Fit Life Essentials for Real Life

Hip Hinge Happiness – One Essential Move for Strong Glutes, a Healthy Back, and General Awesomeness

I was going to call this post Hip Hinge Hooray, but then thought that was just too much. 

The hip hinge is definitely one of the most important moves to know.  Nail it, and it’ll protect your lower back when lifting any kind of weight, inside or outside the gym.  

And, if you’re trying to build a nice looking backside, a perfect hip hinge targets exactly the area you want to shape.  My guess is building glutes is probably more desirable than, say, a muscular lower back.

But the hip hinge is tricky.  Lift any kind of weight, and there’s a hidden competition between your glutes and your lower back.  The glutes are strong, but lazy. The lower back means well and is all too eager to jump in and “help” get work done.  

A pretty hip hinge leaves the glutes no choice:  jump in and lift this weight now, friend.   

So, yes, the hip hinge is an essential #fitlifetool.  

And yet, did anyone ever teach you the hip hinge?  If the answer is yes, count yourself super lucky.  If the answer is no, read on.  

On today’s menu: 

  • Key info you need to know about the hip hinge
  • Two simple ways to learn the pattern  
  • What “success” looks like

KEY INFO

Imagine a box of books on the floor.  Our bodies have multiple ways to lift and carry that box, depending on our personal situation—the habits we’ve picked up, our mobility, how skilled we are in using core muscles, and so on.

If we bend over and pick up the box, the bend can happen in one of two places: at the lower back, or at the hip.    

Far too many will bend at the lower back. This puts pressure in all the wrong places. No good.

In contrast, bending at the hips sends a lovely message to the stronger posterior chain muscles in the glutes and hamstrings – helloooo!  Please help.

In daily life, we want glutes and hammies to do the heavy lifting because they are strong and better suited for the task.  In the gym, we want them to do the heavy lifting because a shapely rear view is very desirable.  

Now, to hip hinge perfectly, it’s also necessary to keep the core nice and tight. This is often described as “bracing the abs.”  Ab bracing is also a #fitlifetool, which I wrote about here

Here’s a cue that really helped me understand how core stability and hip hinging work together.  Imagine your core is a bottle of unopened fizzy water.  Because of the carbonation, it’s got even pressure all around the bottle.  Every direction.  

With a fizzy water bottle at your center, the upper body moves as one tight unit when you bend over, with only minimal bending at the knee. Like so:

That, my friends, is a hip hinge.  In the gym, hip hinging is central to deadlifts of all kinds, good mornings, cable pull throughs, and kettlebell swings.

DRILLS FOR SKILLS

Simply knowing about the hip hinge isn’t enough – it’s critical to develop the skill to actually do it.  Two drills can help a lot.

First, the wall drill:  

Stand with your glutes a few inches from a wall, and pretend there is a string around your hips that wants to pull you backwards. Tap your glutes against the wall.

Remember, keep the core — your fizzy bottle — nice and tight in every direction. Read here if you need more info on how to do this.

Start the wall drill by standing close to the wall, then progressively move farther away as your hinge gets stronger.

Second is the dowel rod drill:  

Get any kind of straight stick – a wooden dowel rod from a hardware store or even a broom.  Hold it against your back with one hand at the back of your head and the other at your tail bone.  Make sure your stick is touching in THREE places: 

  1. The back of your head
  2. Between your shoulders
  3. Your tailbone  

Maintaining contact with all three touch points, hinge at the hips and point your glutes backwards.

It’s ok to bend a bit at the knees, but not too much.  In fact, that’s the difference between a deadlift and a squat – a deadlift is a hip hinge with minimal knee bend, and a squat is a hip hinge with maximum knee bend.

Think front-back (hip hinge) versus up-down (squat).

Got it?

SUCCESS?

Hip hinge success means hinging consistently without really thinking about it. The only way to reach this state of hip hinge happiness is to do it, repeatedly.  

Four ideas for making the hip hinge second nature:

  1. Include a few healthy movement drills as part of a warmup.  For example, on days with leg work, do the wall drill two or three times.  Repeat until you’ve got the motion down and just check form periodically after that.
  2. Hire a good trainer to help keep an eye on form.  Some of the fittest people I know still hire trainers because nothing beats a second pair of eyes.
  3. Link hip hinge drills to an everyday activity.  For example, if your work requires conference calls, do two hip hinges against the wall after every call.  Do three hip hinges every morning after brushing your teeth.
  4. Practice hinging when picking up any kind of everyday load, whether it’s a pencil, a puppy, or something more substantial. 

In summary:

  • Hip hinging means bending at the hip instead of the lower back. 
  • A pretty hip hinge helps protect the back and build strong glutes and hamstrings.
  • To nail the hip hinge, the core and the hips need to work together – stiffen the core like it’s a bottle of fizzy water and push the glutes backwards. 
  • Two drills can help make the motion second nature: (1) the wall drill, where you hinge the hips and tap the wall with your glutes; and (2) the stick drill, where you use a straight stick, like a dowel rod, to make sure your upper body moves as one tight unit.
  • The ultimate success?  The ability to hinge in daily life without really thinking about it.

Let me know how it goes!

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