07 Dec Using the Hip Hinge to Assess Athlete’s Movement
If asked to analyze an athlete’s mobility and movement patterns with just one test, I would choose the overhead squat test. If allowed a second, I would have to choose the hip hinge.
The hip hinge is a fantastic tool for assessing an athlete’s ability to effectively load their glutes and hamstrings for powerful hip extension.
The hip hinge is a fantastic tool for assessing core motor control, the ability to dissociate hip flexion from lumbar flexion, and the ability of an athlete to effectively load their glutes and hamstrings for powerful hip extension. It is one of my favorite assessment tools for both athletes and patients with hip/low back problems.
For the strength & conditioning world, I believe the hip hinge to be a fundamental movement pattern that should be mastered (just as a bodyweight squat should be) before loading. This will increase safety as weight is loaded and, for me, the hip hinge is a great first step in a progression towards Olympic weightlifting for the development of power in athletes.
To test an athlete’s ability to perform a proper hip hinge have them hold a dowel on the back as shown in the top picture. The dowel should contact their back in three places: their sacrum (spinal bone at hips/buttocks), thoracic spine (upper back), and the back of their head. The athlete starts with a slight knee bend then bends at the hips, lowering themselves until a stretch is felt in their hamstrings.
If performed properly, the athlete should maintain all three points of contact with the dowel. When at the bottom position of the hinge, I like the athlete to be able to drop the dowel and have their hands at knee height. This shows they have the ability to stabilize their core and dissociate hip flexion from lumbar spine flexion. The athlete will then be ready to load the hip hinge pattern with exercises such as Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and Olympic lifts.
HIP HINGE FAULTS
Several common faults are seen during the hip hinge. Often, athletes will begin performing a squatting pattern instead of a hinge. This is frequent in athletes who are quad dominant and exhibit muted hip function.
Next, the bottom dowel contact will be lost in someone who flexes his or her lumbar spine during the hip hinge (shown above). This may be due to poor motor control, inability to dissociate hip and lumbar spine flexion, and occasionally very tight hamstrings.
Also common is loss of the middle point in contact in athletes who attempt to overextend the spine due to an inability to stabilize the core (shown below). Finally, some will drop their head forward, losing that point of contact.