Protecting the Spine with a Hip Hinge

The rarely known hip hinge plays a large role in protecting yourself from injury. The hip hinge is part squat and lift that can help prevent back and knee pain/injury (or its reoccurrence). Sedentary postures tend to rule our lives nowadays, ultimately leading to muscle tightness, weakness, and joint restrictions. These impairments breed poor movement patterns and eventual injury. Remember that time you, a family member, or friend threw their back out when building or lifting? You need to understand that it wasn’t that single lift that caused injury, but rather weeks, months, and years of poor movement patterns. A good starting point to learning a hip hinge is through a proper squat. The squat instructions clearly state: don’t let your knees pass your toes and to get the butt back. A squat is for more than gym goers. Squatting is part of everyday life, whether you’re transferring to/from a chair, or picking up a box, child, or pen. Employing a proper squat when strength training is one thing but the same techniques should be applied for everyday situations.

The majority of us are biased to spine flexion. Seemingly simple tasks like transitioning from a chair or picking up an object over utilize the low back. A curved, flexed spine is an open invitation to injury. A successful hip hinge is the safer alternative, as it protects your spine and incorporates your hip muscles. Maintaining a neutral spine (slight arch in the low back) is the name of the game. Whether you’re lifting a pen, heavy box, child, or simply transferring from a chair, learning a proper hip hinge can help you save on countless co-pays. A neutral spine the foundation of the hip hinge. Learning a proper hip hinge will train your body to flex from a more stable, powerful hip and spare your spine. As your hip hinges, the spine remains slightly arched and the butt is driven backwards. The backward movement of your hips will engage the large muscles on the back of the hip (gluteals/butt muscles), ultimately decreasing the stress on the knees and spine.

How’s Your Hip Hinge?

Checking your ability to hinge from your hip can happen countless times throughout the day. The next time you go to lift a shovel of snow, laundry basket, or even a pen from the floor, stop and evaluate your spine position. Are you simply bending over as if you’re touching your toes, or are you maintaining a good, safe, neutral spine? Here’s a look at a few scenarios:

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Figure 1 shows a typical everyday lifting scenario. Generally, most people bend from the spine, a position that increases your risk for low back injury and disc herniation. Figure 2 shows the hip hinge alternative. With a straighter, more neutral spine comes protection. It also improves the contribution of your hips to lift. Figure 3 is your best option for a quick, light lift. This golfer’s lift uses your opposite leg as a counter-weight. The position decreases your spinal flexion and utilizes your posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) to perform the lift.

Practicing a Hip Hinge

Training the hip hinge should start with a small backwards shift of your hips. With practice you’ll groove new movement patterns. Eventually you’ll want to progress towards a squat, ending with lifting. You’ll need to practice both your squat and self-awareness. Early on, you’ll want to be aware of your bending and lifting. As you begin to change the way you move, new habits will form and become automatic.

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