The ability to hip hinge is a key functional movement pattern learned at an early age in life. It allows us to execute the ability to pick up items from the floor and learn to transition loads to waist height safely and effectively.
Hip hinging allows us to dissociate the pelvis from the lumbar spine and trunk, ensuring that power is produced through the legs not through the spine.
The concept is that the torso will stay stable while the legs translate from a flexed position to an extended position to elevate the load from a lower to a higher position.
Pushing our weight backwards or posteriorly allows us to counter balance our center of gravity and create the proper leverage.
Improper form usually results in compensating at the lumbar spine by extending the lumbar to lift the weight or bending too far over the knees, producing excessive stress anteriorly onto the knee joints.
If you watch toddlers pick up toys from the floor, they will hip hinge or dead lift the weight. It is a natural learned movement pattern as they figure out how to bring an item from the floor closer to them and move it without falling forward.
As adults we can tend to lose these primitive patterns due to poor habits in our environment and lifestyle.
The following exercises are some simple correctives used to help improve motor control for hip hinging with translation into the deadlift. This movement pattern is the foundation also for the double arm swing (kettlebell swing).
The following basic drills are used to initiate hip extension and help for translation into the more advanced moves.
Starting on your back, draw your belly button inwards, squeeze your gluteals together and push through your feet to lift your hips upward.
Starting in the kneeling position with your feet pointed downward, draw your belly button inward and keep your shoulders back with the head neutral.
Starting in the same position of kneeling, anchor a band to the wall or door and loop it around your waist.
Once hip extension is mastered in tall kneeling, progress to standing with the band around the waist.
Allow the band to pull your hips backwards so you flex at the crease of your pants while also focusing on keeping your knees behind your toes.
Your knees bend, but only to allow you to push your hips back further.
Maintain the neutral spine checkpoints from the tall kneeling drill.
Using a wall or an exercise ball is a great tactile feedback method to help promote proper posterior weight shift.
Once proper form is executed with tactile cueing, progress to the regular hip hinge.
This drill helps to prepare for lifting weight by practicing proper shoulder positioning to ensure a stable torso when moving the weight.
To lift resistance from the floor, all the movements from the prior drills will be applied into one fluid sequence with the lift.
(Never try to reach and lift something heavy with the weight too far out in front of you. Always bring the weight as close as possible to you.)
When the stool height become easy, progress to lifting from the floor with the same mechanics.
Lifting in the single arm position will challenge the core and hips more.
Loading one side of the body will help train for anti rotation and also work asymmetries in the core, shoulders and hips. The same mechanics principles apply as with the regular lift with double arms.
The suitcase dead lift received its name due the nature of the single sided lift which resembles lifting a suitcase off the floor. This challenges the core control slightly more than the one arm dead lift by loading the one side more causing you to resist side bending.
The same mechanics principles apply with weight back, neutral spine, shoulders squeezed and pushing the hips forward and upward.
Understanding how to lift weight properly from the floor through proper hip hinging and dead lifting is essential for avoiding lumbar injuries. It also is a great exercise for the hips, core and entire body.
It allows for mechanical efficiency as well as to avoid compensation elsewhere in the body such as the knees, arms and neck.
It is the foundation for the kettlebell swing as well, which dead lifting and swings can both be used to train power.
Starting with the basic movements demonstrated here will help learn dissociation of the pelvis from the trunk and allow for proper progression into the more advanced hip hinging and lifting without compensation.
About The Author:
Michael St. George PT, DPT has been practicing for 10 years primarily in the outpatient and orthopedic setting. He works for a physical therapist owned private practice based in the greater Philadelphia area and surrounding suburbs. Mike is certified through Functional Movement Systems for FMS, SFMA and FCS which consist of screens and testing used to measure movement quality and performance. Mike also has experience with working with numerous surgeons and physicians from the Rothman institute. Currently he works primarily with ACL, meniscus and post surgical recovery and sports injuries, return to sport testing and performance, running evaluation and re training and hand and upper extremity conditions.