by Bob Vandersluis
The “Big” 3 movements that powerlifters practice in order to be elite in their craft are the Hip Hinge (Deadlift), Squat, and Horizontal Press (Bench Press).
If you’re thinking, “I am not a powerlifter”, or ” I am just going to hurt myself”, then this article is just for you. These movements aren’t just for people who are competing in the sport of Powerlifting, they are for ALL athletes, and regular middle aged folks LIKE ME.
Today, we will discuss 2 of the 3 movements. The Hip Hinge and the Squat. The reason we are leaving out the Bench Press, is that this is the one movement that will not always be great for everyone. As athletic trainers, we program a number of horizontal press variations, but actually very rarely program the flat bench press due to a number of limiting factors in young and older athletes alike. As an example, we train a lot of overhead athletes, and they often put a great deal of stress on their anterior shoulder capsule while playing their sports, so to avoid exacerbating the overuse, we modify this movement to be more shoulder friendly. This is often the case with older populations as well. Everyone and their dog seems to have had a rotator cuff injury at some point, and goes through some sort of aggravation when trying to bench press.
This Dowel Stiff Leg Deadlift is a method we use to assess an athlete’s ability to perform the hip hinge pattern. To test an athlete’s ability to perform a proper hip hinge have them hold a dowel on the back as shown in the video. The dowel should contact their back in three places: their sacrum (spinal bone at hips/buttocks), thoracic spine (upper back), and the back of their head. The athlete starts with a slight knee bend then bends at the hips, lowering themselves until a stretch is felt in their hamstrings. If performed properly, the athlete should maintain all three points of contact with the dowel.
When at the bottom position of the hinge, I like the athlete to eventually be able to drop the dowel and have their hands at knee height or in a reach position. This shows they have the ability to stabilize their core and dissociate hip flexion from lumbar spine flexion. The athlete will then be ready to load the hip hinge pattern with exercises such as Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and Olympic lifts.
Mastering the squat pattern is a fundamental priority for all of our athletes. This is the foundation for many athletic movements and is also a superior way to develop lower body strength and explosive power.
Our progression for the squat looks something like this:
1) Body weight or wall squat 2) Goblet Squat
3) Front Squat 4) Back Squat
The squat is an essential movement pattern. Think about getting up from a seated position. All humans must learn to do this effectively to avoid injury. In athletics, the squat forms the foundation for hip extension, which is the basis for many other movements that also require extension of the knee and ankle joints (like jumping)
There are a number of considerations when learning to master the squat.
Mobility of the hip knee and ankle are extremely important to ensuring an efficient range of motion can be reached. Stability of the hips, and spine are also critical to avoid injury when loading. “Bracing” is something that we teach our athletes through breathing patterns and proprioceptive feedback. In order to properly load a joint like the spine, which is intended to bend and flex considerably, proper bracing techniques must be utilized to avoid movement when movement is not desired.