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The Case Of The Hip Hinge And Why Do You Need To Learn It… PLUS My Top 5 Hip Hinge Exercises

I was constantly feeling weak on my Squats and Deadlifts, and my lower back was always in pain. Once I’ve discovered and implemented Hip Hinge, my training approach changed from the grounds up.
Milos Vujnovic Posted In Movement Patterns

When I first started strength training on popular programs like Starting Strength, for the life of me I couldn’t understand the mechanics of “going down” in the squat at all – and yes I’ve read the SS book multiple times, thank you.

Let me explain this for a bit. So apart from doing the usual recreational sports (like long-distance biking, swimming, etc.), I was never an active person – on the contrary, since the nature of my remote IT job involved sitting for a long periods of time (8-12 hours) so as you can imagine, sport activities were kept at minimal and usually involved slowly walking to the water cooler or to the kitchen to make some coffee.

All of that changed when I joined a gym (and later bought my own equipment and created a home gym). But what hasn’t changed were my constantly tight hips.

Mobility work and dynamic warm-ups helped, but have not affected my main mechanical pattern of “going down” – and that pattern was overextending my lower back instead of pushing my hips back and sitting down.

So my squats were always like this, and trust me, I’ve tried all the cues. The sit back literally forced me to again overextend my lower back and then push my glutes down, which as you can guess, caused me to lean forward when going up from the hole.

Multiple problems, but just one magical solution – and that was the hip hinge. Before we continue, let me make myself clear on this… if you brace your abdominals correctly (Valsalva method) and keep everything in check, then you should work on improving your hip hinge pattern.

If everything is off track (upper back, lower back, abdominals, etc.) then just improving hip hinge will NOT make your squat (or deadlift) technique immediately 100% perfect.

The Hip Hinge Definition

As we discussed before, the hip hinge is quite simple – it follows the next steps:

  • Brace your abs and keep your core tight
  • Push your hips back

That’s it! Simple, right? Well, it turns out that it’s not quite simple when I’ve worked with other people implementing this – and you know why? They kept overextending their lower back to achieve the same results! And we know what happens when the lower back is overextended under a load (hint— spinal flexion and injury).

Going back to the steps of the Hip Hinge, let’s see how that works with the Squat:

  1. Brace your abs and keep your core tight
  2. Push your hips back
  3. Push your knees out hard
  4. Squat down

Before We Move On, Let’s See The Role of The Hip Hinge in A Deadlift During Its Setup (This Is The Setup Which I Teach):

  1. Brace your abs and keep your core tight
  2. Push your hips back
  3. Touch the bar with your shins
  4. Grab the bar and “bend it” over your body
  5. Brace your abs again and lift the weight

As we can see, the deadlift steps are bit complicated but the initial hinge movement is the same – again, it’s the notion of pushing your hips back.

Since all this information is a bit too much, I’ve written few exercises which you can implement to learn this hinge pattern properly after which you’ll hopefully implement it during your compound movements.

Also, let me add this – my total beginner’s strength program, The Vigorous 5×5, is composed of assistance exercises who are directly helping to build the hip hinge pattern properly.

So in a nutshell, you’re becoming stronger with Squats, Deadlifts and Bench Presses while also building correct movement patterns for the new routines which you’ll work on later. Neat, right? If you’re interested you can download the Vigorous 5×5 strength routine as a PDF (for free) here.

Now let’s get back to the topic…

My Top 5 Hip Hinge Exercises

These are assistance exercises meaning that you can add them safely in your current workout routine (while of course keeping in mind that you’re not on a routine with 15 different exercises so it doesn’t affect your recovery).

Let’s list the actual exercises first, and they are listed in the order which I believe you should try out first:

Exercise 1 Wall Hip Hinge
Exercise 2 Dead Bug
Exercise 3 Kettlebell Swing
Exercise 4 Cable Pull-Through
Exercise 5 Hip Thrust

As you know, when learning a new movement we should focus on technique while keeping the weights light enough – after our form is good then we’re safe to add more weight to it. This is a popular mantra but it’s one of the most important things that you should always keep in mind.

The wall hinge is what I believe you should try out first – and this has been proven to be quite successful on the people who I’ve coached. Additionally, the wall hinge will teach you to be more aware of the position of your hips and how are they going back by just pushing them back – and not by overextending your lower back to “feel” that you’re pushing them back if that makes sense.

The dead bug exercise is a great exercise for the whole posterior chain – not just for the sake of learning the hip hinge pattern (it was actually a part of my herniated disc rehab). This exercise is a sort of unilateral exercise – it forces you to control your legs with your hips while keeping your core tight and braced. Great way to supplement the whole hip hinge motion.

The kettlebell swing done incorrectly can lead to back injury – and I had to point this out first since I’ve seen it done incorrectly multiple times (especially in the commercial gyms). To put it straight, when you’re swinging back and forth while keeping your abs relaxed, you’re constantly flexing your spine under load…

…and I won’t repeat myself on what happens if you do that. So, to get back on why I suggested this – the kettlebell swing forces you to implement the hip hinge pattern in order to perform the exercises correctly and experience its benefits (which are improving the strength of the posterior chain). I’ll recommend the following – when you are locking out each repetition, make sure that you’re pushing your hips forward and squeezing your butt hard. This is pretty much the same motion of locking out a barbell deadlift at the top – which is a hip extension.

The cable pull-through is a good supplementary exercise to the other weight-loaded hip hinge exercises. Without loading your spine at the top (like Good Morning) and while keeping your abdominals braced (core tight) you are safe to practice the whole hip hinge pattern while slowly increasing the weight.

The benefits of the glute bridge (bodyweight or barbell) are immense and I’d recommend that you start with adding bodyweight glute bridge (x10 or x12 repetitions) during your dynamic warm up i.e. before you start lifting weights.

What’s important to note with this exercise is that it will teach you how to do proper hip extension (which is a large part of the Kettlebell Swing exercise which I’ve written about above).

How To Implement These Exercises Into Your Current Lifting Routine

Adding assistance exercises like this is quite simple, but I’d recommend implementing them in this order:

  • Adding bodyweight variations to your dynamic warm up (before lifting)
  • Adding weighted exercises as a part of your regular assistances (3×8 or 3×12)
  • Adding bodyweight variations as a circuit at the end of your workouts (2 or 3 circuits with 90 seconds of rest at the end of each)

Again, the most important here thing to keep in mind is to focus on performing the exercises correctly, with good bracing (abdominals) and without overextending your lumbar spine which I’ve mentioned several times in this article.

I’d like to point out that exercises like this are a part of my free Metabolic Conditioning e-book which you can download here – if you feel like trying out a circuit or two, please let me know how that worked out for you – I’ll be delighted to see your results.

Closing Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that learning the hip hinge pattern is one of the most important things to have in your arsenal, especially if you are performing compound movements like squats and deadlifts (hopefully you are). The exercises which I’ve provided will help you to form a foundational pattern which will constantly improve while also adding weight on your compounds.

Cheers,
Milos

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