A hip hinge is an essential movement for life and training. We pick up stuff from the ground all the time.
Like grandma says “Lift with your hips, not your back hunny.”
Why should we be able to hip hinge?
There is a reason deadlifts are so popular. They are one of the most efficient ways to get stronger and look good naked. Here is a list of the benefits you will get from learning the hip hinge from us.
- Get rid of chronic hamstring tightness
- Build incredible cakes (glutes)
- Improve hip internal rotation
- Eliminate hip flexor tightness
- Increase athletic performance
In our Hip Hinge Guide Part 1 we cover:
- The difference between a squat and a hinge
- The relationship between the shin angle and what muscles are loaded
- Hip extension before knee extension
- Finishing in full hip extension
- Why I disagree with the traditional PVC pipe method of teaching a hip hinge
The details matter especially when learning how to hip hinge.
In our Hip Hinge Guide Part 2 we cover:
- Coaching the kickstand hinge
- How to use your hands for feedback
- Understanding the lateral and rotational components
- Identifying common mistakes
- Choosing the right weight
- Tucking pelvis versus hip extension
Hip Hinge Vs Squat
It’s important that we know the difference between a squat and a hip hinge. If we perform these movements the same we end up losing the unique benefits of each one while oftentimes overloading the same muscles.
In essence, the hip hinge is the butt back and chest forward.
The squat is knees forward and the torso stays as vertical as possible.
We would consider this a “squatty squat” meaning if you are back squatting for a powerlifting competition your squat is going to look more like a hinge simply due to the goal and position of the bar.
The squat is going to challenge the quads more as they are lengthened during full knee flexion or an ass-to-grass squat.
The hip hinge is going to challenge the hamstrings and glutes more.
It is important to note that everything is working to some degree, especially with heavier weight. If you are someone who wants to grow their quads add more squatty squats. This video is a good teaching example to feel what we mean by squatty squat.
How does the hip hinge improve internal rotation?
The glutes are external rotators, abductors, and hip extensors. If we want them to contract we want to lengthen them.
If we want to lengthen them we should put them in the opposite position meaning we need to flex, adduct, and internally rotate the hip. That’s exactly what should happen when you perform the hip hinge as we coach it.
In the picture above you can see how the glutes spread across the pelvis which means we want to turn the belt buckle towards the lead leg so the sacrum is moving away from the femur creating length across the back.
From the side view, we can see how tilting the pelvis forward versus tucking under will also promote length. By stretching the tissues that externally rotate the hip and strengthening them at their end range we will then have more access to internal rotation.
Hip Extension Before Lower Back & Knee Extension
This is a crucial concept we teach everyone we work with and the hip hinge is the perfect place to learn it. This really boils down to you learning to use your hip to do as much of the work as possible instead of your knees.
A large percentage of life is spent moving forward so learning this concept will get you to stop fighting yourself and pushing your knees back. By loading and using the hip we are also keeping our lower back from doing the work.
Hip Extension Is Not The Same As Tucking Your Butt Under
The fitness industry tends to work in a pendulum manner where we swing from two extremes rarely settling in the middle. For years everything was chest up and shoulders back and down.
Recently, with the prevalence of fear around the boogeyman known as anterior pelvic tilt we see a lot of emphasis on tucking your pelvis. While this cue might be useful in certain contexts when we are trying to achieve hip extension we don’t want to think about tucking the pelvis.
If you look closely the picture above is not only a tuck but a crunch. This is what we see with many of our clients and athletes.
The intent starts as a gentle tuck using hamstrings and turns into a full crunch top and bottom using the six-pack muscles. If hip extension is the goal then this is suboptimal for sure.
Simply look at how far my hip is behind my knee which is hip flexion.
Now, look at this one specifically where my hip is. Being able to bring the pelvis over the femur and achieve that full hip extension is something we want for all our students.
You should be able to recognize the stack here with my whole body centered over my midfoot where the top picture everything is behind my heel.
This image of a pole jumper does a great job of showing the concepts we talk about throughout this blog. This left leg is in end-range hip extension. Notice the length through the front of the hip and arguably more impressive the length through her spine.
Notice the curves we are talking about with the lower back and upper back. Look at how that natural rounding of the upper spine promotes that stable position of the left shoulder blade. This position is nothing short of art.
Finish in full hip extension
We love mobility training and use it with everyone. We also love getting more mobile from simply performing strength exercises really well.
That’s exactly what finishing each rep in full hip extension is about. So many people complain about tight hip flexors and spend hours stretching them.
If you train the hip through the full range of motion in strength movements like the hip hinge you are owning that position for reps throughout the week and getting glute gains simultaneously.
Should a hip hinge focus more on hamstrings or glutes?
In general, when we shift our knee back over the heel we will load more hamstring as shown on the right. When we maintain the knee over the midfoot like on the left we will load the glutes more.
Mid stance for glutes. Heel strike for hamstrings. Simply look at the shin angle.
Neither is wrong but just different applications of the hip hinge. In general, we prefer to hinge like this and train the hamstrings in other ways.
What should you look for with your hip hinge form?
When people first start emphasizing finishing each rep with full hip extension they tend to lean back too much like in this picture. Notice how my head is behind my left foot when I want it somewhere over my midfoot.
It’s a balance. Bring the hip forward without a lean back. Holding at the top of each rep for 3 seconds is a good fix for this compensation.
This one is very common and crucial to understanding the hinge. We want to stretch the glutes and making this mistake above is the exact opposite.
An easy fix is just to think about a slight turn of the belt buckle towards the front leg. With the left in front, you can think about turning to 11 o’clock.
This is probably the sneakiest to see. There is a slight turn to the right of the pelvis similar to the picture above but this is also a right hip hike.
If one hip is going to be higher it should be the left in this example as you sit back into that hip. The fix to this is often just emphasizing a lateral shift as if someone pushed to the left when standing on your right.
What about the bilateral/both legs hip hinge?
We love a good trap bar deadlift. We used to think it was essential EVERYONE did them.
Now we realize many people can reach all of their goals by progressively loading the kickstand deadlift we teach you in this blog. We also understand bilateral might be a better start point for those really unstable in the kickstand position.
Context is always king and for that specific context, we have added the video below from our kettlebell course teaching the bilateral KB deadlift.
Is A Kettlebell Swing A Hip Hinge?
Yes! Absolutely. We love the KB swing, especially as a conditioning tool.
There is definitely going to be more of a knee back component than the kickstand deadlift variation we teach in this blog so keep that in mind. The key is still getting the hips to extend BEFORE your knee locks back.
Here is another video from our KB course teaching you 3 progressions to improve your swing.
Is “flatten your back” a good cue for the hip hinge?
This question could be an entire blog post in itself so let’s keep the answer simple. No, I do not think flattening your back is a good cue in any context.
The spine is supposed to have 3 curves.
If you wanted to promote length you would not do it by making your spine a straight line.
Think about it. What is the fastest way from point A to B? A straight line, meaning if we want length we want curves.
The best way to illustrate this is by seeing our client Carlos with some progression of his core work. How many times have you been told to put your lower back into the ground and keep it there?
When you stand up and do life are you using this back flat strategy. Hopefully not. This is no different when talking about the hinge. Think about length.
Notice how in the bottom picture the top of his head is far away from his butt. You should see the length of his torso/spine.
Now imagine if he pushed his back to the ground….. he would lose even more length in the top picture.
Here is a great visual to understand why flattening your back is not a good cue. Notice how flat the spine is on the left and then look at how he is able to maintain length in the middle with a load.
As our mobility and strength increase, we can get deeper into the hips without losing our spinal length.
Why don’t like to use a PVC pipe to teach the hip hinge?
- The positioning of the hands takes away from the execution of the actual hip hinge.
- Having the stick there often results in people flattening their backs.
- The head positioning usually results in tucking the chin.
- This variation lacks carry-over to both training and life.
If you are a trainer, coach, or therapist and would like to integrate hip hinge and mobility training you can join our Mobility Coach Plus community.
To take online classes that are specific to the hip hinge and have access to over 100 other classes, get your first week free of our Elite Video Membership.
Would you prefer a personalized program for you? We are accepting online clients to train one-on-one with Ian.