by KYLE SELA|PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS
Posterior chain development is dependent on the ability to hip hinge properly, as is spine health and the ability to transmit power through the spine. It is absolutely critical that all athletes develop this skill and then incorporate the strategies learned into their more complex movements. Many athletes I see at performance centers and CrossFit boxes around the country are getting around their inability to hinge by using a quadriceps-muscle-dominant strategy that relies more on the power to extend the knee than the hip while also extending the spine from a flexed starting position. This will result in an athlete never coming close to their performance potential; furthermore, a spine injury may eventually occur if he or she continues to push this dysfunctional pattern.
It’s All in the Hips
We’ve all heard this before and most would probably agree: when it comes to elite performance and power development, the hips are key. But why and how do our hips help us in athletic movements? It’s really all about length-tension relationships and using the design of the human body to its full potential.
When I work with an athlete and she is okay to bear weight, the earliest and most fundamental task I look at is the ability to hip hinge. By hip hinge I am looking to see if the athlete can flex at the hips with her feet on the ground while maintaining a neutral spine. In short, can she isolate hip flexion from spine flexion?
The ability to hip hinge is the common foundational component of all explosive movements as it allows the posterior chain to be eccentrically loaded appropriately followed by strong or powerful hip extension in the opposite direction.
If, when attempting closed chain hip flexion, the lower spine flexes as well, we really lose the hip flexion we were trying to achieve. This matters because then the hamstring muscles are put at a tremendous disadvantage and really get taken out of the equation during your movement. This is due to a phenomena termed “active insufficiency.” Active insufficiency is what happens when a two (or more) joint muscle is shortened from both ends and then asked to contract – they can’t (not very well)! The ability to produce force in a two-joint muscle varies greatly depending what is happening at each joint. In the instance of the hamstrings, they cross both the hip and the knee. As the knee bends the hamstring gets shorter, and as the hip extends the hamstring gets shorter.