Now anbody who has tried to coach a hip hinge movement, especially to young athletes, knows just how difficult it can be for people to pick up. Many athletes do not know how to separate a squat vs hinge or spinal movement vs hip movement. If you want to be humbled as a coach - take a group of 10 youngsters (5-7th grade) and try to teach the group an RDL.
You'd think a RDL was the hardest thing in the world for a human to perform, and boy can it be frustrating to see a total lack of body awareness/control. For all of us with a ton of experience using hinging exercises, we often take for granted how "easy" it is to hinge.
I've coached thousands of athletes to hip hinge, and it is HANDS-DOWN the most difficult movement to teach. That being said, through many trails, tribulations, mistakes - I've found some strategies to be very effective in teaching athletes, especially young athletes, to learn the hip hinge.
I always like to start my athletes off with an actual RDL - just to see HOW they perform the perform the movement. So I give them an empty bar - demonstrate and cue the movement - then ask them to perform.
This works on 2 fronts. 1 - If they actually perform the movement well, viola, I don't have to waste my time doing different progressions to get here. Unfortunately, this is NOT the norm. 2 - I can see where the movement breaks down. Are the squatting? Are they flexing their spine? Are they lacking posterior chain tension?
This gives me a specific area of focus or correction for the athlete - again rather than just throwing random things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Squat Pattern Mistake
If I see the athlete maintain good spinal integrity, but rather than hinging at the hips, the athlete presents a more squatty pattern - here are some progressions.
This is my go to for teaching the RDL - why? Because it presents an external cue, that allows the athlete to self-correct and FEEL their mistakes and corrections. It's not just me giving them cue after cue after cue - they actually get to play around with the movement, and get kinesthetic feedback.
There is no better coaching cue than giving the athlete ownership of the process and they need to self-corrrect, self-learn.
Now I call this a hip thrust, but it's basically a kneeling hip hinge. The beauty of this is 2-fold - 1. The band naturally pulls the athletes into a hip hinge position. So it essentially guides the athlete on the correct path - some slight "nudging" to the correct technique. 2. It removes a couple of moving parts - simplifying the movement.
The next progression involves a good morning with a wall touch. The good morning, again externally rotates the shoulders and promotes a big chest and flat back.
The wall now provides an external point they must contact, and if they squat - they won't reach the wall. So again the wall provides feedback, that we as a coach could never provide. They know if they touch it or not - concrete, external feedback!
Put your athletes in situations where THEY are the owners of the learning process.
The other major mistake I see with hip hinging is a total lack of spinal awareness. Essentially the athlete can't feel the difference between a neutral spine and a flexed spine. So the goal with this is again to educate or give the athlete experience of spinal movement, so they can contextualize movements.
My favorite starting point is the Cat-Camel - the athlete gets exposed to spinal flexion and extension and can now FEEL the difference between the two. One thing you'll find is that many athletes can't even do a Cat-Camel - they literally have no coordination or control of their spine - they're a motor moron. How the hell can I think they'll perform a hinge pattern, if they have absolutely no idea how to move their spine, let alone actually have an understanding of what their spine is doing during movement.
Next time you see an athlete flex their spine during a movement, ask them - "Do you feel your spine doing that?"
You'll be surprised when you hear many young athletes say - NO! They don't have the knowledge/awareness of what their own body is doing. So it's our job to give them that experience and expose them to these movements in a controlled/highlighted manner.
When you do this, you'll see the lightbulb go - Feel when you do the Camel - that's what you're doing during this exercise. Feel the Cat, we want you more towards this when you perform this exercise. NOW, I'm not saying I want my athletes in spinal extension during a hinge - but in this example, I'll gladly rather have an athlete get out of flexion and trend towards extension - because typically they'll find the middle ground - neutral.
This is a nice progression, as it gives a specific landmark on the hip hinge and the bench restricts forward motion of the knees (aka a squatty hinge). Again, the beauty is the constraints on the task that allow the athletes hinge movement to emerge. No coaching cue can duplicate the effectiveness of constraining the task/environment in this case - instead the art of coaching the hinge, or any movement for that manner, is putting the athlete in an environment that ensures the "correct" movement pattern to emerge, otherwise they won't be able to complete the task.
Now, everybody LOVES cues - cue this, cue that, external cue vs internal cue, etc.
What do many do when someone can't hinge? We cue the hell out of them!
Well, I don't know about you, but this hasn't worked extremely well for me. I've found that cues work well, when the athlete has a basic understanding of the movement pattern. Cues don't work when the athlete lacks general motor control, and can't contextualize the meaning of many cues.
That being said, here are some of my favorites - cues that have fine-tuned some minor technique errors or reminded athletes of the correct mindset
- "Peak Out Of A Window"
- "Imagine A Wall Is 1ft Behind Your Butt, Reach Your Butt Back To That Wall"
- "There's A Rope Around Your Hips and It's Pulling You Back"
- "There's A Rope Around Your Shoulders and It's Pulling You Forward"
- "Feel A Stretch In Your Hamstrings"
Now that we've gotten our athletes hinging well in a controlled manner, it's time to progress to dynamic hip hinging!
This could be Olympic variations, dynamic deadlifts, but my favorite to start with is the KB Swing.
The swing is a dynamic hinge movement that allows for greater speeds to overload the eccentric portion and really stress the SSC for great dynamic hip power.
The problem I see when starting to move to more dynamic movements - in any pattern - is a breakdown of mechanics/technique. This may mean the athlete is not ready for this progression - which means we have to step-back and continue with our previous regressions. It may also mean, the athlete just needs some more fine-tuning.
Building upon the bricks laid earlier - let's put an athlete in an environment that allows the correct movement to emerge. For the swing, this might involve placing an object betwen the athletes legs. This prevents a squatty swing, and overall fixes a while mess of technique errors that commonly occur in the swing.
Depending on the height of the athlete, we want the object to come up to the tibial tuberosity (object in video is too low). So this could be a cone, yoga block, medicine ball, whatever works for you. In the video I use a dumbell, but I would recommend using something like a cone or yoga block, so if the athlete hits it, their won't be any chance of injury or damage to equipment.
This is a great basis for learning olympic lifts, deadlifts, good mornings, and RDL's. If you work with youth athletes or even higher level athletes that can't hip hinge, this progression is key. The hip hinge technique will allow these athletes to progress to later exercises that will build the foundation of their lower body strength, especially the glutes and hamstrings.