Arguably the two most essential movements a human being can do, the hinge and the squat often get misunderstood. It is not uncommon to see people squatting when they should hinge and vice versa. In CrossFit, many exercises are built upon these two movement patterns. Even though they are simple movements, many people have trouble figuring out how and when to do which. So it is very important that we understand the difference between the two, both for your safety and for your efficiency.
Two things are necessary for correct implementation of these movement patterns: body awareness and mobility. You might have the knowledge of what is a hinge and how to do it but if you don’t know where your body is in space or have the mobility to go through the range of motion, it will be hard for you to perform the movement. If you are having trouble with squats, for example, awareness and mobility might be the issue, but it might also be that you are hinging instead.
These two movement patterns can be easily distinguishable by this one rule of thumb: if the joint going through the biggest range of motion is the knee, you are squatting. If the joint going through the biggest range of motion is the hip, you are hinging.
Going a little further into it, hinging recruits primarily your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back) while squatting is mainly done with the quads. Or think about it this way, on a squat, you bring your hips toward the ground vertically, on a hinge you bring your shoulders toward the ground in a forward motion. You will still bend at your hips during a squat, and you will still bend your knees during a hinge, but that’s not the primary movement going on.
A squat, a dip, a hinge, bending of the knees and lowering of the hips are all different cues. So when I ask you to bring your hips down when you are about to deadlift I do NOT mean “squat a little”. Or when you dip, you are NOT just “bending the knees”.
The most basic movement we can relate to the hinge is the deadlift. Most of the times, when you are trying to move an object from the ground upward, you will be performing a hinge. Cleans, kettlebell swings, and high pulls are all hinging movements. Therefore, to maximize your efficiency on these movements, make sure that you are using your posterior chain when performing them.
The squat first has to be differentiated between the exercise and the movement pattern. The exercise “squat” is usually referred to a full, or partial, squat pattern done for reps or load. Front squats, air squats, overhead squats are all squatting exercises. “Squat” as a movement pattern refers to the act of bending at your knees while maintaining an upright chest. Wall balls and thrusters are movements that require a squatting pattern.
So why do athletes have a hard time separating these two movements?
Let’s first look at the hinge. Many people end up doing a more squat pattern movement when they should be hinging because of body awareness. It can be hard for some people to know if they have a straight back as they hinge, so to overcorrect that they may keep their chest upright and squat down. Another option could be that their core isn’t that strong yet. So when they perform a hinge their back round. Again, to overcorrect that, they might keep their chest more upright so it will round less.
Regarding the squat, there are more factors at play. Ankle, knee and hip mobility play a big role in squatting. So, as athletes want to get lower in their squat and a joint, or multiple joints, is at its current full range of motion, they tend to bring their chest down to create the illusion of being low (or maintain balance). Another reason could be that their posterior chain is much stronger than their quads, causing their hips to come up first during a squat and turning the movement into a hinge.
Finally, a big factor limiting your movement could be the strength imbalance. Like mentioned above, if you are way stronger on one type of movement, it might influence you when you are trying to perform another pattern. Especially if you have gone through an injury and have been avoiding a certain range of motion for a while.
So if you are stuck in one of these exercises, make sure that you are performing the correct movement patterns. Also, make sure that nothing is keeping you from doing the correct movement patterns. And as always, if you have any questions on the form or how to improve your hinge, or squat, ask your Sweat Factory CrossFit coaches!