The Dowel Hip Hinge

I feel the need to inform you that what you are reading is NOT the original version of this article.  Jeff called me out.  After I sent him the original to review and add to, his response was “you sounded very angry and emotionally attached to this.  I don’t like it.”  For those of you that know Jeff, if he thinks someone is angry they must be angry.  So, I hit delete on the original article and started on this.  I can’t promise rainbows and unicorns, but this is the nicer, softer side of my take on a stupid drill.

Brandon 

The dowel hip hinge (DHH).  A drill that has been shown at hundreds of workshops and by many different instructors and experts.  Likely, you’ve done it.  It’s used to teach the deadlift and the single leg deadlift.  And, while we can show a few people that have improved with the help of this drill, it is time to move on.  The DHH has outlived is limited usefulness.

I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever seen significant improvement.

Jeff

Moving forward, when you see this style text, it’s Brandon’s words/thought/input

When you see this style, it’s Jeff’s words, thought, input.

Normal text is just the plain article.

Why do we say that?  First, we have to understand that if we are using this drill the person we are using it on has too many problems in their hip hinge movement strategy to even consider adding volume to – we are correcting, not training.  If you are one of my students, the words we use are we are creating competency not conditioning.  The DHH is taught as a regression drill.  If someone needs a regression drill they don’t need to focus on volume.  

I’m also not a fan of calling it a hip hinge. That term -while very popular- is not correct, and the term needs to be abandoned.  Just because it has been called that forever, doesn’t make it right, and, that mindset is part of our cultures movement crisis right now.  My stance on this “hinges” on what a hinge actually is.  In mechanical terms, a hinge connects two objects and allows rotation about a fixed axis.  Both a mechanical hinge and a hinge joint in the body are only capable of motion in one plane.  A HINGE IS A SIMPLE CONNECTOR.

So, there are two options. Either the “hip hinge” isn’t a hinge or there are many coaches/trainers/clinicians that are unskilled when it comes to teaching such a simple movement.  There are tons of drills out there people use to fix this “simple” movement, so I fear that a lot of people are bad at what they do.  (SIDE NOTE – we have developed a teaching progression for the deadlift that consists of one drill.  It works 99% of the time unless there are mobility or ROM limitations that prevent someone from deadlifting.  That progression is not included in this article, but it is part of our teaching process.)  Or, there is a third option – and this is the option I choose to believe:

You have not been working with the best information possible.  Those that taught you can’t translate their innate understanding of this simple movement to you in a manner that makes sense.  The information you have been operating off of was flawed – you were given bad instructions.

Pushing the hips backwards is not simple.  It is not “rotating about a single fixed axis.” IT IS NOT A SIMPLE HINGING OF THE HIPS. It is, in fact, a well-timed balancing act where two (2) weight shifts are coordinated together while the center of mass is lowered.  Yes, pushing the hips back requires 2 coordinated weight shifts – pushing the hips back while the head and shoulders go forward. Don’t believe me?  Stand with your toes and forehead touching the wall.  Now, push your hips back – unless you are living in the quantum realm like Ghost in Ant-man and Wasp and possess the power to pass through objects, it is impossible.   Your butt can’t go backwards without your head going forwards.

Three complicated things have to happen for the hips to go back to do a deadlift or swing – the hips have to go backward, the head has to go forward, and everything from the knees up has to lower.  THAT is why you have a hard time teaching the simple hinge – you were given incomplete information.  IT IS NOT SIMPLE.  On top of that, since we are talking deadlift and swing, you have to do that with zero movements within the spine. This just keeps getting better!

We have to keep in mind the intent of teaching this coordinated weight shift (the term hip hinge just died in this article).  We teach it to allow people to reach to the ground to pick something up.  Truth be told, to accomplish this goal, we actually have three movement options – the deadlift (2 coordinated weight shifts), the squat (3 coordinated weight shifts) or the lunge (4 coordinated weight shifts).  We always start by teaching the deadlift and end by teaching all three.  But, why do we start with the deadlift?  Simple – fewer wiggly parts.  It seems that distinction of why the deadlift gets taught before the squat and the squat before the lunge has been overly complicated by everyone that tries to explain it.  And, everyone has their opinion on why, but no one has applied the rules of movement to the teaching progression.  We did, and it is much clearer after we put numbers to it.  

Teaching the deadlift is our entry point to teaching the squat and then the lunge because each of those adds a wiggle (one more weight shift for the CNS to process and respond to) to the equation.   The intent of all three is to lower the COM based on context and the situation at hand.  There is nothing simple about any of them.  But, going deeper into this distinction is not the point of this article. 

As Jeff pointed out, in the training world there are times where we do teach a squat prior to a deadlift – yes.  There are four outcomes that an athlete can bring to the table regarding the squat and deadlift:

  1. They can do both.
  2. They can do neither.
  3. They can deadlift but not squat.
  4. They can squat but not deadlift.

If an athlete falls into category number 1, we can teach anything in any order.  If an athlete falls into category number 4, we can use the squat to teach the deadlift – we do this with the XXXXXXXXX squat (no, I’m not going to give that info away for free, sorry).  But, if someone is in category 2 or 3, the deadlift needs to be the entry point to teach the individual how to squat because we are reducing the input to the CNS and then gradually adding layers.  But, if we are talking the DHH like this article is intended we are not talking individuals in categories 1 and 4- we are focusing on 2 and 3.  (SIDE NOTE #2 – our intake process can answer and categorize your client in less than 10 minutes and directly answer the question of can they deadlift/squat/lunge.)  If the person needing a deadlift regression can’t stabilize their spine with 2 weight shifts, they aren’t likely to be able to do it with more wiggly parts (Squat/lunge). 

The DHH is a drill.  When teaching a drill (the DHH) takes more time than teaching a skill (the deadlift) that person isn’t ready for the skill, AND it is a poor drill.  With the DHH there are 2 groups of people: those that pick it up immediately, and those that struggle with it.  The former no longer need the drill – move forward and never return.  The latter also don’t need the drill – move to something that gives them better feedback because the DHH provides nothing to the person trying to improve their movement strategy. In either case, move past the attachment to the DHH.

Why doesn’t the DHH provide anything positive to improve the deadlift movement strategy?  Simple it confuses the CNS.  It doesn’t follow any of the rules by which we learn movement.  Yes, I know – you’ve successfully taught this to a lot of people, so have I.  But for just a moment step outside your comfortable box and consider that there might be a better, more efficient and more effective way for you to teach a deadlift.  On the surface, the DHH gives us nothing to respond or react to – all we are trying to do is move while keeping our head, shoulders, and sacrum touching a dowel.  The dowel does provide some cutaneous feedback, but cutaneous feedback makes up only a very small portion of the input that the CNS uses to work through a movement strategy.  AND the input from the sacrum, t-spine and head are waaaaaaay down the list (like bottom of the list) on how many sensory neurons are available for this task. (look up the sensory homunculus.)  The feet and the hands on the other hand are in the top 3 (the mouth completes the list). 

Let’s get crazy and assume you accomplish the DHH perfectly – how are you going to integrate that cutaneous feedback (head, t-spine, and sacrum contacting a dowel) into a deadlift?  You remove the dowel (and therefor you remove the learned feedback the CNS responds to) and then ask the person to do a loaded kettlebell (KB) deadlift?   They can’t hold the KB and the dowel at the same time.  So, you hold the dowel in place for them so they can grab the KB.  That’s sustainable as long as you are only working with 2 people at a time.  Actually, that’s like teaching class in English, but then giving the test in Spanish.  A little deeper below the surface and we see that the DHH adds a layer of complication to the movement equation that is counter-intuitive to the overall intent of the drill.  This complication comes from how we orient the arms.  As soon as we orient the arms asymmetrically, that alignment changes the equation, and the CNS will interpret and process everything differently. That’s one more wiggle that in the best case scenario makes things tougher.  Add in any kind of shoulder restriction and we have actually added a giant roadblock to the CNS figuring things out.  Plus, why are we using an asymmetrical set up to teach a symmetrical lift?  To create asymmetry we have to have symmetry; nature doesn’t let it work the other way, creating symmetry from asymmetry is literally against all the rules of nature.  As humans we can do many things, but nature always wins in the long run.  

What causes a stability response within a joint?  Only two things- compression or distraction.  Compression creates stability by mechanically making the joint more congruent – the bony surfaces come into contact with each other and lock things up.  Distraction creates stability because all the surrounding musculature and ligamentous structures get taut and stabilize the joint.  In regards to the DHH, what is causing compression or distraction to the joints of the spine, pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles?  Beyond gravities compression, nothing.  And, as soon as we move away from a true vertical the compression of the spine from gravity disappears.  The dowel does nothing to create stability.  When the body doesn’t have an authentic manner (compression/distraction) to generate stability it will find less efficient/effective ways to create stability (we call those compensations).  The DHH is patterning inefficient and ineffective stability because it does nothing to generate an authentic stability response from the body.  

So the next question is, “Well, if I can’t do the dowel hip hinge anymore, what can I do?” Great question, and this is what part 2 covers 🙂

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