Primary muscle groups: Glutes (butt), quads (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs), adductor magnus (inner thighs), spinal erectors (low back).
The hinge is the necessary action for many lifts and movements.
It’s the foundation of the deadlift, which is just a weighted hinge. It allows us to touch our toes, to reach, to pick things up, to push, to pull, to swing, the list goes on.
In it’s most basic form, the hinge is a fold at the hips which creates a counterbalance between our backside and our head/shoulders. The deadlift is a very effective movement that can improve strength and power, especially in your posterior chain and core.
AND it can even improve grip strength.
Want to test your center of gravity?
Stand against a wall with your heels and butt touching the wall and try to bend down to touch your toes with a flat back. You’ll likely either fall over or be forced to shift your weight to your toes and round your back in order to preserve your center. Now, step away from the wall and try to touch your toes (hint – shift your booty back).
Even if you don’t have the flexibility to reach your toes, you should feel stable with your feet planted firmly and ability to reach further.
You just completed a hip hinge!
There are several amazing exercises that involve the hip hinge.
We will start with an unloaded version, work up to a KB (kettlebell) deadlift, and lastly to a KB swing. Quick note for all movements – rather than watch yourself in a mirror, try recording yourself or have a knowledgeable person watch you to keep safe the integrity of your body’s alignment.
There are many moving parts to a deadlift so before adding weight it’s a good idea to make sure you’re performing the hinge correctly.
There are two ways that I like to practice my hinge or even to just warm up before a heavy deadlift.
1. Use a stick
The goal is a neutral spine, meaning, keeping a straight line from tailbone to head. Using a stick is a great way to maintain a neutral spine until you understand the movement and can do it unassisted.
a. Hold a stick, PVC pipe, broomstick (whatever you’ve got!) behind you with one hand gripping palm-forward above your head. The other hand grips palm-back at lower back level. The stick should make contact with your sacrum (low back), upper back, and back of your head.
b. Keeping all 3 points in contact with the stick, and your feet about shoulder-width, practice folding at the hip. Your knees can remain in a slightly bent position or you can keep legs straight (but not locked at knees) for a bit more of a stretch.
2. Use a band
Once you’re aware of your spine, try practicing your hinge with a band around your hips.
a. Find something stable to anchor your band to (a squat rack or other heavy/immobile piece of equipment)
b. Step into the band and place it near hip height. Note – you probably don’t want it right at the crease of your hip so slightly above or below should be more comfortable.
c. With feet about hip width, step away from the anchor point until you feel such resistance that you are forced to hinge.
d. Resist the band by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips and knees at the same time to stand up straight.
e. Shift hips back, bend at the knees, allow the band to pull you into a hinge. Keep your spine neutral/straight and practice keeping gaze neutral (do not tuck your chin to your chest or look straight up).
Can also be performed with a set of dumbbells.
1. The setup
a. If your mobility allows, you’ll be picking the KB up off the floor. If you need to bring it closer to you until you’re able to get more range, you can place weight plates under the KB.
b. Feet are between hip and shoulder distance with toes pointing forward.
c. The KB should be between your feet and in line with the middle of your foot.
2. The preparation
a. Grab the KB handle with both hands, knuckles forward. Your knees and hips will bend as your chest comes forward while letting your hips move back.
Remember to keep a neutral spine and neutral gaze.
b. Keep your chest open by lifting through the sternum and slightly pulling shoulders blades together behind you. This will engage your lats and protect your shoulders.
c. Your arms remain straight, with strong grip, and elbows just inside your knees.
3. The Lift
Keeping a neutral spine and gaze with lats engaged, squeeze your glutes and straighten your legs, pushing hips forward so knees and hips are stacked at the top of the lift.
What’s the difference between a strict deadlift and a Romanian deadlift?
In the Romanian deadlift, your legs are fairly straight with only a soft bend in the knees. This takes some load off of the quads and puts more emphasis on the hamstrings by lengthening the muscles and requiring greater contraction.
1. The Set Up
Your starting position is just like the KB deadlift’s, however the KB will be about 6 inches in front of your feet.
You may want a heavier KB than you used in your deadlift.
2. The Preparation
When you grab the KB handle, your elbows will be in front of your knees, requiring even more engagement of your lats. Secure your grip and move your hips back.
3. The Swing
The swing is much more dynamic than a deadlift.
Rather than simply lifting the weight and keeping it close to your body, the purpose is to generate enough thrust from your hips to swing the weight up to shoulder height. You’ll then guide the weight back down, past your starting position and allowing the weight to swing down under your hips.
In order to generate this thrust, squeeze your glutes and extend your hips quickly. Your arms will stay straight. Allow them to GUIDE the weight, not to lift it. Depending on how heavy the KB is, you may not get it to shoulder height and that is ok!
At the top of the swing, your shoulders, hips and knees should be in a straight line and your body tense – like a standing plank and at the bottom of the swing, you should be in a full hinge – hips pushed back, knees bent, neutral spine, lats engaged.
Here is a sample workout with two hinge variations.
Reps: 10-12 each
• Dumbbell lateral raise (start arms down at sides, raise up to “T”)
• KB deadlift (new move!)
• Straight leg sit up (lay down, legs straight, use core to sit up and reach toward feet)
– 2 min rest –
Reps: 8-10 each
• Dumbbell overhead press (start at shoulders, press up to straight arms)
• KB swing (new move!)
• Burpees (squat hands to floor, plank, push up, hop to squat, stand up)