Movement Patterns Made Simple
- The hip hinge is one of the hardest movement patterns to teach a young athlete
- Using something the athlete already knows makes the transition to a loaded RDL pattern much easier
- The explosive potential behind a quality hip hinge necessitates we as coaches are consistent and accurate with cueing and corrections
The elusive hip hinge—sometimes you get a squat, sometimes you get a stiff leg deadlift, and sometimes you get, well, I’m not sure there is a name for some of the things I have seen.
Bottom line: Teaching a young athlete how to hip hinge can be a challenge. However, we have been developing athletes for a number of years now and typically have no trouble using our progression system to teach a solid hip hinge within a week or two.
Often, it can be easy to teach a young athlete a hip hinge because it wasn’t that long ago that they developmentally learned it, even though they don’t realize it. When children first start standing and then see something on the ground they want to pick up, they will naturally hip hinge. I just saw our coach’s 8-month-old do a hip hinge as she latched onto a 90 lb. dumbbell to try to pick it up. (Note: She didn’t budge it, but trust me, she will someday!)
Besides just teaching the pattern, we run into some postural positions that force us to use our coaching tools to right the ship before we load a hip hinge. Frequently, we see young girls, in particular, come in standing with their butt and their gut out.
This anteriorly tilted position can cause either a poor hip hinge pattern, limited explosiveness, or, worst of all, low-back pain. You will see in our progressions below how we address that whether the athlete presents with an anterior pelvic tilt or not.
Ultimately, a high quality hip hinge gives a young athlete almost unlimited explosive potential, which is why we place such a high priority on the movement.
So let’s learn how to teach it!
Progression 1: Hinge from Athletic Stance
Since the hip hinge is truly one of the more difficult patterns to teach a young athlete, we try to use as much previous athletic knowledge to facilitate the pattern.
In this case, we have our athletes set up in an athletic stance (shortstop stance, defensive stance etc.). If they have played ANY sport, they were taught how to achieve this position. If they haven’t played a sport or can’t find this position, we will tell them to pretend like they are about to jump and then stop before they actually jump.
Once there, we simply tell the athlete to push their butt to the wall. The knees will shift back slightly, creating a vertical shin angle, and the torso will shift forward over the toes to counteract the posterior weight shift. Voila, a great hip hinge position!
Once there, the athlete should oscillate back and forth between athletic stance and the hip hinge position until it feels natural.
Quick tip: Use the words “hip hinge” or your term for this pattern frequently so the athlete starts to mentally associate “hip hinge” with the action they are performing.
Progression 2: Stick RDL
Once the hip hinge is ingrained via the athletic stance, we want to facilitate good upper body posture (via a PVC pipe or dowel) as well so the athlete can eventually handle the full spectrum of dynamic hip hinging exercises.
The athlete should be able to keep the stick touching their head/shoulders/butt at all times throughout the movement.
Initially, the athlete will place the dowel so it touches their head/mid-back/butt and then oscillate between an athletic stance and the end range position of a hip hinge. Once they are solid there, we will have them start from a fully extended position and work through the true hip hinge pattern. The stick should at no time leave the original position.
Notice in the video that the first thing we want an athlete to do before starting a hip hinge from standing is to unlock their knees. In doing so, he or she allows for a larger posterior weight shift with the hips and creates a hinge rather than a stiff leg deadlift or toe touch.
Progression 3: RNT Hip Hinge (Max’s Deadlift or MDL)
No, this is not a Max Effort Deadlift. Instead, one of our coaches, Max, came up with a logical progression for our younger athletes as a great superset to a Kettlebell RDL. The goal was to quickly progress our athletes into a correct hip hinge pattern with load.
We found our young athletes would do one of two things when they first loaded a hip hinge. Either they would do a great job of shifting their hips behind but forget about their back and round over like Quasimodo, or they would lock the back into so much extension they were unable to hinge properly and create a movement that hurt my back to watch!
So we implemented the RNT Hip Hinge or MDL. The athlete sets up with their hands on a dowel just outside of hip width while a band is attached at one end to the middle of the dowel and at the other end low on a rig or stable apparatus in front of them (in the video, I am the stable apparatus!).
From there, we allow the resistance to pull the athlete’s arms forward as they shift back into the end range of the hip hinge. It makes it very easy for them to figure out the posterior weight shift with minimal cueing on our part. Then as they pull back to standing, we cue them to pull the dowel into the body.
From time to time, your athlete might shrug their shoulders up here. I will cue them to pinch a penny in the middle of their back or say, “Shoulders away from the ears.” Both work well to correct this.
When they do this concurrently with a kettlebell RDL, they make huge strides in loading with great form.
Quick tip: This point in the progression is when we really focus on rooting the feet into the ground for the first time. The Hinge from Athletic Stance and the Stick RDL exercises are used early in training, and if our athletes shift from heel to toe here, no harm no foul since they aren’t loaded.
Once we put a kettlebell in an athlete’s hands, however, they need to learn to engage the ground. If we cue rooting in the MDL just before we introduce kettlebells, it reinforces the correct patterning.
Progression 4: Kettlebell RDL
The kettlebell (KB) RDL is our first real loaded progression for the hip hinge.
We try to get our athletes here as fast as possible, but we understand that an Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) score of 1s or asymmetrical 1s can cause potential low back issues, even in young athletes.
However, a score of 1s in the ASLR for a young athlete is more often caused by a lack of postural stability or motor control. Either way, it’s typically addressed and corrected in warmups so we can program the KB RDL early in an athlete’s development.
When performing the KB RDL, we need a few things set in place before an athlete starts adding kilos (beginning with them understanding what kilos are!):
- “Shoulders down and back with the ribs down.” I really like using the cue “pinch a penny” because it works almost every time and is easy to recall if an athlete is getting sloppy with fatigue.
- “Engage the ground and shift posteriorly.” We use the cue “rip the towel, butt to dowel.” It’s easy to remember because it rhymes and they can visualize ripping a towel between their feet and pushing their butt back to a dowel behind them. The cue is more effective if you initially provide the dowel as a kinesthetic aid (as shown in the video).
- Similarly, we use Root/Rip/Wall (or Dowel). This helps to quickly get the feet grounded, pulling apart the ground and then shifting the weight. This cue can be used as three words or each individually, as needed.
If your athlete understands what these cues mean early on, your ability to coach multiple athletes effectively drastically increases. One word will clean up poor movement almost instantly!
Quick Discussion about Kettlebell Swings
Swings are great for explosive hip extension and can be used to confirm that an athlete understands the necessary trunk positioning for a max-effort jump or sprint.
We often use swings as a progression to more complex power movements like Olympic lifts. Otherwise, the Med Ball scoop toss (think keg toss in strongman competitions) functions great as a concentric-only dynamic hip extension exercise.
As an athlete’s season approaches, we also use swings to teach expression of strength through power, an important attribute on the field of play.
Progression 5: Barbell RDL
This is the pinnacle of hip hinge progressions (in this article!). Granted, we fully expect an athlete 14+ to at some point train movements like hang power cleans and/or snatches. But if an athlete can express a strong, explosive Barbell (BB) RDL, they will have all the necessary strength and power needed for most sports.
Since this is a step above the other training progressions, most of our coaching work has already been done.
All the cues that apply in the KB RDL apply the same to the BB RDL.
Also, in terms of hand position on the bar, the hands should start out at the same width as the RNT Hip Hinge.
And yet, with all this previous learning, the first time an athlete gets a barbell in their hands and starts to RDL, you are likely to see something that looks like a nice upside down U (what the heck?)
It can be quite difficult to get an athlete to understand that the bar needs to stay close to the body at all times. But the simple cue “shave the legs” down and up works quite well for girls and boys.
If everything else has been well trained and you add that cue once an athlete starts working with a bar, you will end up with a solid BB RDL pattern that can now be loaded, built for speed, and progressed to more aggressive hip extension patterns.
Wrapping It Up
On multiple occasions, we have had strength and conditioning professionals come check out our facility when our athletes were training. They are always amazed at how well our athletes can RDL and hip hinge.
It is a challenge, no doubt. But we see it as an imperative pattern to learn in order to be an explosive athlete. Thus, we have spent entire years figuring out what works best!
This is our progression. Take it and use it yourself. Find creative ways to get your athletes better, and share those ideas with the rest of us! We are always learning, and so should you!
ADAPT and Conquer,
About the Author: Jared Markiewicz
Jared is founder of Functional Integrated Training (F.I.T.). F.I.T. is a performance-based training facility located in Madison, WI. They specialize in training athletes of all levels: everyday adults, competitive adults and youth ages 5-20+.
The long-term vision for F.I.T. is recognition as the training facility for those desiring to compete at the collegiate level in the state of Wisconsin. Alongside that, to also develop a platform to educate those in our industry looking to make strides towards improving the future for our young athletes.
Find out more about Jared’s gym by visiting F.I.T.
- 2014 Fitness Entrepreneur of the Year – Fitness Business Insiders
- 2014 IYCA Coach of the Year Finalist
- Volunteer Strength Coach for West Madison Boys Hockey and Westside Boys Lacrosse
- Helped develop dozens of scholarship athletes in 3 years of business
- Instructed Kinesiology Lab at UW-Madison
- Houses an internship program at F.I.T. that started in 2013
- Member of Elite Mastermind Group of Nationwide Fitness Business Owners