True Definition of the Squat and Hip Hinge Exercise

The Definition of a Squat and Hip Hinge

Yes, you know what a squat is, you probably even know how to perform it correctly, but do you know the true and clear definition of a squat? Do you know where the scope of a squat starts and ends? In other words, do you know what to look for and tell your athlete; yes, now you’re squatting; now you’re hip hinging; yes that’s a dip, but it’s still a squat; do you know?

Bear with me on this one, as I guarantee that understanding the clear definition of these two fundamental exercises will help you with concise exercise naming during your personal training career. It will also give you points for reference when people question your naming or explanation. Without further ado.



Definition of a Squat by the Internet

Google says: crouch or sit with one’s knees bent and one’s heels close to or touching one’s buttocks or the back of one’s thighs.

Merriam-Webster says: to crouch close to the ground as if to escape observation; to assume or maintain a position in which the body is supported on the feet and the knees are bent so that the buttocks rest on or near the heels.

Western sit squatWikipedia says: The movement begins from a standing position. Weights are often used, either in the hand or as a bar braced across the trapezius muscle or rear deltoid muscle in the upper back. The movement is initiated by moving the hips back and bending the knees and hips to lower the torso and accompanying weight, then returning to the upright position.

→ Don’t you just love an illustration (as shown on Wikipedia) of someone squatting with what I call the Western Sit-Squat!? 

Weighted squat

No sources have a definition for the hip hinge, so we have to take a step back and use the hinge.


Definition of the (Hip) Hinge

Google says: a natural joint which performs a function similar to that of a man-made hinge, for example that of a bivalve shell; a movable joint or mechanism on which a door, gate, or lid swings as it opens and closes or which connects linked objects.

Merriam-Webster says: a flexible ligamentous joint; a jointed or flexible device on which a door, lid, or other swinging part turns

Wikipedia says: In biology, many joints function as hinges like the elbow joint.

 How to hip hinge infographic


OK, so we’ve looked at our regular sources for reliable information, right? Google, Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia, that’s where everyone looks these days for the info, not?

Allow me to provide you with the clearest definition you will find on these two fundamental exercises by looking at several vital points of each exercise, namely the torso and hinge joints.


Cavemantraining true definition of the Squat exercise


  • Torso remaining as vertical as possible
  • Hips always vertically moving down

Hinge joints

  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankles

A squat is performed in standing position with the objective being to move the hip joints as close to the ground as possible, this is achieved through flexion in 3 joints; flexion in the hip joints, flexion in the knee joints; and dorsiflexion in the ankle joints.

If flexion is achieved in any of the joints that define the squat, but no maximum depth is achieved, then it’s further defined by the approximate height; quarter squat; half squat; whereas maximum depth would be a full squat. A quick quarter squat can also be defined as a dip.

The objective of the squat exercise is to tax the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. A completely vertical position of the torso provides the maximum resistance for the quadriceps, and the more it moves toward horizontal, the more it removes resistance from the target muscles. Furthermore, a vertical position of the torso provides the most stable and safe spinal structure for the weighted squat. The torso should never break the angle of 45° flexion.


  • shoulders high and hips low
  • shoulders stop moving down when the hips do
  • push the hips toward the ground


A good demonstration of a loaded squat can be seen in this kettlebell combo.


Cavemantraining true definition of the Hip Hinge exercise


  • Shoulders moving down
  • Hips remaining at the same height (one joint)
  • Hips moving back and slightly down (two joints)

Hinge joints

  • Hips
  • Knees (variable)

A hip hinge is performed in standing position with the objective being to move the torso toward horizontal, this is achieved through flexion in the hip joints. The movement can also be accompanied by flexion in a second joint, that of the knees, which is cause for the hips to move down and backward. The function of added knee flexion is to create a more balanced weight distribution (especially with weighted hip hinges like deadlifts) and to add a second muscle group to the movement.

If the ankle joints move and dorsiflexion is achieved, then the definition of the movement changes to a squat.

The objective of the hip hinge exercise is to tax the gluteus maximus and hamstrings (hip extensors). A completely horizontal torso provides the maximum resistance and the more it moves towards being vertical the more resistance is removed.




Join the discussion on Reddit.

Fun Fact: Hip hinge Versus Squat (interesting for swings) from r/kettlebell


Check out the book Master The Hip Hinge for more intricate details on the hip hinge.


As always, your feedback is welcome below or on this Facebook post. Check out this great kettlebell combo which includes a squat. Check out this post here which will assist with proper pelvic alignment and prevent lower-back pain. If you just want to dive straight into squatting, check out this article with 14, yes FOURTEEN, kettlebell squat variations.


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True definition of the squat and hip hinge exercise by Cavemantraining / Taco Fleur is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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