“My lower back hurts.”
How often have you heard someone say that? I’d guess a lot of the time.
I would estimate that 95% of this could be fixed if people learned how to move their hips the right way.
The Hip Hinge is Everywhere
A simple task such as bending down to get your groceries involves the necessity to hinge at your hips. Although this is the desired pattern of movement we want, it isn’t quite always what we get.
If we were to take a poll and ask 10 people what should move first when they were to sit down in a chair, I can guarantee you that we would get 9 people saying that the knees should bend first. That’s wrong.
I think this is very important to note, not because of the misguided and miseducated notion on what should bend first, but more along the lines of people simply not having enough awareness of their body. That’s a monumental gap missing in today’s society. People just simply don’t know how their body should move.
We need to fix that.
I think a great start would be learning the hip hinge pattern first, since it’s one of the most visited movements in life, regardless of age, activity level and lifestyle.
When you’re about to sit down in a chair, think of your hips as the drivers and your knees as the passengers: your hips initiate the movement and act as the primary movers here, while your knees act as the secondary movers in the movement and come along for the ride.
Although sitting down in a chair is a start, we can also see the hip hinge in many other aspects in life. The hinge occurs in plenty of daily life activities (i.e., bending down to garden the flowers, bending down to pick up your child, etc.) and also quite often in the gym and performance setting (i.e., broad jump, box jump, deadlift, squat, etc.).
The important fact is that being able to properly hinge at your hips is vital not only to your performance levels, but also in staying injury-free and maintaining long-term health of your spine and major surrounding joints.
Before you go pulling away at a super heavy set of deadlifts at your local gym after getting “lift-happy” from reading the newest subscription from Men’s Health Magazine and what the newest ‘fad’ is, take a moment to stop and learn.
It doesn’t make any sense, nor does it do your body any good to add external resistance to a moving part that cannot and does not function properly.
There’s a progression line that needs to be adhered to if you’re going to be successful in any movement in life, and not just necessarily at the gym.
Learning a movement in its most basic format is superior to every other step along the way. If you haven’t learned the basics first, then you’re simply not ready to graduate to the next step. It’s imperative for you to familiarize yourself with the position and the pattern first and foremost.
Practice makes perfect. You need to spend enough quality time going through the movement pattern and practicing it on a daily basis. This will give you the ability to have that movement pattern and organization of sequences ingrained in your brain and central nervous system. The central nervous system needs that fine-tuning if you are to be successful at the chosen movement. That’s the key here.
Next, you need to practice the pattern to the point where you have mastered the movement. This is where the tide turns.
The fourth step along the progression line is where you add external resistance. Read that again: the fourth step. However, from my experience and general outlook, I tend to see quite a bit of folks starting here, which doesn’t do the individual any good. You need to earn the right to add weights to your movements. People overlook this way too much, which is why injuries occur down the stream most of the time.
Do I believe that adding some form of light-to-moderate resistance is necessary in the learn, practice and master steps? Yes, of course. However, it’s much better to use loads of resistance in these steps that allow you to perform the pattern efficiently without any compensatory changes in your movement. The adding step is referring more to the “breaking point” at which you can begin to add some serious weight to your movements, not just for learning purposes, but more for the strength gains you’ll achieve from it.
Once you’ve added weight and have become efficient with the movement under loads of resistance, your job now is to keep learning and to keep practicing to ensure long-term development and efficiency of the pattern.
The Functional Hip
A good hip, one that moves well, has sound mechanics and can bear loads appropriately with proper distribution, will more than likely be a healthy hip that has a long lifespan. Oppositely, a hip that is stripped from any one of these qualities will have a tough time reaching long-term health.
A lot can be said for taking care of your hips properly to ensure long-term health. You can read more on hip health in a previous post I wrote HERE.
The importance of the hip hinge pattern can’t be stressed enough. Not only is the hip hinge functional, it also helps to protect your spine and lighten the load on your knees.
A simple way to learn the most basic hip hinge pattern is to perform the Functional Squat to Table exercise with a pole in hand. Check out the video below to learn the steps involved:
Try this movement pattern out to get the feel of it down. Once you’ve learned it, keep practicing it until you’ve mastered it.
Next, you can try out an exercise I like to refer to as “the best kept secret”: Cable Pull Through. I first stumbled upon this movement back in 2009, when I was chugging along through Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength book.
I really appreciated the fact that it was introduced in phase 1 of the training program, because it allowed me to properly understand the hip hinge pattern. To this day, I haven’t seen anyone perform it in the gym setting, which is pretty unfortunate given how simple and effective it can be.
Lastly, I’d like you to try out the Band-Resisted Hip Hinge exercise, where the primary cue is to “break the band”. No, you’re not literally going to break it, but I want you to think that way. Once you’ve understood the movement here, feel free to add an external load in the form of a kettlebell, a dumbbell or a loaded barbell.
Also, it’s important to avoid excessive lumbar extension (arching at the lower back) during this movement. Instead, once you’re fully upright at the end of the movement, make sure that your glutes have been fully engaged. Let your hips do the work!
Here’s a video containing tips on how to properly set up and perform the two hip hinge movements I just mentioned:
All of these movements should allow you to not only understand what a proper hip hinge should feel like, but also how it should look. Finding the right position that’s comfortable for your hips is important, so run through all of these until you feel ready to move on. Next, hit the gym to implement these patterns in your “hip hinge dominant” exercises (i.e., deadlift, squat, etc.).
It will make a big difference.
Opening Up the Hips
Moving efficiently is extremely important, as mentioned previously. However, it’s not uncommon for some folks to have restricted hips that have a hard time being able to access a full range of motion.
This is where the soft tissue work, mobility drills and movement preparation come into play. Check out the video below for a quick routine:
I hope these tips help you moving forward in your training and in your daily life activities!
This article was written by Matthew Ibrahim:
Hi, my name is Matthew Ibrahim. My passion is helping you move better, feel better and perform better. Working as a Human Movement and Performance Specialist, a Strength and Conditioning Coach and a Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Aide has allowed me to learn about movement in a very unique and dynamic way. Additionally, I am an aspiring Doctor of Physical Therapy student. To learn more about me and ways in which I can help you to bridge the gap between rehabilitation and performance, you can read my free Mobility 101 blog and you can also follow me on: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Feel free to e-mail me directly for any questions at Matthew.Ibrahim001@gmail.com.
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