The Hip Hinge

What do bridges and your hips have in common?

Yes, I am talking about the kind of bridge that connects two parts of town. What would be your guess?

From a structural standpoint, the hips need to be able to bear heavy loads. Whether it’s carrying a child, going for a world-record deadlift, or simply moving your body through space, the hips and surrounding musculature need to be able to handle those loads; just like a bridge needs to be able to handle all of those vehicles that drive over them on a daily basis.

What makes a bridge strong? The same thing that makes your hips strong: Arches. If you look at the hips right-side up, upside down, and sideways, you’ll notice there are arches on top of arches on top of arches.

If you throw in the fact that the largest muscles of the body surround the hips: the hip flexors, quads, glutes, hamstrings, etc., you’ll begin to understand just how much you’re capable of loading through your hips. If you’re going to lift things up and put them down, you should be moving through your hips. This applies to anything that you intend on lifting up or putting down: laundry, children, helping a friend move, or throwing weight around in the gym. Being a trainer, the biggest issue I see is a lack of the ability to hinge well through the hips. Hip hinging is just one of the many patterns we train that we want our clients to transfer into their day-to-day life.

The problem? We live in a society that places too much emphasis on the anterior muscles of the body, which leads to movement compensation. Think about it – what are the most common movements you see in the gym? Quarter squats (all quads), crunches, bench press, and bicep curls. Throw in a society that sits too much and wears shoes that elevate the heels and shift your weight forward, and it’s no wonder we have problems loading the posterior chain. Two things usually happen when compensation occurs while trying to hinge from the hips: you squat down and your quadriceps take the bulk of the load because that’s what they’re used to doing, or you flex at the spine so your back takes the bulk of the load, causing me to duck in angst that one of your discs is going to shoot across the room. I’d like to point out that I’m not saying the quads shouldn’t bear load, but your glutes and your hamstrings need to have a reasonable level of strength compared to your quads, and that’s not the case for almost everyone who walks through the door where I work.

When you begin to learn how to engage the correct muscles and keep your spine safe through movement patterns that require hip hinging, make sure you’re aware of how you’re moving outside of the gym, not just inside the gym with a loaded bar. I’ve included some examples of poor movement patterns that I felt translated into real life, not just your time in the gym.

How are you picking up your water bottle (or keys, or shoes, or that tomato that rolled onto the floor)?

Are you moving through your spine?


Or are you moving through your hips?

How are you picking up a weight to load your bar (or your child, laundry basket, or that big bag of dog food on the bottom shelf at the grocery store)?

Again, are you loading your spine?


Or are you you loading through your hips?

Lastly, how are you moving furniture around the house (or helping a friend of yours move to a new place)?

Are you loading your spine?


Or are you loading your hips?

Now can you see why we teach you the hip hinge? It’s something you’ll integrate into your everyday life. We’ve already established that your hips are strong from a structural and muscular standpoint, but if you’re not in a gym with a good coach or if you’re not on Everyday Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness, you’re probably wondering how you can learn the basics of the hip hinge on your own. With practice, of course.

You begin by finding a target that is waist height, or taller, and stand about 2 feet away from that target. I prefer to use a wall. Stand up tall, keeping your shoulder blades back and down while you keep your glutes and your core slightly engaged. Like this:

From there, the goal is to touch your glutes to the target; in this case, it’s the wall. Warning: You shouldn’t be able to touch the target. If you can, you’re too close to the target. It’ll look something like this:

Notice the spine is not compromised, she can’t touch the wall behind her, and she’s able to shift her weight posteriorly so her hips can learn to bear load. If you have a hard time keeping your spine in neutral with your knees straight, unlock your knees and reach back to your target:

Not only is our model on her way to a perfect deadlift set-up, it’s also what you saw in the pictures above when the other beautiful models were loading through their hips and not their spine. So the next time you’re in the gym doing things like good mornings, deadlifts, or Romanian deadlifts, remember that we’re training the hinge to strengthen the strongest structure and biggest muscles in your body. And so you don’t do something silly outside of the gym, like injure yourself while trying to pick up Kristen Stewart.

Move often. Move smart.

Comments

  1. Sherri says

    I had a hip osteotemy 11 years ago because of congenital hip dysplasia that gave me severe osteoarthritis and bone spurs. I have stage 3 arthritis still, but the pain is manageable most of the time, especially since I’ve been on Paleo. I would love to start crossfit but have been concerned about making the arthritis worse which would mean a replacement. My original doctor told me no squats and no weight-bearing exercise. What are your thoughts on hip hinge-ing and on crossfit in general for someone in my situation? I really need to get moving!

    • says

      My advice would be no. I would suggest something focused on form not intensity. Crossfit measures a rep by its range of motion, and that range may not be appropriate for you for many movements. And the last thing with someone in pain needs is to move through an inappropriate range of motion as quickly as they can.

      • Sarah D says

        I can’t recommend working in the water highly enough for the individual above. Find the gentler classes like Auqua Pilates, deep water conditioning, swimnastics and the like! I have.greatly increased my strength, flexibility, balance and stamina inspite of chronic pain, arthritis, and more. Water’s buoyancy supports and cradles the body, relieving stress on joints major and minor. Further, because water is denser than air, it provides resistance to the body/body part moving through it and of course moving against resistance is how we train and strengthen our bodies. I’m not sure how crossfit works exactly but if no one has developed an aquatic version perhaps it’s time…. Hope this helps. Cheers

  2. says

    I always fuss at my Group X classes b/c they will work so hard to execute the moves I cue with great form, and then when they go to lift their weights from the floor, set them down, or grab their water bottles, their upper backs become these little ski moguls.

    Thanks for being another voice out there reminding folks that movement matters and it’s not all about what happens in the gym!

  3. Trish says

    Hi Jason. Thanks for the terrific post about the Hip Hinge, so informative, with a common-sense approach. Do you have something similar for the “90-90″ squat/lunge? Thanks.

  4. Janet says

    Late comment on hips and paleo though not on exercise. I accidently began a paleo diet from a cookbook that just looked good on the library shelf. A couple of months later, having cooked my way through edition 1 and 2, I was coming down the steps at church on a really cold day, and it hit me: it was winter, it was cold and wet, and I was walking down the steps like a normal person, without hip pain! That was last late November, and I’m still pain-free. It has to be the paleo, and more specifically, the dairy free part of paleo, because I’d long ago, several years, given up both sugar and grains in order to be skinny, in case that helped the arthritis. But, although losing ten pounds helped my knees, it hadn’t helped the arthritis in my hips. I have been disabled with the hip pain for the last ten years, so severe that I could not walk, it even hurt sitting down. I never got addicted to pain pills but I was sad all the time from the pain. So this is quite a big deal to me! I actually went skiing just before Christmas! So fun! Thanks all paleo people for the good this diet can do people!

    • says

      That’s awesome to hear!

      On EPLifeFit, we’ve heard many stories like this. The one that stands out in my mind right now is someone clearing up some carpal tunnel symptoms by removing eggs from their diet. You just never know what could be inflaming the hips (or wrist, in this case).

      Congrats and keep up the good fight!

  5. says

    Thanks for this article. Leaving the neck/head relationship completely out of the equation is never a good idea. You can even sense the neck strain in the pictures. The Alexander Technique always keeps in mind the entire person, even when the focus is the hip joints, or any other body part.

  6. says

    Regarding the end of the article when showing how to hinge. It is so much easier and safer to find the hip hinge from a seated position. Sit forward in your chair, separate your legs, knees over ankles – release your waist behind you and bring it forward to straight up. Tilt forward and up moving only in the hips and you have the essence of the hip hinge.

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