The Hinge to Squat Continuum
Like most things in life there’s a range. This holds true from politics to fitness. There’s always extremities and often times you’ll find some people settling in on one pole or the other, with the vast majority of people in the middle.
With fitness, there are often people who will tell you that “this way is best” or “that way is best”, but the truth is “Best” depends on numerous variables.
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- Best depends on overall objectives.
- Best depends on individual abilities, ranges and level competency.
- Best depends on neurological, metabolic, anatomical and other biological factors.
When it comes to whether we should squat or hinge, the same holds true. But the biggest mistake we can make with regards to these movements is deeming one wrong and one right.
The first thing we need to throw out is the dogma associated with competing in fitness. We have to differentiate between objectives of training.
Is your training program designed to help you compete in a particular event? If so, then what event? Is it a sporting event? Is it a Kettlebell event? Is it CrossFit? Or are you training for the purpose of personal longevity or simply overall fitness?
Once you can define this, then you’ll better understand how to apply your training practices and determine what’s best for you and/or your client.
As a Strength & Conditioning Coach, I am sensitive to the objectives of my client’s needs. I don’t train any athletes that compete in fitness (Crossfit, Kettlebell Sport, etc). I train general population and athletes who are looking to develop the complimentary conditioning, strength and mobility necessary for injury prevention and to obtain an edge and longevity in their discipline.
For example, prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, I trained the Trap Shooter for the Thai National Team. Our focus was on cross core strength, core balance and mobility, while her Shooting Coach worked on the nuances of Shooting.
Another example is when I work with Football athletes, Tennis athletes and other sports, I work on the things that help them with overall Core Stability and Mobility, as well as loading and deceleration while their coaches work on the more Sport Specific activities (hitting the ball, tackling, catching, etc).
Most recently, I’ve developed an Applications of Steel Mace Training to Powerlifting. This doesn’t override the necessary instruction on Power Lifting Technique, but helps a lifter enhance overall strength and stability necessary to perform well and minimize risk of injury.
So one of the first things I work with clients on is helping them understand the differences between a Squat and a Hinge pattern, why it’s important and how they can be used in a training program.
First we explore the end ranges of the spectrum.
The Squat is usually defined by it’s increased knee bend. Although the hips also bend, decreasing the angle between the long bone (Femur) of the upper leg and torso; the squat includes the hips moving vertically, up and down and very little (if any) forward bend of the upper back and torso (vertical spine).
The Hinge is usually defined by minimal knee bend. Although the knees do bend, the hips do not move much vertically, but are pushed back horizontally (which lengthens the hamstrings). The Torso and Upper Back bend forward decreasing the angle between the Torso and the Femur. In other words the spine has now become more horizontal unlike with the Squat.
Once an athlete can distinguish these movements at their end range, we can begin playing around with ranges in between. As I mentioned there is a spectrum, which means there are endless ranges that can be played with between the Deep Squat and the High Hinge.
So how do we then apply these to more dynamic
Here are two movements you can apply both Squats and Hinges to: (VIDEO BELOW)
KETTLEBELL HIGH PULLS
Squat Version – The squat version feels better because the upwards phase of the squat movement accelerates vertically. This is the same direction we wish to move the weight. So it feels more natural to then continue the acceleration in the High Pull, vertically.
The muscular emphasis is Quadricep dominant. So the movement now becomes a mix of posterior chain (Back) and anterior (Quads). It’s important to note this for athletes that are already Quad dominant (which are most).
Hinge Version – For the hinge version, the hips project forwards but the weight is still being lifted vertically. This can be confusing for movement patterning and you must resist moving the weight away from the body while moving upwards.
The hinge pattern simply shifts the focus of the movement to the Posterior Chain, putting a greater emphasis on the Hamstrings, Glutes AND Back.
Squat Version – I hesitate to call the Squat version a “Kettlebell Swing” as by Traditional Standards it is not. It’s more like a Squat and Raise than a Swing. This is the area where you’ll hear many people say “you’re doing it wrong”. As I mentioned earlier, “Wrong” is a matter of objective.
If the person’s objective is to work “anterior chain” then it definitely does this. It boils down to need. Most people do not need a lot of anterior chain work and are lacking in the posterior chain (which maintains posture). So the tendency is to ask “why would you ever do this movement?” I wouldn’t do it or prescribe it personally to clients, however if someone wants to do it, I have no problem with it.
As mentioned with the High Pull, the Squat changes the trajectory of movement to vertical. Since that’s the case, more emphasis is placed on actually lifting the Kettlebell vertically as opposed to thrusting it forward.
Hinge Version – The more commonly practiced and emphasized movement throughout Kettlebell Training is this. The focus is on driving the hips back and loading the Hamstrings and Glutes.
There’s a moment of weightlessness and the Kettlebell begins to accelerate the opposite direction as gravity pulls it back towards you forcing you back into a hinge, reloading the Hamstrings and Glutes as they lengthen and contract (eccentric contraction), decelerating the load and preparing to accelerate the load again.
There are pros and cons to each of these movements, and although there are coaches out there that’ll tell you that one is “wrong” and one is “right”, I would argue that it’s only “wrong” if you’re objective doesn’t match the exercise, the movement harms or injures the athlete, or places the athlete at a higher risk for injury/potential future injury.
As coaches let’s continue to learn, grow, innovate and improve. This is the only way we can best serve our clients.