The bulk of youth in the modern era have completely forgotten how to move, and have lost all sense of what their body is doing in space (proprioception). Teaching them to hip hinge can be a daunting task, particularly if you’ve been hinging for years it came naturally to you.
In my original
, the posterior chain was only trained with bridge variations and supermans. Looking back, I was wrong to set it up that way.
You have to teach the hip hinge to all athletes, preferably before they get to high school.
should be teaching better movement patterns. The hip hinge is the backbone of the athletic position, and from it, almost every athletic play begins. It’s from this position that you optimize weight distribution for safe, powerful agility in any direction. It’s from the hip hinge pattern that you better understand the squat, and lay the foundation for any decent training program.
The Basic Athletic Position
The typical scenario youth coaches find themselves in is one coach and 40+ athletes. I recommend starting kids in a grid of lines where each athlete is five yards behind the athlete in front of them, and five yards from the one to their left and right. From here you can control, instruct, and assess each of them most efficiently.
Start the athletes with feet shoulder width apart. Ask them to look straight ahead to the horizon and retract their shoulder blades. Teach this so that you can begin to simply cue: “retract.” Now ask them to soften their knees. Teach them with visual demonstration that the shins remain close to vertical, as the hips and knees both flex slightly. Once the athletes have shoulders retracted, eyes ahead to the horizon, and softened knees, cue them to “bow.” Most athletes are now in an athletic position. Don’t over-cue an athlete who got it mostly right; just let them stand there being awesome, and let them know about it.
The common faults are:
- The Squatty Hinge: Too much forward knee flexion over the toes
- The Electrocuted Hinge: Overly stiff legs with no knee flexion
- The Reachy Hinge: Reaching their head and shoulders forward towards the ground. These athletes have no concept of bending using the legs, and are often the toughest fixes.
Have athletes hold the bowed position while you patrol the room looking for reachy, squatty, or electrocuted hinges. For those struggling, I find the best fixes are:
- Reset. Help them pull their shoulders into retraction and try again.
- If they have retraction but are squatty, put one hand on their shoulder and one on their knees, and push the knees back so that they find the hinge.
- If they are electrocuted, softly push on the back of their knees to soften them. Bring their shins vertical and call their attention to this. Then put a hand on their shoulder and one on their knee to slowly maneuver them into the bottom position.
At this point, most athletes should be in a decent athletic position.
Progress to the Full Hip Hinge
The full hip hinge maintains shoulder retraction while pushing the hips even further back, to the extent of the athlete’s range of motion. This must be taught well before any deadlift variation, kettlebell swing variant, and certainly before any Olympic lifting.
I introduce this with the concept of the “tired athlete;” the universal resting position in games where an athlete rests their hands on their knees with their hips fully flexed and shins vertical. This is a decent starting point for the bottom position of the hinge. Get the athletes there, tell them to retract their shoulders and take hands off their knees, but maintain the position. Cue them to “swim” their arms back, as if they were holding a bar tight to their shins (a little foreshadowing).
Now take them all to a long wall, like the perimeters of a gymnasium or outside of a building. Have them get their backs to the wall and set up a foot-length from it. Cue them to look ahead, retract, soften their knees, and bow, reaching their butt towards the wall.
Some will simply fall back with all their weight on the wall. Restart them, this time explaining that they are to reach back under their own control and get to a point where they are just barely tapping the wall. Explain that they are not hugging the wall, just “flirting” with it. Go through all the cues again, and have them hold the bottom position of the wall tap hip hinge.
Patrol the room, looking for the squatty, reachy, and electrocuted faults, and using the previously mentioned solutions. It helps to pull your squatty hingers another inch away from the wall. On your directive, have the athletes push through their heels to wedge their hips forward into extension. Cue this as “push heels and thrust.”
You need to put them through many reps to make this bottom position automatic. Have them hold each time to get a feeling of the mild stretch through the hamstrings. Some athletes will have shorter hamstrings, and may not be able to get as far without lumbar rounding. They must only go to the extent of their range of motion.
For the super-strugglers, there are some one-on-one fixes you can run through. My first go-to is to place a bench in front of the knees and have kids grab a dowel rod or PVC pipe and hold it tight to their back. The dowel rod must remain in contact at the head, thoracic spine and hips. Their knees must remain in contact with the bench. Have them slowly practice the hinge here, and with focus and intent, they will learn the movement.
Young Athletes Must Be Taught to Hip Hinge
There is no way to jump, land, change direction in the open field, or train power without a strong foundation in the hip hinge. It will be the foundation of their deadlift, and the battery of power movements including proper jump technique, medball throws, kettlebells, and Olympic lifts.
Pay close attention to teaching this pattern with three distinct phases. There is no benefit to adding load to the hinge pattern without a strong emphasis on loading the hamstrings, retracting the shoulder blades to maintain spinal integrity, and pushing through the heels, rather than pulling with the arms. There is no upside to loading a poor movement pattern—only pain. When teaching and progressing, slow the athlete down. Youth learn at different rates, but all can learn and improve this skill with repetition and focus.