The hip hinge.
While this is one of the more foundational movement patterns for young athletes to learn for both the field and weight room, it’s often one of the hardest to introduce.
The fact is, young athletes naturally hip hinge during horizontal jumps and other movements with a horizontal component. It’s when we break down the movement and make it a conscious pursuit that kids struggle.
Struggling with this myself for many years, I developed a step-by-step series to help athletes as young as 6 years old develop the basic foundations of a really good hip hinge.
Step 1: Sensory Prep
Doing any athletic movement correctly requires a working knowledge of the parts of the body and what these body parts can do. As coaches, we call this “body awareness” and this ability is necessary for our athletes to respond effectively to our coaching cues.
It’s easy to make the mistake (like I did) in assuming that the kids we work with are well versed in body awareness. While they have the basic ability, it’s not sharp and refined when they are young.
To remedy this, I started to integrate the basic movement cues of the hip hinge and other movements into “Simon says” type of warm-ups and games. These would be introduced during warm-ups and games independently of teaching the hip hinge.
- Feet inside/outside/shoulder width
- Weight on toes/heels/midfoot
- Knees locked/bent/soft
- Hips forward/ back
- Chest down/ up
- Back rounded/straight
Notice the pairing of contrasting movement. This helps the athlete develop a proprioceptive “3-d model” of space and body orientation in their head before it’s put into the context of a single coordinated movement like the hip hinge. With these coordination pathways now wired, coaching cues for a movement become easier to understand and execute when it comes to teaching a specific skill.
Step 2: Practice the Gross Movement
Play is a great teacher, so I found that before I would introduce the specifics of any movement, I would introduce games and other activities that would create the movement naturally. For example, activities like broad jumps require kids to hinge their hips horizontally back in order to get more distance.
Even simple horizontal “reaching” activities like found in the video below offer a great introduction to the hinge.
Over/ Under Wall Touches
Step 3: Learn to Move the Hips Horizontally
When it comes to teaching the specifics of the hip hinge and other movements, I’ve found that breaking the movement into various components and introducing/reinforcing each individually is much more palatable for young athletes. I also found it’s important to be patient and spend as much time with each component as necessary.
For example, the first step in teaching the hip hinge is to have the young athlete consciously move their hips horizontally back. For a single training session, week, or even cycle, the next step shouldn’t be introduced or coached until they mastered this.
While other components of the hinge will be demonstrated and likely executed to a degree, the focus of coaching cues, drills, and activities should be moving the hips back horizontally. I’ve found most young athletes can master this pretty quickly with activities like those below.
3 Cone Reach
Hips to Wall
Step 4: Keep the Knees Soft
Once an athlete can consciously move their hips back horizontally on cue, the focus then goes to controlling the knee angle. For weight room movements involving the hip hinge, it’s important for kids to understand the “soft knees” concept. Kids generally default to completely locked knees or full positive- shin- angle squats. I’ve found that teaching kids to understand and control knee angle helps set up the mechanics of the rest of the hip hinge movement.
The concept of “soft knees” is best introduced during sensory prep activities where they experience the immediate contrast between knees that are bent, locked, and soft. This can be reinforced during activities similar to the ones for step 3. For “3-Cone-Reach” instead of a cone on the ground, have them reach towards head-hi points on a wall while hinging their hips back.
Step 5: Keep the Chest Up
While most young athletes will master the previous steps fairly quickly, this is where things slow down. Young athletes’ lumbar and thoracic extensor muscles are generally pretty deconditioned.
Days spent in classrooms slumped over desks and hours spent hunched over electronics weaken this aspect of the posterior chain. As they hinge their hips back keeping their knees soft, their lumbar and thoracic spine will often flex forward. It’s like as humans, we’re always trying to get back to the fetal position.
Before reinforcing this specific aspect of the hip hinge, it’s important to make sure the extensor muscles of the trunk and posterior chain are adequately strong. This can be done with activities like those below.
After these, the drill below has worked well for teaching proper thoracic extension for both the squat and hip hinge.
Elbow Knee Squat
Once young athletes master these components of the hip hinge, they are ready to learn the more advanced/refined versions. It’s important to note that perfect movement is not the daily goal. Helping young athletes to develop better movement over time while maximizing fun and minimizing frustration is. In the latter, we increase athlete buy-in, engrain long term movement patterns, and increase the likelihood that our athletes will become active and athletic for life.
Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes. He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country. Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.
If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance. Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.