“Lift with your legs, not your back.” We have heard this statement for as long as we can remember. Lifting without proper lifting mechanics can cause chronic and catastrophic back injuries, but have we taken this statement too literally?
In the twenty-first century, the vast majority of society suffers from poor posture. Whether its rounded shoulders and a forward head tilt, or tight hip flexors and a chronically arched back, our posterior chain suffers the most. We train it to sit in a deactivated state all day and once we need it to lift properly, our core does not know how to fire as a unit, increasing the likelihood of injury. So what do we do? We lift with our legs, not our back; we use our squat mechanics to decrease the “pressure” put on the back.
What does “lift with your legs, not your back” really mean?
Lifting with your legs means utilizing your entire lower body to effectively pick up a weight or an object. Lifting with your legs means generating force through your hips and your knees together to absorb the weight. Lifting with your legs means allowing your back and your entire core to stabilize to support the agonist and antagonist muscles of your legs.
When lifting with your legs, the most effective technique to use is the hip hinge. This utilizes your posterior chain and your pulling mechanics to generate force. This results in stronger glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. Yes, this means you WILL feel your lower back, but in a strengthening capacity.
How to perform a proper hip hinge:
- Shift your weight back into your heels and fold over your lower body from your hips (not your waist)
- Keep your chest up and open, your shoulders back
Bend your knees slightly while keeping your hips elevated
- Do NOT squat!
You should feel tension in the back of your legs and a “pulling” through your lower back musculature
One of the most necessary and effective queues when hip hinging is the mention of the open and upright chest. Once you begin lifting a weight, you must rely on your back muscles through the entire core to stabilize and absorb the weight so that your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back don’t take the brunt of the work. By pulling your shoulder blades back (scapular retraction), you are working your shoulder stabilizers and you are loading your latissimus dorsi. This helps to build better posture, counteracting “upper cross syndrome”, more commonly known as the forward rounded shoulders.
As a Spartan Racer, hip hinging is the most necessary mechanic for training, but also the most overlooked. You need to hip hinge to perform some of Spartan’s favorite obstacles such as the tire flip, the atlas carry, the bucket and sandbag carries, and one of Spartan’s newest obstacles, The Armer.
But did you know that the hip hinge is also the most effective mechanic in climbing mountains? Your glutes and your hamstrings should be the dominant muscle groups when working any incline. This takes the pressure off of your hip flexors and off of your knees, allowing your back to stabilize as you trek up any mountain you face.
Let’s evaluate your training now; how often are you hip hinging?
Some of our favorite hip hinging exercises include:
- Deadlift Variations
- Bent Over Rows
- High Pulls
- Kettlebell Swings
The one characteristic you will notice in these exercises are a lack of knee motion. Remember, the knee’s purpose is to absorb the weight, not to lift the weight.
Most hip hinging exercises are not bodyweight exercises, this is why it is most commonly overlooked. Your pulling mechanics are stronger than pushing mechanics by nature. You need to pick up a weight or find some resistance to train them.
Remember, your back is a muscle group, and one of the strongest muscle groups in the body at that. Muscles get sore when they are worked hard. Do not avoid “lifting with your back” out of fear of soreness. The only way to prevent back injuries is to train your back and your hip musculature. The hip hinge is the most effective way of preventing injuries and in developing the most cohesive body. Next time you deadlift, row, or clean, don’t lift with your legs, lift with your back.