Preventing injury while maximizing strength and power in the hinge position
The hinge is the foundational position behind many athletic movements. Jumping, hiking, running, deadlifts, power cleans, roller blading, flipping, picking things up off the ground, skiing, bowling. I’m sure there are plenty more examples we could all decipher, point being its important to understand. Your body enters a hinge when the hips get pushed back and down, allowing your chest to come over your knees and toes, with the knees slightly and gradually bending as the hips go back. If you bend over without pushing your hips back and down and not allowing a natural bend of the knees, you create a lot of pressure in the lower back, specifically the SI joint (sacroiliac joint). The SI joint connects the sacrum to the iliac crest of the hips and acts as the fulcrum during a hinge movement. Read “Levers of the body” to further learn about this concept.
The photo on the left is a reverse fly hold; a foundational movement that fully activates the posterior chain. The photo on the right is the load phase right before a jump. Notice the lower posture in the photo on the right. Optimal loading position comes at a lower angle because greater power is generated through a greater range of motion. That same concept is applied in the correlation between hip flexion and the foot strike power during a sprint. Also notice the eyes are fixated on the ground during the hinge positions shown above. This is to optimize the straightness of the spine, ultimately maximizing the power generated. The purpose of a reverse fly hold is different than that of a jump causing the slight difference in hip height. A reverse fly hold places more focus on the upper body and acts simply as a strengthening position, while a jump requires continuous and maximal loading to produce the most power. In order to do that, the knee angle gets reduced, fully loading the glutes. In this article, I will describe the foundational movements behind creating a strong hinge, explain the correlation to running, and follow that by how to apply it to stability and power. Lastly, I will get into detail on the optimal ways to create power and mitigate injuries in the hinge position.
The positions shown above are ideal movements to start with to build a great hinge. They teach you how to properly activate the posterior chain and build great awareness of pressure. The bird dog, pictured on the left, is the first movement to begin with because it forces core control in a safer position (less force on the SI joint). In order to optimize that core control, the posterior chain must be engaged fully while having a tight abdominal squeeze. In order to obtain that, it requires awareness. Again, remember that the spine is strongest in a straight line, so begin with that as your first cue. As you kick the leg back, be aware that any upwards motion with the leg is going to rotate the hips anteriorly (forward), causing the belly button to drive towards the ground, bending the spine. Avoid this by kicking the leg as in line with the spine as possible. All of that is happening while also lifting the opposing arm, in this case it is going in an overhead motion. However, you could also bring the arm out to the side, placing the purpose on the upper back and rear shoulder activation. Read “Combining movements to maximize efficiency, coordination, and stability” to further learn about this concept. Once fully stable in the extended position, return hand, knee, and foot back to the ground, alternating sides each rep. By alternating sides you are further challenging the core to reactivate due to requiring a greater command of the central nervous system.
In the middle photo, you have the superman. The superman can be a very useful, but also damaging position if used incorrectly. It serves the purpose of providing an intense activation the posterior chain and also requires great awareness of the SI joint. When raising into this position, be sure to barely lift the legs and chest off the ground, maintaining a max squeeze of the glutes and hamstrings without forcing extension. Think about the same description in the bird dog. If performed correctly, this will build strength in the posterior chain without compromising the SI joint. The final photo is the SL Hinge. This position is useful in creating stability, while also increasing strength and power due to the single leg nature of it. During the lowering phase of the SL Hinge be sure to keep hips and back parallel with the ground; reaching out overhead helps with this. Maintain your gaze on the ground when in the hinge, also promoting a flat back. Visit our movements page to discover more detailed explanations and photos of these movements.
The correlation between the hinge and running is direct, considering we anatomically enter a hinge when we run. When we run, we bring our knee up, following that by driving the foot to the ground and pushing through extension. When that knee comes up, it is creating a hinge position at our hips. It is easier to picture when looking at a sprint vs. a jog. Notice the figure below and how the chest is over the knee, which is over the toe; the same position as the hinge pictured earlier in the article. Once force is applied to the ground, we began the extension phase of the hinge movement.
Applying the hinge to stability and power first requires an understanding of how stability is built and how power is optimized. I’ll start with stability. In order to gain full control in this position you must combine a beautiful synchronized dance between the hinging of the hips and the knees. When both are perfectly in sync, lowering at the same time, injury is mitigated and proper loading is achieved. Furthermore, when we are talking about hinging on a single leg, the strength of the hips play a vital role in maintaining stability. Think of the hinge as the optimal athletic position. Building hip strength, practicing the SL hinge, and progressing to depth drops on a single leg (the act of stepping from a short height and landing on a single leg) are ways to maximize the stability in this position. Performing medial/lateral hops would be the next progression, as that ultimately tests the strength that has been built. Visit our movements page to further research these in detail. Strength can be built progressively through gradually increasing volume and time under tension. In the case of purely body weight, think of tension as gravity or the contraction of the muscle and be aware that often times you control the tension based on how hard you squeeze. A lot can be accomplished through body weight, but to truly maximize strength and power, resistance must be used.
Applying the hinge to power is all about understanding the mechanics that drive force. Earlier, we talked about obtaining a lower position through slightly increasing the bend in the knees, allowing for more muscle fibers in the glute to be recruited. By obtaining a greater degree of flexion, it creates a greater degree of extension, ultimately resulting in more power; imagine shooting a rubber band, the further you pull it back the further it travels. However, in our body, we must be aware of our optimal loading position because if we go below our optimal position we lose that potential energy. If you remember the correlation between a straight spine and power, then you’ll be able to stop your loading phase before the lower part of the spine is compromised.
Some other concepts to consider behind force development include energy systems, intensity, and environment. What needs to be understood in regards to energy systems is that in order to work power, you must be using the phosphagen system, aka creatine phosphate system. That is the metabolic system we use for power. It only lasts approximately 6-8 seconds, so any activity that continues past this time frame is not working within the confines of the phosphagen system. If you are doing vertical jumps to build power and you perform 10 reps, followed by 10 seconds of rest and then perform another 10 reps. You are probably only using 5-7 of those reps towards building power, all of them coming in that first set. A better way to go about it is to perform 5 reps, followed by 1 minute of active recovery (bridges, abdominal work, bird dogs, etc.), and then perform 5 more reps. It may feel like you are getting less done and in regards to endurance you are, but if the training goal is to become more powerful, you are much more efficient.
When considering intensity, be aware of the level that your body can handle. Its best to start simple by putting yourself in the positions necessary and go from there. For the sake of properly explaining the progression, lets use the vertical jump as an example. The vertical jump is one of the greatest tools in building explosion, but also one of the toughest on the knees. Read our article “Proper jumping technique to mitigate lower leg injuries and maximize power” to learn more on how to optimize protection for the knees. When considering intensity, even with great form, we must be aware of how much we can handle. Once comfortability in the hinge has been achieved, began by doing one jump at a time to nail down the landing and transition into syncing groupings of 3. Be sure to properly warm up before doing so, performing hinges, hydrants, hip CARS, ankle circles, calf-raise/toe raise, SL hinges, squats, lunges, and A-skips (learn these on our movements page). A good place to start for recovery times would be 10 seconds for single jumps and 45 seconds for groupings of 3, respectively. That allows time to assess how we feel, recover for optimal power output, and process what is necessary to improve on the subsequent set. Be aware that optimal work to rest ratios for our phosphagen (explosive) system are 1:12 – 1:20, this means if you are jumping for 5 seconds and your goal is power, minimal recovery is 1 minute (Wadley, Rossignal). In the beginning, keep the total number of reps down and pay close attention to how your body is responding. Having a set number is tough because everyone is different, but a good range to begin with would be 10-20 total jumps in one session; no more than 3 sessions per week for the first few weeks. Separating your sessions by at least 48 hours. Progress your intensity in a gradual manner. Begin by only using 50% of your power and gradually increase it as you feel comfortable. Go a few sessions before jumping as high as you can because it will also be where vulnerability is highest. Take note of any weaknesses, such as knee valgus (caving in), ankle instability, lower back/core weakness (bending the spine), and coordination before increasing the volume (intensity + total reps). If any weaknesses are found, learn how to build strength in the necessary areas and do so before continuing with the jumping routine. The optimal power plan begins with the foundational movements, building stability, gradually followed by increasing specificity towards the activity and goal; ultimately doing the exact volume necessary for you and your goal.
Nicholas S. Beauchamp, Oct. 2019
Bing Yu, Cheng-Fing Lin, William E. Garrett (2006), “Lower extremity biomechanics during the landing of a stop-jump task” Clinical Biomechanics v.21, issue 3, March 2006, Pages 297-305
Marc F. Norcross, J. Troy Blackburn, Benjamin M. Goerger, Darin A. Padua (2010), “The association between lower extremity energy absorption and biomechanical factors related to anterior cruciate ligament injury” Clinical Biomechanics v.25, issue 10, December 2010, Pages 1031-1036
Glenn Wadley, Peter Le Rossignal (1998), “The relationship between repeated sprint ability and the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport v. 1, issue 2, June 1998, Pages 100-110