Of all the different major muscle movements you can do, which is the most important? What is the one move that is involved in so much of what you do, both in exercise and in life? There are a LOT of options to choose from! My approach to this would involve looking a few different criteria: which movement involves using the largest amount of muscle mass (strength/stabilization) through the greatest possible range of motion (flexibility/mobility) and has the most carryover to everything else we do (functionality)? Take a moment and think about this… and the winner is……
Hip hinging! But what is that? Think about when you bend over to pick something up. Done properly, you hinge forward from the hips/pelvis and not your back. Beyond just the movement itself, proper hip hinging requires good, fairly even pelvic control and that is involved in standing, walking, bending, and even sitting properly. Training your hip hinge trains you to control your pelvis which is what a large part of your “core” musculature attaches to (yes, your “core” is more than just your abs, much more!)
My experience is that the vast majority of people (particularly those used to sitting for long periods of time on a regular basis) lack varying degrees of pelvic control. This often causes movement deficiencies and problems when trying to squat (get up and down), deadlift (pick things up from the floor) and resist spinal rotation (react to sudden changes in the environment which impact the body such as falls, having to move suddenly, etc.) Besides the vast muscular contribution to the standing motion of hinging/unhinging the hip (hamstrings, glutes, abs, erectors, hip flexors) it also has carryover effect to learning how to sit properly (proper pelvic tilt). From the human evolutionary perspective the change from walking with a forward lean to a more upright posture (currently best represented in the change in speciation to our direct ancestor homo erectus) had to involve a shift in function with regards to how the hips & pelvis are used in everyday movement. Mastering the hip hinge truly enhances our overall functioning on a day-to-day level which taps into our primal biological patterns.
Dr. Gray Cook from Functional Movement Systems came up with a really effective way to both assess and train the hip hinge: take a long dowel or broom handle and hold it behind your back with one hand holding it behind your neck and the other down by your lower back. Those with shoulder limitations may find this uncomfortable or even impossible to do so if that’s the case hold it any way you can for now (but see someone about those shoulders because those follow a close second in importance). The pole should be touching the back of your skull, your upper back, and the middle of your buttocks. Make sure the pole touches all three of those areas before proceeding. Now maintaining contact with those three areas slowly bend forward with your knees slightly bent. Imagine your hips & pelvis as a “hinge” that you’re rotating forward from. Continue until you feel the pole not touch your buttocks. Stop there and return to a fully-erect posture.
How far did you get? Someone with adequate pelvic mobility should be able to hinge forward to close to between 75-90 degrees with the pole staying in touch with the head, back, and butt. If you did it, congratulations! Loading such exercises like the deadlift and swing shouldn’t be an issue for you. If you didn’t, don’t get discouraged. You can most likely “grease the hinge” and get better at it – this will translate to more fluid movement and build a solid base upon which you can work to get stronger. But until you develop that level of control be sure to work a lot on the form and technique behind those sorts of exercises so you can protect your back and move properly. To look for more specialized help seek out trainers & coaches who are FMS (Functional Movement Screening) certified – they’ll have CFMSP after their names. We have other screens and tools to help further break down and improve faulty movement patterns which may be inhibiting someone’s ability to function and perform. Happy hinging!