Mastering the Hip Hinge, and Why You Should Do It

TL;DR: 5 drills to get you started on the hip hinge. They could save your back.

If you haven’t read this article, and you can’t tell a hip hinge from a door hinge, chances are you shouldn’t be lifting weights in a gym.

Why? Because, the hip hinge is the movement at the core of countless exercises and drills. Unlike the hip hinge, these are exercises you’ve almost certainly heard of before. Staples like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, good mornings, barbell cleans and barbell snatches. In fact, safely moving any heavy object, be it a barbell or a baby, involves a good hip hinge done with proper form.

So what does a hip hinge with proper form look like? Luckily, the clue is in the name: it literally looks like you are hinge-ing at the hips. This means sticking your butt out as if someone is pulling down on your tailbone, or as if you’re trying to close a door with your butt. Simple analogies like these are all easier said than done, so I’ve prepared a set of drills below to help you build the muscle memory you need to get hinge-ing right.

Because once you’ve got your hip hinge nailed, you’ll notice how this simple movement takes tons of pressure of your lower back. And as we all know, reducing strain on your back is crucial for lowering your risk of injury- especially when weights are involved.

So if you want to avoid tweaking your back when carrying your baby or lifting in the gym make sure that you get familiar the hip-hinge.

Drill #1: Use a Dowel to Keep Your Spine Neutral

The objective of this drill is to prevent your spine from collapsing in or from bowing outwards while you hinge. When hinge-ing you should keep your back straight, so that you don’t stress your lumbar spine.

To perform the drill:

  1. Find a dowel long enough to reach from your head to your tailbone. I find a thin PVC pipe from a hardware store works really well for this.

  2. Hold the dowel against your back, and make sure that it’s in contact with:
    1. The back of your head
    2. Your upper back
    3. The base of your spine

  3. Set up with your feet shoulder width apart and with your toes pointed slightly outwards

  4. Sit back, and make sure that the dowel remains in contact with all these three points

  5. Keep repeating until you can do this consistently.

If you’re having trouble keeping the dowel in contact with all three points, it might be because you are looking up and hyperextending your neck. If this is the case, try the exercise again, but with your chin tucked in slightly. This will keep your head in line with your spine throughout the drill.

Drill #2: Use a Bench to Ensure Your Knees are Bent Slightly

Some of us tend to lock out and hyperextend our knees when we push our butts behind us. ‘Glueing’ your shins to the side of the bench ensures that you can’t do this, because straightening your legs will pull them away from the bench.

To perform the drill:

  1. Find a bench (or chair)
  1. Set up by facing the bench with your feet at shoulder width and with your shins in contact with the side of the bench

  2. Sit back, and make sure that your shins do not leave the side of the bench

  3. Keep repeating until you can do this consistently

That said, you don’t want to bend your legs too much… which is where the next bench drill comes in.

Drill #3: Use a Bench to Stop Excess Knee Bending

At the beginning, it’s easy to confuse a hip hinge with a squat. Sometimes we put too much focus on bending the knees rather than hinge-ing at the hip. Setting up with the bench behind us is a good way of reminding us of our leg position, so that we can concentrate on keeping our shins vertical with our knees just slightly bent.

To perform the drill:

  1. Find a bench (or chair)
  1. Set up by facing away from the bench with your feet at shoulder width and with the backs of your calves in contact with the side of the bench

  2. Sit back, and make sure that your knees do not shoot forward and your calves do not leave the side of the bench

  3. Keep repeating until you can do this consistently

Drill #4: Use a Wall as a Target for Your Butt

Remember that analogy at the beginning of the article about closing a door with your butt? Well, this is a great drill to simulate that. Trying to hit something with your butt can be a great cue to get you to stick it out and initiate a hinge in your hips.

To perform the drill:

  1. Find a wall

  2. Set up by facing away from the wall with your feet at shoulder width and your toes pointed slightly outwards. If you’re just learning the hip hinge, begin with your body around 3 inches from the wall

  3. Sit back and try to touch the wall with your butt. Make sure that it’s just your butt that’s in contact and you are sitting back instead of leaning back into the wall
  1. Repeat until you can do this consistently

  2. Once happy, move about another inch away and repeat until you can do this consistently

  3. Finally, try again at 5 inches from the wall until you can hit the wall consistently with just your butt

Drill #5: Use a Resistance Band to Get Your Muscles Firing

This drill is a good way of activating your glutes while performing the hip hinge.

To perform the drill:

  1. Attach a long resistance band to a bench
  1. Set up by stepping into the band, and then placing this just in front of your hips

  2. Move away from the bench to build up a bit of tension, and stand with your feet shoulder width apart with toes pointed slightly outwards

  3. Sit back

  4. Return to your starting position by push against the band with your hips and then engaging your glutes at the top of the movement

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