The Hip Hinge: A Key to Glute Development and Good Exercise Technique

hip hingeOne of the primary reasons people get injured during training, aren’t progressing in lower body exercises, and have trouble building the backside of the body (especially glutes) is that they haven’t mastered fundamental movement patterns such as the hip hinge! The hip hinge is arguably the most important movement pattern in strength training and basically involves sitting back with minimal knee bending and then “snapping” forward. By using the hip as a hinge for the lower and upper body we’re able to thoroughly engage the posterior chain – especially glutes, hamstrings, and lower back – during the deadlift, kettlebell swing, and other movements that are largely hip dominant. Even though the hip hinge can seem like a simple movement pattern, the fact is that most people who are new to strength training – and even many intermediate lifters – have difficulties performing a posterior weight shift through the hips.

Failure to hip hinge results in poor exercise technique

Don't be this girl. Hips way too low and excessive knee flexion.

Don’t be this girl. Poor deadlift form: Hips too low, excessive knee flexion, and no hip hinge.

But why is the hip hinge so difficult to learn, and why is poor technique in hip dominant exercises so common? Let’s have a look at the primary reasons…

  • Sitting for most of the day can result in weak glutes, weak abdominals, tight hip flexors, and tight lower back muscles (“Lower crossed syndrome”), which makes it hard to do basic strength exercises correctly.
  • Many lifters tend to focus on the front of their body and train their quadriceps more than the glutes and hamstrings. This quad dominance then sets the stage for poor exercise technique in hip dominant exercises as the lifter will take the load off the hip extensors.
  • Wearing high heels can over time result in postural problems and signs of lower crossed syndrome.

When doing exercises with poor technique you’re strengthening a specific movement pattern that over time makes it even harder to perform the exercises correctly.

Many gym goers consider the deadlift to be a dangerous exercise because of the technicality of the movement and massive amounts of weight that can be used, but the fact is that a properly performed deadlift – appropriate load, neutral spine, spreading the floor, and driving through the heels – is a very safe exercise.

You need to master the hip hinge if you want to build a great backside

A general theme among the females I’ve trained over the years is that they want to emphasise their glutes and abdominals, but what a lot of people fail to realise is that proper exercise technique isn’t just important for staying free of injuries, but it’s also essential for developing the muscles you actually want to target. You can keep squatting and deadlifting all you want, but if you’re not engaging the posterior chain correctly, you will never be able to develop the strong and sexy curves you’ve been hoping for.

Deadlift, swings, and other hip dominant exercises are great for building strong glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles, but the majority of people at the gym aren’t getting close to optimal results from these exercises because they haven’t mastered the basic hip hinging pattern.

woman-glutessprinters glutes

Learning the hip hinge

So, how can you learn this fundamental movement pattern? Aiming to push the hips back and maintaining a neutral spine is a good start, but for most people this isn’t enough. Even when people are cued to push their hips back and avoid knee flexion, the majority end up doing a poorly performed squat. After trying a lot of different approaches, I’ve found the exercises below to be especially effective for someone who’s having trouble with the hip hinge.

Step 1: Pull through

The Dowel Romanian deadlift is used by many coaches when teaching clients the hip hinge pattern, and I’ve also used this exercise successfully myself. However, I’ve found that pull through with a band or cable can be even more effective. The great thing about the pull through is that the weight is attached behind you, and it therefore forces your hips back. It’s still possible to perform the pull through without a good hip hinge, but if you concentrate on keeping your chest high, pushing the hips back, and finishing the movement by squeezing the glutes, it’s usually a very effective exercise. Keep doing this exercise until you’re getting the hip hinge pattern, and then use it as part of your warm-up routine prior to strength training sessions. Doing sets of 10-20 reps is perfect on the pull through.

pull through

Perfect hip hinge technique. Image source

Step 2: Kettlebell Swings

When you’ve learned the basic hip hinging pattern by doing pull throughs, it’s time to move on to kettlebell swings. On this exercise you should aim to “replicate” the pull through movement, but this time with more explosiveness in the concentric part of the lift. Slowly increase the weight and do sets of 10-20 reps. While some people perform the swing with their backs almost parallel to the floor in the bottom position of the exercise, others prefer a more upright back position. The important factor is to drive with the hips while keeping a neutral spine.

Step 3: Deadlifts and strengthening of the posterior chain

After mastering pull throughs and kettlebell swings, most people manage to perform variations of the deadlift properly and can slowly increase the weight and get stronger in this compound lift. Others have to strengthen the posterior chain, work on postural issues, and focus on their glutes with specific exercises such as posterior pelvic tilt hip thrusts, heavy pull throughs, etc. before they “get” the deadlift technique. Keep performing pull throughs, swings, light explosive stiff-legged deadlifts etc. as part of a warm-up routine prior to weight training sessions.


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