Tip: Wall and Dowel Hip Hinge Drills

Dial in your hip hinge to master deadlifts, kettlebell swings, pull-throughs and more. Here's how.

The hip hinge movement pattern used in deadlifts, RDLs, and kettlebell swings is very different than the squat, though most people get them mixed up. These two drills will help you fine-tune your hinge.

Even if you have an appreciation for what the hip hinge feels like, doing it with perfect form and control can be a challenge, hence the injury rates in hinge-based exercises like the deadlift and kettlebell swing.

Most people need verbal coaching and tactile cues to achieve the proper positions and physically grasp the concept of tension, biomechanics, and movement execution.

The Hinge-to-Wall Drill

This drill helps you place an emphasis on the hips, which lead the motion. They unlock the initial aspect of the hip hinge and move backwards, as opposed to the knees unlocking and again squatting the hinge.

  1. Stand about a foot's length away from the wall. Place your feet in deadlift stance, around hip-width apart with minimal toeing out.
  2. Unlock your hips FIRST and hinge back by pushing your butt towards the wall. The hips lead the movement.
  3. Continue to drive your hips back towards the wall while allowing some natural flexion at the knees.
  4. With full control and feet solid on the ground, tap the wall with your butt and come back up into position.
  5. Step up away from the wall one inch at a time until you no longer tap the wall on the end range of your bodyweight hinges.

The beauty of this drill is the use of the wall as an external target that physically tells you where the movement needs to start. While receiving a tactile cue with the butt contacting the wall is great, it's not a requirement of the drill. The real focus is on the initiation of the hip dominant pattern towards the wall with the hips translating posteriorly, not the wall contact itself.

Dial It In With a Dowel

The next common pitfall you need to address is achieving and maintaining a fully neutral spinal position. That's where the dowel test comes in. The goal is to find a neutral-ish spinal position. You can do this by using a dowel on the back for an easy and reliable gauge of spinal positioning.

  1. Get your feet in deadlift stance.
  2. Position a dowel behind your back running vertically with the spine.
  3. Hold the dowel with the right hand in the natural curve of the neck, and the left hand in the natural curve of the lower back.
  4. The dowel should be in contact with 3 points on the spine: the tailbone, the mid-back, and the back of the head.
  5. Keeping these 3 points of contact, hinge at the hips.

The biggest advantage of the 3-point dowel contact is that it's an objective sign of your spine's positions. If ANY of the three points lose contact with their original setup positions, you'll know that unwanted compensatory movement is happening in some region of the spine.

The two most common compensations are the head coming off the dowel into flexion (leading with the mid back), and the dowel losing contact with the tailbone, which indicates lower spinal flexion or posterior pelvic tilting. Using the dowel to groove the hip hinge with the maintenance of the spinal position is a great coaching and motor learning tool.

Use Coach Dowel and Coach Wall to help you learn the hip hinge. That'll take care of a lot of your kettlebell swing problems.