How to Master the Hip Hinge — and Why It's So Important for Your Workouts

Nailing this movement pattern can help ensure your workouts are safe and effective. Here, learn how to do the hip hinge correctly every single time.

Hip Hinge

Although the movement patterns you act out in daily life — such as squatting, lunging, pressing, and hinging — are considered "foundational" or "basic," they may not feel like second nature. In fact, the hip hinge can be pretty difficult to perform with perfect technique, as it calls on the muscles along the backside of your body that are often weak due to prolonged sitting, according to the American Council on Exercise. (Thanks, office jobs and commutes!) Plus, there are a few commonly made mistakes that can impact your workout's efficacy and your health, says Kelly Froelich, a certified personal trainer and the co-founder of the digital fitness platform Balanced.

So, what does a proper hip hinge look like, and why does it matter anyway? Here, Froelich breaks it down, including the risks of performing a hip hinge incorrectly and the steps you can take to improve your technique.

How to Do a Hip Hinge

As the name implies, a hip hinge is a movement pattern than involves hinging forward at your hip joints to lower your torso toward the ground, says Froelich. You'll stand with your knees bent slightly, and you’ll want to focus on sending your hips straight back behind you as you lower your upper half. This is a key distinction between a hip hinge and a squat, the latter of which involves fully bending your knees and sinking your butt to the ground as if you’re about to sit, she explains. In order to return your torso back to its upright position in a hip hinge, you’ll engage your posterior chain — the muscles along the backside of your body, she adds.

To perfect your hip hinge, follow Froelich’s demo below, which involves holding a broomstick between your elbows and back. In doing so, you’ll maintain the flat back that’s crucial to preventing injury and discomfort.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms at sides. Hold a broomstick behind mid-back and cradle the stick with elbows, bent at 90-degree angles, at sides. Draw shoulders down and back. 

B. Keeping back flat, knees slightly bent, and core engaged, shift weight into heels and send hips straight back behind body to lower torso toward the ground.

C. Continue hinging at hips to lower torso toward the ground until there's a stretch in hamstrings. Then, push through heels, drive hips forward, and straighten legs to return to standing. 

Why a Proper Hip Hinge Is So Important

A hip hinge may sound complex, but you likely go through this motion on a daily basis — when you need to lift a heavy laundry basket off the floor, pick up the AirPod you just dropped on the sidewalk, or even march up a steep hill in your neighborhood. “As you walk up stairs or walk up a hill, you might find yourself slightly leaning forward,” explains Froelich. “You’re hinging forward slightly, which really activates the backs of your legs.” 

The movement pattern is particularly important in the gym. In order to perform exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, reverse flies, and bent-over rows safely and effectively, you’ll need to master the hip hinge. Say you perform deadlifts with a greater bend in your knees and you sit back into your glutes as if you're squatting. “Once you turn the exercise into a squat, those quads — those anterior muscles — light up,” says Froelich. “It's not a bad thing — it's not necessarily going to cause pain or injury — but it will put the pressure on your quads when you're not trying to work the front of your body.” In other words, the incorrect movement pattern can turn the posterior-chain exercise, which is known for targeting the calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and lats, into a move that primarily strengthens the front of the body. Over time, you may not see the specific muscle gains or improvements in posture that you were hoping to achieve with deadlifts.

Even if you don’t quite perform a squat-like movement, a hip hinge done poorly could lead to discomfort and injury in your lower back and knees, says Froelich. And on that note...

Common Hip Hinge Mistakes

To keep yourself pain-free while doing a hip hinge, maintaining a flat back and engaging your core is key. “You’re going to use your lower back [during a hip hinge] — you want a little bit of that back work,” says Froelich. “But by rounding [the spine], you’re going to put a lot of pressure into the lower back instead of what you want to put the weight into, which is the glutes and hamstrings.” And this added pressure can lead to pain and potential injuries down the road, she adds. “If you can see your shoulders in your peripheral vision, you're curving your back — that's the number one indicator,” says Froelich. “Once those shoulders start to come forward, that's when there’s a potential for injury on the back.”

Your gaze also matters. As you hinge, remember to look toward the ground in order to maintain a neutral spine, says Froelich. If you were to deadlift while staring directly into a mirror in front of you, you’ll end up putting additional pressure on the spine, which can also contribute to lower back aches, she says. 

And while it's important to avoid a "squatting" movement during a hip hinge, you shouldn't attempt to prevent it by completely locking out your knees. “Overcompensating for avoiding the squat could cause possible injury or discomfort because you're putting a lot of pressure right into that knee joint,” says Froelich. “And so that's really important to maintain at least a slight bend in your knees.”

During deadlifts in particular, focus on keeping your weights close to your body, imagining you’re painting your shins with your dumbbells, to ensure you perform the exercise correctly, says Froelich. “This cue will help you send your hips back, and you'll also be able to really use the backs of your legs to pull up.” Need help visualizing this movement pattern? Watch Froelich demonstrate the technique play out in real time below. 

How to Improve Your Hip Hinge

If you still can’t get the hang of the hip hinge after testing those cues, there are a few steps you can take to better your form. Your first course of action? Improving your hip mobility, says Froelich. (Reminder: While flexibility is your soft tissues' ability to passively stretch, mobility refers to a joint's ability to actively move through a full range of motion, according to the International Sports Sciences Association.) If you’re lacking in that department, you won’t be able to hinge as much or as easily. In turn, “you might feel some discomfort, and then your body will want to get rid of that tightness, so you might start feeling yourself at that squat a little bit.” Before you tackle exercises involving a hip hinge, do a few sets of leg circles to work your hip joints through their entire range of motion, suggests Froelich. Incorporating hip mobility exercises such as 90-90 stretches, fire hydrants, and hip thrusts into your routine can also help. 

Then, prioritize strengthening your lower back muscles, suggests Froelich. Practicing supermans (or superhumans), glute bridges, and other exercises that strengthen your lower back will ensure the muscle group is fit enough to handle the hip hinge and, ultimately, deadlift, she adds. “Making sure the lower back is in a strong place is key to performing [well with] the hip hinge and also avoiding injury,” she says. 

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