Why Do We Harp on the Hip Hinge?

I know you’ve all wondered this. Why in the hell do we care so much about the hip hinge? Why are we constantly in your ear about it when you aren’t doing it perfectly?

Lower back pain is one of the most common ailments that brings new people through our door. It’s a problem that affects millions of people, and it can be especially troublesome for athletes (recreational or professional), who are constantly pushing their bodies to the limit. It can range from an occasional nagging pain to totally debilitating and it keeps many athlete from performing at their peak. Luckily, however, it’s usually one of the easiest problems to fix, if you know what you’re doing. Enter the hip hinge.

What causes lower back pain?

It is different for everyone, but a couple of things are probably at least contributing, if not totally to blame for a given case of lower back pain.

Inactive and/or weak glutes – in our society, it has become increasingly common for a person to spend the majority of their waking hours seated in a chair. Many people spend their entire workday seated at a computer, then sit in a car and drive home, where they sit down and have dinner. Being in this position for hours on end over an extended period of time will eventually cause the hip flexors to shorten. As the hip flexors shorten, the glutes must relax to accommodate the extra tightness.

Over time, this leads to inactive, weak glutes that are not capable of producing the amount of force that they should be. This, combined with #2, leads to over-reliance on other muscles, like the spinal erectors, which are not made to bear the load that could and should be carried by the glutes.

Poor movement patterns – The second major contributing factor in many causes of back pain is poor movement. Basically, this means moving in a way that does not efficiently distribute the load being moved, which places excessive stress on parts of the body that are not made to handle it.

The most common example of this we see is when someone bends over to pick something up of the ground, and they immediately flex (bend) their lumbar spine (lower back). This puts a great deal of stress on the lower back and basically takes the glutes out of the equation as far as helping you pick that thing up. Instead you’re relying on your spinal erectors to do the job, which aren’t made for lifting. They’re made for keeping you standing straight up (erect), as the name implies.

You may be able to get away with doing this for a while, but eventually, it will catch up to you and you will become one of the 75-80% of people who experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.

The hip hinge, god bless it, helps us solve both of these problems. When we teach you the hip hinge movement, what we are really teaching you to do is use your glutes. The hip hinge is nothing more than a simple movement pattern that transfers weight from your lower back to your glutes and hamstrings, which are much stronger and therefore better equipped to bear that weight. Essentially, we are trying to reprogram how your body moves and which muscles you use when it does. As you learn how to engage your glutes and protect your lower back, you are also strengthening and “waking up” your glutes.\

What movements do we use to dial in the hip hinge?

Hip Hinge with PVC On Back.
Romanian Deadlift
Banded Hip Hinge
Banded Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

To learn more about how perfecting the hip hinge can help alleviate lower back pain and take your training and performance to the next level, check out our website at sisustrong.com or sign up for a free consultation using our nifty online calendar!

The Value of Discipline

We’ve all run across people in life who have huge dreams and ambitions, but always seem to be in the same place they were the last time we saw them.  Why is that?  Are their dreams and goals unrealistic?  Are they just incapable of reaching them?

I think most of them are 100% capable of reaching their goals – the problem lies in taking consistent action to move themselves gradually toward that goal.  For instance:  if my goal is to be a chef, I’m never going to get there if I just talk about how much I want to be a chef while munching on microwaved Top Ramen and watching Chopped on Netflix.  

The same goes for any goal, whether it be academic, athletic, professional, or purely personal.  Dreams very rarely come true without some action on the part of the dreamer.  When I was growing up, my parents told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and I believed them wholeheartedly (still do!).  But they also made sure I knew that “wanting” to be something wouldn’t be enough if I wasn’t willing to put in the work necessary to reach that goal.

How does that apply to the gym?

Strength training has done a great deal for me physically – it has also allowed me to coach, to compete, and to enjoy new sports and activities at a relatively high intensity.  However, those physical benefits pale in comparison to the mental benefits.

Pretty much anyone can go into the gym on any given day and pick up some weights and put them back down.  Will that one day alone help them reach their goals?  Not in any meaningful way.  

BUT, if that person continues to go into the gym and pick up that barbell, day after day, until the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, the weights will eventually start to feel a little bit lighter.  That person might start to notice a change on the scale, or in the way their pants fit.  Or, more along the lines of what we do at SISU Strong, maybe they start to notice just a little less arm pump or a little more endurance on their board or bike.  

Your goals, whatever they may be, will only be achieved when you are ready to commit to consistently and relentlessly pursuing them, day after day,  week after week, month after month, and year after year.  That means you need three key things:

  1. Discipline – this is simple.  You have to commit to your goal and put in the work, day after day.  Even when you don’t feel good.  Even when you’re tired.  Even when you’re friend is having a pool party and you really want to go because it’s the last day of summer and you just got a new bathing suit and all the cool kids are going to be there and blah blah blah.  Discipline means mastering your impulses and emotions and focusing on the task at hand. 
  2. Work Ethic – if you want to reach your goals, if you have to be willing to put in the work.  That means not just showing up, but training with a purpose.  You can’t just go through the motions every day, never challenging yourself, and expect to make real progress.
  3. Longsighted-ness – according to my word processing software, this isn’t a word, so I guess that means I created it.  This is basically the opposite of shortsightedness (which, confusingly, is somehow already a word).  You have to have the willpower to sacrifice your short-term comfort and convenience for the sake of your long-term goal.  If you want to be great, you have to be willing to do what others are unwilling to do to get there, and realize that it still won’t happen quickly.

Strength training will give you all of these things.  If you don’t have them, you will acquire them or you will not succeed at getting stronger.  

You don’t get stronger by showing up just when you feel like it.  

You don’t get stronger by just going through the motions.

You don’t get stronger by stopping when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Above and beyond the physical gainz, this is what we do at SISU Strong.  We develop these qualities.  We show our athletes, particularly the younger ones,  that through discipline, drive, and dedication, they can and WILL reach their goal.  Those are lessons that will stay with the athlete through their athletic career and for the rest of their lives.

When The Gym is a Waste of Time

In our last post, we talked about the value of strength training for action sports athletes.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an aspiring/current professional, a well-planned and well-executed strength training program can help prevent injury, improve endurance in practice and competition, and take your performance to the next level – there’s no debating that.

So, when IS going to the gym a waste of time?

Well, depending on what you do while you’re in the gym, going can be worse than a waste of time – it can be detrimental to your health and your development as an athlete.  

Many people believe that if they can just make it to the gym every day, then just walking through that door is going magically make them better. Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated.

While making it to the gym consistently is definitely a critical part of any training program, I’m here to tell you that what you do while you’re there is way more important.  Here are the TWO questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you’re not wasting your time in the gym:

  • Do I have a plan?

This boils down to one thing: why are you in the gym in the first place?  Let’s say your answer is “to get better at my sport” — then, what is your plan to do that?  

What are the performance parameters that you are targeting for improvement?  

What exercises are you using to stimulate adaptation in those specific parameters?

How many sets of how many reps are you doing?  At what tempo?  With how much rest?  

How many times per week?

What metrics are you using to track your progress?

These are critical questions and, if they aren’t answered, then you’re basically trying to assemble an IKEA table without the instruction manual…it’s not going to come out the way you envisioned.

How does that look in practice?  

Maybe you start to feel like you’re out of energy while practicing or competing on your sport.  That is probably due to improper periodization and lack of programmed recovery.

Maybe you just don’t see/feel any improvement in your strength or endurance, despite months of work in the gym.  That is probably due to not applying sufficient levels of stress to elicit the desired adaptation.

These things happen to ALL athletes at some point during their career.  However, the ones that have a plan simply adjust their plan appropriately and continue to progress.  

The ones that don’t have a plan continue to fumble around in the dark, always making it to the gym, but never actually making progress towards their goals.

  • Do I know how to correctly execute my plan?

If you already have a plan – congratulations! – you’re doing better than the vast majority of the gym going population.  You’re aiming to improve specific aspects of your athletic performance, you’ve researched which exercises to use to do that, and you know how to measure your progress so you know if your plan is working.  That’s a great start.

However, there is still one more important aspect of training that could be keeping you from effectively using your time in the gym – do you know how to actually execute your plan?

Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to improve your lower body strength endurance in an effort to improve pedaling power and extend the length of time that you can effectively practice on your bike.  You’ve decided that the exercises you need to use for this are primarily squat variations and you’re going to test your progress by measuring your time pedaling up a certain hill.

Which exact squat variations are you going to use and why?

Do you know how to safely and effectively perform those variations?

How are you going to react if your body starts to tell you it’s overstressed?

How are you going deal with surprises, like injury or sickness?

These questions are arguably even more important than those in number one.  Having a

plan is one thing, knowing how to put it into practice is a whole ‘nother story.

Unfortunately, this is where many people go wrong and it’s one of the worst places to do so.  If you are incorrectly performing movements, for example, you are not only wasting time, you may also be putting yourself at risk for injury both in the acute sense and the chronic sense, as improper execution can lead to imbalances, poor movement patterns, and, ultimately, the waiting room of your local physical therapist’s office.

If all this seems overwhelming, that’s OK.  You’re not required to be an expert in strength training in order to benefit from it, just like you don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car.  However, if you want to upgrade your (metaphorical) engine, improve your (metaphorical) fuel efficiency, and increase your (metaphorical) horsepower, you probably need to either go to a qualified mechanic or spend some serious time learning how to do it on your own.  Otherwise, the best case scenario is that you waste a bunch of time and end up paying a mechanic anyway.  In the worst case scenario, you screw up your engine and end up putting the mechanic’s kids through college.

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