The hip hinge is one of the most difficult exercises to master in the weight room, making it often the movement that is performed worst in the gym. If you’ve ever walked into a gym and seen some extremely poor deadlifts and wondered why they look so bad it’s usually because the person never took the time to learn the hip hinge. Let’s take a look at 6 effective barbell hing exercises you can add to your training.
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The hinge movement is one of the best ways to isolate the hamstring muscles and can be very effective at both increasing the strength and muscle size of the hamstrings. The barbell offers a lot of different variations to achieve this goal, including those with a landmine which should not be looked over especially for beginners.
As well as putting emphasis on the hamstrings, hinging also creates a lot of adaptation in the lower back. We are not going to get into a debate about spinal flexion in this article but in general these hinge movements are done with a straight lower back which trains the muscles of the lumbar spine to take load correctly which can be very beneficial for both health and longevity through injury mitigation.
Powerlifters can use the straight leg variations as a great supplement to their heavy hinging work (dead, sumo deadlift). Building really strong and stable hamstrings and lower back can be an excellent idea for both powerlifters and general athletes looking to improve their sport performance.
The hinge at the hips requires an initial bend in the knee and the hip, its a very small and subtle part of the movement but without this movement it can be very hard to perform the rest with correct technique. The hips move down ever so slightly and remain there throughout the entire movement. This can make the nomenclature a little complex as a lot of exercises are called straight leg variations, when in actual fact the leg is ever so slightly bent, just much less so than in a traditional deadlift.
After the initial bend in the hips and the knee, move the chest slowly towards the floor while keeping the hips high and the back perfectly straight. If you’re doing a “straight leg variation” like a barbell straight leg deadlift, once there is a strong pull on the hamstrings you will bring the weight back to the starting position. A great cue to think about when you’re trying to keep your back straight during a hinge is tensing the muscles of the upper back or squeezing the shoulder blades together.
Remember the hinge is not a squat, the hips bend once and then the hips stay high throughout (if doing a straight leg deadlift) or once the hands roughly pass the knees. To make this point more clear lets look at the difference between a straight leg deadlift and a conventional deadlift, both of which are hinge variations with a barbell.
We can see that in the deadlift once the bar has passed the knees on the decent (roughly, this changes based on body type) the knees go forward and the hips come to the floor. Whereas in the straight leg deadlift the hips stay high and the knees stay fixed. Both of these are hinge exercises but this slight nuance makes them very different, the deadlift can be done with much more weight and is much more a full body lift in comparison to its straight leg alternatives. This should be taken into consideration in your programming.
The Sumo deadlift is one of the most well known barbell hinge exercises after the deadlift. It requires some technical ability to perform well so make sure your easing into this movement either with a coach or spending some time teaching yourself. This exercise will be extremely effect for strength training and lifting very heavy weights, but will be less effective at isolating the hamstring muscles.
The rear foot elevated barbell straight leg deadlift is one of the most challenging exercises available in the gym and should only be performed by those who already have good technique. For those who already have good technique and are looking for a barbell hinge variation to challenge both their hamstring muscles and balance then this can be a great addition to your next training block.
The deadlift is the most well known barbell hinge variations and is the most effective at increasing strength metrics. The deadlift really is a full body exercise even if it falls into this barbell hinge category and can be used to improve both health and athletic performance through strength and muscle development.
The barbell straight leg deadlift is one of my favourite exercise for increasing the strength in the hamstrings and lower back. This exercise is much less effective at developing full body strength in comparison to the sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift say but is much more effective at developing the hamstrings. It should be loaded with care and it’s important that either you or your clients understand that it’s normal to load this exercise with much less weight than a conventional deadlift and that the adaptations gained from this exercise are very different.
The barbell good morning is another challenging barbell hinge variation that is effective at increasing both lower back and hamstring strength. The position can be a little hard to learn so if you’re a beginner maybe avoid this variation until you have mastered the barbell straight leg deadlift. If your hinge technique is already developed then this can be an excellent addition to your training programme especially if your aim is to develop both your hamstrings and lower back to increase your deadlift, this exercise is a very popular accessory work exercise for powerlifters.
The away from body barbell straight leg deadlift is a really challenging hinge variation that puts a lot of emphasis on the lower back and hamstrings. Like the good morning, it should only be attempted once the barbell straight leg deadlift is mastered as it is much more complex. This exercise is much more challenging in terms of the pressure put on the musculature so do not expect to be able to lift similar amounts on this exercise as the barbell straight leg deadlift.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.