Unlocking a true pain-free hinge that empowers you to live a stronger, more resilient and exciting life should be on everyone’s goals. Why? Because it’s one of the daily movements we do the most, but often do it poorly, which is causing the greater population to live with lower back pain.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE HIP HINGE AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Simply put, the hinge is a fundamental lower body movement that is hip dominant with minimal knee bend. It is a movement that we frequently do EVERYDAY. From picking up items from the ground to putting our shoes on, it’s something we are constantly required to do. One of the biggest problems we are facing is that our society has forgotten how to hinge. And this lack of awareness is one of the main reasons why so many people have lower back pain.
We are spending more time than ever deteriorating by sitting down at our desks with terrible posture and poor breathing patterns, or even worse, dumped over on our living room couch watching hours of Netflix. This excessive sitting is resulting in weak glutes and hamstrings which is also feeding into the whole problem.
It would be impossible to tell you how MANY times a day I have to hinge or bend over to do something. And what’s more important than the number of times a day we hinge, is HOW we actually bend over or hinge to do our daily activities.
Simply put, most people don’t move with INTENTION. And when this happens, we lose the alignment of our body which typically results in pain or injuries. We have conditioned ourselves to be lazy and thoughtless with our daily movement. The compounded effect of all this is a prescription for the lumbar spine to die a slow death while most blindly check it off as a symptom of aging.
THE MOST EMPOWERING MOVEMENT PATTERN
Regardless of what chapter in life you or your clients are in, developing this foundational movement pattern is one of the keys to bulletproofing yourself for overall better movement quality, exercise performance, and mitigating lower back pain. Guiding a client to hip hinge heaven can open up an entirely new window of opportunity for a higher quality life for just about every living, breathing human.
TRAINING THE HINGE PATTERN THROUGH DIFFERENT INTENSITITIES (VOLUME)
VARYING TEMPO (POSITIONAL CONTROL)
NOVEL COMPLEXITY (POINTS OF CONTACT)
DIFFERENT MODALITIES (EQUIPMENT SELECTION)
Will progress you one step at a time to ultimately earning your way through the hinge pyramid. Based on your specific goals, injury history, abilities and body type will be a game changer for the way you start to approach building the hip hinge pattern.
Let’s see if this story resonates with any of you.
I have a client that was legitimately afraid to leave the house because everything she did resulted in back pain. Getting dressed, walking, getting in the car, gardening, biking, dancing and just about everything was followed by excruciating pain. The “I need to see a chiropractor NOW” level pain.
Which is funny (not really) because she was referred to me by a local chiropractor and the first sentence in his email was “Hey Luis, I have a patient I would like to send to your way in a few weeks (currently suffering from debilitating back pain) – also one of my top two most likeable patients of all time! She is an amazing lady and wants to get strong!”.
He wasn’t lying. She’s hands down the sweetest lady on planet earth.
Educating her on the hinge pattern and how it comes into play in her everyday life was revolutionary for her and transformational for me!
Helping her build a bulletproof hinge in her late 60’s after she had given up on herself has been one of the most rewarding transformations of my professional career. Her previous life of dancing, baking and gardening was taken from her due to the amount of lower back pain she experienced everyday.
One of her dreams was “cycling Spain’s Camino de Santiago with her sweetheart”, which she believed was an impossible feat, but after relearning how to properly execute the foundational movement patterns, and getting her out of pain using the Pain-Free performance system, that dream of hers is now a plan of hers. She is the reason I believe the hip hinge movement pattern has one of the greatest return on time investment. She went from barely being able to walk, to setting PR’s with the trap bar deadlift.
Okay, back to the content.
Now, the goal shouldn’t necessarily be to barbell deadlift, but to learn to balance our egos and our ability while always keeping in mind the risk vs reward of our training decisions. Let’s identify what the risk vs reward is for you so that you can begin to manipulate some of the variables in your programming in order for you to begin to explore the feel and function of some of the adjustments you can make to train smarter and harder.
POLARIZING OPINIONS OF THE DEADLIFT
First and the more popular school of thought, is deadlifts break backs.
This has created a real fear amongst the active and inactive population. “Deadlifts… No way!! Deadlifts kill my lower back” and unfortunately, I’m sure everyone knows someone who has injured their discs while deadlifting. Ouch!
The second opinion is that everyone needs to deadlift with a barbell…
and it must be from the ground or it doesn’t count (SHAME ON YOU FOR DISRUPTING THE WISHES OF THE GYM GODS!).
I routinely see poorly executed deadlifts where it is very evident that the athlete/client has selected a hinge variation they’re not quite ready to perform because they have not yet earned the right to execute it with loads that are too aggressive. This combination usually leads to average results with the “no pain, no gain” motto becoming the popular slogan or even worse, experiencing a training related injury which places you into the “deadlifts kill my lower back” headspace.
The truth is that deadlifts don’t break backs, when done correctly, deadlifts will actually build them. The bulged disc you got from deadlifting wasn’t just because of the deadlift, it was the build up and combined stress of poor movement execution and the lack of awareness for YEARS which most likely led to the injury. The spine is very strong and resilient but the body, just like anything can only handle so much abuse before it starts to fall apart.
The truth is that the deadlift pattern belongs in every single type of program. It’s about selecting the appropriate variation and making a rational training decision based on performance and not ego. Lets scale things back for a second, and reconstruct the hinge so you can start reaping the benefits of a pain-free hinge.
Cleaning up this high performance lift begins by getting in a quality 6-Phase Dynamic Warm Up. Ramping up and getting the body firing and wiring efficiently is going to make a world of difference in your training. Implementing a strategic warm up immediately improves the risk vs reward of that particular session. Not to mention the compounded effect of what a well structured warm up will do for you. Listen, if you can’t focus on hammering out an 8-12 minute warm up, then how do you think you are going to perform on the platform under heavy loads? Because in my opinion, the risk outweighs the reward if you are loading a poor movement pattern.
The break down of 6-phase and a walk through each phase.
REBUILDING THE HINGE THROUGH FOUNDATIONAL PATTERNS
Squat vs hinge. Teach difference so deadlift is easier to perform.
(Squat: hips go back and down, with knees traveling forward. Bottom of squat hips are ideally below knees and shins at a forward angle. Hinge: hips travel straight back and knees flex but without traveling forward, keeping a more vertical shin. Angle of hips above knees and below shoulders.)
Standard hinge back test and bodyweight hinge patterning. Drill this until it becomes second nature. Some may get it after a couple reps while others may not. ESTABLISH PULLING HEIGHT.
As a coach, phase 5 is your best opportunity to get the client or yourself in the best possible position to execute the select hip hinge variation of the day. The set up is an often butchered part of a lift because of neglecting the pattern development in the warm up.
Teach how to organize the pillar and what that feels like at the top in lockout position. Then go over the bottom (power stance, break at knees, push back, big foot) and really ingrain both positions. Put it together with some tactile feedback and reaffirmation of cues/reminders that stay consistent with a pain free pull.
I’m going to deep dive into some of the adjustments you can make, so you and/or your client can train the hinge correctly, effectively and uniquely to you.
HIP HINGE MOVES
6 hinge variations to unlock and master the hip hinge while on your way to deadlifting with a straight bar. In my opinions there is no benefit to adding load to the hinge pattern without a strong understanding of the following movements. These movements will teach you how to hinge by placing a strong emphasis on pillar integrity.
*VARIATION 1: ANTERIOR LOADED HINGE
I love this simple but effective posterior chain movement. Lets minimize stress to the spine and lower back while building strength in the hamstring and glutes. This movement greases the groove of the hinge nicely while giving clients a good mind muscle connection. The front loading really helps lock in a solid pillar position. This movement is a solid choice to prime the hamstrings and glutes early in a session before a bigger hinge movement, it can also be used as a finisher in the 20+ rep range.
*VARIATION 2: BAND/CABLE PULL THROUGH
The pull through build’s a show and go booty while honing the hip hinge movement pattern. The pull through is a staple primer movement we use on hinge emphasis training days. The pull through is a versatile movements than can be used as a power primer with a more explosive/power intent in 3-5 rep range. It can also be used in a strength and hypertrophy scheme. When loading for strength, shoot for 6-8 reps with heavier loads. When loading for hypertrophy, lets chance a nasty pump in the higher rep ranges think 15-20+. If you would like to learn more about which variation you should be using and how to program this into your training
*VARIATION 3: DB/KB RDL
The RDL is one of the most effective ways to develop the hip hinge movement pattern. Training this movement in a top down approach is extremely effective for not only building muscle through the glutes and hamstrings but also strengthening our ability to generate tension and stability throughout the pillar complex while monitoring range of motion. The dumbbell RDL thrives in the 8-12 rep range, focus on accentuating the eccentric part of the movement by going slow and controlled creating maximal tension in the hamstrings. The ways to load the RDL are endless but start with dumbbells as they tend to usually allow for less restrictive movement check out the article below to see 30 different ways to load and execute this staple movement that we train at a minimum 2x/week.
*VARIATION 4: KB DEADLIFT
Perfecting the hinge pattern with a kettlebell is one of the most bang for your buck return on time investment skills you should master. Deadlifting with a single kettlebell keeps the load under your body’s center of mass really helps keep you in a pain free pulling position. The kb deadlift also really allows you to practice the ability to create and keep tension and torque through the shoulders keeping the pillar complex intact. Master the kettlebell deadlift as you ascend up the pyramid of hip hinge greatness. The kettlebell deadlift works well in the 8-10 rep range with a focus on strength either as a KPI or secondary strength movement, you can also use it later in the session in a higher rep.
*VARIATION 5: TRAP BAR DEADLIFT
One exercise to rule them all! The trap/hex bar deadlift is my favorite movement for building a strong and powerful posterior chain. The trap/hex bar deadlift checks the box for a lot of clients because of the higher handles which makes for a stronger more stable pulling position. The way the load is beautifully centered directly underneath your base of support makes this movement a pain free performance specialist favorite. The Trap/Hex bar deadlift can be done in the strength schemes of 1-8 reps or in the hypertrophy schemex of 8-15.
Learn more about the trap/hex bar and how to execute it correctly
*VARIATION 6: BARBELL RACK PULL
The Rack Pull is an intelligent pain free variation that gives you the benefits of the deadlift without the back pain. Most people aren’t built to pull from the ground, identify the optimal pulling height and let the gains begin! This movement is typically performed in the strength schemes of 1-8 reps.
*BONUS VIDEOS: POSTERIOR CHAIN SUPPLEMENTAL EXERCISES
Attacking the posterior chain with tons of pain free volume and novelty is non negotiable. Not only does it contribute to growth on the backside of the body but these tried and true battle tested movements will also drive your numbers on the big lifts up.
If you’re already crushing it and looking to take your hinge to another level, give these 3 bad ass show and go variations a try.
HIP HINGE DOMINATION VIDEOS
*Variation 1: Supercharge the hip hinge pattern by using some reverse banding. Improve starting strength and bottom range of motion sticking points with the reverse band method. “How To Use The Lightning Band aka Reverse Band Method”
*Variation 2: If you want to build superhero strength and a bad ass lockout one of the best trap/hex bar modifications you can make is adding accommodating resistance in the form of bands or chains.
*Variation 3: The Trap/Hex bar is a very versatile tool that can be used many ways but a unique variation that has a ton of benefits is the longitudinal way, rotate your body 90 degrees and use the side bars for handles. Using the trap/hex bar from this position makes the bar want to shake, twist, tilt and rotate all over the place. This instability forces you to dial up pillar stability and use perfect technique.
*Variation 4: Dumbbell RDL + Deadlift Combo is a great way to dominate pillar through the squat-hinge movement spectrum. This variation allows you to get the benefits and feel of a more hip dominant RDL and allows you to transition to a more knee dominant position for the concentric portion of the lift.
No matter where you are currently on your fitness journey mastering the hip hinge is essential to the longevity of your training career and earning the right to pick heavy shit up is a non negotiable. Availability is the best ability, the numbers don’t lie in ego lifting and the dogma of deadlifting from the ground will leave you burnt out and beat up. Real performance is about making the goal and using the tools & methods that intelligently fit the body and current ability in front of you regardless if you are working with a client or looking in the mirror. At the end of the day training must fuel your life cycle and we need to be open minded enough to know every tool and technique has its place.