Monday, April 11, 2011

The Hip Hinge: Are You Really Getting Motion Only From Your Hips??

Approximately 80% of people living in the western world will experience low back pain at some point in their lives (Alf 18).  In addition, according to an article on Precision Nutrition, All About Spinal Health, the second most common reason a person sees his or her family doctor is due to low back pain.  These are terrible statistics that need to change, and if you are reading this blog, then you are in a position to help yourself or others out with this.  Whether you are a coach/trainer or just a fitness enthusiast, I am going to show you a technique that can improve these numbers.

One of the best things you can do to prevent future low back pain or alleviate current pain is to coach and reinforce neutral spine during exercise and daily life.  A neutral spine is one where the spine is in its normal anatomical position.  The spine is under the least amount of stress in this neutral position, which is why we want to reinforce it constantly.

Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, emphasizes the importance of daily activities and posture on spinal health.  He states that many cases of back pain can be improved or eliminated by simply focusing on those activities or postures that cause pain. 
Therefore, I want to discuss a very important method to eliminate stress placed on the back through daily activities and/or training - the hip hinge.  Stuart McGill states, “Learning to hip hinge is paramount for both injury prevention and optimal performance” (84). 
The hip hinge allows a person to maintain a neutral spine by moving at their hips instead of their low back.  All of us encounter situations throughout the day where we must bend over.  In addition, many exercises use the hip hinge such as a RDL, Pull-through, etc. 
If we can teach ourselves and our clients to perform these tasks/exercises by moving only at the hips, then we will be able to spare our backs and our clients’ backs over time. 
In this post, I will show you the proper hip hinge and how to ensure you and/or your clients are in a good neutral spine position.  Many of you will be familiar with this technique, but I think it is important to repeat.  I also want to show that it can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is really moving at their hips versus their low back. 
To teach a neutral spine you simply need a dowel or PVC pipe (or something similar).  Take the dowel or PVC and place it along the back ensuring that it maintains three points of contact - the sacrum (tailbone), the upper back, and the back of the head.   

As explained above, since the spine is not straight but has curves, there will gaps between the stick and the low back and neck area.  However, you want to make sure that these gaps are not too large.  For the neck area, just make sure the clients are packing their neck back.  For the low back, you should be able to get your hand up to roughly your knuckles between the low back and the stick-no more (this can vary, but is a good guideline).

To perform the hip hinge, start with “soft knees” and begin to push your hips back like you are trying to reach your butt to a wall far behind you.  I often make sure my clients know that I do not care how far they can bend over.  I want them to focus more on pushing their hips back - there should be minimal knee bend.   As they begin to hinge at their hips, keep the pipe on their back and make sure that the three points of contact are maintained and no movement is occurring at the low back.

To return to the starting position, simply drive through the feet and extend the hips by using glutes and hamstrings.  In the final position, the person should be tall with their glutes contracted.
This may sound relatively easy to coach or perform, but that is not always the case.  One major problem is that people often want to perform the hip hinge with a large range of motion thinking that they are only moving from their hips.  However, this is usually not the case.

I have seen multiple clients and videos on the internet (even instructional videos) where people are moving at their low back during some variation of the hip hinge.  This can be subtle because even though a person's back may appear flat they may still be getting motion from it- a person does not have to have a large curvature in their back to be moving from it.  Therefore, I have included a video below to show the proper movement and how to spot someone moving at their low back instead of their hips.

In my next post, I will explain ways to regress someone if they are unable to maintain the three points of contact and/or are have trouble dissociating hip motion from low back motion.  Not everyone will be able to perform the hip hinge initially.
Until then, have a great week everyone!  


Alf, Nachemson.  "Newest Knowledge of Low Back Pain: A Critical Look."  Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics & Related Research 279.  (1992): 8-20.  Web.  18 Feb. 2011.

McGill, Dr. Suart.  Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, Fourth Edition.  Backfitpro Inc.  2009. 


1 comment:

  1. Hey thanks heaps for that video! I've started teaching the hip hinge to some clients and now I know exactly what to look out for. Helped me a lot