Getting started with kettlebells: The hip hinge

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The hip hinge is a fundamental movement around which the majority of kettlebell movements are based. This includes the swing, clean and snatch.

What are the biomechanics of the hip hinge?

The hip hinge is a posterior weight shift at the hips. Unlike in a squat, where there is maximal flexion at the knees and minimal flexion at the hips. The hinge has maximal flexion in the hips and minimal flexion in the knees. This can present a learning curve that people will struggle to adapt to if they have poor proprioception – in other words body movement awareness.

The hip hinge starts with a break in the hips with them shifting to the posterior while maintaining a neutral spine. The knees will break a little to allow for counterbalance from the torso. As the hips shift to the back there will be a natural forward lean from the torso in order to keep the centre of balance over the mid-foot which is the ideal position.

Once the initial movement is completed the person will return to the starting position by contracting the hamstrings, glutes and lower back while maintaining a neutral spine position. At the end of the movement, there is a powerful contraction of the glutes but not a hyperextension of the lower back and hips. The neck should maintain a neutral or slightly extended position during the entire movement. By extending the neck slightly you can better activate the muscles of the posterior chain which will transfer into the upcoming ballistic movements.

How to teach the hip hinge

The two easiest methods of teaching the hip hinge are the wall touch and the dowel rod method:

  • The wall touch involves having your client stand between 5 and 10 cm from a wall. Then, by breaking at the hips you ask them to touch their glutes to the wall. Only the glutes can touch – there must be no contact with their back on the wall. Once they have the basic movement, you can move them further away from the wall in small increments until they reach an almost parallel position.
  • The dowel rod method helps to ensure that your client maintains proper spine alignment during the movement. From a standing position have the client hold a dowel rod against their backs. There should be a combined total of three points of contact: the back of the head, mid-back (in between the scapula) and just above the coccyx.

Have the client initiate the hip hinge movement while maintaining contact with all three points:

  • If the rod loses contact at any given point then there is a flaw in the movement that needs to be corrected.
  • If the rod loses contact with the head then there could be flexion in the spin resulting in the shoulders rounding over and the chest collapsing.
  • If the rod loses contact between the scapulae if could be a sign of hyperextension in the neck or thoracic spine forcing the rod to lift.
  • If the rod loses contact with the coccyx then it could be a result of flexion in the spine or tightness in the hamstrings causing posterior lift.

If you feel back pain during any part of this movement, stop what you’re doing and check your form. You may need to modify or decrease how far you hinge at the hips. If the pain continues, discontinue the exercise and talk with your doctor or a physical therapist before trying it again.

Contact Trifocus Fitness Academy

Want to find out how to teach other kettlebell exercises to clients? If you do then you need to study our Kettlebell Course. For more information, please follow this link.

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