The Best Hip Hinge Exercise

Two weeks ago Steve Belanger started a thread on the StrongFirst forum asking the readers to pick their favorite barbell, bodyweight, and kettlebell exercises. For all the limitations and contentiousness of “top lists,” writing them is a useful exercise. Given your goals, training and injury history, equipment availability, etc., my list may not exactly suit your needs, but hopefully it will make you think and write your own.

Rather than pick an arbitrary number of exercises from each modality, I will select the “best” in each of the following categories: hip hinge, squat, press, and upper body pull. (No, there will be no division into “vertical” and “horizontal” pushes and pulls; life is too short for that.)

I will use the following criteria.

  1. The exercise has to have a high carryover to a great number of applications. As I explained in Easy Strength, the Russian term “general strength” refers to the strength “to perform any physical work more or less successfully.” (Ozolin)
  2. The exercise must have an impressive safety record.
  3. The exercise must have a steep learning curve. If 70% of his fighters do not get it, Steve Baccari discards the exercise, no matter how effective it is.

There will be some additional considerations as well.

The Best Hip Hinge Exercise

The hip hinge goes first. The contenders are:

  • Barbell deadlift
  • Barbell good morning
  • Barbell clean (power, hang, muscle, etc.)
  • Barbell snatch (power, hang, muscle, etc.)
  • Kettlebell snatch
  • Kettlebell swing

The deadlift rules. I have stated that on many occasions and I will not repeat myself.

There is not enough data about an exclusive use of the good morning, apart from Bruce Randall’s experiment. A knee injury prevented this former Mr. Universe from squatting, so he poured his heart into the good morning. He worked up to a 685 single, his back parallel to the ground. When he tested himself in the squat, not surprisingly, he easily squatted as much. Randall then tested his deadlift and stood up with 770—back in the 1950s, with no drugs, and no previous deadlift practice.

Kettlebell snatches, while documented to have a high carryover to a whole lot of unrelated events like the powerlifts and middle-distance running, will not win this fight because they demand rare, in this day and age, shoulder mobility and stability, and because they require considerable skill. Barbell cleans and snatches fall into the same category.

The kettlebell swing is a different story. There is plenty of scientific and empirical evidence that the swing has an extraordinary list of “what the hell?” effects. It transfers to max deadlifts (even at the world class level), jumps, and so on and so forth. In addition, it delivers impressive conditioning. And it is safer and easier to learn than the barbell deadlift. “The kettlebell swing is the true power to the people,” assures Rif.

As much as I am partial to the deadlift, the swing wins the hip hinge class.

The Best Hip Hinge Exercise
Pavel and Peter Lakatos teaching kettlebell swings to the Hungarian federal counter-terrorist team. Photo courtesy of TEK.

What Next?

Recall that both slow and static strength are needed for complete strength development.  Will we be leaving something on the table without a “grind”? Not if we pick the right squat to complement the hinge…

Pavel Tsatsouline
CEO

Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.


19 thoughts on “The Best Hip Hinge Exercise

  • “He worked up to a 685 single, his back parallel to the ground.”

    uhm.. wrong.. bruce randall went nowhere near parallel

  • For me the best hip hinge exercise ever, is the facing the wall KB deadlift. I am surprised nobody mentioned it yet actually, because it is easy to learn and you cannot cheat with this exercise…. my 50 cents.

  • I was plagued with a hip and low back injury until I found kettlebell training with Karen Smith (Kettlebell Elite in Virginia Beach). She stresses proper form and technique (the Pavel way :)… kettlebell swings have allowed me to gain strength by leaps and bounds without reinjuring myself! Thank you Pavel and thank you Karen!! I’m a firm believer in this type of training!!

  • I agree.
    I guess it depends on your intent on what your doing each movement for.
    Surely the deadlift gets it for the strongest hip hinge(weight wise) but the more dynamic and fullest range hip hinge goes to the swing as a barbell limits the hip hinge.
    The deadlft starts with leg drive and then a hip hinge when the bar reaches the knees.
    The KB swing is almost a pure hip hinge movement.
    Hard to measure the force of a dynamic swing done ballistically but with a heavy KB a good eccentric ballistic added that centrifical force is many times greater than the weight of the KB giving it much credability as a
    Dont get me wrong i love the deadlift very much but if we’re pure hip hinge give me the swing.

  • Third, the exercise must have a steep learning curve. If 70% of his fighters do not get it, Steve Baccari discards the exercise, no matter how effective it is.

    should that be “Must not have a steep learning curve” ?
    or am i just tired…

  • Awesome photo. Even the intensity with which Pavel evaluates a trainee’s practice is inspiring. So looking forward to what’s to com in the future. Your teaching has already helped make me stronger and more fit. More importantly though you’ve introduced me to a new paradigm of what I can do with my body and its opened my mind to my limitless potential. Thank you for that.

  • I look forward to the ‘best squat, press, and upper body pull’ blog additions. Thank you Pavel for posting this.

    PS. I am personally torn, I think its still the Deadlift for the win here but I most certainly consider a heavy swing (Loaded T handle for more weight if needed) a very close 1a.

  • The traditional back squat has to be, in my opinion, the single most versatile resistance exercise in existence. Examples abound. The legendary Peary Rader gained 70 lbs. of muscle in 8 months doing 2 sets of 20 rep squat workouts twice per week. I’ve trained with world class dead lifters in all weight classes, but the overall development of elite squatters make every other athlete look small.
    Squats (and it’s many variations) are universally uses either as a mainstay or complimentary exercise movement for all types of athletes: O-lifters, body builders, football players, shot-putters, discus throwers……the list goes on and on.
    And while dead lifting is limited by one’s grip strength, squatters are only limited by their courage to step under the bar and feel the unmistakable contractile force that one’s core structures must endure to complete the lift.
    Being a competitive power lifter both past and present, I can tell you that one never feels the type of confidence in the strength of movement as one feels when he is training heavy squats.

    • I think you guys may of missed the point. The question is about the “best” hip hinge, not knee dominant exercise. If your squats look like a hip hinge, then your squats are weak. Squatting requires a totally different movement PATTERN all together. Swing for life!

    • Agreed squat is great for big leg development. However by limiting arm involvement it does take away from the concept of total functional strength. The movement of picking things up off the ground is fundamental to everyday life.also anecdotally since injuring my back years ago, the heavy squat was off the list of strength exercises. Heavy dead lifts became a favourite due to the lack of direct compression on the injured discs. Not bashing squats, just a personal experience.

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