Learning how to properly hinge is, in my opinion one of the most important movement patterns that EVERYONE should know how to do. I don’t care if you work out or not. If you learn how to hinge at the hips, your lower back (And frankly the rest of your body) will thank you. If, when you bend over to pick up anything (e.g. laundry, a ball, your shoes, anything) you look more like the picture on the right with that big curve in your spine and very little hip movement, you are moving very inefficiently and in a way that is not amazing for your spine if you start picking up anything even remotely heavy (a sofa, a packing box when moving house, or a loaded barbell) and may be contributing to lower back pain. (GIF)
Before learning how to hinge, you must learn how to maintain spinal stability. This is because currently your hips are tight and not used to moving, and your spine is loosey-goosey, so your body naturally takes the path of least resistance, and your spine moves to bend over rather than your hips. This is the bit that may be contributing to lower back pain if you are regularly lifting things off the ground. You want to make your spine rigid enough that your body chooses to make your hips move instead. To learn how to do this, you should practice the ‘Dead Bug’, outlined in this tutorial (CLICK ME!)
If you start consciously hinging properly every time you bend over for any reason, you will passively start to mobilise your hips, reduce the strain on your back and thus lower back pain, and also you will incidentally ingraining the good form pattern for movements like the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), Deadlift, kettlebell swing, and more.
The Hip Hinge:
Learning the Hinge itself is actually easy peasy once you’ve learned how to brace. (Again, if you can’t read the Dead Bug Guide!) Your body is pretty intuitive and like I said, if you make the easiest outcome for your body to move at the hips, it won’t fight you.
Stand nice and tall, and brace and squeeze your butt to flatten out your lower back. The counterintuitive part of hinging, is that you won’t just tilt your torso down. If you did that, you’d fall forward because your centre of gravity will move too far in front of your feet. Here’s the basic concept surrounding the hinge: The further your head and chest get from your feet due to leaning over, the more your hips need to travel away from your feet to keep your centre of mass over your feet. Below is a visual aid to show how the hips travel behind the feet as the hinge gets deeper. (GIF)
Start by sending your butt back, and lean your torso forward as you do so to prevent falling back. Then try starting with sending your torso forward, and send your butt back as you do so to prevent falling forwards. It’s the same thing, just different ways to visualise it.
The hinge is just a balance between the butt and the torso. Either way you visualise it, whichever works. As you hinge, end the position with a slight micro bend in the knees. Don’t bend them so much that you lose the feeling of tension in your hamstrings, for the time being as you learn the movement.
How not to:
If you are bracing properly, your hinge should look something like the above photo. However, if you aren’t, you are either rounding your back like always, or you may be overcompensating by arching your lower back and tilting your pelvis like donald duck (Shown below). In that case, you need to review your bracing technique. This may seem like an adequate alternative to the round back but it is allowing the lower spinal erectors to take over the job of the glutes and hamstrings that should be working, and as a result, may cause a different kind of lower back pain in itself!
The End Range:
Depending on how flexible your hamstrings are, you will probably notice a point where you can’t hinge anymore. To get any deeper, you might feel like you have to round your back. Don’t do that. If you are doing an RDL, for example, just end the movement there. Over time, from doing this your hips and hamstrings will loosen up and you will gain range. If you are picking something up off the ground, just bend your knees more to get closer to the ground.
Congratulations, you now know how to hinge! Enjoy your new life of picking things up off the ground without lower back pain.