The hip hinge is an essential part of how you live your life. You use it to do everything from picking objects off the ground, to playing and even using the toilet. For those of you spending most of your day sitting at a desk, your hinge might not be happening at your ‘true’ hip. So your back might get strained, or your hamstrings might start feeling tight, among other side effects.
Many people fear the deadlift (hip hinge) motion. Whether they’ve had back pain in the past or just know someone who has, most consider the deadlift and movements of its ilk to be direct enemies of a healthy back. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the years I’ve found that, to an extent, the more you learn to own the hip hinge movement, the more understanding you have of how to control your own back health.
If you’ve had back issues in the past, or plan to not have any in the future, developing and continuing a practice of constantly improving your hip hinge pattern is a necessity.
Here are three movements to help you improve your hip hinge — and possibly your life.
Some people have difficulty even approaching a loaded deadlift bar. To overcome that barrier and understand how well someone can move each hip individually, I like to have them work on unloaded single leg deadlifts. This movement says loads about someone’s capacity to deadlift: how well they can push through their feet, their hip and knee coordination, hip hinge ability, single leg strength, and most importantly, their ability to generate tension.
- Start by standing with feet together. Exhale to orient your ribs downward and focus on pointing the bottom of your ribs towards your pelvis. Grab the ground with your right foot to engage your arch and push down through the foot to cause the left foot to hover just above the ground.
- Next, reach forward with your arms and push your right hip straight back while continuing to push your right foot into the ground. Keep your spine straight throughout the movement. Your hips won’t drop as low as they might when you’re squatting. Keep your right knee above your right midfoot.
- When you’ve gone as deep into your hip as you can, pause for a moment, then exhale and begin pushing down through the ground to stand back up.
- Repeat until you can no longer control your balance.
- Note: Slow and steady wins the race here. Go slow with this movement to help you improve your balance and move into deeper ranges.
- If you have trouble moving your hips backwards, stabilizing your spine, or controlling your upper body rotation, try shortening your range of motion, finding ways to generate more body tension, or trying the next movement.
Some people have difficulty holding their torso solid when actively participating in life. This leads to back strains, a slower reaction time, and stagnation in strength development. This movement is meant to help you develop an awareness around the ‘true’ motion of your hip and promote stiffness in your torso.
- Start by lying on the ground with knees bent and arms pushing the wall away. Exhale to assist in positioning your ribs parallel to the ground. You can now breathe ‘behind the shield.’
- Next, exhale to initiate bringing your feet into the air, keeping your knees bent 90 degrees.
- Extending at the hip, bring one heel to touch the ground and return to the start position. Alternate legs, initiating the movement of each leg with an exhale.
- Repeat as long as you can control the position of your ribs and hip joint.
- Note: Tucking the hips and flattening the low back is NOT the focus here. We’re looking to preserve your spine’s natural curve and teach you to support it by ‘zipping up’ (a.k.a. shortening the distance between the bottom of your ribs and top of your pelvis.)
- If you have trouble with controlling your rib position in this movement, you can either keep your legs stationary and hold for time or try the next movement.
I find that many people have trouble with true hip extension when doing daily tasks, and especially in the deadlift. This leads to the hip extension during gait coming from the back or sometimes even the hamstrings instead of from the hip. This movement is meant to help you develop that pattern.
- Start by lying on the ground with knees bent and arms pushing the wall away. Exhale this whole time to assist in positioning your ribs. You can now breathe ‘behind the shield.’
- Next, exhale to initiate, and push your heels into the ground to drive your hips towards the sky.
- Pause for a moment at the top. Return to the starting position by CONTINUING to push through your heels.
- Repeat as needed.
- Note: Hip height is NOT the focus here. Just feel that your heel push is creating every millimeter of hip extension.
- If you have trouble with this movement, spend some time mobilizing your quads and hip flexors.