Deadlift: Proper Form – Hip Hinge - Upright Health

Deadlift: Proper Form – Hip Hinge

Welcome to the "Deadlift: Proper Form" series! Maybe you've just started lifting weights. Maybe you're a trainer who wants to learn the nitty gritty about the deadlift. Whatever the case, welcome!

In this article, I'm going to focus on the "hip hinge" and its importance in the deadlift. 

I'm going to explain:

  1. What the hip hinge is
  2. How I break down the hip hinge for my clients
  3. My current go-to stretches and drills to improve a client’s hip hinge

So what is the hip hinge?

The hip hinge is a technique where you hinge (like a door hinge) at your hips to bend over.

You’re standing in one place. Then…

  1. Your hips bend and travel backward.
  2. Your chest travels forward.
  3. Your knees slightly bend, while your shins stay vertical (or almost so).
Hip Hinge Deadlift Form

All of these things simultaneously occur in a proper hip hinge, in proper deadlift form.

Easier said than done.

So read on.

If you are by a barbell at the moment and would like to practice your hip hinge, check out JTS’s excellent tutorial on the matter.

I have independently come to the same conclusions regarding everything they have to say about the deadlift.

The rest of this article is to help you understand and troubleshoot your hip hinge, in greater detail.

How I break down the hip hinge

The most efficient way I’ve found to break down the hip hinge is to divide it into two parts.

  1. Active foot
  2. Pelvis-on-femur motion

I’ll explain what those terms mean in a moment.

But the reason I divide the hip hinge into those two parts is because I’ve found that if a client can really nail those two parts…

Then everything else that is supposed to happen in a hip hinge tends to (though not always) falls into place by itself.

So I find it efficient to break it down that way, and keep in mind that (to teach the hip hinge) I’m always trying to reinforce those two parts in one way or another.

What is active foot?

Active foot means using your foot muscles to dynamically stabilize your stance.

Stabilize = prevent you from falling over.

Dynamically = using your muscles to make micro-adjustments as your bodyweight subtly shifts to and fro.

What’s in an active foot?

  1. The shaping of the bottom of your foot into a tripod

  1. The maintenance of said tripod (against the pull of gravity, against the distraction of your toes adjusting their grip on the floor, etc)

Why a tripod?

Because a tripod makes for the most stable possible base.

Tripod Monopod Foot Ankle Stability

Monopod vs. Tripod -- Which one do you is more easily toppled?

This means your foot must also act as a tripod to provide the most stable possible base.

Foot Ankle Tripod Stability

And since a tripod has three arches spanning between its three points of contact… so too must your foot, if it is to function as a tripod.

Foot Arches Ankle Stability

The three points of contact of your foot tripod are also the three shared bases of your three foot arches.

So:

Active foot means exerting muscular control over your foot’s three arches…

To form a foot tripod…

To dynamically stabilize your stance.

What is pelvis-on-femur motion?

Pelvis-on-femur motion means using your hip muscles to roll your pelvis forward atop your femurs (thigh bones), as you bend over.

Hip Hinge Pelvic Tilt Neutral Spine

The triangle is your pelvis. Notice how it moves over the thigh bones.

And doing so, without unintentional motion in surrounding joints and/or planes of motion.

Hip Hinge Deadlift Mistake Low Back Rounding

The third picture with the red line shows additional low back rounding. (The spinal curvature changes relative to start position.)

Hip Hinge Deadlift Mistake Knee Varus Tight Piriformis

The third picture with the red line shows additional hip external rotation. (The knee turns outward relative to start position.)

Precise pelvis-on-femur motion in the sagittal (front-to-back) plane is what we want in a proper hip hinge for proper deadlift form.

Hip Hinge Posterior Weight Shift Drill

Precise pelvis-on-femur motion. No low back rounding. No knee turn-out / turn-in during this deadlift.

So:

Pelvis-on-femur motion means exerting precise muscular control over the movement of your pelvis atop your femurs.

My favorite ways to improve the hip hinge

Now let’s say I’ve just finished coaching a client through the hip hinge.

Different people learn in different ways. So I may have to use different coaching cues for different people, to teach them to perform the same task.

However...

If it's clear to me that they're unable to perform a task due to muscle strength/flexibility/control issues... then there is no magic deadlift coaching cue that can resolve that.

In that case, to improve their hip hinge technique, I will prescribe supplemental work / corrective exercises.

For active foot issues

My go-to drill/stretch combo is the “heel raise” and “butterfly stretch” (as instructed below).

Heel Raise

Butterfly

Strengthening the foot to improve one’s active foot needs no explanation. But why also consider the hips?

Because:

As discussed in my article, “Deadlift Muscles Worked: Gluteus Maximus”, what happens at the foot is inseparable from what happens at the hip above it.

We can strengthen the foot muscles as much as we want. But if the immobility of the hip muscles above it causes that hip to collapse… then so too will said foot/ankle.

Hip Internal Rotation Ankle Collapse

Hips affect ankles. And vice versa.

So, depending on a client’s specific scenario, I may prescribe only the “heel raise”.

Or only the “butterfly“.

Or both. Or neither.

Due to the complexities of the human body, a client and I may need to explore other courses of action to produce the desired results.

But whatever route we end up taking, I keep my eyes on the prize — improving their ability to control their foot's three arches.

Why?

Because nobody gets to skip mastering active foot, if the end goal is proper deadlift form.

——————

For pelvis-on-femur motion issues

My go-to’s are the “kneeling hip hinge” and the “frog stretch” (as instructed below).

Kneeling Hip Hinge

Frog

The frog stretch, done properly, teaches you how to roll your pelvis over your femurs, while resisting unintentional:

  1. Low back rounding
  2. Hip external rotation

The frog stretch also helps you relax any overly tense muscles which may be inhibiting pure, clean pelvis-on-femur motion.

The kneeling hip hinge helps you practice said pure, clean pelvis-on-femur motion.

Depending on a client’s specific scenario, I may implement only the “frog stretch”, only the “kneeling hip hinge”, both, or neither.

Due to the complexities of the human body, a client and I may need to explore other courses of action to produce the desired results.

But whatever route we end up taking, I still keep my eyes on the prize — improving their ability to roll their pelvis over their femurs.

Why?

Because nobody gets to skip mastering pelvis-on-femur motion, if the end goal is proper deadlift form.

——————

That wraps up my approach to breaking down and improving the two parts of the hip hinge:

  • Active foot
  • Pelvis-on-femur motion

For proper deadlift form. 

Implement and enjoy! 

vincent with back pain from the deadlift

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About the Author

Vincent's first passion is powerlifting. Over the years, his desire to master his body and mind have led him into deep explorations in stretching, mobility, and mindfulness.