Why a Proper Hip Hinge Is Critical to Nailing Your Workouts
We asked the experts to break down this common cue.
By Karla Walsh•
Whether you’re in the thick of an intense strength training class, getting settled climbing out of the saddle during an indoor cycling session, or in the heart of a soothing yoga flow, you may hear a familiar cue: Hinge at your hips. But what exactly does that mean?
A hip hinge may sound simple in theory, but it isn’t always a natural move for everyone. To help you brush up on why hip hinges are so beneficial, learn how to do them correctly, and reveal the most common mistakes to avoid, we sat down (hinging at the hips, of course) and chatted with the expects.
What Is a Hip Hinge?
“Hinging at the hips means bending forward from the hip joint while maintaining a neutral spine,” says Peloton instructor Jermaine Johnson.
A “neutral spine” isn’t necessarily a straight one. In biomechanics, a neutral spine refers to a vertebrae with its natural curves (at the neck, in the middle, and at the lower back) present (think of this like a very subtle “S” shape) and in good alignment. With a neutral spine, your butt shouldn’t be overly tucked in or sticking out.
To be clear: A hip hinge is not a literal hinge, like the ones you see holding a door stable as it swings open and closed. Instead, it’s a controlled movement that engages your hip flexors and hamstrings, rather than your lower back, Jermaine says.
“Essentially, when we hip hinge, we’re isolating a movement to the hip joints while keeping the spine or trunk from moving,” says Megan Brown, a Virginia-based physical therapist.
The Benefits of a Hip Hinge
“This position is crucial for exercises that require a strong, stable base,” Jermaine says. But it doesn’t have to be a complex movement to require a hip hinge. It could be as simple as bending over to pick a pencil off of the ground.
When done properly, a hip hinge isolates your hips and keeps your trunk neutral, Brown says. Here are some of the key benefits of this movement pattern:
Engages your powerful leg muscles instead of your back muscles, which are not meant to take on that much force during strength training workouts, long rides, or even some everyday tasks, such as lifting up a toddler or a heavy box.
Allows your back and core muscles to work together and improve your overall strength.
Opens up a wider and more natural range of motion.
Improves your posture and lowers your risk for back pain.
What Muscles Do You Use in a Hip Hinge?
“[Whether you’re] standing or on a bike, the glutes and hamstrings lengthen to flex the hip,” Brown says. “This ‘lengthening’ is an eccentric movement to hinge or flex at the hip joints. I often tell beginners, if it feels awkward at first, it is right!” The hip hinge engages the muscles in and around your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, hip adductors, and core.
Both Jermaine and Brown note that you’ll know you’re using these muscles properly—and are doing a hip hinge correctly—when your core is activated and your posterior chain (a group of muscles in the back of your body) is engaged. You shouldn’t feel any strain in your back; if you do, this might be a sign that you’re not properly tapping into your core.
How to Do a Hip Hinge
To practice hinging at the hips from a standing position:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Shift your weight to your heels. With your chest open, back flat, and knees slightly bent, push your hips back as you hinge your torso forward. The motion should take place at your hip joint. (Imagine you’re going from a standing position to sitting in a low chair that’s far behind you.)
Once your torso is approximately at a 45-degree angle, pause.
Reverse the movement by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward and up to return to the standing position.
“For an extra challenge, add resistance or try single-leg variations,” Jermaine says. “Maintaining form is crucial for performing this exercise safely, though, so it's always better to start small and build up your flexibility.” Keep in mind that you can perform this same motion on the bike or while lying on the ground with your knees bent.
Want to practice the hip hinge exercise? Try a strength, mobility, or yoga class on the Peloton App.
6 Hip Hinge Exercises
Hip hinges show up frequently in your daily life, as well as in your strength, cardio, and mobility workouts. Here, Jermaine and Brown share six common examples:
Glute bridges: As you lie on the ground with your knees bent and feet on the floor, lifting and lowering the hips in a bridge position teaches your body how to isolate the hip hinge movement. Brown suggests this exercise as a “good place to start” when trying to master the hip hinge.
Romanian deadlifts: As you lift and lower, the goal in this exercise is to keep your back straight. The hip hinge is what allows your torso to lean forward to create a stretch and transfer the resistance to your hamstrings.
Kettlebell swings: A controlled hinge backward and forward at your hips generates the force required to move the weight of the bell.
Squats: While your knee joints control the majority of the range of motion for this exercise, you must hinge at your hips at the start of each squat to avoid rounding your back and hunching your shoulders forward. A hip hinge also helps you adjust your center of gravity as you lower your butt closer to the ground.
Cycling in second or third position: When riding in either of these out-of-the-saddle positions, it can feel tempting to transfer your weight to your hands on the handlebars. However, that can do a number on your back and shoulders—and not in a good way. With proper cycling form, the goal is to keep your hips hovering over the seat and in line with your feet. In second position, your hips should have a slight hinge, with your chest open, torso engaged, and hands lightly holding the horizontal front handlebars. In third position, you’re in that same chest-open position, just with a slightly greater hip hinge. In this position, your hands rest about three quarters of the way up the vertical handlebars.
Standing Forward Bend: This is a go-to yoga pose for many—and part of numerous post-cardio stretch routines. In this posture, hinging at your hips gives you the range of motion you need to touch your toes (without straining your back).
Common Hip Hinge Mistakes
It’s wise to consult a fitness professional for personalized guidance about how to properly hip hinge. If you find yourself experiencing pain in your lower back or neck, speak with a physical therapist or your doctor.
As you integrate more hip hinges into your workouts and everyday life, aim to avoid these common mistakes:
Tucking your pelvis in: Instead of pushing your pelvis in toward your body, shift your hips back toward the wall behind you. “Imagining sitting back in a chair can help prevent this,” Brown says.
Rounding your back: Focus on maintaining a neutral spine and engaging your core muscles. With the proper positioning, you should feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings, Jermaine says.
Overextending your spine: If you’re eager to ace that hip hinge form, you may inadvertently lean your trunk too far forward or lead with it, rather than starting the movement by sending your hips back, Brown says. “It’s better to isolate the trunk out of the movement and allow it to only come from the hips,” she says.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.