With movement, one could say that everything begins with “The Butt and the Gut”.  The hip hinge is an essential movement pattern that requires you to use your hip muscles (mainly your glutes and your hamstrings) to help move your trunk and upper body. By training hip extension, you’ll improve your ability to run, jump, and lift something up from the floor.  If your hip extensors are weak, you might end up using your back muscles too much which can lead to back injury.  By practicing the hip hinge, you will learn how to use your powerful leg muscles to move, which will protect your back. Athletes will be able to increase their athletic explosiveness.  And with slight modifications, you can also recruit your core and foot muscles with just one exercise.

From an anatomical perspective, you will be training your gluteus maximus and your hamstrings to help build hip extension strength. Your back muscles will be trained to help resist flexion (stronger core).  If holding a heavy weight, you’ll also have the opportunity to increase your grip and your pulling ability.

What is the hip hinge?
The basics of the hip hinge involves bending at your hips, but not anywhere in your spine.  This “bowing” motion will teach you how to load your larger hip muscles (much larger than compared to your back muscles).
Note: There should be no motion in the spine or upper body
Key tips:
  • Bow from the hips
  • Keep your spine straight
  • Stop when you feel your low back begin to move
  • Ideally, you will feel your hamstrings tighten up at the end of the motion
Secondary key points:
  • Attempt to keep your weight centered on the middle of your feet as opposed to on the balls or heels of your feet
  • Also keep your shoulder blades squeezed together to help increase the tension on your back

How to practice it?
There are a lot of variations and tips that people have used to help train the hip hinge motion.  The biggest beginner mistake is to round the low back. There are two simple cues that are great for helping to correct this motion.
1) The first one involves using a stick and lining up your back to it.  Most people will have a small curve in the low back. You can place one hand here (palm facing backwards) and hold the stick here.
Note, the stick should be touching your pelvis as well as your upper back. This should stay the same through the entire motion.  If you begin to round your back, than the stick will come off the pelvis.
2) A second way of cueing you to maintain erect posture is to place your hands in front of your trunk. Place one hand at your level of your collar bones, and the other hand just below your navel.  Note the distance between your hands. When you slouch, the hands will approximate and get closer together.  Don’t let this happen. Try the hip hinge and while keeping your hands in contact with your trunk, keep them at the same distance. You can also hold a string between your hands, and if slack develops on the string, than that means you rounded your back somewhere.
The next key part is to focus on flexing the hips.  Drive your hip backwards. You’ll notice that your knees will naturally bend a little bit.  Try not to fall onto the back of your heels and adjust your weight as necessary to stay balanced.  Keep driving your hips backwards as you continue the motion.
Once your at the bottom, check your form with a mirror to make sure that your back is in the same position as it was when you were standing erect.  Then begin the reverse motion by pressing your feet into the floor and pushing your hips forward. You will naturally extend your hips and your trunk will rise.

Favorite variations
There are many variations which can subtly bias the exercise towards different parts of your body.  The sumo variation with legs out wide will help bias the leg muscles (hamstrings and inner thighs).  By holding a weight on one hand your trunk will have to work harder to resist rotation which will increase the core demand (multifidus, obliques, etc). You can also combine exercises and do something simple like the bent over dumbbell row.
From a flexibility standpoint, my favorite variation is the hip hinge with hands overhead.
From a balance standpoint, I like to do the single leg variation, similar to Warrior 3 in yoga.
And from a power standpoint, I love to use my kettlebells and just do the hip hinge swing.