Have you ever bent over to pick something off the ground? Placed a baby in a crib? Performed an acceleration movement in a sport? If so, you have performed what is a called a “hip hinge.” This movement pattern is seen constantly in both sport and everyday life; however, there are several common faults that, if done continuously, can result in low back pain/injury.
Essentially, a hip hinge is exactly what is sounds like. Commonly confused with a squat (where the movement is primarily through your knee joint), the hip hinge allows movement (flexion and extension) through the hip joint. This motion activates your “posterior chain,” which includes many of the the muscles in the back of the body (your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back).
So why is this important? In a society that heavily relies on the squat for their lower body exercise, the posterior chain is often times neglected. Squats are great for working the quadriceps/glutes and simulating certain daily movements, but ideally they should be paired with a hip hinge movement to prevent any muscular imbalances. Ever heard the expression “quad dominant”? That is most likely from over-squatting and under-hinging. Moral of the story? Don’t forget about the hamstrings!
Performing the hip hinge in the gym/PT setting can also teach people how to move properly in real life. Here are a few keys when performing this movement:
- Always keep a flat back: it is almost instinctive for us to round our back when we bend over, but fight this instinct! Pull your shoulders back and tighten your core. This will help protect your spine and prevent any unnecessary injury
- Keep a “neutral spine”: a lot of us have a habit of always keeping our head up. However, when we are bent at our hips and our head is up, our neck is “cranked” and not in line with the rest of our spine. Make sure your head follows your shoulders!
- Keep a “soft” bend in your knees: a soft bend just means a slight bend, but you still want all the movement to be at your hip joint (not the knee)
- Stand up all the way: as you push your hips forward, squeeze your butt at the top to ensure you are getting the full range of motion, BUT make sure you do not arch your back!
- Keep the weight close to your body: as you stand up, think of guiding the weight up your body. This will prevent any unnecessary stress on your low back!
Ironically, a barrier that some people face when performing this movement is fear of injury; however, performing this movement often, well, and in the proper progression can actually help prevent that same injury you fear. Hip hinging can help strengthen your lower back and the muscles surrounding, teach you how to stabilize your core and protect your spine, and give you the confidence to move well. Before hopping directly into a dead lift, there are several progressive exercises you can do with a Physical Therapist and/or Trainer to help put you in the correct position and wake up a few muscles that may have been asleep:
- Glute bridges (double or single legged)
- Kneeling hinges
- Standing hinges
- Cable or resistance band pullthroughs
- Kettlebell swings
- Barbell Romanian Dead Lifts (RDLs)
- Barbell Dead Lifts (with proper modifications)
Interested in learning more and putting this into action? Visit our website at www.anchorfitnessandwellness.com to try out one of our group classes or start with a personal trainer!
Movement is medicine, people!
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS