When it comes to being a “functional badass”, there are many ways to display the various qualities that showcase the body’s ability to perform. In the world of “functional fitness”, it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentals. It may look impressive to see some poor soul pistol squatting on a kettlebell while simultaneously doing a dumbbell curl with one hand, and an overhead press in the other; but that doesn’t have much carryover to the real world. Unless of course, you work for Cirque du soleil. As much as Planet Fitness loves to mock strength, (or anything remotely related to strength for that matter), “picking stuff up and putting it down” is in fact, incredibly beneficial! Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Getting stronger is good for you, regardless of what sport or activities you engage in.
If you are going to engage in picking up heavy stuff regularly, and you should – then you need to do it correctly. Hint – it doesn’t involve standing on a Bosu… As you may have guessed from the title, I’m talking about… THE HIP HINGE!
“The hip hinge is the most powerful movement a human can do, it’s the apex movement of an apex hunter” – Dan John.
The hip hinge is one of the most beneficial movement patterns that we should be utilizing in everyday life. Everyone should master this movement, for a number of reasons.
– Hip hinging is a requisite for athletic movement & performance
– The hip hinge allows for maximal activation and utilization of the posterior chain; and can help bring balance between the anterior & posterior chain
– It allows for loads to be lifted with the hips, while sparing the knees and the spine (when done correctly)
– It can increase hamstring flexibility
– When done quickly and explosively, it’s incredibly effective for burning fat
– Hip hinging is generally much easier to master and perform than the squat
– Hip hinging is corrective
– Learning the hip hinge will allow you to deadlift, and therefore become superhuman, and super sexy.
The list goes on and on…
Before you go and grab a barbell or kettlebell, lets take a look at something that’s vital to this movement. Core stability! Your spine will thank you, and chances are that if you work a desk job, you could use the help.
Deadbugs are a great core stabilization exercise. You begin by laying on your back, keeping your back flat against the floor. Keep your hips and knees bent. Extend one leg while keeping the static leg from drawing in towards the chest. The objective here it to avoid extension of the spine (excessive arching of the lower back), so make sure your lower back is flat against the floor, and your “ribcage is down”.
Planks are about recruitment, not endurance. There is little reason if any to hold a plank for any ridiculous period of time. Make sure to contract the glutes, quads, abdominals, lats, and shoulders maximally.
Stir the Pot:
From the brilliant Dr. Stuart McGill. What we’re going for here is a neutral/stable spine. Using the swiss ball challenges the core musculature’s ability to stabilize the spine – and you need that! Placing your elbows on a swiss ball, make small smooth circles while keeping the rest of your body still. Eventually, try to make the circles larger.
Now lets get into some hinging! There are many progressions, regressions, and ways to learn and coach the hip hinge.
The Dowel Method:
For beginners the dowel method can work well. The dowel method is great because it provides instant kinesthetic feedback. Here are a few pointers for performing it:
– Start with a symmetrical shoulder width stance
– Holding the dowel behind you, make sure your body contacts the dowel at three points (the head, upper back, and lower back)
– One of your hands should be holding the dowel at the small of your neck and the other at the small of the lower back
– Maintain contact at the three points (head, upper and lower back)
– Keep abdominals braced (as if you were about to be punched in the stomach)
– Initiate the movement by bending at the waist and sitting your hips back behind you
– Keep your shins vertical throughout the movement, allowing the knees to bend only to allow for the hips to sit back
– Squeeze the glutes to return the torso to the upright position
Once you’ve mastered the basic hip hinge pattern, you can advance to a loaded version of the movement – the kettlebell Romanian deadlift.
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift:
The kettlebell RDL (Romanian DeadLift) is a nice progression for a beginner who doesn’t possess any profound limitations in motor control or mobility/stability. If you do have issues getting into a proper deadlifting position, don’t worry; the movement can be easily scaled as you work towards improving your limitations. You can perform the KB RDL on a step, yoga block, or plyo-box to shorten up the range of motion. Simply place the kettlebell on one of these options and perform the lift. If you’re still struggling with the movement after adding these implements, then you’ll need to address those deficiencies first.
Here are some tips:
– Stand over the kettlebell with a symmetrical hip-width stance
– Line up the midpoint of the feet with the handle of the KB
– Brace the core, keep the spine neutral and the back straight throughout the movement
– Send the hips back, keeping the shins vertical
– Reach down to grasp the handle of the KB (you should feel the hips & hamstrings “turn on” at this point)
– Squeeze glutes and push the feet into the floor (emphasis on heels and mid-foot) as you stand up
– Finish with a strong squeeze of the glutes at the top before lowering the kettlebell
Alright, so now you’ve got the basic hip hinge pattern down. Lets move onto another incredible movement – the Kettlebell Swing!
The kettlebell swing is an explosive movement that is capable of building strength and improving conditioning. It does much more than that though. The recruitment of the posterior chain and the core strength and stability that are needed make this exercise very demanding, but also insanely beneficial. Not only that, but kettlebell swings are a great alternative to the much more technical Olympic lifts.
In a study conducted by Stuart McGill it was noted that “Some unique loading patterns discovered during the kettlebell swing included the posterior shear of the L4 vertebra on L5, which is opposite in polarity to a traditional lift. Thus, quantitative analysis provides an insight into why many individuals credit kettlebell swings with restoring and enhancing back health and function, although a few find that they irritate tissues.” If they’re good enough for the king of back health, they’re good enough for me.
Here’s a video by Tony Gentilcore on the kettlebell swing:
TonyGentilcore.com Cleaning Up Kettlebell Swing T…: http://youtu.be/xWgl1rEiCeQ
So there you have it. These are just a few examples of what learning how to hip hinge can do for you. More importantly, if you’re someone who is performing this movement incorrectly day in and day out, then low back pain is likely to be a result eventually. It’s best to understand how to perform basic human movements correctly since most of us do these things fairly often. Not only that, but correctly learning how to hip hinge will allow you to work with a multitude of wonderful strength tools such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, ect. Put simply, there is a bunch of valuable carryover that this movement will provide you with.
McGill, S. M., & Marshall, L. W. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997449
Pick up something heavy.