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  • Writer's pictureThe Med Gym

Smart Core Training Week 6 - The Dowel Rod Hip Hinge

I’m looking forward to diving into today’s core exercise, particularly because it’s one that you won’t see in any other “core training” program! This week, we get into the dowel rod hip hinge, which I’m pretty sure isn’t in your average “crush your core” type of workout. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most crucial movements you can master to protect your spine!

You see, to me core training is about much more than just making sure you have strong, good looking abs. Core training really encompasses everything that we need to do to protect the spine and optimize human movement. That means that we need to take many of the concepts we’ve started with in this core training series, and begin to build them into more functional movements that can help you in everyday life.

The dowel rod hip hinge, rather than being a strength training exercise for the abdominal muscles, is really more of a movement patterning exercise. While strength training for your abs, to get them stronger, leaner, and ready for the beach is a popular marketing point for core training programs, it’s not the biggest factor that leads to spine health.

Rather, movement patterning ensures that you are ingraining proper ways to move to avoid injury. Doing this on a regular basis, in addition to having enough strength and endurance at the core, is the key to avoiding back injury.

Today, we’ll talk about how you can develop better movement patterns to learn how to properly pick things up – whether you’re lifting something in a workout, or lifting something in everyday life – by moving through the hips while maintaining a stable torso.

Learning to do this on your feet is important, because it doesn’t matter if you can maintain a stable torso while doing an exercise on your back if you can’t maintain a stable torso when you go to pick something up. So, we need to begin integrating these core stability concepts into your functional, everyday movement patterns for them to really take full effect and spare your spine!

Last week, we talked about the importance of finding neutral spine and maintaining that as you go through your core exercises. Now, when we get up off the table or ground and start moving on our feet, the same thing applies, and we’ll begin by using a dowel rod to ensure that we’re maintaining neutral spine.

The dowel rod on the back, as you’ll see in the video, is a great teaching tool. It gives you a tactile cue to make sure that you can first find, and then maintain neutral spine. And the best part is, you don’t need a coach there to tell you if you’re in the right position because the dowel rod will let you know!

The key is maintaining contact with the dowel rod against the back of your head, your upper back, and your tailbone. If you are maintaining those three points (with your chin tucked!), then it’s pretty much impossible not to be in a neutral spine posture.

For example, if you round your back – even slightly – the dowel rod will almost immediately pop off your tailbone. On the other hand, if you are arching your back too hard, you’ll quickly lose contact with your upper back. If you’re in a forward head posture, you’ll lose contact with your head.

As you can appreciate, the dowel rod is a great feedback mechanism to put you in the right position and make sure you’re maintaining that throughout the movement!

When it comes to the hip hinge movement, we’re doing exactly as it sounds – hinging at the hips. As I mention in the video, most people mistakenly hinge at their spine or at their knees when they go to pick something up. Either way, you’re throwing your back or your knees under the bus.

Instead, the hips are one of the strongest regions in the body, and they are perfectly equipped to be the prime mover to pick up a heavy load off the ground.

So, if we can ensure a stable torso and minimal movement at the knees, we’ll be loading the hips to do the work they should be doing and sparing both the spine from injury and the knees from arthritis!

You can see, then, that the dowel rod hip hinge is the perfect progression in our core training program to start getting you moving better on your feet. Practice this movement with a dowel rod, PVC pipe, or broomstick, and the next time you go to pick something up off the ground your back will thank you!

To summarize the dowel rod hip hinge:

What is it?

Rather than being a core strengthening exercise, the dowel rod hip hinge fits into your spine health and core training program by teaching you to move better. I refer to it as a “movement patterning” exercise because it teaches your mind and movement system how to move with the proper pattern to bend over and pick something up.

We call it a “hip hinge” because we’re retraining the bending to take place from the hips instead of bending at the spine or bending the knees to pick something up. Rather than saying “lift with your legs, not your back”, we really should say, “lift with your hips!”

This kind of movement patterning is what trains your body to move in more efficient and effective patterns. This not only protects you from injury, but training your body this way also gives you the potential to become stronger because you’re moving more efficiently.

How much?

The dowel rod hip hinge, being more of a movement training exercise, is best done for fewer sets and reps, but more often. Quality repetition over the course of time beats a large quantity of poor repetitions.

I tend to use the hip hinge as part of a warm-up routine and typically keep it to 1 or 2 sets of 10.

How often?

Once again, because it is not a strength training exercise, the dowel rod hip hinge can be done as often as desired. I usually like to have clients perform it in their warm-ups so that they do it during each workout session. That means that at least 2-4 days/week it’s getting done to help groove this important movement pattern.

After it is learned, it can also be done on occasion as a reminder – say, once a week, especially before performing any deadlifts or hip hinging movements within the workout.

That’s it for today on the dowel rod hip hinge, but stay tuned for more core exercise progressions in the next week of Smart Core Training!

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