The Hip Hinge:

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.

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So much room for activities!

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…

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Ovechkin single leg hinging like a boss.

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:

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:

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.

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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

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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!

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.

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References:

McGill, S. M., & Marshall, L. W. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997449

Pick up something heavy.

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Why the floor beats the Bosu: A look at “balance training”

So, I originally wasn’t going to write about this, but a recent “discussion” came up between a few individuals and myself on the use of “balance training” in the gym setting. Mainly the use of a Bosu trainer or foam pad. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Bosu, it’s essentially half of an exercise ball with a flat plastic surface underneath. There is a legitimate time and place for using unstable surface training, and it’s typically in the rehabilitation setting. Lets take a simple look at how balance works. Mechanoreceptors are sensory organs found throughout the body that respond to mechanical stimuli such as tension, pressure and displacement. Proprioceptors are receptors within the body (specifically in our muscles, tendons, joints, and inner ear) that detects motion or position of the body or the limbs by responding to the stimulus within the organism. Proprioception is defined as “The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself. In humans, these stimuli are detected by nerves within the body itself, as well as by the semicircular canals of the inner ear”(1).

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Observe the evil that is the Bosu…

So, what started off as a healthy discussion quickly became a somewhat heated debate. The argument for utilizing the Bosu or balance training went something like this… “I use the Bosu because my elderly clients benefit from the proprioception and core activation that comes with Bosu/balance training. They fire muscles they haven’t used in years when they’re on an unstable surface”. Sounds good, right? It would make sense that training on an unstable surface would offer increases in balance, proprioception, and coordination. The thing is, it DOES – but its biggest benefit is for those who have lost most of their proprioception, strength, and stability. One study (2) conducted on institutionalized elderly individuals found that introducing wobble board training for 9 weeks increased their standing balance. That’s great, but again, we typically don’t come across elderly clients who are in need of being institutionalized.  Although, I’m sure some trainers DO come across this population from time to time, but again – this type of training and population is found in the rehabilitation setting. Typical “balance training” that we see in the gym, or as I like to call it, “Swiss ball circus maneuvers” is best used for those of us looking to join the Ringling Brothers.

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They wanted me to go to rehab, so I said yes yes yes…

My stance or “mantra” has always been to work as hard as you can within the confines of your ability/physicality. This doesn’t mean I’m going to have a 70-year-old severely kyphotic man deadlift 600Lbs – although that would be awesome. Instead, we do what we can with what we have, and try to improve to the best of our ability. So, with this mindset my argument against the overuse/overly prescribed Bosu/Swiss ball training was to utilize other means of creating instability while operating on a stable surface. Stability, balance, and core activation can be improved by standing on both feet while on a stable surface. The main benefit from working on a stable vs a non stable surface is that force production increases while on a stable surface. A study (3) was conducted comparing the activity of the muscles of the core in 12 trained men. Each participant performed the back squat, deadlift, overhead press, and curl lifts on stable ground and on a Bosu. Guess what? They concluded that core activation was greater in the group that performed the exercises on a stable surface. Floor wins, your move Bosu… Another study – free PDF download (4), showed that when stable and unstable environments were used to test unilateral balance on healthy individuals, that the stable surface produced greater gains in balance (See page 6, figures 3-6).

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Goblet Squat…On the floor…FTW.

Simply put, there are better ways to improve stability and balance without having to stand on a Swiss ball or Bosu. Trust me, you weren’t really cut out for the circus life anyway. Instead, try offsetting the load and performing exercises such as: suitcase deadlifts, bottom-up kettlebell variations, in-line chops/presses, and pallof presses. I love the supine pallof press shown here by Tony Gentilcore (5) (He’s awesome, and you should read his stuff if you aren’t already). You can improve proximal and distal stability, core strength/stability, and total body strength. In doing so you will be – strong and stable!

So the next time you see someone squatting on a Bosu or curling 2.5lb dumbbells while kneeling on a swiss ball, just remember. You have better options available to you. Offsetting loads and performing Squats, deadlifts,  and overhead presses are all great ways to build stability and balance throughout the entire body. When performing these exercises on a stable surface, your force production and core activation increase, and you can lift more weight (6). I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty great.

Pick up something heavy.

References:

(1)  proprioception. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Retrieved January 13, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http: dictionary.reference.com/browse/proprioception

(2) Ogaya S, Ikezoe T, Soda N, Ichihashi N. Effects of balance training using wobble boards in the elderly. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(9):2616-22.

(3) Willardson JM, Fontana FE, Bressel E. Effect of surface stability on core muscle activity for dynamic resistance exercises. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009;4(1):97-109.

(4) Journal of Sports Rehabilitation, 1993. Copyright 1993 Human Kinetics Publishers Inc. Unilateral balance training of noninjured individuals and the effects on postural sway. Emily D. Cox, Scott M. Lephart, and James J. Irrgang: https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.pitt.edu/~neurolab/publications/1992-1996CoxED_1993_JSportRehab_Unilateral%2520balance%2520training%2520of%2520noninjured%2520individuals%2520and%2520the%2520effects%2520on%2520postural%2520sway.pdf&sa=U&ei=sSLUUqKMM6OiyAH42oCQAw&ved=0CAUQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFoVKS604QDgb8uQbkPwxEBjNi5pQ

(5) Tony Gentilcore: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/exercises-supine-pallof-belly-press/

(6) Kohler JM, Flanagan SP, Whiting WC. Muscle activation patterns while lifting stable and unstable loads on stable and unstable surfaces. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):313-21.