At the gym, on the field, and in daily life, the hip hinge is incredibly important to master for not only performance, but longevity. When it comes to lifting cues, some cues are only relevant when moving in a particular way with an external load, however, the hip hinge is slightly different.
The hip hinge movement pattern tends to have two main functions and those are improved performance and injury prevention. As opposed to lifting cues that only offer insights to moving the most weight possible, the hip hinge allows us to do just that while simultaneously helping to prevent additional lumbar (lower back) stress, which can accumulate to create fatigue and injury — both of which can impact performance and daily well-being.
Typically, the hip hinge is taught pretty early on in a lifter’s career and is one the first movement patterns most trainers teach. So everyone should be perfect at hip hinging, right? Well, as sets get heavier and reps increase, hinge mechanics can slip pretty easily. In this article, we’ll break down what the hip hinge is and how to cue it, along with two ways to strengthen a hip hinge.
What Is a Hip Hinge?
The hip hinge is a movement pattern that results in the hips shifting back posteriorly causing extension and flexion with a neutral torso. An ideal hip hinge will create lumbopelvic disassociation, in other words, the hips are creating flexion and extension while the torso remains in a neutral and consistent position.
Here’s a good visual: a proper hinge will make the femurs and torso look similar to a stapler opening and closing.
It’s important to note that a neutral torso can be defined as a slight range of mobility, and not a perfectly straight line. For a visual on what a neutral torso could be defined as, check out the graphic below that Personal Trainer Eugen Loki shared on his Instagram page.
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⭕️WHAT DOES NEUTRAL SPINE EVEN MEAN?⭕️ Shoutout to @brandon_senn who inspired me to draw this one. My post is a remake of his original one. This is a very controversial topic which requires discussion, especially in a page like mine, in which I try my best to show proper technique of the exercises. When it comes to training technique we all know that maintaining a neutral spine is considered "good" and "healthy" when lifting weights. But what does it mean? Most people think that "neutral spine" is a fixed position, and again, while I suggest everyone to do their best to train in the "green zone" area, this does not necessarily mean that ANY degree of flexion or extension is going to be bad. Quite in fact when we talk about maintaining a neutral spine, we refer to a 𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 of neutrality and not a fixed position. In a deadlift we can see a slight flexion of the spine when training with very heavy weights, during squats we can see that happen during the "butt wink"(posterior pelvic tilt) at the bottom of the exercise. None of them are NECESSARILY bad, because as always, it depends on the degree of flexion, under which load, during what amount of time. Please do NOT use this as an excuse to perform poorly at the gym, because this is far from saying that, fellas. 🔥🔥🔥TAG Somebody who needs to see this! #pheasyque
It’s important to acknowledge that while “neutral” does have a slight range to it, there are always consistent checkpoints with form that must always be upheld with the hip hinge. For example, a hip hinge should not have excessive anterior/posterior pelvic tilt, and flexion and extension of the lumbar and cervical spine. A range should not result in relaxed form.
Cueing Hip Hinge Form
If you need a sequence of cues to properly execute the hip hinge, check out the example below.
- Bring the head and torso to a neutral position.
- Brace the torso, then shift the hips directly back (think about a string pulling them).
- Allow a slight knee bend (think <20 degrees), and keep the shins nearly vertical.
- Work to feel a stretch in the hamstrings while keeping a neutral torso.
Testing Your Hip Hinge
If you think that your hip sequencing might be off, then there are multiple ways to test your hip hinge’s efficiency and to self-check the movement pattern.
Method 1: Dowel Test
- Place a dowel, ruler, or PVC pipe on the back making contact with the lumbar spine, head, and cervical spine.
- Push the hips back and hinge forward maintaining contact with the the object.
- If the head, cervical, or lumbar spine lack contact with the object, then the hip hinge needs work.
Method 2: Wall or Foam Roller Test
- Stand either 3-5 inches off a wall or place a foam roller 3-5 inches behind the glutes.
- Push the hips directly back and make note when they make contact with the object.
- If you notice the torso breaking or knees shifting excessively forward before making contact with the wall or foam roller, then your hip hinge sequencing is probably off.
Hip Hinge Mistakes
The degree in which a hip hinge can go wrong can vary pretty greatly and be clearly apparent or extremely subtle. Often times, a hip hinge that is glaringly wrong is easier to fix than a hip hinge that has slight form breakdown when working at heavier sets and reps.
Below are a few ways the hip hinge can go wrong in practice.
- Lumbar spine going into a noticeable degree of extension/flexion separate from hip movement.
- Knees drifting excessively forwards before the hips break and move backwards.
- Knees going valgus and feet turning outwards during any part of the hinge.
2 Ways to Improve Hip Hinge
There are countless ways to improve a hip hinge. For most strength athletes and lifters, the best way to improve the hip hinge is by practicing movements that rely solely on this movement pattern for success. Typically, basic unweighted hip hinge mechanics are not the problem for athletes, in reality, the problems typically exist with mechanics breaking down with the use of external loads.
With that in mind, the first step to improving hip hinge mechanics is by practicing the movement pattern unweighted for multiple reps. The best way to accomplish consistency is by creating a sequence of cues to follow to ensure similar performance and movement for every rep. Once basic movement mechanics have been accomplished, then one can improve their hip hinge by using the two exercises below.
1. Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian Deadlift is a staple for improving hip hinge mechanics. Often times, trainers and coaches will have athletes use Romanian Deadlifts for multiple sessions before moving to a regular deadlift.
Why is it so useful? The Romanian Deadlift forces athletes to practice the eccentric portion in the deadlift — a part of the deadlift not often trained when working with heavy loads — which results in creating strong hip hinge mechanics with a heavy focus on building the posterior chain.
Master the Setup
Load a barbell and stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes forwards, and the barbell running over your shoelaces (from the aerial view).
In this position, it is important that the torso is upright, arms are straight , and the shoulder blades are dropped downwards towards the rear. This will allow you to “lock” the back and minimize strain in the neck.
Hinge and Grab the Bar
Bend down and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and only slight bend to the knees
Keep your back flat and shoulders over the barbell. Once you have stood up, reset in the above vertical torso positioning.
Set the Back
Push the hips back while maintaining a set back.
This will result in you feeling tension develop in the hamstrings and across the back (lower and middle, especially around the shoulder blades), with the torso moving towards being parallel to the floor.
Initiate With the Glutes and Hamstrings
Use glutes and hamstrings to stand upwards, keeping the barbell close to the body.
If you’re having trouble keeping the barbell close, think of engaging your lats (without pulling through the arms).
Contract and Lower
At the top of the movement, contract the upper back, core, and glutes by flexing from the middle of the back to the buttocks (glutes).
While most athletes will be standing up straight at the top of the movement, avoid overextending and leaning further back than necessary.
Lower barbell the same way and repeat for repetitions.
2. Pause Deadlifts
Another great movement and training tool for improving hip hinge mechanics is to use pause deadlifts and other hinge-focused isometric movements. Isometrics, especially in deadlifts, are awesome training tools when working to improve and reinforce lifting postures.
When using pause deadlifts to improve hip hinge, try to pause for a second or two at mid-shin or just below the knee. Ideally, you want to select an area that you feel your form tends to breakdown the most and work with a weight that is lighter and feasibly manageable for multiple reps.
To begin a paused deadlift, start in a position similar to what you would use with a conventional deadlift. The feet should be around hip width apart, the lats contraction, and the back should be set.
Coach’s Tip: Ensure you are bracing properly to compete the initiation of this movement without early form breakdown.
Determine before lifting the weight where you’re going pause. Typically, the mid-shin and just below the knee will be the most common areas to pause, as these will create a higher demand for maintaining a set back.
Keep the bar close to the body and try your hardest to maintain a set back with contracted lats to avoid the barbell drifting away from the body.
Coach’s Tip: Start light and work to build proper form when utilizing deadlifts tempos with pauses.
The Final Pull
Once you’ve held positioning for the set amount of time, then you’ll keep the deadlift by extending the hips and maintaining a locked out, neutral position.
Coach’s Tip: The goal is maintaining lifters postures and increasing time under tension, so start light and perform lower rep sets until you’ve mastered this movement.
The hip hinge is arguably one of the most important movements patterns to accomplish for every type of athlete. A strong hip hinge can not only improve performance, but it can also serve as an injury preventative.
If you have trouble hinging properly when working with heavier sets, then spend time regressing and practicing perfection to create carryover to heavy weights.
Feature image from Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock