The Functional Value of the Hip Hinge
“Lift with your knees!”
The phrase said time and time again in high school gym class, the physical workplace, or heavy lifting workshops.
“Bend and lift using your knees and you won’t hurt your back!”
But men and women in the workplace DO hurt their backs. Homeowners in the garden hurt their backs. People unloading a full dishwasher in the kitchen hurt their backs. Even when they lift with their knees.
How should we be lifting? Is there a better way?
There is some truth to the idea of lifting with your knees and legs; however, there’s definitely more to it. Biomechanically, our hip and butt muscles, or glutes, are much stronger than the quads. If we can modify our bending or lifting movement to recruit our glutes, we’ll protect our backs, save our spines, and increase our bending and lifting longevity.
Let’s modify the instructions: “Lift with your hips!”
The Hip Hinge
The Hip Hinge is a functional pattern we use with our clients to recruit the glutes for bending and lifting safely. The spine and pelvis remain neutral and safe during this movement, reducing strain on the back muscles. Back muscles are used for stability when the spine is neutral, but should not be relied upon for bending down or straightening up. In these instances, when the back muscles are used instead of the hips, huge compressive forces are placed on the spinal discs, and unhappy compressed discs can lead to incredible pain, numbness, and debilitation.
This is a natural movement we tend to move away from as we age. Check out the three year old picking up his toy box at the top of this page: no one taught him to lift, but we can see a perfect hip hinge!
How do we hinge?
- Stand tall and hold a dowel or broomstick to your back, ensuring it contacts three points: back of the head, mid back, and tailbone. Place your shins against a stool or coffee table to prevent your knees from bending forward.
- Maintaining your three points of contact, send your hips back to create a “hinge” motion. Keep your knees wide. Do not hinge/bend so far you round in the back and lose your contact with the dowel.
- Pause at the bottom of your hinge.
- To stand, push your feet into the floor and contract your glute (butt) muscles until your hips are straight.
- Inhale as you hinge back, exhale as you stand.
The hip hinge is the base needed for many strength movements in the gym, but more importantly, for many functional movements in life. See some examples to follow:
In the gym:
- Kettlebell swing
- Glute bridge
- Single leg RDL
- Unloading the dishwasher
- Lifting the kids
- Reaching for laundry in the washer
- Bending to tie your shoes
- Picking the dog toys up off the floor
- Pulling weeds
- Replacing the bag in the kitchen garbage
Back pain and injuries often seem as if they stem from that “critical moment”. However, that moment you bent down to pick up the pen was just the final straw – it takes months and years of poor movement quality and bad habits to get to a point where the back is that fragile.
Let’s master the hip hinge and significantly reduce the risk of injury in our lives. Back pain isn’t normal. Spread the word in your family and workplace – teach those around you that the knees aren’t made to lift, but the hips are!
If you need help with your movement or existing back pain, reach out to us at it’s time! Fitness Results for guidance and supervision as you perfect your hip hinge.
Written by Briana Kelly, Kinesiologist and Strength Coach at it’s time! Fitness Results