Before you start loading weight on the bar, you need to nail the basics. Even long-time lifters can benefit from taking a few steps back to revisit their set up.
The hip hinge is a foundational movement that impacts both strength training exercises and daily living. Here’s what you need to know about the hip hinge movement and how to perfect this exercise.
What is a Hip Hinge?
In simplest terms, a hip hinge is the movement that allows you to bend over and pick something up off the ground, whether its a barbell loaded with plates or a pen that you’ve dropped. This movement engages your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, and lower back) and your core.
While it may seem like a simple motion, it can be challenging to get just right. Two of the main difficulties during a hip hinge pertain to the knees and the lower back.
Unlike a squat, when you hip hinge, you pull your hips backward. However, many people “squat” their hip hinge by allowing their knees to control the range of motion. Eventually, this will cause a lifter’s deadlift power to bottom out. When properly doing a hip hinge, the knee movement should be minimal.
The other point of concern is the lower back. Keeping a neutral spine is essential for preventing pain and injury while properly engaging the posterior chain for maximum strength. Many lifters tend to experience a slight anterior pelvic tilt, which creates a concave at the base of the spine. This curvature is often a result of poor mobility or a lack of brain-body connection with the lumbar spine. If you’ve deadlifted or squatted and had low back pain the next day, you’re probably doing this.
Hip Hinge Benefits
As mentioned before, hip hinge exercises are beneficial both in and out of the gym.
Like the squat, the hip hinge is a functional movement that translates into daily life. Incorporating hip hinge work into your training can help you develop body awareness to help troubleshoot and correct your form, improve your posture, prevent injuries, and mitigate low back pain.
The hip hinge motion is also the foundation of various movements in the gym.
- Olympic lifters use a hip hinge for both the snatch and clean and jerk.
- Powerlifters use a hip hinge each time they deadlift and start the descent on a squat.
- Crossfitters use hip hinges when they do kettlebell conditioning workouts.
It doesn’t matter what your preferred training modality is— hinge hip exercises can make you better.
Hip Hinge Exercises for Beginners
Before you walk into the gym and pick up a barbell, you should practice some hip hinge exercises for beginners. These movements will help you improve connectivity with your lumbar spine and perfect the motion.
Hip Hinge with a Dowel
Functional movement specialists and knowledgeable trainers will often use a dowel to assess and teach the hip hinge movement pattern. This method helps create a tangible connection that helps lifters become aware of any compensations as they hinge.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart while holding a dowel. A broomstick will also work if you’re doing hip hinge exercises at home. Place the dowel behind your back in alignment with your spine.
- Hold the top of the dowel to the back of your head. With your other hand, grip the dowel at the base of your spine so that the back of your hand is touching your lower back. This is the starting position.
- Brace your core, and exhale as you pull your hips backward, allowing your weight to shift to your heels. Allow only slight movement in your knees.
- As your hips shift back, allow your torso to bend in half toward the floor. As you move, the dowel should remain in contact with your head, and your hand should still be touching your lower back. If your back starts to round, correct your posture, and make a note of your compensation.
- Pause approximately halfway between being upright and completely parallel. Slowly reverse the movement, maintaining contact with the dowel as before. Squeeze your glutes to engage the posterior chain as you stand upright.
Repeat this exercise regularly as a part of your warm-up. The more you practice correcting your form with the dowel, the better your muscle memory will become when lifting weights.
This deceptively challenging core exercise effectively improves the connectivity between your core, hips, and posterior chain. The floor acts as a guideline for preventing the anterior tilt that causes the low back to curve during hip hinge exercises.
- Lay on your back on the floor with your arms stretched overhead and your legs extended.
- Engage your core and tilt your pelvis so that your lower back is flush against the ground. It should stay like this for the duration of the movement.
- Bend your knees and lift your legs so that your calves are parallel to the floor. Lift your arms toward the ceiling so that they are perpendicular to your body. This is your starting position.
- Take a breath and slowly lower and extend your right arm and left leg. Hover about an inch from the ground for a three-second pause before slowly returning to starting position.
- Repeat with the left arm and right leg. That’s one rep.
Slow and controlled movement is essential for this core and hip engagement exercise. Focus on moving through the range of motion while keeping your lower back neutral and flush to the floor.
The dynamic cat-cow is another effective bodyweight hip hinge exercise that helps you become more aware of the position of your lumbar spine while practicing the hinge motion.
- Get into a quadruped position on the floor, with hands stacked beneath the shoulders and knees hip-width apart.
- Brace your core, and round your shoulder blades while letting your chin fall to your chest. Focus on stretching your cervical spine during this portion of the movement.
- Maintain this position while allowing your hips to hinge back until you are sitting on your legs. Your lumbar spine should remain neutral with your pelvis tucked.
- Pause, then pull back up into quadruped, allowing your lumbar spine to drop and shoulder blades to pinch together. Lift your chin from your chest and look ahead.
- Repeat the motion in a slow, controlled flow for 30 seconds to one minute.
Controlling the movement and building body awareness is the goal of this exercise. The shortened hip hinge can also help you learn to control the lumbar spine while shifting backward.
Hip Hinge Progression
Once you’ve nailed the basics, you can start to incorporate hip hinge progressions. Try these three versatile lifts to make the most of your new skill.
Good mornings are a fantastic exercise for engaging the core and posterior chain. This workout translates to all three powerlifting exercises and can be completed with a number of implements. You can do this exercise with a barbell or kettlebell, or a resistance band if you’re doing hip hinge exercises at home.
- Place a barbell across your shoulders in a back rack position. If you’re using a kettlebell or dumbbell, let it rest on your cervical spine while reaching overhead to hold it in place.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core.
- Pull your hips back while maintaining a neutral spine and allowing your torso to fold forward. Your knees should be unlocked but free of movement.
- Once you’ve reached the end of your range of motion, pause, then squeeze your glutes to return upright and back to starting position.
Good mornings are similar to the dowel training mentioned earlier. Slow and controlled movement is vital for this exercise. Try to extend your range of motion and get as close to parallel as possible while maintaining a neutral spine. You should feel this movement in your hamstrings.
Romanian deadlifts are one of many beneficial hip hinge variations. The focus on extension helps build strength in the posterior chain and improves familiarity with how a deadlift should feel when done correctly.
- Grab a barbell and stand with your feet hip-width apart with knees slightly bent. Start with the barbell at the top of your thighs, using a traditional deadlift to get into position.
- Hinge your hips back, shifting your weight to your heels as you bend forward with a neutral spine. Keep your back flat and the barbell in contact throughout the movement.
- At the end of your range of motion— when it feels like your back will round— squeeze your glutes and reverse the movement until you are back in an upright position.
Romanian deadlifts also make for great hip hinge exercises with dumbbells or kettlebells. You can also use single-leg variations of this exercise.
Kettlebell swings aren’t usually a part of the programming for powerlifting or bodybuilding. However, they are a fantastic hip hinge variation for cable-pull throughs. The continuous motion and conditioning aspect make this an incredible addition to any program.
- Set a kettlebell on the floor and stand slightly in front of it with feet outside of shoulder-width. The wider stance is crucial for making this work.
- Hinge your hips and reach through your legs to grasp the kettlebell.
- Use your hips to swing the kettlebell forward until it reaches eye-level. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Your arms should remain locked throughout the action; the hips drive the motion.
- Control the descent as you bring the kettlebell back down between your legs, reaching slightly behind you.
- Without letting the kettlebell touch, repeat the motion.
Starting slightly ahead of the kettlebell rather than with it in front of you allows you to start in the proper hip hinge position. You can also allow the kettlebell to go directly overhead for a fuller range of motion.
Mastering these simple hip hinge exercises will allow you to perfect your form and build stronger deadlifts and squats. By starting at the beginning and adding hip hinge progressions, you can build strength throughout the entire range of motion and develop muscle awareness.