Paleo Fitness: The Lowdown on Hinges

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

The purpose of the hinge is to move and produce force from the hips. This is a necessary life skill and Paleo exercise. Being able to move properly from the hips allows you to lift weight safely up off the ground without wrecking your back and maximizes your athletic abilities.

The most basic, or primal, hinging pattern is the dead lift: a bending of the hips to reach down and pick something up. Conventional wisdom tells you that you shouldn’t lift with your back, but in fact you should lift from your back — as well as from the rest of your posterior chain.

For example, when you watch a baby pick something up off the ground, the baby almost invariably reverts to the dead lift to do so. Very rarely will any baby pick something up from a squat because the dead lift is the natural human crane position. When the back is kept flat, the hips reach back, and the knees bend slightly, you’re in position to heave a considerable load from the floor.

Perhaps the most potentially injurious way to lift any weight off the ground, especially if you’re new to weight training, is to do so with a rounded (hunched) back. When hinging, push your chest up (think “proud chest”) to maintain the natural curvature of your spine.

Using your hips in the hinge

An athlete’s power comes from the hips. Hinging shows you how to fully use the strength and power of your hips. Whether you aim to pick something up without wrecking your back or to jump across a creek without ruining your pants, using your hips will help you do just that.

In a properly hinged position, the hips take the load, not the back. (And often, the hinge is referred to as a hip hinge.) A proper hinge ensures optimum spinal alignment and transmission of force; that is, when you hinge properly, the hips do the heavy lifting and the back is kept safe. Here’s how:

  1. Keep your back flat (never rounded or overarched).

  2. Push your hips back as far as possible.

  3. Allow your knees to bend slightly (but not so much that they come forward).

    The bottom of a hinge should have your legs and torso looking like the less than sign (<).

Everyone’s hinge will look slightly different. As long as your shins are vertical, your back is flat, and your hips are above the knees (but below the shoulders), you’re good to go!

Counting the benefits of a strong hinge

Developing the hinge movement pattern is extremely important. A strong, patterned hinge makes all the heavy lifting of life easier. Literally.

But there’s more to it than that. A strong hinge offers the following benefits as well:

  • Less risk of back injury

  • Less risk of knee injury

  • More power and athletic ability

  • A stronger, firmer butt

  • A resilient, sturdy back

  • Functional, durable hamstrings

Practice your hinge as often as possible. Whether you’re picking up a pencil or 500 pounds, get those hips back and keep the back flat!