How to Hip Hinge Like a Boss
Or, in other words: Learn how to groove the hip hinge and then be able to train like a boss.
Quick question/observation: Have you ever wondered why, among other things – like why women tend to make that funny face when applying make-up – when it comes to American cars, or “Western” cars, the driver’s side is on the left side of the car and not the right (as is the case in the rest of the world)?
It’s something I’ve pondered in the past and up until recently I just kinda shrugged it off as one of those things which had no legitimate rationale other than us Americans are a bunch of pompous a-holes that like to do everything differently than everyone else – analogous to us being the only country not to adopt the metric system of measurement.
As it turns out – there is a reason why the steering wheel is on the left hand side and not the right. And it’s something that makes complete sense.
In the book I’m currently reading, One Summer: America, 1927, author Bill Bryson spends a whole section going into detail about Henry Ford and the Model T car.
Up until the Model T came to fruition every car that was produced in America had the steering wheel on the right hand side so that the driver would have easy access to the side curb, side-walk, or grassy area to easily step out of the car.
Ford then decided that this was a convenience that should be afforded to the “lady of the house,” and thus the Model T was designed to have the steering wheel placed on the left hand side.
So there you go.
Another nugget that blew my mind – albeit in the strength and conditioning realm – was an article I read recently by personal trainer Joy Victoria titled Twerk Your Way to Stronger Lifts, Stronger Abs and Pain-Free Movement in which she offered this train of thought:
“Load is not weight. Load is how your body adapts to carrying the weight. So someone with good alignment can squat 100 lbs and experience an adaptation in their butt and legs, and another person can squat 100lbs and experience an adaptation in their hip flexors and low back muscles (very simplistic example). This is because of how we load our body! You want to load the muscles and joints properly to develop the qualities of strength, power, speed, mobility etc. A lot of pain and what “dysfunctional” movement can be a result of improper loading for your body and structure.”
This summary served as one of a few reasons why I wrote THIS article for T-Nation on why I feel learning to brace and not relying on over-arching or over-extending the lumbar spine (in other words: maintaining ALIGNMENT) is paramount with regards to lifting heavy things. Not only in the context of improved performance in the weight-room, but also as a way to play the house in your favor with relation to long-term health – especially spine health.
Taking this concept a step further, though, and since this is a fitness blog, lets roll with the talking point of alignment and load and delve into something a bit more practical and relevant to just about everyone reading:
The Hip Hinge
For those unfamiliar and stealing some insight from renowned strength coach Dan John – who’s a mega fan of the hip hinge (and rightfully so), we can introduce the hip hinge as follows:
“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.”
In more rudimentary terms the hip hinge involves any flexion/extension originating at the hips that involves a posterior weight shift.
And if we wanted to be super-duper simplistic, and separate ourselves from the notion that a hip hinge is the same thing as a squat pattern – WHICH IT ISN’T! – we can break things down like this:
Hip Hinge = maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend.
Squat = maximal hip bend, maximal knee bend.
*Smoke bomb, smoke bomb, exit stage right*
Moreover, taking the swing out of the equation altogether, I’d argue that nothing has quite as a profound effect on one’s performance in the gym, overall movement quality, addressing pain (especially low back pain), as well as shortening one’s “learning curve” when introducing new exercises than the hip hinge.
About the only thing a properly patterned hip hinge doesn’t help fix is a bad hair day and Justin Bieber’s general level of douchebaggery.
1o points awarded to me for a Biebs burn!
So the question then becomes: How can we go about grooving a proper hip hinge?
More to the point – when working with athletes or clients who either A) have an extensive injury history, have engrained an aberrant motor pattern, and hence like to “squat” everything or B) are otherwise healthy and still like to “squat” everything……how can we groove the hip hinge pattern we’re looking for and start to teach people how to load their body properly?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
At the lowest level two of the easiest (and effective) ways to begin to pattern the hip hinge are:
1. The Wall Tap Hip Hinge
The objective here is pretty self-explanatory. Brace the abs, ensure spinal alignment (move through the hips and NOT the lumbar spine) and then focus on tapping your derriere to the wall.
One cue I like to use is to tell people to chop or “fold” their hips with their hands (you’ll see me do this on like the third or fourth rep).
I’ll start people as close to wall as I need to in order to ensure they’re doing it correctly, and as they become more proficient I’ll move them further and further away.
2. Dowel Rod Hip Hinge
This too is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll try not to belabor anything. I love this variation because it gives the trainee some kinesthetic feedback on spinal positioning.
In short: there should be three points of contact with the dowel rod – the sacrum, in between the shoulder blades, as well as directly behind the head. If at any point the dowel rod loses contact with any of those points – whether because the chin isn’t staying tucked or they’re squatting with too much knee bend – that should be considered a fault and corrected immediately.
Upping the ante a bit, here are some more drills that I like to implement.
3. Rip Trainer Hip Hinge
Taking the dowel rod hip hinge to the next level is the TRX Rip Trainer Hip Hinge, which very much plays into a lot of Gray Cook’s work on loading the hip hinge.
It’s a subtle load – you don’t need to be too aggressive here – but it’s amazing how much technique cleans up when you cue someone to “pull” themselves into the hinge pattern (here the trainee literally has to pull into the hinge).
Much like with the wall tap drill, I’ll tell people to visualize “folding” their hips and to sit back.
4. Sternum Hip Hinge
Place a kettlebell (you could use a plate or DB here) flush against the sternum and try to visualize driving it through your chest.
I can’t really explain why it works so well – most likely because of the anterior load – but it just does, so just do it! GOSH!
5. Behind the Head Hip Hinge
Pigging back off the sternum hip hinge is the behind the head hip hinge, which places the load posteriorly behind the head. This offers a bit more of a unique challenge in that you have to make sure that you’re bracing your abs HARD so that you don’t compensate and hinge through the lumbar spine.
6. Band Resisted Hip Hinge
Lastly, the band resisted hip hinge drill is great because it teaches people “terminal hip extension,” to the point where they must finish the movement with their glutes in order to finish the drill. Moreover, because the band is pulling them back they really have to be more cognizant of bracing their abs, maintaining alignment, and controlling the movement.
If or when those drills are mastered THEN it’s time to add appreciable load. One of my go to exercises is the pull-through. I find that this is a fantastic exercise to introduce people to loaded hip hinging because, well, I said so!
And because it hammers the posterior chain with minimal spinal loading.
Of course deadlifts and squats will come into the picture, but not until I feel confident that the person I’m working with (especially for those with a vast injury history) can hip hinge properly and disperse the load accordingly.
I can usually coach someone up and get them deadlifting and/or squatting with a good hip hinge pattern within a short amount of time – typically in one session – but not without utilizing some of the drills mentioned above.