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