One of the biggest questions I’ve had to ask myself (and subsequently answer) has been this: is it necessary to include toe touch and hip hinge progressions in a program for body composition clientele and how do I integrate them into a program?
Okay, so maybe that was two questions.
Toe touch and hip hinge patterns are fundamental pieces of human movement and integral parts of screens like the FMS and SFMA. Not being able to perform either movement sufficiently can lead to a whole host of problems throughout the body. It can also be indicative of a problem that already exists.
But toe touching and hip hinging are, admittedly, incredibly boring. Despite this, you need to find a time and place to do them. Here’s how and why.
Why Are They Important
Toe touching is important for a number of reasons:
- Spinal mobility and relaxation of the posterior chain
- Ability to shift your weight backward while flexing and loading the hips
Through a simple toe touch, we can tell if a person has the ability to do both of these things. The first and most important is spinal mobility and the ability to relax the posterior chain (i.e. hamstrings, lower back). If somebody cannot touch their toes, it may be due to stiffness of the lower back and tension through the hamstrings. This could be due to an injury or just plain ol’ terrible posture.
The next is the hip hinge and backward weight shift. If somebody can’t touch their toes, it may be due to the inability or hesitation to shift their weight backward and load the hips. Even with adequate spine mobility, you won’t reach the floor without some sort of hip hinge.
The hip hinge itself is different and important for one big reason:
- Ability to stabilize the spine in the presence of hip mobility
You see, the movements are similar but different. To hinge, we must toe touch first. If you can’t touch your toes, loading up a hip hinge might be a bad idea. For instance, if you cannot release the muscles around the spine due to stiffness, that stiffness may translate into the hinge. While stiffness might seem good at first, the hinge only reinforces the bad pattern.
How To Integrate Them Into A Workout
Let’s use Dan John’s newest book Can You Go? and his basic client distinctions to find the answers.
He breaks the clients down into 7 categories, based on three main goals: body composition, strength, and mobility.
For ease, let’s start with the mobility client. If somebody wants or needs to improve their mobility, touches and hinges may very well be right up their alley. It could be for pain reduction, injury risk reduction, or general quality of life. Whatever the reason, the toe touch will be a great assessment and starting point.
It requires mobility through the spine and hips and could be used pretty much anywhere in the workout.
Once mobility in the spine has been achieved, we can begin further challenging hip mobility with hinge progressions. A mobility program is the easiest to integrate a toe touch or hip hinge with.
Next, let’s cover the strength client. More challenging than the mobility client, the strength client only needs or is concerned with gaining strength (and possibly size). It may be tougher to convince a strength client that an unloaded toe touch will aid them in their quest for inhuman strength.
But you must toe touch before you hip hinge and you must hip hinge if you ever want to swing, deadlift, RDL, good morning, squat, or perform any single-leg exercises safely and effectively. If you can’t hip hinge proficiently, you run the risk of injuring yourself during one of these movements and taking 10 giant steps back on the journey to being strong.
Still, when training a client for strength, you must find some way to challenge them without utilizing a top-down hip hinge until they have mastered it.
My favorite way to attack this is by being straightforward, our 1A exercise will be a hip hinge or toe touch. Until the client gets it, we won’t be deadlifting or squatting. Remember rule #1: do no harm. It doesn’t make any sense to teach a deadlift or squat pattern and then attempt to regroove it six weeks later when your client fully understands what a hip hinge is.
For a more advanced trainee that is experienced with some kind of upper-lower, push-pull, or bodypart split, we could easily use the hip hinge as a 1B behind a max effort upper body exercise like a heavy press, row, or chinup.
As the hinge becomes proficient, it can be moved into the warm-up. We can then use bottoms-up (a.k.a. regular) deadlift patterns as our 1A exercise.
Once the client has mastered the hinge unloaded, the RDL is an easy progression. From there, the sky’s the limit as we can start including RDL variations, single-leg RDL variations, good mornings, and swings.
I find that, on average, most clients are swinging kettlebells no more than 4-5 sessions into the program.
Lastly, we’ll cover the body composition (a.k.a. fat loss) client. The fat loss client is by far the hardest client to introduce the toe touch and hip hinge to. Lucky for all us trainers, they’re also the most prevalent (note the obvious sarcasm).
Here’s the bottom line: fat loss is achieved through a negative energy balance. This can be reached through a caloric deficit, exercise (mostly of the inefficient variety), or a combination of both. Priorities during fat loss include maintaining lean mass and a healthy metabolic rate.
That’s where lifting comes in. Lifting (and anaerobic exercise in general) help stimulate muscle-sparing, anabolic processes while providing a multitude of options when it comes to inefficient exercise. It boosts your metabolism in a way that steady-state cardio cannot and is a must for anyone looking to lose fat.
Unfortunately, toe touching doesn’t stimulate those same muscle-sparing, anabolic processes that help us build muscle and torch bodyfat. However, exercises like deadlifts, squats, and kettlebell swings do. And you need to hinge to perform those.
There are entire fat loss programs based around high-volume swing workouts and anybody who’s ran a Smolov or similar four-day-per-week squat program will tell you that frequent squatters can’t help but lose bodyfat.
Without a proper toe touch and hip hinge, clients will not be able to squat or swing. And unless you plan on allowing your clients to move through these heavy, technique-dependent exercises like a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men of injuries, you’re going to have to take them out of the program. And nobody ever lost tremendous amounts of fat with bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.
It is in your client’s best interest to groove their toe touch and hip hinge.
For the fat loss client, some sort of hip hinge should probably be established within the warm-up for the first session. Even a rudimentary understanding of a hinge will allow you to use bottoms-up deadlift/squat variations in the first session.
So there’s your answer: yes.
If you’re a trainer, it is always in your best interest to invest in your client and teach the toe touch and hip hinge and allow the client to master it.
Toe touches are a good way to tell if everything seems to be functioning “good enough” (to steal from Dan John, again) and hip hinging opens the door for squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings, among others. Most importantly, becoming proficient in both of these movements will allow you and your clients to become injury-free in and out of the gym.
Here are the easiest ways to integrate the touch and/or hinge:
- The first day – learning a new movement helps a client feel mastery, a key tenet of motivation
- In the warm-up – that way you can still “get after it” without slowing down to groove that pattern
- As your 1A exercise – just let them bench press as 1B
There you go, all the reasons you should hinge and the easiest places to include it within a program. If you’re looking for a good hinge cue, tell your client to stick their butt on the ceiling. Sounds weird but it totally works.
Also, go read Dan John’s latest book. And all of his other books.