The following is part of the book which goes into the reason for back aches and pains when performing the hip hinge, whether it’s for the kettlebell swing, deadlift or CrossFit barbell clean. I personally feel that there is a lot of “lift with your legs, not your back” info out there, which is great, but does not exactly explain or illustrate the exact reason you might be experiencing back pain.
Make sure you check out the drill below which will allow you to visualise and experience what it means to lift with your back.
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Back Aches and Pains
The majority of freely available research on the Internet, if not all, will tell you that if you experience lower-back pain, you’re using your back to lift rather than your glutes and legs, this is great information, but it does not exactly tell you why or what the cause is.
What does it mean to lift with your back? It’s hard to understand what lifting with your back means without proper explanation, I’m going to break it down for you and provide the information to understand exactly why your back can hurt after hip hinging, whether for deadlifts, rows or kettlebell swings. First you need to understand the muscles involved, I’ve listed all of them previously, but I’m going to recap for the explanation of lower-back pain.
The erector spinae, AKA spinal erectors, is a set of muscle groups that straighten and rotate the back. The groups consists out of the Iliocostalis, Longissimus and Spinalis.
The Iliocostalis consists of the Iliocostalis Cervicis which is located near the neck, Iliocostalis Thoracis which is located near the upper- middle-back, and Iliocostalis Lomborum which is located near the Lumbar or lower-back, this last one will be our focus from this group.
The Longissimus consists of the Longissimus Capitis which is located near the head, Longissimus Cervicis which is located near the neck, and Longissimus Thoracis which is located near the middle- lower-back, this last one will be our focus from this group, more details will be provided on this muscle, in particular, insertion and origin.
The Spinalis consists of the Spinalis Cervicis which is located near the neck, and Spinalis Thoracis which is located near the lower-back, this last one will be our focus from this group.
To understand where the above muscles are connected (origin and insertion) to the spine, please review the following illustration of the human spine. Anything with C is the Cervical area, T is the Thoracic and L is the Lumbar region of the spine.
The Quadratus Lumborum is another important muscle group in the lower-back. Because the Quadratus Lumborum connects the pelvis to the spine and is therefore capable of extending the lower back when contracting bilaterally, these two muscles can pick up the slack, as it were, when the lower fibres of the erector spinae are weak or inhibited.
As mentioned earlier, the focus is on lower-back pains, therefore we will focus on the following muscles; Iliocostalis Lomborum, Longissimus Thoracis, Spinalis Thoracis and Quadratus Lumborum which should be noted, all are located on either side of the body.
- Iliocostalis Lomborum origin is sacrum, and insertion is on the first half of the ribs.
- Longissimus Thoracis origin is around the sacrum and lumbar, insertion is on all the ribs.
- Quadratus Lumborum origin is around the top of the pelvis, insertion is around L1 to L4 and half of the 12th rib.
- Spinalis Thoracis origin is around the lumbar or thoracic area, insertion is at the thoracic area.
The first 3’s origin is located on the lower-back and it’s insertion is on from the first rib up. Therefore these 3 will be the more than likely affected when lifting with the back rather then the hips/legs. The 4th one will more than likely be affected when lifting with the upper back.
To understand one of the major causes for lower-back pain I’m going to ask you to remember the muscles that erect the back, visualise all this together with the spine, pelvis and the gluteus maximus.
Next, I’m going to ask you to perform a few drills to physically feel and better understand the explanation that follows.
- Come into the hang phase of the hip hinge and remain there, i.e. static hip hinge.
- Find the top of your hip bones (Ilium) with your thumbs, leave the thumbs there.
- Find the top of your femur (thigh bone) with your index fingers, leave the fingers there.
- The location of your thumbs and fingers will give you an indication at which angle your pelvis is.
- Leave your pelvis in the position it is while your back comes up about an inch and coming back into starting position.
- Repeat this several times till you feel what muscles are doing the work, which should be your lower back muscles. You could get the one inch movement with just the upper back (thoracic), but focus on the lower part, the area in which you’ve (possibly) experienced back pain before.
- Now that you’ve connected with the muscles of the lower-back, we’re going to come fully upright while having the lower-back muscles do the work. Meaning they’re leading.
- The pelvis will naturally follow as a full upright position is not possible without the pelvis returning into neutral position.
- Repeat this five or so times with a safe and controlled pace, focussing on the feeling, the muscles activated, and the muscles that are leading.
- Now imagine yourself on a steel crane with a powerful engine, your pelvis is the crane and your gluteus maximus are the engine.
- You know the engine can lift a heavy weight with ease, but you’re going to try and pull the crane up with your own strength rather than relying on the engine.
- This is exactly what you’ve been doing in the first phase of this drill, you were not using the powerful engine that is designed to pull the weight up —using the back.
- Next you’re coming back into a static hip hinge.
- You’re going to activate your abdominal and back muscles to create a solid steel crane out of your pelvis and spine. Your abdominal and back muscles are going to be the support for the crane by just holding it upright, nothing else.
- Now you’re going to turn your engine on by activating your gluteus maximus, if you need to, you will kick your engine a few times (hit yourself in the gluteus) to get it going.
- Now you’re going to connect with your hamstrings, if you need to connect with them, lift your heel to your hips on both sides a few times .
- You’re going to come upright by letting the hip extensors move the pelvis and the spine/back follow, not lead.
If you do all this right and still experience lower-back pain, it’s time to ask yourself: did your engine run out of fuel and require you to pull the weight up by hand? If you’re doing everything right but too many repetitions of an exercise, or using a weight too heavy, then your engine (hip extensors) requires help from external sources (your weaker back muscles). Build yourself up.
Your back muscles will always need to do work, but the work should be that of creating a steel crane to hold the weight, and the hip extensors should do the work of hoisting the weight. Whether you’re deadlifting, barbell cleaning or swinging a kettlebell, your pelvis should move first and remain the moving hinge upon which your spine is simply moving along, never leading.
Another important part of preventing pain and injuries is proper pelvic alignment during the hip hinge movement, especially weighted hip hinges. Remember that the spine is positioned upon the pelvis, thus incorrect alignment between the pelvis and the lumbar is important for proper posture and support of weight. The pelvis can have excessive anterior or posterior tilt, lateral tilt is also possible, but that’s usually a cause of scoliosis or one leg shorter than the other. In the case of the hip hinge, one should focus on keeping the pelvis aligned with the spine, if the torso comes down, the pelvis should come along through contraction of the hip flexors, once maximum pelvic tilt is reached, a safe maximum depth has been reached and no further depth should be created with spinal flexion. On the up phase, the pelvis should lead through contraction of the hip extensors. On the down phase you want to avoid posterior pelvic tilt and create anterior pelvic tilt, on the up phase you want to avoid anterior pelvic tilt and create posterior pelvic tilt, at all times avoiding excessive tilt of the pelvis.
There are more severe injuries that cause back-pain, like bulging or slipped discs, a major cause being, lifting too heavy or incorrect technique.
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I hope the above will help you with your future training, don’t forget to share and help others.
The complete book on the hip hinge is available for purchase on Cavemantraining as ebook edition, on Amazon as kindle and paperback.
If you appreciate details, make sure you check out our book on the kettlebell press.
Following is the table of contents from the book “What is the hip hinge? And how do you perform it correctly?”
- What is the Hip Hinge? How do You Perform it Correctly? 2
- Definitions 7
- What is it? 9
- What is it not? 9
- Confusion 9
- Daily Life Applications 10
- Exercise Applications 10
- Requirements 11
- What are Hips? 11
- What is a Hinge? 11
- Posterior Chain 12
- Resistance 12
- Dynamic vs Static 13
- Muscles 13
- Muscle Groups Worked 14
- Main Muscle Targets 14
- Synergists and Stabilizers 15
- Details 16
- Gluteal muscle group 18
- Gluteus maximus 18
- Hamstring muscle group 19
- Semitendinosus muscle (part of the hamstring muscle group) 20
- Semimembranosus muscle (part of the hamstring muscle group) 20
- Biceps femoris muscle (part of the hamstring muscle group) 21
- Erector spinae muscles 22
- Hip flexors 23
- The Hip Hinge Four Phase Movement Pattern 25
- Hip Hinge Drills 25
- Corrections 26
- Back Aches and Pains 27
- Supercharge your Weightlifting 32
- Cues 33
- What is “Pulling Yourself Down”? 33
- Hip Hinge Variations 35
- Conventional Hip Hinge 36
- Straight-Legged Hip Hinge 38
- Conventional One-Legged Hip Hinge 38
- Straight One-Legged Hip Hinge 38
- Staggered Hip Hinge 38
- Incorrect Muscle Engagement 39
- Common mistakes 39
- Hip Mobility 40
- Become certified 41
- What do you think? Seriously! What do you think? 41
- Additional material 42