Why the hip hinge movement pattern is SO important for mountain bikers to know and do well, how to do it and what can get in the way.
The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern and mastering this movement is extremely important for optimal mechanics in LIFE. And although the concept of the hip hinge movement pattern is essential for anyone that MOVES, I’m going to dig into the nitty gritty of why it is so important for your mountain biking.
Yes! Learning how to hip hinge properly WILL make you a better rider!
Ok, what is this hip hinge thing?
The hip hinge is the ability to hinge from the hips without flexing or extending your spinal column. Think maximal motion at the hips, minimal motion at the knees. Since the torque is focused at the hips, the majority of the load is on the posterior chain musculature (gluts, hamstrings).
Start with your feet hip width apart.
Neck, thoracic, sacrum in line (fact check that with a dowel!)
Shift hips back, knees are soft and stay directly over ankles. Focus on pushing back, not bending forward and you should feel a stretch in the hamstrings.
Once you feel that stretch, bow your chest down more to increase stretch but ONLY IF integrity of spine remains straight and stable! Regardless, if you keep your chest up while trying to execute this movement, you will compress your lower back (and be unable to reach the full range of the hinge – more on this further on!)
Come back to the start and at the end, draw gluts in from the side.
A couple more videos to drill it in, and give you different ways to explore the hip hinge! First, using the dowel to ensure you maintain those 3 points of contact (head, thoracic, sacrum) and second, holding the dowel in front of your body.
Ok, looks cool. Why is it important?
First and foremost, it is important because it teaches us to lift properly. In this pattern we utilize our legs, not our back as prime movers therefore happy back!
Secondly, and maybe more of a buy in for this crowd, it is our foundational body position on our bike! It is our neutral to attack position! It is where we are most adaptable on our bike relative to the terrain. It keeps our weight central no matter what we are riding, and we need our weight centered for optimal control, power and balance.
You MUST be able to execute this movement pattern off the bike to do it well on the bike!
WARNING! Where you can go wrong.
Our bodies love to move into positions that are easier, such as bending the knees into a forward squatting position and / or keeping the chest up. It is literally impossible to increase the hinge while keeping the chest ‘proud’. You’ll jam and lock your lower back and the movement will restrict.
If you have tight hamstrings and/or gluts (insert almost every biker I know!), then this can be a tough position to get into and I see many riders revert to a squatting position on the bike simply because they can’t into this pattern.
The big problem with reverting to a squat position as it will place you off the back of your bike, and so you will have limited front end control – you will have limited control of your brakes, a huge lack of direction input and it becomes impossible to manipulate the front end (like a manual for example). You become a passenger thankful for the forgiveness bikes these days give us. Or, you end up on your face.
How can I help improve this pattern?
In addition to practicing and PERFECTING this movement pattern, here is some mobility work to help us stiff bikers lengthen and mobilize the gluts and hamstrings (this is just scratching the surface but it’ll help!):
1. Foam roll gluts
Place lacrosse ball (I love a slighter bigger ball like the 5 inch trigger point ball), in the 'pocket' of your glut. You can also use a classic foam roller. Roll around, compress and release. Spend about 2 minutes on each side. Bringing your foot up into a figure 4 position like the photo is not necessary and may be too much, but it certainly helps intensify it!
2. Single leg lift and lowers
Lie on your back and put strap around one foot. Elevate that leg into the air and keep it as straight as possible. Ideally, there is no bend in the knee AT ALL. Your other leg should be straight as well, if that means bringing the floor up to you (as in, placing a block or foam roller or something else under your calf) that is just fine. While holding the elevated leg in place, lift and lower the other.
This exercise can also be done with the elevated leg against a wall. Try 10 reps each side,
3. Elevated pigeon
Using a tall box or counter top, place leg on it with shin parallel to the front. Attempt to get your knee down to the box. If you find this too subtle, go for a lower box or even the floor! Stay there for about 1 minute each side.
If you don’t have good body position, you can’t ride – or at least well and in control. So you MUST have this dialled if you want to ride well as a mountain biker.
Be in touch if you want to explore more movement patterns and how they will effect your mountain biking!