Perfect your hip hinge with this easy to understand guide! Get tips for working through sticky points and exercises to help you build strength so you can be a hip hinge boss!
Hip Hinge: An Easy to Understand Guide
CONFESSION: It hurts me a little inside anytime I see a hip hinge performed with incorrect form and as a coach, I see it a.lot.
The hip hinge is a basic functional movement that I think everyone should be able to perform, correctly, without pain or compensations. And I’ve successfully coached my ladies on how to perfect their form, so it’s time to share with you!
The goal with this post is to drop of personal trainer knowledge in a way that is easily understandable and give you tips on how to progress your hip hinge, if your form isn’t so pretty.
WHY DO I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO HINGE?!
Do you pick up grocery bags from the ground? Do you want a nice looking backside? Will you ever need to help move furniture or heavy boxes? Do you have kids and do you pick them up off the floor? Do you pick up their toys? Do you want to be a badass?
If you answered yes to any of these questions – and you should answer yes to at least one – then you need to learn how to hip hinge.
HIP HINGE VS. SQUAT
Now, a hip hinge and a squat are both movements that original at the hips. Both work the same muscle groups. However, the hinge is HIP dominant and the squat is KNEE dominant. Check out the photos below. See the difference in torso angle and the level of knee flexion between the two moves?
Think of a squat as sitting down in a chair and think of a hip hinge putting your body into a tabletop position.
MAIN MUSCLE GROUPS
One of my clients always likes to know ‘where she should be feeling it‘ whenever we do a new exercise. I love this question! Where should you be ‘feeling it’ in your hip hinge?
You should feel your lats turn on and support you on the way down.
- Latissiumus Dorsi is responsible for shoulder extension, adduction (moving towards the midline of the body) and internal rotation. This is the giant V shaped muscle that takes up a solid portion of your back and gives it that V shape.
You should feel a braced core (check out all your core musculature) supporting you on the way down.
Your hamstrings will tell you when you’ve lowered enough in your hinge.
- Hamstrings are made up for 4 different muscles, on the back of your legs, that help with knee flexion (knee bending back) and hip extension.
And you should feel it in your glutes as you come out of the movement and you should squeeze them so tight you are trying to turn dolla billz to quarterz.
- Gluteus Minimus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Maximus and the three muscles that make up your booty. Your Glute Med and Min both concentrically accelerate hip abduction (moving away from the midline). The Medius also concentrically accelerates external rotation, along with the Maximus. The Minimus concentrically accelerates internal rotation, while the Maximus accelerates hip extension. Basically, the glutes help our hips and legs move.
This is a posterior chain exercise, so the back side of your body will be working.
KEY PHRASES YOU NEED TO KNOW
I like to use a variety of cues with my clients. Everyone uses and applies them differently. Two of my favorite phrases to use when it comes to a hip hinge (or any hip area exercise!) are:
TURN DOLLA BILLZ TO QUARTERZ || MICHAEL JACKSON IT
You gotta learn how to use those glutes when it comes to hip hinging. Turn Dolla Billz to Quarterz has to do with squeezing your tushy at the top of the movement. Michael Jackson It comes into play when we need to tuck our pelvis. It sounds way cooler than scoop and tuck, right?!
HIP HINGE SETUP BASICS
Standing with feet hip width apart. Screw feet into the ground to ‘turn the glutes on’. Knees should be loose (slight bend), pelvis tucked and core braced (ribs down), shoulders back and down (imagine you are wearing a superhero cape & need it to fly), gaze forward, chin tucked.
Initiate the movement from your hip joint and push hips back. As hips move back, your body angle will decrease. Gaze should remain forward, chin tucked. Stop when you feel tension in your hamstrings – no need to go past 90 degrees. Drive through heels and squeeze butt to stand (dollar bills to quarters). Start and end posture should be the same.
This is the basic setup for a hip hinge. IF YOU CANNOT DO A BASIC HIP HINGE WITH BEAUTIFUL FORM, YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS PICKING UP HEAVY DUMBBELLS OR A BARBELL. Nail down the basic movement pattern and THEN progress!
COMMON FORM ISSUES
Now, please note, you don’t need to use ALL these cues, I just like to keep a variety in my pocket since each client responds differently to each cue. If you aren’t sure if you struggle with one of the areas below, TAKE A VIDEO OR PHOTO! Even as a coach, I take videos of my lifts and certain exercises to make sure my form is on point. And if it’s not, the video literally shows me where I fall short so I know how to fix it.
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH HINGING AT THE HIP:
A lot of times, clients will immediately go to a smidgen of a hinge in the hip and a good amount of flexion in the knee. They are doing a slight cross between a hinge and a squat. Ideally, the knees will be kept loose (not locked) and will move into a slight flexion naturally as you perform the hinge.
- Place your hands horizontally in your hip crease. Press your hands back and move your hips at the same time. Don’t try to bend knees or keep back flat. Just move the hips. Feel the movement. Once you are able to notice the difference between a hip hinge and a squat, we can move on!
- Stand about a foot or so in front of a wall. Try to tap the wall with your booty, initiating the movement from your hips only. Again, avoid trying to bend knees excessively. Knees will naturally bend as you move your hips back. Keep back flat with shoulders back and down (demo below).
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH CERVICAL EXTENSION (AKA, LOOKING UP)
One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is when I see people craning their neck forward to keep looking straight ahead. I’ve been guilty of this, I know. But I am constantly telling clients to ‘tuck your chin’ or ‘ball in your chin’. Looking up / straight on puts your neck into cervical extension, rather than keeping things neutral. We want neutral, girlfriend.
- Tuck your chin. Imagine you have an orange or ball under your chin.
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH A ROUNDED BACK / SHOULDERS:
The biggest form errors I see come from THIS! Shoulders round, back rounds – tension is lost, muscles aren’t activated and we have not very pretty hinges. I’ve shared a few different cues here and you’ll find a variety of different exercises to help strength these muscle groups.
- Place a PVC pipe (or Swiffer) on your back – or have a coach help – while standing upright. As you hinge, the pipe should stay in contact with your entire back.
- Bend elbows and with fingers wide, place thumbs on the front of your shoulders (think: I didn’t do it!!!). Roll shoulders back and down, imagining you are holding and orange under your armpits! Hinge and keep hands same distance apart! They should NOT roll in!
- Oranges (or balls or something round) in your armpits. I got this one from another trainer and I honestly do it nearly every time I do a deadlift. If you are trying to keep oranges under your armpits – without them falling out – as you move your chest toward the ground, it’s going to turn on your lats, which is one of the main muscle groups we need to be working in order to perform this move correctly.
- Place a hand at your belly button (palm up, thumb out) and one at your chest (palm up, thumb out). As you hinge, hands should stay same distance apart. Thumbs should NOT meet. ANOTHER option is to remove hands, but have someone stand in front of you as you hinge. They should be able to see the writing / graphic on your shirt.
- Imagine you have a superhero cape on (Another borrowed cue!). If that Superhero cape is going to fly, you need to stand tall, with your shoulders back and down.
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell behind you and perform your hip. S/O to @achieveboston for this tip!
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH HYPEREXTENSION:
Friends don’t let friends perform a hip hinge that ends in hyperextension of the spine.
- As you move to standing, press through heels and squeeze glutes – like you are trying dollar bills to quarters. That booty should stop you.
- Imagine there is a wall behind you. In addition to engaging your glutes, imagine there is a wall behind you as you move to stand. If you hyperextend, you’ll hit that wall.
EXERCISES TO BUILD STRENGTH
Now that you know the basic setup, as well as possible trouble spots, let’s chat exercises to help build strength in those weak spots so you can be a hip hinge boss.
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH HINGING AT THE HIP:
These are two of my favorite exercises for helping clients understand what a hip hinge feels like. Incorporate one or both of these moves for a few days, or until you feel confident in your hinge (and your form looks good!).
- BUTT TAPS: Stand a foot or so in front of a wall. You might need to play around with foot positioning here to find the best spot. Test out a few and feel the difference. Next, hinge at your hip and aim to tap your butt on the wall behind you. Knees should be loose (not locked out) and shoulders back & down to create a flat back. If your have multiple trouble spots – including shoulder / back rounding, just focus on the hip hinge first.
- PVC HINGE: Hold a PVC pipe or Swiffer at your hip crease, hands about hip width apart. Pull the PVC pipe back as you move your hip back into a hinge. Again, knees loose and back flat. If your have multiple trouble spots – including shoulder / back rounding, just focus on the hip hinge first.
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH A ROUNDED BACK / SHOULDERS:
I love incorporating these moves into my workouts on back days. They are great for building strength and the mind-muscle connection. You could work these moves into your workout in a variety of ways, but if you are looking to fix rounded shoulders / back, I recommend picking 2 – 3 of these moves and doing a mini circuit at the beginning or end of your workout for a week or two. Aim for 12 – 15 reps and focus on controlled movements. Test out you hip hinge each day still and notice the difference!
- SUPERWOMAN ROW: Lay on your belly, with arms and legs stretched out. Actively engage core, glutes, and lower back muscles, as you lift your chest and arms off the ground. Spread arms a little more than shoulder width apart. Pull hands to the outside of your shoulders, as you bend your elbows. Think about bringing shoulder blades into your back pocket – or back and down. At the bottom of the movement, squeeze. This is what your back should feel like during a hip hinge! Squeeze and then return to starting position.
- SUPERWOMAN I DIDN’T DO IT: Same setup as the Superwoman Row, except you will bend your elbows and touch your thumbs to the front of your shoulders – fingers wide. Think: I didn’t do it! From here, engage upper back muscles and think about bringing shoulder blades together, as you lift your elbows. Squeeze and return to start.
- (YOGA) COBRA: Lay face down with hands under shoulders or slightly behind (depending on your range of motion), hugging elbows tight against ribs. Roll shoulders back and down (squeeze) and press up slowly, keeping upper back muscles engaged and elbows tight to body. Only lift as high as your can while maintaining good form. Pause at the top for a couple seconds and release back down.
- T, Y, W: (demo photo here) Lie on belly, with toes curled. Roll shoulders back and down, so shoulder blades are on your back. Keep chin tucked. With shoulder blades on your back, move your arms out into a T shape. Squeeze shoulder blades together, like you have a coin or card in between your shoulder blades, moving arms up and down. This should be a small movement. For the Y, start in the same way, but instead of the T position, move arms up so you look like the letter Y from overhead. Turn thumbs up and move arms up and down slowly, from the shoulder blades. From the shoulder blades, press up and pull down. For the W, move from Y position and pull down from the shoulder blades and bring elbows close to body. You should look like a W from overhead.
- SINGLE ARM PULL DOWNS: (demo photo here) Load the cable machine with desired weight and basic hand attachment (or light resistance pull up band (loop resistance band). Grab the attachment with the outside arm, overhead. With shoulders back and down or core braced, come on to one knee and kneel down – arm holding attachment should be overhead. Engage upper back / shoulder muscles to pull arm down, leading with elbow. Like the lat pull down, imagine shoulder blades traveling into your back pocket.
IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH HYPEREXTENSION:
- PLANKS: (demo photo here) (ELBOW) Come onto your hands and knees. Place forearms on the ground, directly under your shoulders, fingers wide. Reposition, if needed and ensure that hand is fully on the ground (imagine it’s suction cupped to the ground), with fingers wide. Think about the Sphynx. Move from knees to the toes, ensuring toes are curled to provide more support. To ensure core is engaged, I tell people to over exaggerate putting their butt in the air, then scoop and tuck pelvis and core under, then squeeze core, GLUTES, hamstrings and quads. This move requires all muscles be engaged, not just the core.
- STANDING PELVIC TUCKS: Standing with feet hip width apart. Screw feet into the ground to ‘turn the glutes on’. Knees should be loose (slight bend), pelvis tucked and core braced (ribs down), shoulders back and down (imagine you are wearing a superhero cape & need it to fly), gaze forward, chin tucked. Stick your butt out, then Michael Jackson It. Scoop, tuck and squeeze it. Then repeat.
Practice makes progress, girlfriend. So practice often. Once you get down the basic hip hinge, there are so many other hip hinge exercises that can be done. The deadlift variations alone are so exciting! And I’ll be doing a post on exercise progressions soon!
If you have any back or mobility issues, please chat with you doctor / physical therapist / chiropractor before you undertake practicing. Just be safe!
HIP HINGE: LOVE IT OR HATE IT?
DO YOU HAVE ANY TROUBLE SPOTS??
WHAT PROGRESSIONS DO YOU WANT TO SEE?!?