Hip Initiation – Sun 12.03.17

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More great stuff from the CrossFit Journal.  Why do I keep referencing the CrossFit Journal?  Because it is the best and cheapest resource for the best training tips around:

Cueing Hip Initiation

How do you quickly rewire squat mechanics when an athlete insists on sending the knees forward first?

Athletes initiate the squat with the knees for a number of reasons. The positive: Driving the knees forward creates a vertical torso that can reduce stress on the shoulders and wrists in the front or overhead squat. This upright torso position is so desirable that athletes will use specific footwear to acquire it. The weightlifting shoe—with its elevated heel—assists with dorsiflexion of the ankle and produces a more upright position.

Unfortunately, driving the knees forward generally causes an athlete to shift the weight to the toes. This sets up unbalanced contributions of the leg musculature and creates shearing forces at the knee. When the knees travel forward to initiate the squat, the quadriceps carry most of the load—even athletes who are able to keep their heels down are missing contributions from the posterior chain.

Posterior-chain engagement refers to a deliberate effort to involve the hamstrings and gluteals in movement. Pressing the hips back and down allows the athlete to recruit the hamstrings to protect the knee joints with balanced contributions from the quads and hamstrings.

ALT TEXTNote the differences between a knee-initiated squat (left) and a hip-initiated squat (right). Which one looks more balanced?

ALT TEXT(both: Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)

You might hear the cue “butt back” in the box when a trainer encourages an athlete to use a hip-hinge pattern to initiate the synchronized triple flexion of the hips, knees and ankles during the squat, but if someone doesn’t understand what’s required, the cue can create an undesirable anterior pelvic tilt or just a confused athlete. So let’s explore some other options.

Squatting to an appropriate target while facing the wall is a great way to progressively reinforce a good line of action in a supportive environment. For detailed instructions on this technique, read “Next-Level Coaching: Squat Therapy” by Kevin Lim.

Other strategies can be divided into three broad categories: verbal, visual and tactile.

Verbal cues are best used with athletes who can hear instructions and make changes in movements. Instead of saying “butt back,” try “shoulders forward.” Keep in mind that this requires a stable midline: The athlete should not bring the shoulders forward by rounding the back but by hinging at the hips with a rigid spine. The pelvis and torso should move as a single segment to produce the “butt-back position” required in the first quarter of the squat.

Another verbal cue involves the knee. If the hips are coming forward, it’s very likely the knees are coming forward, too. “Knees back” might be just the cue your athlete needs.

Failing to send the hips back generally causes an athlete’s weight to shift toward the toes, so the cue “weight back onto the heels” can solve the problem for some athletes.

ALT TEXTIn some cases, a short, actionable verbal cue will improve movement quickly. (Christopher Nolan/CrossFit Journal)

The cue “shins back” might solve two problems at once if it helps the athlete move the weight onto the heels and recruit the posterior chain. After all, the hamstrings attach to the fibula and tibia, so hamstring engagement is required to pull the shins back.

To really speak a client’s language, I like to ask an athlete what feels different when he or she starts moving properly. The response will then allow me to construct a verbal cue specific to the athlete, and I’ll put it in the toolbox for later. For example, if the athlete told me he felt like he was “leaning over too much” when using the hips to initiate the squat, my cue to correct his next knee-initiated squat would be “lean over too much.”

ALT TEXTA trainer might recreate this incorrect position and ask an athlete to observe how knee initiation pulls the heels off the ground. (Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)

Visual cues allow athletes to see movement and then correct their own patterns. The coach can use both negative and positive examples by showing an athlete what he or she is doing and then demonstrating what’s required: “This is what you are doing, and this is what I want you to do.”

This type of cueing requires a coach to have excellent proprioception. He or she must be able to quickly recreate precise aspects of poor movement, then provide a great example of the fix. In some cases, coaches can use other skilled athletes to provide a visual demonstration, which might allow the coach to use tactile cues while the athlete watches the demonstration.

For example, a coach can dramatically push his or her knees forward past the toes to show knee initiation, then perform another squat in which the hips move back and down to start the movement. A coach can even draw an athlete’s eyes to very specific aspects of the movement. For instance, a coach might ask an athlete to watch only his or her heels during performance of a squat. The coach can show how knee initiation often brings the heels off the ground, while hip initiation keeps the heels grounded.

ALT TEXTTargets can often be used to offer tactile feedback. (Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)

Tactile cueing uses physical contact to help an athlete move better, but it’s a bad strategy to have an athlete reach for your hand with his or her butt.

A more appropriate strategy might be to have the athlete face away from the wall and then push the hips back to touch the wall and slide down as low as possible. Another tactile strategy: The athlete could squat to a ball and then use the hips to roll the ball backward to find the correct bottom position before standing; once the athlete has done this a few times, he or she can try finding the position from the top.

Circling back to the “shoulders forward” verbal cue, coaches might present a target for the athlete to hit with his or her shoulder to initiate the squat. Again, the trainer must be vigilant to ensure the movement comes from hip hinging and not spinal flexion.

ALT TEXTIn groups, skilled trainers can find ways to engage multiple athletes at once by using different types of cues. (Ruby Wolff/CrossFit Journal)

In all scenarios coaches, must encourage slow reps, sometimes with pauses, both to help the athlete feel the positions and to make it easier for the coach to see the positions. These slow squats won’t be easy, but they’re valuable: They actually strengthen and lengthen the muscles needed to perform excellent squats. Anyone who has done the squat breakout at a Level 1 Certificate Course will tell you striving for precise movement is hard work.

By improving squat mechanics and setting the correct pattern right from the top of each rep, we can lift more weight, do more reps and use more advanced variations of the squat in workouts. This improvement is a continual process that takes week, months and years. Remember to enjoy the journey rather than look for shortcuts to the end result.

About the Author: Brett Fforde spent time in the Australian Army as a physical-training instructor before earning a degree in sport and exercise science. He found CrossFit in 2009 and has been traveling the world teaching Level 1 and Level 2 courses since 2010.

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