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Metabolic Stability Series: Creating More Successful Deadlifts & Hip Hinges




One of the most interesting things to watch as I spend more time in the industry is how things can change so drastically. When I entered the industry a bit more than 20 years ago, the deadlift was definitely and outlaw lift. The deadlift was something that only a handful of “crazy” lifters would do that many thought would do a bit more than drive them right into lower back pain. Heck, many of the fitness magazines at the time still had the deadlift as a “back exercise”.


Fast forward all this time later and the deadlift has become the solution to basically any problem. Most interesting is how it went from being seen as the cause of so many low back problems to being the remedy! The difference though has little to do with the exercise itself, but more so our approach, progression, cuing, and intent with the movement.


The deadlift is our foundational standing hip hinge. The most fundamental hip hinge pattern is the hip bridge, but we want to do as much of our work standing as possible. As physical therapist, Gary Gray, points out, navigating gravity is such an important and key concept of true functional fitness and why we want to do as much of our training standing as possible.


The deadlift should be relatively friendly client exercise. The speed is generally slow, we have a stable body position, and the weight moves right with our body. In fact, rather than thinking about lifting the weight, if we concentrate on good movement body mechanics, the weight is moved just as a part of our body.


Where do so many go wrong with the deadlift though?



Understanding the Hip Hinge


Far too often, the struggle the client has is actually with our cuing in understanding the movement. A great example is what we do in the hip hinge all the time. Cues like, “push the hips back”, or “place your weight on your heels”, sound like great cues to offer. However, the more we learn about the body, the more we realize that our cues have to change as well.


The best example is that we know force comes from the ground up. That our glutes are really a function of what our feet do and do not do in real life. Why do so many people fall forward when they squat or try to keep upright as they hip hinge? Because the body doesn’t like instability and when we feel unstable our body compensates.


Getting people to understand to use their feet can be challenging. That’s why instead of just shouting the same cues to our clients, we can use feedback tools to help the client understand HOW they are going to accomplish these goals. This is where mini bands can be a great tool to teach how to create active feet!


What we do with the lower body should mirror what we do in the upper body. Our hands are just as important to creating stability from the upper body to core as our feet are for the lower body to core. That is why we want to be as deliberate with how we hold a weight and what we do with it more than anything.


This is especially true when we realize that the true chain of our glutes and core are connected through what is known as the Posterior Oblique System (POS). This chain contains the lats/core/ and opposing glutes. Understanding this concept of how we are designed for movement is important in helping us identify the best tools to teach the hip hinge and what we do with the upper body before we even move the weight!



Progressing the Hip Hinge


It would seem obvious to progress our hip hinge training is to simply go heavier. That of course is an option, but does it always lead to making the progress we want and does it solve all our needs? When we realize that the core and glutes are true tri-planar muscles, we may think differently.


What do we mean by “tri-planar”? Our body moves about three planes of motion in most movements in life. We see this most profoundly demonstrated in when we look at walking and running. The way we do move through all three planes of motion so seamlessly is by having ways our body creates stability and force at the same time. That is why muscles like our obliques and core are designed more like a fan, than they are just up and down.


This should impact how we progress our hip hinge and most would immediately go to single leg deadlifts. While the single leg deadlift is a phenomenal version of the movement, it is often too big of a leap for most clients. That is where we can change how we look at progressive movement by examining how we program body position as we would load and repetitions.


In today’s post we are going to show you how we do so in simple ways that deliver huge results and options to you and your clients. More importantly, we are going to give cues on how to create movement, but just as importantly, ways that your clients can FEEL what you want them to do.


We then will move into some of the better ways of progressing the hip hinge that most coaches miss. By establishing this strong foundation the ability to keep progressing will only grow and success with the client means clients that are more eager to train!



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    Josh Henkin, CSCS is an international presenter and strength coach who has taught in over 13 countries worldwide and consulted with some of the top fitness and performance programs in the world. Don’t miss his upcoming DVRT educational programs HERE.