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Is the Deadlift the Best Hip Hinge?

sandbag training

Cory Cripe, DVRT Master (Creator of DVRT Movement Strength)


The hip hinge is one of the most fundamental movement patterns we can do, but we get it wrong so many times! We are quick to assume the best way to solve and use the hip hinge is through the deadlift. Squatting, too, is an important fundamental movement pattern that we also get wrong, but if i had to decide which one is more necessary – give me the hinges! We often lose sight of the true purpose of the hip hinge and where the deadlift falls into the much bigger picture of movement.

By how people describe the purpose of the hip hinge and the squat, I’d say we miss the boat a bit on both! Most people will say you need to own a great squat so that you can sit on the toilet. Okay, if we want to go with that philosophy why do we need such heavy squats? After all, I don’t know about you, but being able to squat 300 plus pounds doesn’t relate to me going to the bathroom very well. If we want to go with such a thought process then maybe we should think of squatting as more in the light of mobility. Think about places where toilets are not raised high off the floor – deep squatting is needed not necessarily heavy duty squatting. Just sayin’!

Why do I say we miss the boat with hip hinges though compared to squats? They both look very similar, but you can really tell the difference by the placement of the torso and shins. In a squat, we are looking for a more upright torso and angled shins; where the hip hinge has more of an angled torso and vertical shins. The hip hinge is the movement pattern we need to do deadlifts, but not every hip hinge needs to be a deadlift.

sandbag exercises

There are many hip hinges that comes in different forms even though the use of different functional training tools. 

There was a time when my little Ruthie was a few years old and had discovered walking. On one of her journeys, she found a cylinder-shaped waste basket tipped over and wanted to pick it up. She walked (wobbled) right up over it, performed one of those fantastic baby squats, grabbed the waste basket, and did the most extraordinary thing … she stopped! After a moment pause, her hips rose up and she instinctively went into a hip hinge! From there, she successfully performed her first “deadlift” with the trash can off the floor (and all I could think was, ‘Where the hell was my camera!’).

No one coached Ruthie to perform a proper deadlift- she figured it out all by herself! The problem is through injury, over-repetitive motions, sedentary lifestyles we somehow manage to figure out how to not hinge properly anymore and move from our waists, and not hips, to bend over and that is the reason low backs suffer! In fact, many people, even some doctors, mistake hip hinging from bending at the waist and they are VERY different motions!

I have met too many people who have injured their low backs performing the deadlift, or some other hip hinge exercise and this, for obvious reasons, makes them scared, almost terrified, to perform any hip hinge exercise or movement. As I mentioned above, hip hinging is what we use to lift anything off the ground, so how does that work in life if you’re afraid to hip hinge – or bend over properly?

Recently I’ve had a 16-year old female athlete come to Fitness Lying Down looking to develop a stronger core because the litany of low back issues she’s struggled with stemming from injuring herself while … you guessed it … deadlifting! When it was time to train the hip hinge with the deadlift using The Ultimate Sandbag I got a look of absolute fear. When we had “the conversation,” she told me her doctor told her NEVER to deadlift again due to her low back injuries! Without trying to sound too arrogant I told her that was fine, we just won’t ever deadlift WRONG again!

The looks on faces when they experience the fact that deadlifting and other hip hinges are not about lifting up, but pushing down! So counterintuitive for many and sometimes difficult to grasp, but basically this has made it a lifesaver for all!

Using the Ultimate Sandbag makes it very easy to coach a proper hip hinge and create a better lat tension because of the neutral handles – as opposed to the pronated grip on the more popular implement: the barbell. In the hinged position, you want to look for no slack in the elbows or handles, elbows turned in tight while pulling apart the handles (creating the much needed tension in the lats), and watching out for the knees to not be touching the forearms – avoiding squats when you want to hip hinge. And then, well, push the feet through the floor to lift your USB up and violà! It’s magical!

Shhhhh … don’t tell anyone … but the secret to hip hinge exercises is to connect the glute and opposing lat while creating a stiffened core, and this can be achieved by pushing down to lift up while pulling the handles apart. A great place to begin with this concept (and we start EVERYONE at Fitness Lying Down with this restorative DVRT drill) is the hip bridge using the Ultimate Sandbag! 

sandbag deadlift

Having the strong core engagement is the platform necessary for strong hip movements with no energy leaks – AKA low back pain! Of course, hip hinging and lifting things off the ground in the real world is not done lying on your backs! So using the DVRT hip bridge (with its many variations) is a great way to get those anatomical slings fired during the warm-ups to prepare the body for the more real world strength opportunities later in the session!

Don’t miss Cory’s great DVRT programs! Save 25% with coupon code “summersale” on his tremendous DVRT Movement Strength programs HERE