As far as crucial movements go, learning how to hip hinge is at the top for moms. The hip hinge is the movement of breaking at the hips (versus the knees as in a squat) and by training this movement it helps strengthen the posterior chain (learn more about the posterior chain and the best back of body exercises). For moms specifically, it helps create a strong low back when picking up kids.
Why Learn How To Hip Hinge?
While I am a huge advocate for training the glutes muscles, I really believe in having a strong posterior chain as a whole.
Strengthening the back of the body helps:
- make daily tasks easier
- reduce back pain (read more about why your back hurts)
- helps moms pick up kids without injuring themselves
- improves posture
- allows moms to do the things they love (work out, play with kids etc).
And many posterior chain exercises initiate with a hip hinge. This means, if you don't know how to perform this movement, you'll see little benefit to many exercises.
Learning to hip hinge is the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to not injuring yourself while you pick something up.
What Is A Hip Hinge?
Hip hinging is the act of breaking at the hips while maintaining good back posture. So basically, properly bending over and picking things up or swinging something.
Some crucial form points:
- The knees have a slight bend in them
- The upper back needs to remain flat (extended thoracic spine)
- Shoulders are engaged and pulled away from the ears and back on the body
- Neck is neutral
When done correctly, you should feel a stretch in the back of the legs (hamstrings). The reason I love this exercise is that if you don't feel that stretch you're in the wrong position.
This exercise gives you instant feedback. If you don't feel it immediately, your form is off.
When done properly, the hip hinge targets almost every single muscle on the back of the body. From your calves to your upper back.
Hinging is the key element in training your glutes and hamstrings (read more about why you need strong glutes) and is just as crucial for mamas each and every day as it is when you're lifting heavyweights. Below is a video of the hip hinge as well as four other exercises important for moms.
The Biggest Struggles With The Hip Hinge Pattern
There are two main areas in which form breaks down when learning how to hip hinge. Unfortunately, both of these breakdowns can cause the movement to go from beneficial to an injury risk depending on the load.
This is why it is crucial for moms to perfect the movement without weight (or kids) until it becomes second nature.
- The first area where people struggle is they initiate the movement like a squat and start the bend the knees while allowing their bum to move towards the floor. The hip hinge movement should initiate at the hips. You are shifting your weight backwards and not down
- The second issue is the upper back (thoracic spine). When learning how to hip hinge you need to keep the upper back very flat and the back muscles engaged. Many moms naturally allow their back to come into flexion and thus end up looking like a ragdoll (see image below). This puts unnecessary pressure on the low back- which is exactly what we're trying to avoid.
Below are three progressions to learning the hip hinge. These drills start out simple and teach the basics (just how to hip hinge) and then scale up to using the hip hinge in a workout.
Until you truly master the technique of hinging from the hips, no external load should be given. Otherwise, you're at more of a risk to injure the back than help it! Learn, practice, and perfect the basics before jumping into anything intense.
Drill #1 Dowel Hip Hinge
This first drill isn't to get you working hard, it's to teach you how to hip hinge. Standing upright, place a dowel (broom/swiffer/mop) along your back securing it with your hands.
Ensure the dowel has three contact points:
- your tailbone
- your upper back
- the back of your head.
Only when the dowel is touching all three points is your body in the proper position. The trick to this exercise is that the dowel presses into those contact points through the entire movement.
To begin the movement, break at the hips and start to sink backward. Stick your bum out as far back as you can. As you do this, keep a slight bend in your knees but do not flex them further (otherwise you're squatting).
While sinking backward your torso will begin to come towards the floor. As it does, make sure all three contact points stay in touch. If at any time one has come off then you're no longer in the proper position.
Hinge forward until you are almost parallel to the floor or you lose a contact point. You should feel a stretch in the hamstrings. If the dowel is missing a contact point go back and figure out at what point you lost it and work to improve that range.
At the bottom, keeping the weight in the heels reverse the movement thrusting the hips forward (still maintaining a slight bend in the knees) and return to a standing position, still with the contact points intact.
Placing a dowel on the contact points allows you to really see at what point in the movement your form breaks and work to correct it.
Until you can do eight repetitions without losing touch with the dowel do not move on to the next drill. Master the basics first.
Drill #2 Bodyweight Romanian Deadlift
Once you learn how to hip hinge and feel comfortable with the movement, you can move up to using your bodyweight (specifically the placement of the arms) as resistance. Modifying the exercise with your arms provides a bit of different load and challenge to the body as you strive for perfect form.
To begin, stand upright and place your arms palms up on your lower back. This is the easiest variation because the "load" is behind you.
From there perform a hip hinge just as you did with the dowel. Break at the hips, sink the bum backward and bring the torso towards the floor. Pause when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and pull through the heels using the glutes and hamstrings to pull your body back up into an upright position. Repeat for a total of ten repetitions.
After the ten repetitions, you should be feeling warm in the back of the body specifically the hamstrings.
- try with your fingertips touching your ears (hands by your head which shifts your weight forward)
- Cross your arms over your chest (again a forward shift in the weight you need to control)
When you can perform 2 sets with the hardest variation you are ready for the full exercise.
Drill #3 Weighted Romanian Deadlift
The romanian deadlift is a staple in many training programs because it is just that effective in targeting, improving, and strengthening the posterior chain.
This movement can be done with dumbbells, resistance bands, barbells etc.
Grab one or two dumbbells. Hold the weight in front of you against your legs. Slowly begin your hip hinge pausing when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
Your shoulders should be pulled back and engaged.
At this point your torso should be near or parallel to the floor, the knees bent ever so slightly and the weight still close to your legs. Reverse the movement and pull into an upright position.
Perform 2-3 sets of the exercise with 6-10 repetitions depending on your goals.
Tip: keep the weight close to your body. Allowing it to swing down from your arms causes you to round the upper back and places much more (unwanted) tension on the low back
Exercises That Require A Knowledge Of How To Hip Hinge
As a crucial exercise to prevent low back pain the hip hinge is an important tool in your workout arsenal. It is also the base for many other exercises that target the posterior chain.
These exercises all strengthen the back of the body and utilize the hip hinge movement to do so.
- cable pull through
- standing band hip thrust
- bentover row
- band deadlifts
- kettlebell swing
Don`t forget to pin these 3 drills to learn how to hip hinge!
Learning how to break at the hips is a busy mom staple. Both from training and from a parenting perspective. Using this movement pattern will help prevent back pain, improve posture, and keep you strong enough to play with your kids.