The drill formerly known as the dowel hip hinge (RIP)

If you haven’t noticed by now, we are intent on changing the landscape of training and rehab and have/will challenge what a lot of people have taught for years.  We are moving forward, and this is stuff we have been talking to the “leaders” in the industries about for years.  But, change is scary when you aren’t used to changing – luckily for us, change is our way of life and our way of teaching.  We are always looking for “better,” and we are still willing to improve what we do, even if that means admitting that what we have done before needs to be replaced.  Just like the dowel hip hinge.  

A LOT of people feel the need to give their take on the instruction of this simple drill, over 4,000.

Both Jeff and I have used this drill in the past but abandoned it because, well, it is just not a good drill.  The intent is to get people to move their hips and shoulders together on an unmoving spine. I’ve seen hundreds of people nail this with a dowel, but then once they get over a bar or a bell or a sandbag they have developed movement amnesia.  Everything that was covered in the 15 minutes teaching the DHH has to be repeated without the dowel.  Thirty minutes to teach a deadlift – that is absurd.  Ten.  Ten minutes at most – if you can’t instruct a DL in 10 minutes there are potentially 2 reasons.  First, the person doesn’t possess the requisites to do a DL.  Second, your coaching progression is lacking.  The first can be mitigated 100% of the time.  Within 30 seconds, we can tell you who is capable of doing a deadlift (then the responsibility falls 100% on your teaching ability).  If you are wondering which part of the FMS we use to test this, stop wondering – the answer isn’t in the FMS.  And no, it is not a toe touch.

There are 14x more videos on a “simple” drill than there is on an entire spoken language floating around the Google.

But, those are two entirely new articles, and this article is focused on the eradication of the DHH.  The DHH violates many rules of how movement develops:

  1. Movement Begins and Ends with the CNS.
  2. The richer the sensory experience, the more effective “it” will be.
  3. Symmetry precedes asymmetry.  Always. 
  4. Stability is established from the head down and midline out.
  5. Patterns and Strategies develop from simple to complex.
  6. Static before Dynamic.
  7. Stable before unstable.

Let us explain. Let’s begin with The richer the sensory experience, the more effective “it” will be.  In this instance, the “it” is the DHH.  What sensory experience are we providing?  A tactile impulse to the skin at the head, shoulders, and sacrum.  That is it.   I guess, technically, there is a sensory experience, but it is pretty weak when we consider all the options out there to create a sensory experience, especially when we consider that how the sensory input from the t-spine, sacrum, and head is prioritized by the CNS.  It’s like when your kid doesn’t want to do their homework, or go to school, or clean their room and after acting fine all day, they say “I don’t feel good”.  As parents, we hear what they are saying, but it doesn’t really change what we are doing.  Yes, the CNS gets sensory input from the sacrum, t-spine, and head but it doesn’t account for much when compared to the areas that carry the most weight in the sensory world (hands, feet, and mouth). 

We have mentioned the arm orientation before, but it that is a problem because symmetry precedes asymmetry, always.  Natures rule, not ours.  The DHH is trying to create symmetry out of asymmetry.  Phillip Ball wrote a great book describing this, and in much better words than I can use.  Creating symmetry from asymmetry CAN be done, but since this is counter to how nature works, it creates confusion in the CNS and makes things more complicated; both of which is fine, but not for an entry-level teaching drill – In reality, because of the complexity of the asymmetrical arms, DHH should be considered a progression of the deadlift, not a regression from it….

Keep in mind, if the easiest standing strategy (DL) is broken we need to dial back the CNS input in that posture or lower the posture, which is why we people regress to the DHH, unfortunately though the asymmetrical input from the hands/arms adds complexity to the input and actually makes it a progression instead.  Oops.

How does the dowel stimulate stability from the head down or the midline out?  It does not.  Not much to say on this, but if we intend to stabilize the spine, the dowel does not provide any response that follows this progression of stability; in fact, it often coaches stability from the feet up which is bass-ackwards when all things are considered.  This violation mixed with the asymmetrical set up we discussed above both contributes to making the DHH complex to the CNS, which violates the patterns and strategies develop from simple to complex rule.  Sorry.

What about “rooting” or stability from the feet up?

It’s a party trick.  “Rooting” works immediately because it has a direct line to the CNS and jumps in front of all other sensory input because of the number of sensory receptors in the feet.  The only areas that can trump the feet are the hands or the mouth.  People can be immediately taught to “root” but that isn’t authentic stability – plus, it’s only a strategy that works in standing.  Spinal cord and brain are prioritized; top down, midline out stability is authentic stability.  Rooting taught as a part of a stability strategy from the ground up is great (like what we do). Rooting taught at weekend workshops for the “wow!” factor is a party trick; it’s putting a nitrous bottle on a Chevy Volt.  I’ve seen hundreds of people that can root, but that also have underlying stability issues.  Rooting should be the final cherry on top of the stability sundae, not the entire sundae.  

Static before dynamic seems like a simple one to not break, but when it comes to teaching movement that is not the case.  The deadlift is a dynamic lift, so at some point, it has to move beyond the static positions.  But, for just a moment let your mind wander outside of the movement box all the experts have built in your head for just a moment. Let’s think about this in regards to the ‘input’ we are getting from the drill – in the DHH, that stupid little dowel is all over the place as we move.  In fact, the stability of the dowel comes from our own body, which is searching for stability itself – neither one is leading, and both are trying to follow the other.  To begin teaching a coordinated weight shift drill, we need to teach a dynamic movement with static input.  The dowel does not meet that criterion.

We’ll keep the stable before unstable paragraph short – replace “static before dynamic” in the above section. Think outside the bonds of what you have heard about learning movement and you will see the dowel is providing unstable input.

That was a lot of buildup.  We understand that we are going up against something that a lot of well-respected coaches and clinicians have taught for a long time.  We also understand that it is easy to say we are just doing this to promote our agenda and create controversy.  We are sure that both of those will happen out of fear.  Change Is scary, but we wanted to show that we aren’t just out on a witch hunt to get rid of your favorite drills or attack the experts ways of doing things.  Our goal is to make teaching movement more straightforward and more effective.  If this makes people angry, that is okay.  Where there is anger, there is fear, and we are challenging the tenants of what has been taught without question for a long time.

I want to emphasize this next line because in our last article people didn’t pick up on this fact :


To wrap these rambling up, if you don’t like it, that is okay. I’m not saying you have to abandon EVERYTHING you have ever done before – we are just asking you to give it a try, and if you like it use it.  No drill is ever going to work for every single person every single time, not even this one.  But, this drill does set the person you are working with up to learn how to coordinate their weight shifts much more efficiently.  I know, you didn’t see this on stage at so-and-so’s workshop, and all the big names are saying the DHH is fantastic – but when was the last time any of them had to do better? It’s hard to change what you’ve done for 20 years when people expect things of you.  Jeff and I, on the other hand, have gotten people to assume that we will continuously change and find more efficient and effective ways to do things – our expectations aren’t associated with things.

Give this a try. If you like it great, if you hate it great – but at least you tried it.


It’s a crappy drill.  I did everything I could to make it work with the athlete’s I trained because my mentors seemed to think it was great.  However, it didn’t work any better at my facility than it did at workshops, more often than not, it worsened the deadlift and/or swing.  

The bottom line is that we all try new things and if we get an initial good result, we get emotionally attached to them.  However, this drill violates multiple laws of movement.  So, using it as a progression to teach a very natural movement doesn’t make sense.  If you have a basic understanding of the way movement develops, then violating those laws is at best intellectually lazy. 

 From here on out, I will be known as Jeff “The Truth” O’Connor.  Some people might be surprised to find out how much I’ve held back.

1 thought on “The drill formerly known as the dowel hip hinge (RIP)”

  1. I’m a personal trainer in Taiwan which is located in Asia.
    This article is AWESOME!
    May I translate it into Chinese?
    I want to put it on my facebook fan page and my own facebook to share this amazing article!

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