This blog focuses on the importance of learning to move through your hips instead of the lower back to help control back pain. The exercises will also improve lumbopelvic hip control which will assist in preventing future injuries.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Move through the hip without over flexing or extending your lower back. What might seem simple catches even the more experienced trainer out? Learning to move through your hip and not your lower back is a fundamental stage in eliminating back pain. It’s one of the most important things you can learn for long-term back health.
Back injuries can occur over time from excessive wear and tear. This is usually due to poor movement control. By constantly asking your lower back to produce too much movement after an injury is not going to end well. It will in its own way hold up a white flag, almost to say “hey, I can’t do this anymore”. This is when bad times begin.
Learning to keep the lower back stable while providing movement via the hips are going to prevent excessive pressure being forced onto the lower back. This pressure should be placed on the hips. After all, this is what the hips are designed to do in the first place.
By keeping your back position into a more ‘neutral’ position is a fundamental concept, we coach from the very beginning of training at RTF. The neutral spine topic is for another day. In the mean-time by learning to hip hinge correctly, your back will be much happier. You’ll also be in a much stronger place to learn more advanced exercises down the line.
Over the years, I’ve coached clients with all different abilities on how to move through the hip’s and not the spine. I’ve found the below order of exercises to yield great results. These exercises are all posterior chain dominant and focus on hip extension (NOT LOWER BACK EXTENSION). Simply put, they all work the glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles.
When it comes to learning to hip hinge correctly, practice makes perfect. If you want to get good at something, do more of it. Placing a few of these exercises into your warm-up is a great place to start. It will also make your warm-up/mobility routine more specific and efficient.
The load/weight will increase once you go into KB deadlifting and further into the list. Please ensure you have the technique mastered before adding weight to the exercise.
Four-point rock backs
Kneeling hip thrusts
Kettlebell (KB) deadlift
Take a look at the below videos to see how we coach each exercise. Technique breakdowns are around 25 seconds in.
Four-point rock backs
Okay, this one is more mobility based. However, it is a great back care exercise, which catches a lot of clients out. “So, you want me to go onto all fours and rock forwards and backwards, what’s all that about”?
If we ask the question, why are we doing this? There are multiple answers.
• You’re learning to keep the back neutral while moving through the hips.
• Learning to brace the abdominals.
• Finding ‘your’ squatting position.
• Great way to unload the spine for back pain suffers whose pain is made worse from load-bearing.
• Increases hip mobility. It’s also a starting position for a variety of more advanced hip mobility drills.
• Great shoulder stability/mobility drill.
• Provides thoracic spine (t-spine) extension and blends well into other t-spine mobility drills.
Kneeling hip thrusts
Being asked to get down onto the floor when you have a painful back might not be the most appealing thing to be asked to do. However, being asked to get down to your knees (known as a tall kneeling position) on the other hand, is more realistic without causing discomfort.
Providing you don’t have knee issues, kneeling hip thrusts are a great way to learn to move through the hips while strengthening the glutes.
Progressing on from the tall kneeling position, bridging from lying supine on your back is excellent at de-loading the spine. It allows the there to be some feedback of where the lower back is positioned. By compressing the lower back in the floor, you can get a sense of what a correct braced position feels like. The bridge is a simple, but effective exercise which blends well into learning to hip hinge standing.
Standing hip hinge
This is where the exercise is transitioned into standing. The first three exercises would give you the ability of what the hip hinge feels like. However, introducing gravity into the mix does make things harder. The hip hinge should not be mistaken to a squat. The upper leg/torso position is different. There is minimal knee flexion (usually around 20-30 degrees) which can be tricky to start with, especially if you’ve done a lot of squatting.
Kettlebell (KB) deadlift
The kettlebell deadlift is very similar to the standing hip hinge, but now there is an external force. The deadlift as the name suggests, is from a dead position. This means the weight is lifted from the ground and touched down to the floor after each repetition. It can be tricky getting the correct position if you have long legs and a short torso. You may need to increase the height of the KB by using a step/box to make the movement more comfortable. Changing the angle of the upper leg and torso slightly (so it’s between a hip hinge and squat movement) can also help safely position the kettlebell. The important part is keeping your back straight, and abdominals braced.
Everyone is different in terms of their anatomical makeup. What works of one person might not work for you.
Romanian deadlift (RDL)
The RDL focuses more on the lowering (eccentric) portion of the lift with the weight not touching the ground. The position of the upper leg/torso is very similar to the standing hip hinge. Only this time it’s with usually a barbell or dumbbells. With heavier barbell loads, the lift can start on pins within a squat rack or something similar. However, the weight can be lifted from the floor to get into the starting position. The most efficient way to do this would be by using a conventional deadlift technique. If you’re not sure how to do this, then by setting the barbell up from the floor will be your safest option.
The RDL is a great exercise which has challenging single-leg variations. The knee flexion and torso position are the same. The only difference, its’s on one leg!
All the previous exercises are with feet roughly positioned inline with the hips. The feet position with pull-throughs is in a much wider stance. This allows the hip joints to open up more, which is recommended especially if your particular hip anatomy doesn’t allow you to flex at the hip in a narrower stance. Taller individuals might find this stance more comfortable.
A cable machine (with low settings) or exercise band are needed for this exercise. The force of the cable/band pulling the hips back can help correct your technique if you struggle to move through the hips.
Kettlebell (KB) swing
There are many similarities to the KB swing and pull-throughs. The feet and hip setup are the same, and the angle of the KB staying high between the hips is the same as pull-throughs. KB swings are very dynamic, which is great for increasing metabolic rate and creating explosive power through the hips.
All-in-all there are so many exercises that have their foundation in the ability to be able to move through/extend the hips and not the lower back. Starting slowly and learning the movement will help keep you injury-free and performing at your best.
I hope you found this useful. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m always here to help.