
This movement pattern is fundamental to exercise, especially if you want to be a badass in the gym and become more confident with your squats, hip thrusts, and deadlifts (as pain-free as possible for that matter).
It is common to think that if you want to get stronger then you simply just lift more heavy stuff right? This is not always the case. Getting stronger also means mastering an efficient and safe movement pattern! There are 6 basic movements frequently talked bout in the gym setting. This includes squats, pushing, pulling, lunges, carrying, and hinging (which is our focus for today).
In other words the hip hinge is essential to master.
Performing the Hip Hinge
The hip hinge can transfer into many exercises and daily living activities. When you understand what the body feels like doing a hinge you realize that a simple task for example as in getting out of a chair or bending down to pick something from the ground may feel noticeably better (most likely because you will no longer be using you back for everything). Basically the hips can do a lot for us, although compensations can come into play especially during exercise.
Lets start with what a good hinge looks like in an exercising scenario versus a not so good one. Lets use the deadlift as an example!
Some common tendencies with the hip hinge include:
1. Bending through the waist starting the exercise with spinal flexion (creating a lumbar/lower back movement)
2. Bending primarily from the knees altering into a more squat dominant movement
3. Ribs flare out
These common habits are movements we want to become aware of, to avoid using our lumbar and knees moving in excess so that we can learn to dissociate hip movement. By doing this we can develop flexion and extension from the hip joint safely instead of putting heavy loads on our backs increasing a risk of injury.
One example I like to start off with is asking my clients this: Think about high school gym class when you had to run laps endlessly or think about marathoners after a race it may look something like this:
YOU ARE EXHAUSTED, your hands are resting right above the knee, hips are back , knees are slightly flexed. Turns out we are SO close to a hip hinge here, just a few key things to clean up.
Here’s what we are looking for in the Hip Hinge
- Weight is distributed over the tripod of our feet evenly! This keeps your feet active. Another cue is to pretend that your feet are stuck in concrete with these three areas (making the tripod) all in solid contact to the floor
- Hamstrings are active to encourage optimal hip position
- Abdominal brace to advocate that your spine is in neutral alignment – Again: ribs stacked over hips, thinking 360 degree breath. Can you feel expansion from the front, sides, and back of your abdomen
- Folding back into the hips with MINIMAL knee bend
- Finishing with a strong glute contraction – This should happen naturally if everything else is aligned properly ! (feel them coconuts!)
Exercises To Develop the Hip Hinge
Wall Tap Hip Hinge
Dowel Hip Hinge Vertical vs. Horizontal
Glute Bridge/ Hip Thrusts
Certain exercises, cues, etc. will work differently for each individual. A hip thrust is done from a supine position that may be helpful to give some proprioception encouraging to keep the back neutral as well as the knees having MINIMAL movement. Lastly, it will help emphasize the glute contraction we are looking for at the end of the movement.
Dissociating Hip Movement
Try placing something in front of the knees to reduce knee bend and dissociate hip movement
Hip Hinge Progressions
Cable/Band pull through
Romanian deadlift (RDL)/Stiff leg deadlift
Trap Bar Deadlift
Simpler to master than the conventional or sumo deadlift.
There are basic fundamental movement patterns you want to master in the gym: squats, lunges, pushes, pulls, carries, and hinges. The hip hinge is one of these fundamental movement patterns, and one that I have found is commonly unknown to many of the clients I have worked with. It is utterly important to have built a strong foundation when exercising in the gym. An increased risk of injury may come into play when we skip steps and jump right into exercising and many times we just don’t know any better.
Bottom line establish a skillful hip hinge without weight first, once you feel confident with that try some progressions slowly. Then you can really develop a fab posterior chain.