As a beginner, you have many different things to try and learn and process as you begin your training foundation. As far as movement patterns in the gym, one of the most common areas in which beginners struggle is differentiating between the squat and the hip hinge. What’s the different you ask? While quite simple, mixing the two up on certain movements will have a dramatic negative impact on the outcome.
The Squat Pattern: Up & Down
Pictured above, the squat pattern involves heavy knee flexion of at least 90 degrees or lower. It is knee dominant and takes your hips to their end range of motion, vertically. It is up and down. Think of how a baby sits on the floor. In the gym, we perform varying degrees of this position for every single squat we perform and taking the time to learn it properly will pay huge dividends. While some principles should be the same for all (knees out, tall chest and full depth), how you obtain your set up and width of your feet will take some tinkering (as explained in the video below).
(Please note: a squat pattern for Olympic lifts will differ from this slightly as your torso will need to be more upright. This, however, is a beginner article and we are not yet concerned with adjustments for maximizing the Olympic lifts.)
As you begin to progressively increase load by adding a barbell to the top of the spine, it becomes increasingly important to keep your abdominals braced and tension in your shoulder blades. This will help stabilize your spine and allow you to maintain that effective, healthy position of the squat pattern throughout all challenging movements.
The Hip Hinge: Side to Side
Unlike the squat pattern, the hinge is hip dominant and involves very little knee flexion. It takes the hips through end range of motion, horizontally. It is side to side. Think driving your hips backwards as if you were trying to bump your butt on a wall behind you. It should create tension in your hamstrings to then use the hips for forward propulsion when performing deadlifts, kettlebell swings and hang position Olympic lifts. As you draw your hips back, your chest will naturally be pulled forward to a point where it is just slightly above parallel to the ground.
Movements that include the hip hinge are:
- Kettlebell Swings
- Barbell Rows: Set-Up
- KB Snatches
- Hang Snatches and Cleans: Descent
If you try and achieve the movement pattern of these exercises by squatting, you will be targeting the wrong muscles entirely and setting off an incorrect and unsafe chain of movement from the start.
It is absolutely critical that you DRIVE the hips back with very minimal knee flexion altogether. Your shins should be close to vertical and your knees should be nowhere near forward of your toes for any of the movements mentioned above.
To borrow a cue from Coach Robby, think about pulling back the bow of an arrow. The tension in the bow is the tension in your hamstrings.
Dave Thomas is an owner and coach at Performance360 in Mission Beach, San Diego.