If you’ve ever spent any time with me at the Atlas Strength Shop on a Strongman Saturday, you’ve likely heard me yell a few cues to someone I was spotting in the gym. Odds are, that one of the cues that you have heard is “drive your hips.” The hips are a tremendous source of power. Time and time again, one of the biggest movements that I notice people lack, is movement in the hips. Whether someone is going to perform a squat, a sand bag over bar throw or an overhead press, the hips are an essential component in turning a grinding, slow rep to an explosive one. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to discuss how the hips play a vital role in the primary four barbell exercises of the back squat, the bench press, the deadlift and the overhead press. In reality, the ability to engage the hips matters in powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting and Crossfit. Just about every sport will require its athletes to have strong and explosive hips.
The Back Squat
Most people who come into the gym generally have at least a half decent idea of what the squat should look like. Eventually after practicing the squat, they will come to understand things like bracing the core, driving your feet through the floor and engaging the lats. But something I have noticed with even people who have a decent squat, is the lack of hip drive. The feet will be grounded, their spine neutral and locked and the loaded bar will be secure on the upper back. However, many people seem to neglect the act of willfully pushing the hips forward. The hips act like a fulcrum. When squatting down with a load, the hips will move like a hinge and allow the load to be lowered with stability in a vertical path. When standing back up, the glutes help push the hips forward driving the weight back up. Many people neglect to activate the hips when standing back up. The hips aren’t just meant to provide a point of mobility. It can also be a place that generates power when the glutes are activated. During the concentric portion of the lift (coming out of the hole), squeeze the glutes as if trying to hold in a fart, and push the hips forward towards the barbell. This will increase the force production being applied to the load, and will also take strain off of the lower back. This takes some practice to really get a feel for, but not taking advantage of the glutes during the hip movement leads to a substantial loss of power.
The Bench Press
Many people probably do not realize that the hips play a vital role in producing stability during a bench press. The hips, if not properly engaged, can be the weak link in the chain of the bench press technique. The bench press starts with setting the feet into a good position, then engaging the hips and locking the lats down to create a stable base on which the barbell can be pressed. If the hips are not properly engaged, there will be a loss of stability, thus a loss of force exerted to the barbell. Fixing this is simple, but also takes practice. Once the feet are stable and the lats are locked in place, squeeze the glutes hard to bridge the gap between the two. From that position, it will be much easier to absorb the eccentric portion of a heavy bench portion, and it will be much easier to explosively lift through the concentric portion of the lift.
If there is ever an exercise in which the use of the hips should be obvious, it is the deadlift. The deadlift is about as simple of a hinge motion that you will see in the gym. Somehow, people manage to either under utilize or completely disregard the hips. Like the squat, just about everyone will say that the feet should drive through the floor, the spine locked and the core braced hard. The hips are what helps finish the lift during a heavy deadlift, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve yelled the cue “DRIVE THE HIPS FORWARD!” or ‘SQUEEZE YOUR ASS!” When the barbell is crossing over the knee caps, squeeze the glutes together as hard as possible to drive the hips forward. This will bridge the gap between the legs and the torso and allow the load to be lifted with less strain on the back. I’ve seen quite a few deadlift attempts fail simply because the lifter did not use their glutes.
The Overhead Press
During the overhead press, the hips once again bridge the gap between the torso and the legs. When performing the overhead press, the body should act like a piece of rebar hammered into the ground. Squeezing the hips as hard as possible while driving the feet down will solidify the body and allow the lifter to press with much more force. In case you haven’t caught on yet, hip engagement helps produce greater force. If the hips are relaxed, it will be much more difficult to press big weights. I don’t really think I can elaborate more on this point for the overhead press. Squeeze the glutes, brace and drive your feet through the floor.
Training the Hip Hinge
Outside of training the primary barbell exercises, it would be beneficial to include accessories that help train the hinging movement. One great exercise is the low back extension. Despite its name, I do not look at the low back extension as a low back exercise. Instead, I like to think of it as more of a glute and hip exercise. Instead of using the lower back to pull the torso into extension, use the glutes to drive the hips into the pad. The work should be felt more on top of the glutes and lessin the low back. I would recommend programming this exercise with volume in mind as opposed to intensity. Overloading this exercise too quickly could put more strain on the low back than intended, defeating the purpose of the exercise. To help address possible imbalances or weaknesses, performing single leg low back extensions are a great way to work each hip at a time. Single leg Romanian deadlifts are also great for developing strength in the hip hinge movement. Along with the hip hinge, the exercise trains the lifter to improve their grounding and work out imbalances in the hips. Conventional barbell Romanian deadlifts can be done to really develop power in the hip movement. Glute bridges, or hip thrusts, with a barbell are also a great way to develop the glutes and hips. Glute bridges can be performed with a higher level of intensity, but the lifter should be sure to properly brace the core as the load will be directly on hips. Performing heavy glute bridges with a relaxed core could potentially lead to an injury. I will always suggest that lifers consider including reverse hypers into their program. Reverse hypers are a simple and safer way to train the low back and hips. Allow the hips the weights to swing forward enough to feel tension in the hamstrings, then squeeze the glutes to pull the weights back up into extension. This allows lifters to train the movement without having to place a load directly on the spine or in a vulnerable position. Like all exercises, focus should be placed on technique first, then increase the intensity over time. No discussion about hip development exercises can be completed without mentioning good mornings. Good mornings are one of the most tried and true methods of developing hips for the sake of strength and power. This exercise requires the lifter to have a good range of motion and a strong brace. A lifer who can perform heavy good mornings will likely have a lifter with an impressive squat and deadlift. There are other accessory and supplemental exercises that can help develop the hips, but the ones already listed should provide at least a starting point to begin.
If you or someone you know needs some building that hip drive, the Atlas Strength shop has everything you need, including a reverse hyper machine, a low back extension bench and a glute bridge platform. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your next visit. If you need some high quality energy supplements, visit strikeforceenergy.com and use promo code ATLASSTRENGTH at checkout to get 20% off of your order. Be sure to like us on Facebook here, and give us a follow on Instagram here.
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