The hip hinge should be an essential part of any youth athlete program. This movement pattern is key in developing strong, powerful hamstrings and glutes which carry over to their overall athletic development. Not only will it build strength it will also teach body awareness, coordination and it will provide a foundation for other movements such as KB swings, Olympic lift variations etc.
During the early stages of training it’s critical to break down and refine these movement patterns. This ensures you are building strong base for future training and can allow you to assess the correct progressions for each individual.
From my own experience, it’s become increasingly difficult to teach the hip hinge due to changes in posture from excess sitting, smartphones and everything in between! With youth athletes spending more time behind a screen than in the gym it’s crucial to get the most out of each session and to start to build these good habits and patterns at an early age.
This piece is going to look into what I have seen with youth athletes and the 3 exercises we start with to teach the hip hinge.
What we’re looking for –
Head Posture – With kids spending enough time on their phones we want to focus on the head being in a neutral position and not having their head forward of their body
Shoulders back and down – This means pulling the shoulder blades back so the upper back isn’t rounded and there is no excess shrugging at the shoulders
Flexed vs Neutral Spine – Teaching spinal awareness. A rounded back is going to place more pressure on the lower back and have a greater risk for injury. Keeping the back flat and spine neutral is the key to safely executing the movement the movement
Soft knees – Have a slight bend in the knees during the lowering down phase. This should allow a stretch through the hamstrings while not turning the hinge into a more a squat pattern
Pelvis tucked and Ribs down – This at the start and end of each lift. This helps in keeping the neutral spine and engaging both the core and glutes
So now we know what we are looking forward with the hinge, it’s time to take a look 3 simple progressions –
Kneeling Hip Hinge
This is where we really simplify the movement and take out a few of the moving parts! Having the athlete on the ground will take out what’s happening with the legs and allow them to focus on the hip hinge.
Start by having the athlete sit up tall as possible which allows them to find that neutral pelvis position and keep their glutes engaged. From there instruct the athlete to sit back towards their heels and then come back to the start. The key is to ensure they keep the shoulders back and avoid falling forward as they push they lower down. This is a great place to start for most athletes before moving onto the next step.
Broomstick Hip Hinge
This is one of my favourite exercises for teaching the hip hinge. This is because presents an external cue, that allows the athlete to self-correct and feel the movement. I’ve found it’s best to provide minimal cues so can they get to play around with the exercise whilst receiving tactile feedback.
For some athletes, I will provide a quick visual demonstration and instruct them that the stick has to stay on contact with the body. This starts from the back of the head all the way down to the lower back and glutes. Remember sometimes less is more and we forget how good young athletes are at solving problems!
DB RDL to Wall
The next progression adds in some light loading in the form of dumbbells (DBs). When the athletes is ready to progress then you can add in this drill. Once again the athlete is provided with two forms of external feedback which allow them to work out the correct technique. Instruct the athletes to push the hips back and touch the wall. Once again this allows the athlete to self organize and feel the contact with the wall.
The other instruction to keep the DBs along the legs. This is another way to provide kinaesthetic feedback. If the DBs come away from the legs then they will have to adjust and pull the DBs closer to the body. Cues can be added to refine the process however most athletes will work it out after a few attempts. These simple ideas put athletes in situations where they are the owners of the learning process!
Adding in these progressions can be the building blocks for the hip hinge. There is no way to jump, land, change direction in the open field, or train power without a strong foundation of this movement. While each athlete will learn and progress at different rates they will continue to develop through consistency, focus and repetition.
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