The Hip Hinge: How to Master this Primal Movement Pattern
As children, we once had this incredible ability to flex and contort our bodies into all sorts of crazy shapes.
We were really flexible, like nature intended us to be.
But things changed over time.
Our flexibility kind of got left behind.
As we grew older, some of us began to lose our natural ability to contort. Partly due to age. Partly due to toxic lifestyle factors.
And our inability to execute these basic – err primal – movement patterns has opened us up to a wide array of potential problems.
Problems we are to avoid if our goal is to build a better body.
So today I want to talk about one specific primal movement pattern.
The hip hinge.
Let’s first start by understanding what exactly a primal movement pattern is…
A primal movement is one that we are physiologically designed to be able to execute with ease.
It’s a movement that is efficient. Raw in nature. Effortless.
A primal movement requires excellent mobility of the joints and great flexibility of the muscles surrounding those joints.
Due to the toxicity of our environment and the steady stream of sedentary lifestyle factors, we have slowly lost our ability to execute these basic movement patterns. We’ve become tight all over and our bodies have turned from fluid beings into stiff boards.
And this is a pretty big problem. One that, if left unfixed, can lead to all sorts of injuries.
The Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is an essential primal movement pattern.
It’s a movement pattern that is necessary for many popular exercises like the deadlift and goodmornings. It is also the fundamental movement pattern that drives nearly all Olympic lifts and kettlebell exercises.
The hip hinge requires excellent mobility in the hip joint and good flexibility in the muscles that make up your hip flexors and hip extensors.
Unfortunately, many of us have lost both the mobility and flexibility that is required to pull off this primal movement. We’ve lost the flexibility in our hamstrings, our glutes, and our hip flexors that we once had.
If you work a desk job or are a student, you more than likely sit for long periods at a time. Extensive sitting has resulted in shortened hip flexors, weak hamstrings and glutes, and poor postural habits.
To further the problem, poor isolation-style training strategies have helped perpetuate the imbalances in the body and general lack of activity has also played its part.
What I’ve found is that many people like to jump into kettlebell training or deadlifting without first learning how to properly do the hip hinge. If you can’t hinge at the hips properly, then you’ll often compensate by rounding your back, which can set you up for some serious injuries. This is why I always recommend people learn how to perform a proper hip hinge before jumping head first into these dynamic styles of training.
So let’s begin with the movement itself.
How do you execute the hip hinge correctly?
How to Execute a Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is a simple movement.
Begin by standing tall and straight, your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly facing out. Keep your chest up, shoulder blades retracted, and head up and facing forward.
I like to use my hands to initiate the movement.
With your palms facing up, gently press on the crease of your hip flexors and allow your hips to fall back.
All of your weight should be on your heels.
Your knees will bend very slightly; nothing too excessive. Keep them steady as you focus on moving those hips backwards in a horizontal line. Focus on pushing your butt back as far as you can while maintaining a neutral spine.
Maintain these mechanics throughout the entire movement and bring your chest down as low as it will go (almost horizontal). Avoid rounding your back at any point.
Here’s a little video I created that shows what a proper hip hinge looks like.
As you go through the movement, you’ll quickly realize if you have any inefficiencies or imbalances around the hip area.
For instance, tight hamstrings and glutes will prevent you from sitting back fully. Tight hip flexors will make it difficult to keep your chest up throughout the movement and will force you to round your back.
Improve your Hip Hinge
Being able to identify your problem areas is very important.
Once you do identify them, you can use a number of drills and stretches to reverse these effects and regain your ability to execute this movement pattern.
Hip hinge against the wall
As outlined in the video above, this is an excellent drill to help you progressively increase your range of motion in the hips.
Stand a few inches away from a wall, facing away from it. Initiate the hip hinge with your hands by pressing at the crease of the hip flexors and push your butt back until it touches the wall.
Perform this drill in sets of 15 to 20.
Once you feel comfortable with that range of motion, step a little further away from the wall. Once again, initiate the movement with your hands and push your butt back until it touches the ground.
Ensure you are using proper hip hinge mechanics and continue progressing further away from the wall until you no longer need it.
Hip flexor, hamstring, and glute stretches
If you are unable to bring your chest down low, you more than likely have tight hamstrings or glutes (or a combination of the two). If you find that you are rounding your back a lot, it might be because you have tight hip flexors.
You need to stretch these areas regularly.
Commit yourself to daily stretching routine to improve your flexibility in these areas.
You can find some useful static stretches here.
Fight the effects of sitting
I’ve talked a lot about the debilitating effects of prolonged sitting.
On average, we spend anywhere from nine to 15 hours in a seated position, which wreaks havoc on our posterior chain. It causes our hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back to get tight.
And this makes the hip hinge very difficult to execute.
It’s hard to fight these effects with just a single hour of (effective) training.
This is why, if you sit a lot, I recommend you incorporate micro-breaks into your daily routine. Get off your chair often. Move around. Engage your posterior chain as much as you can throughout the day. Incorporate some stretches.
Do whatever it takes to bring some life back into the body after a long period of sitting.
Your ability (or inability) to perform a hip hinge says a lot about your health and your physiology.
If you are unable to execute this primal movement pattern with ease, use the drills and exercises listed to regain that necessary flexibility and range of motion. Stay away from kettlebells or barbells if you struggle with the basic movement.
Learning how to hinge at the hips properly and efficiently will minimize your potential for injury and will improve your performance both in the gym and in life.
Questions and comments are welcome in the comment section below.
If you think this post might be of value to someone, please do me a favor and share it. It’s important that we all know how to execute the hip hinge properly!