Author: George Barker
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern used in a vast number of exercises to some extent. One of the most recognisable and widely used exercises which utilises the hip hinge pattern is the deadlift. This is a movement where huge loads can be used. As such, it is important to learn what the hip hinge is, and how to perform it correctly. Once the basic pattern has been mastered, it can be loaded up and is a great way to pack on muscle and strength throughout the posterior chain.
How is a Hip Hinge Different From a Squat?:
The hip hinge pattern is similar to the squat pattern in a number of ways. They both require the spine to remain rigid and neutral, and they both utilise the hips, knees and ankles during the movement. However, where they differ is in the amount of movement at each joint. When compared to a squat, the more “pure” the hip hinge is, the more movement comes from hip flexion (bending at the waist), and less movement comes from knee and ankle flexion (bending at the knee and ankle). For example, a Romanian deadlift is a very ‘pure’ hip hinge movement pattern, whereas a deep front squat is a very ‘pure’ squat pattern. Have a look at the images below, and pay attention to the angle at the hips, knees and ankles. For a comprehensive guide to squatting, read our previous article here.
How to Perform a Hip Hinge:
The main sticking point when learning how to hip hinge is the ability to move the hips without having the low back flex along with it. This is critical to get right if you ever want to move better or lift any significant amount of weight without getting injured.
Below are 3 stages to complete in order to get the perfect hip hinge:
Create and maintain a stable core while moving the limbs
The dead bug is my go-to exercise in order to develop the ability to maintain a tight core whilst the limbs move. To perform a dead bug, lay on your back with arms straight pointing towards the ceiling. Also bend at the hip and knee to form a ‘table top’ with your shins. Pull your toes up towards your shins also.
Pressurise your trunk and activate your core by thinking about pressing your entire spine into the floor. Then, raise one arm above your head, and lower the opposite leg down towards the floor. Do not let the low back arch or lose pressure against the floor at any point. The opposing limbs should remain completely still in their starting position (this is harder than you might think, and coordination may be a challenge at first). Return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
A great way to increase core activation is to attach a resistance band to something (rack, bench, wall attachment etc.) to your side. Stretch the resistance band and lay on top of it so it is under your low back. Press down on the band with your back, and maintain the tension. If your low back arches and/or core switches off at any point, the band will slip from under you.
2. Moving from the hips and not the spine
Once adequate stabilisation of the trunk is achieved, we can begin to learn how to hinge. A great first step to this is using a wall as a guide in the ‘wall tap hip hinge’.
Simply face away from a wall, standing around 30cm away. Then, engage the core as previously learnt, and push the bum backwards to lightly tap the wall before returning to standing. This small movement can help you to learn how to drive the hips back and forth without allowing the knees and spine to flex.
As you get better, move away from the wall inch-by-inch to increase the challenge.
Upon mastering this, a broomstick or dowel rod can be used to reinforce this movement pattern without the aid of the wall. Take the rod and grip it behind your back. Hold it tight against the back of the head, the upper back, and the sacrum (base of the spine, at the top of the butt crack). Brace the core against the stick, and perform the same hinge movement without letting any of those three points lose contact.
Load the movement
Now the hip hinge pattern is developed, load can be added to increase the challenge. Any implement can be used, but a light kettlebell or empty barbell is a good place to start. Whatever you decide to use, the core and back should remain rigid throughout. If using a kettlebell, make sure to keep it close to the body by using the lats and other back muscles as you hinge over. When using a barbell, use these same muscles to keep the barbell touching your legs.
If at any point you feel the technique is off, or that your low back is bending, revert back to using the stick for a few sets before trying again.
The hip hinge is a posterior chain dominant movement. This means it works the majority of the muscles on the back side of the body, so it’s a great all round muscle and strength builder.
The main muscles trained during the hip hinge are:
- Gluteus maximus
- Hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris)
- Erector spinae group
- The ‘core’ (transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal/external obliques)
When loading the movement and holding a weight in the hands, other muscles play a larger stabilising role. These include:
- Latissimus dorsi (the ‘lats’)
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that needs to be mastered before any real training can take place. This is due to the role it plays in a vast number of the exercises performed both inside and outside of the gym. Furthermore, it is one of the best movements for gaining strength, size and mobility throughout the posterior chain. This article has given you the tools and knowledge of how to perform a perfect hinge, so it’s time to get out there and give it a go!
Stay Strong and Move Well,