Correctly watching a student progress through the hip hinge gives me more pride and joy than any other of the fundamental movement patterns.
Why? Well, when performed well, this move can open up a whole new window of opportunity for just about any physical goal a human could have.
Want to get stronger? Correctly hinging from the hips will allow you to perform a deadlift with power and precision.
Want to look better naked? All of the exercises that use the hip hinge will open up the doors to create a backside that will quite simply make people jealous.
You want to lose fat? Using your hips to access some of the bigger compound lifts will challenge your body in ways you never thought possible, consequently building lean muscle and eviscerating stubborn body fat.
Ah, you want to be a better athlete? Every explosive, strong, and dynamic athlete has a powerful hinge. They have either built it up from years of good training, or get into the position organically from good body awareness, good natural movement, and of course genes. Just look at what most sports require performance wise, and you’ll notice explosive hips and posterior chain as a huge component.
But you may be asking what a hip hinge actually is…Here, we take a look at the fundamental human movements which include the following..
Hip Hinge Patterns
Upper Extremity Press Patterns
Upper Extremity Pull Patterns
Single Leg Knee and Single Leg Hip Dominant Patterns
Loaded Carry Variations
Regardless of someone’s goal, the majority of my clients will be taught to master and progress through these fundamental movements that every human will need during their lifetime. Obviously, if it’s a main goal to get a better ass, we will be doing a shit ton of hinging (minimal knee bend…maximal hip bend = minimal quad involvement…maximal hamstring and glute involvement)
Arguably, the hinge has the most potential for health, strength, and physique goals due to it’s overall impact on the body, and it’s transfer of increased athleticism to the rest of one’s training program.
Below, I will show you 8 ways that I teach people to unlock their potential in the hip hinge right at the very beginning of their training life. Each exercise can be a great tool for beginners who will absolutely see world of benefit from the very novice variations of fundamental movements, as well as advanced athletes and weight lifters who need to refresh the intricacies and fundamentals of their deadlift patterns.
This is one of the very first tools I use with clients who have simply never properly hinged or tend to “get squatty” with their deadlift variations. Assuming you or your students have good shoulder mobility, grab a dowel rod or broom stick put it behind your back like so. Have one hand on top, right behind your neck, and one hand underneath at the small of your low back and keep the as much of the rod in contact with your body. I usually use hands on cues at the knees to keep them soft, and assist by pushing folks to sit those hips back until the hamstrings are taught and sometimes shaking.
The bow and arrow analogy works well for the audible as well as visual learner. Tell them to imagine the hips as the bow string getting pulled back and the feet, knees, shoulders, and head as the stable part of the bow. Pull the string (hips) as far back as tension allows then powerfully snap to neutral.
As soon as I see that someone has a firm understanding of what a hip hinge is, what it feels like without load, and observe a clean, safe move, I begin adding load in a non-risky area. This is the stage right before picking stuff up off the floor. Before getting there, I like turning the kettlebell upside down and putting a bit more pressure on the hamstrings this way. A good cue is to tell someone to use the handle around the belt buckle area to force the hips back towards the wall. Step a foot and a half away from the wall and use the handle to force the glutes back to tap it. Once again, fire the hips (bow string) to hard squeezed glutes in the top position. The top position on all these exercises should mimic a plank with the abs and glutes both locked in to form a neutral spine.
The dumbbell is a tool I have found to be a better teacher for super beginners and the deadlift, more so than the kettlebell. The reason is due to where the hands are placed. By placing the hands on the side of the dumbbell as opposed to the kettlebell handle, beginner clients have an easier time gaining stiffness in the upper back to promote a safer, stronger hinge. Also, by “peeling” the shoulders back in a separate movement at the bottom, we teach beginners in the deadlift to engage their lats appropriately every time. You can use this strategy with the kettlebell, just keep in mind that it is slightly tougher to “peel” and get into a proper position. As with any pull from the floor, don’t be afraid to elevate the load to ensure proper positioning at all times. It is non negotiable to allow students to pick things off the floor in an unsafe manner. A great cue for the peeling part is to imagine someone walking up behind you and tickling your armpits. Protect them by pulling those lats down and back.
With nearly everyone I coach, I employ a pause at the max tension point of this exercise. The benefits are just too great not to stop for a second. By adding a short pause, we can really teach tension in the lats, and feel what it means to sit the hips back properly for maximum hamstring tension. The barbell itself is a good enough load as a teaching tool once you or your student has a good understanding of grooving the hinge at a good tempo. With all of these exercises, it’s important to stress control on the way down (eccentric) and explosion and power on the way up (concentric). Another key point here is to never add load unless you can keep optimal tension. If it’s too heavy, and you lose it by rolling the shoulders, you put your spine in a compromised position, therefore ruining chances at great, powerful hinge. Check out the video below for proper set up and tempo.
This exercise is an excellent teacher, and one that many beginnerish clients can do usually right off the bat. Many times the initial tendency when teaching or learning the hip hinge is to squat it down a bit too much, consequently limiting the potential of hamstring, glute, and overall posterior chain recruitment. With the rope between the legs pulled out from the cable machine, the force back, similar in nature to band resisted kettlebell deadlifts is enough to feel the “ah ha” moment and get to the tension point of the hinge. Simply relax the arms (still keep armpits back tight), reach back through the legs with a neutral spine, and fire through the heels up to a hard squeezed finish position. Just as in the video below, you must walk the weight off the cable stack, which should be set at the bottom (rope). Pick an appropriate load you can control as always. At the top try and make your two glutes into one as highly sought after coach, Matthew Ibrahim, (the mastermind behind Movement Resilience) would like to say.
If you or a client continue to have trouble deciphering between the squat and deadlift, this exercise might be a perfect fit. With the external force of the band adding pressure to the hips, one is more inclined to sit back into an appropriate deadlift pattern. A squat is a squat, and a deadlift is a deadlift. While there is some hinging during a squat, it is not to the degree of a deadlift or pull from the floor of any kind. During this move, set the band at about hip height, then get in and move out so the band is taught, but not pulling you too much. Work on the standard kettlebell deadlift pattern with this band assistance as show below.
This exercise is another great teacher of tension. I prescribe this for my students who have a bit of weakness and tend to fall straight to the floor from the top position with poor control, or for people who are a bit slow off the floor. By stopping around mid shin I get to teach three things. 1.) This is a neutral spine. This is what a neutral spine feels like. Adding this stop lets this information sit in and digest into a person’s brain for future reference. 2.) Here is what tension in the hamstrings should feel like. This is where powerful athleticism is generated from, and this is how a badass backside is created. 3.) This is what locked in lats and upper back stiffness should feel like. If the shoulders drift, chances are you’ll feel it in the low back, which is not ideal at all. All in all, keeping the neutral spine, the hips back with soft knees, and upper back locked down and back with a pause can create a more speedy process of a beginner learning the hinge and getting a stronger, healthier pull from the ground.
The double kettlebell deadlift is usually the last progression I use before moving clients to the barbell or trap bar (usually trap bar before barbell). For me, using a pair of 35-50lb kettlbells properly for 6-10 reps is a good enough indication of strength and hinge competency for me to graduate strength and conditioning students onto the hex bar and/or barbell. To perform this you must have a grasp on sitting back into the hinge, staying ultra tight in the upper back, and possess enough strength to drive relatively fast off the floor. It usually will take a few weeks to a few months of dedicated strength work to get to a point where you’ll get brand new weightlifters to this point where the barbell work from the floor is in the conversation.
It’s no secret that I love teaching this movement. I truly believe the family of hip hinge movements have the greatest return on investment as an exercise selection amongst all the fundamental human movement patterns.
If you’re a beginner, try a few of these movements out and see how you progress. Remember that the hinge isn’t a squat. If you want to learn about the squat, check this out.
Also, if you’re well past these movements and are a veteran of the iron game, this read wasn’t a waste…it might be wise to use a few of these patterns from time to time to practice bracing, and even warming and ramping up before getting to your barbell work.
In installment two, I will take you even further down the progression continuum, and show you the intermediate and advanced stages of properly executed hip hinge and deadlift work.