Hip Hinge or break from the hips
Learning to hip hinge is a fundamental movement in keeping the spine safe, especially when lifting weights, and by mastering it your proneness to injury will drop dramatically. It is an absolute must with every client I teach and a priority in learning to lift!
You would be quite surprised how much power is stored in the hips, and unfortunately I see it all too often not being done correctly by a number of lifters – who maintain a poor hip mobility and poor core stability. You may also be completely unsure what a hip hinge is and therefore unsure whether your posture is correct when lifting.
No matter the reason you’re reading this today, you’re either fed up of your back being in pain or you’re just a smart cookie and preventing injury before it happens. (High five!)
What is a hip hinge?
This movement is designed to distribute the weight you’re lifting into your whole body and into the right places, working the body as one unit and not putting pressure directly into places like the spine.
How is a hip hinge done?
This can be very tricky to master, or sometimes much easier to teach – it all comes down to the individual and the many factors that come into play. For example, if you’re a sports man or an office jockey – leading a sedentary lifestyle. Most of the time people that are more active have better co-ordination (moto skills and connection to the muscles), whereas someone who sits at a desk all day normally has poorer moto skills. You may also struggle in general with poor mobility and/or muscle dominance – we see this when synergistic muscles take over the function of a weak or inhibited prime mover.
The hip hinge will help you obtain the skill to engage core stability as well as using the muscles in the posterior chain like the glutes, hamstrings and back muscles which all work together with each other keeping your body in a stable condition while lifting weights.
There are so many different ways to teach the hip hinge and once you’ve mastered the functionality – most of us as trainers then can focus on the best exercises designed for the average individual – tending to consist of more compound movements, such as; squats and deadlifts – exercises that use a lot of muscles. To note: this is more advanced once the hip hinge movement has confidently been mastered.
So by assessing you and how you break from the hips, we can determine if you are ready for more advanced exercises or whether we should take it down a few levels and learn the ropes of a basic hip hinge first.
As mentioned above depending on the lifestyle you have been living, developing the hip hinge has to be finely tuned for each person. Learning how to do this move involves making the body understand how to make the connection to the muscles needed. This is why sometimes we really have to break down the movement into different exercises – working on the areas needed, so that the development of the connection to muscles can start improving making it easier to do, and at the same time working on a bit of strength as the connection between muscle and brain becomes stronger.
Although there are many more ways to improve in understanding the hinge, here are a few ways I have used with some of my clients depending on their level and individuality, some focusing on more areas than others, as after all you can’t fix everything in one go.
Areas to work on to improve or perform a hip hinge
After a warm-up spend maybe 15 – 20 minutes standing up, using a mirror or filming yourself and practice hip hinging, correcting any issues, and start to train yourself in the correct motion. After that you can go into assistance exercises which will help improve your body’s functionality and building strength / mobility at the same time. Please see below assistance work areas.
Note – Our aim is to flex through the hips without bending the spine, bending over without rounding the back, and at the same time create spinal stability – tightening your core.
Stage 1 – Cues to practice after your warm up. 15-20 minutes.
- Imaginary string holding the butt high in the air
- Keeping shoulders back
- Pushing chest out
- Maintaining a soft knee position (avoiding a bent knee)
- Maintaining a neutral spine
- Keeping the core tight at all times (very important for spinal stability!)
- Pushing the knees out laterally but not excessively
- Keeping the feet in line with hips if possible, they can be a little wider
- Squeezing butt on the upwards movement (very important for hip stability!)
*note: I look strange trying to show the incorrect way, as I’ve been doing it correctly for so long. But I wanted to give an example of how ‘not to do it’ as I see this all too often.
Cues Stage 2
Once you are feeling more confident about how you are performing a hip hinge it’s time to practice with some dumbbells, kettlebells or even a barbell, and start to perform the same cues above with light weights in the hands and start teaching yourself and enforcing the posterior chain movement.
Practice will make perfect in a light weight environment until everything looks neat and tidy. Here are some great exercises I’ve tried and tested to help gain an understanding into the movement needed:
> Light-weighted stiff leg deadlifts (bar or dumbbells)
> ‘Close’ kettlebell deadlifts (this is when the kettlebell is kept as close to the body as possible)
> Hip thrust variations
> Squat variations, such as; goblet squats (you can use a dumbbell/kettlebell, or even a weight plate), Double handed kettlebell squats, front squats/ back squats with a bar.
Once you have spent about 30 minutes doing a mobility warm up, doing cues and practicing with dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell – and enforcing the movement. You can start working on some other areas that will assist you in refining techniques by improving strength, mobility and stability.
Assistance hip hinge exercises
Here are some areas that are most likely going to cause some issues later on if not strengthened and improved. You can also call them assistance work towards the hip hinge goal. Trust me, when you select these areas the right way in a program after doing your hip hinge practice, you will have a great workout – helping you to build a great body.
Glutes stability and strength
These 3 muscles work together and play a vital role in stabilising the hips in all movements; for example running, walking, jumping, squatting and deadlifts (pretty much everything) and including hip hinging. As mentioned briefly above we want most of the load of the weight to be distributed all over the body, to take the pressure from your spine.
A fair share of the weight will get transferred into your hips, and the glutes play a very important role in helping to stabilise the hips.
If you think about it, the back is a big player in the posterior chain and covers a large share of it, so it will most certainly play a big role in keeping the hip hinge in check when performing it.
Working the back muscles and strengthening them up plays a very important role in how your body moves. If you were to break it down where they are connected you would see how much it plays a role in movement, as well as its role in how your spine remains stable.
Core stability & strength
Unfortunately just ab crunches are not going to help, on this one you need core exercises that are going to help your body understand that hips, back, abdominals and other muscles all need to work together to keep your spine & hips in a neutral, stable and safe position as you move and maintain with the exercises.
Hip mobility & spinal mobility
One thing that I have noticed and found strange – over the years – a number of people have forgotten how they should really be moving and what’s normal. Hip & spine mobility is just as important as working your core – it will help improve your body’s hinge, and as the months go by if you keep practicing your range of motion you will also help in the wold of injury prevention. Just remember you’re not trying to become a gymnast (unless you are trying to become a gymnasts! High five!), just bettering your range of motion.
Note – with mobility work it’s a good idea to start your training session, working on those tight areas which will most likely benefit you during your training – you could probably add it to be part of your warm up. If you’d prefer to do this at the end of your work out that’s fine as well, I always find it quite a mission after an hour or so of weight training.
This is how it’s done!!
I wanted to show you what the end product should be looking like, once you’ve mastered a confident hip hinge and have followed the stages above.
Front Squats – weighted
Grounded Deadlifts – weighted
Back Squats – weighted
I hope this blog helped to shed a bit of light on this area, if you would like any future help please get in touch.