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Hip Hinge: Sustainable Body Position for Efficient Running

In my almost eight years at the helm of the “Stay the Course” column, I’ve written a lot about running-stride mechanics, covering everything from standing posture to hip mobility, and from arm swing to foot strike (in both planes). Yet as I approach my 100th iRunFar column (this is number 97 and counting!), I still felt something was missing.

How do we position our body in space for the fastest, most efficient, and most sustainable running?

Something so simple is still subject to much debate. Some people believe that forward propulsion requires leaning forward at the ankle. Others, including some recent running-injury researchers, believe that a forward trunk lean creates too much landing stress and that our bodies should remain upright when running.

In this article, I outline what I have found through didactic study, clinical findings, coaching, and athletic experience to be the most sustainable dynamic running posture: the hip hinge.

Hip Hinge Defined

The hip hinge is an isolated flexion movement at the hip (coupled with a slight flexion at the knee) that does two things:

  1. It positions the hips (more specifically, the pelvis) behind our body; and
  2. It orients our trunk forward.

The result is an athletic position that allows the hips to powerfully push behind and drive forward, places the trunk in a sustainable forward inclination, and helps facilitate the most efficient possible foot strike. But before we directly apply it to running, let’s dig deeper into how the hip hinge accomplishes all these things.

Efficient Forward Motion Requires a Weight Shift

My clinical experience in physiotherapy and Functional Manual Therapy study has informed me about several key posture and movement principles that are crucial for efficient, strong, fast, and pain-free function.

Posture efficiency comprises the very foundation of athletic movement. It’s the vertical stacking and neutrally angled (curve-counter-balancing) alignment of the head, trunk, and limbs in standing. Benefits of an efficient standing posture include automatic core engagement, efficient energy flow through our body, and maximal ventilation.

Okay, so we have great upright posture, but how do we apply this alignment to running? Before answering that, let’s take another step back. How do we generate any forward movement at all? The answer is weight shift. Weight shift is any movement of our body mass outside our base of support, usually toward a new support base. In upright standing, our body mass–mostly comprised of our trunk–rests atop our feet and legs. Shifting weight in running requires somehow moving the trunk away from the rear push-off leg and toward the forward landing leg.

Forward movement, then, is initiated by weight-shifting just beyond that forward base of support, or ‘falling forward,’ with the push-off leg driving forward to quickly become the new base of support.

The question among biomechanists, sports-medicine professionals, and coaches then becomes: what is the most efficient way to weight shift? Some believe we should simply lean forward at the ankles. That through ankle dorsiflexion, the weight is shifted forward. However, without flexion at any other joint, the weight must be supported entirely by the lower legs. This puts tremendous load in the shin and foot muscles.

If you try this, it can be a challenge to hold this position for even a few seconds. And while such an ankle lean might be important to initiate running, it is not an efficient way to maintain a weight-shift position while propelling ourselves from the push-off leg to the landing leg over and over again while running. This high degree of lower-leg load is what is often cited in research studies, which often recommend against forward trunk lean. Thus many gait specialists eschew any weight shift at all!

But what about the hip hinge? A hip hinge positions the pelvis posteriorly. In doing so, not only does it position the hip joint to push off behind, but it creates a natural forward inclination so that our body is aligned, at an angle, in the same straight, vertical alignment we adopted in standing. Our bodies make a straight (but angled) line from our ear to our rear push-off foot. This maintains that key neutral alignment, while at the same time orienting the body forward and over the new base of support, the forward leg. And, it does it sustainably, using the powerful hip joint (as well as a strong, rigid, and slightly flexed knee) to support the body.

Below I demonstrate the hip hinge in a static, staggered stance:

The basic profile of the hip hinge in a static stance for demonstration.

As you can see, the body is oriented in the same straight line, aligned with the push-off leg. The forward landing leg is flexed at the hip and knee. This has huge implications for efficient, athletic running. And, as we’ll talk about later, it’s also a position seen across many athletic movements.

Hip Hinging: Powerful Hips, Minimal Landing Stress

Weight shifting with a hip hinge has two key benefits. First, the butt-back position puts the hips in a position to do work. The gluteal muscles, led by the gluteus maximus, function to extend the hip joint by pulling the femur from a flexed, forward position and extending it equal to the trunk and pelvis. Hip hinging–the posterior pelvis position–creates the flexed hip you see at landing and mid-stance. This position allows the glutes to do what they do best: to push and pull the leg beneath and behind and in doing so propel our body forward.

Conversely, if we land in a position without hip flexion or in a position where thigh and trunk are neutral, there is nowhere for the hip to go. The glutes have nothing to pull on and are unable to extend. I call this posture ‘standing up in your stride.’ The only option for propulsion is to compensate with bouncing, or by flexing and extending at the knee and ankle. This bounce-along uses muscles that are largely intended to stabilize us in stance, is an inferior propulsion strategy, and can create overuse strain to the tissues around the ankle and knee, including the foot, Achilles, calf, quads, hamstrings, and knees.

An example of ‘standing up in your stride.’

The second benefit of the hip hinge is forward orientation of the trunk. A forward trunk has two effects of its own. It helps maintain our forward orientation and it accentuates efficient landing by allowing our foot to land beneath it. This is indeed the key for the most efficient foot strike, that our foot lands very nearly over our body’s forward center of mass. This helps preserve landing force for forward propulsion and limits the amount of energy absorbed by the leg and body. If our trunk is too upright or backward-leaning, the force of our full body weight passes through the leg and creates a braking force. This inherent inefficiency is behind the majority of aches, pains, and overuse injuries in running.

Returning to forward orientation, a forward lean derived from a hip hinge is inherently more sustainable than trying to do an upright lean at the ankle. Because it is created at the hip, the center of mass is split between its two bases of support, the rear push-off leg and the forward landing leg. This creates a strong, stable, efficient, and trustworthy forward position.

Hip Hinge: The Universal Athletic Position

One final argument for the hip hinge is that I believe in unifying principles. We are but one human body, so it stands to reason that what is good for one sport or movement system should be good for another. What is most strong and efficient for football or martial arts should be similar in running. This is certainly true for the hip hinge, because it represents the universal athletic position for all sports:

The running hip hinge. Note the hip flexion and slight knee flexion in the forward landing leg.

Golf position.

Volleyball and tennis position.

Basketball-defense position.

Football  position. (Or Joe’s poor attempt to conjure his ninth-grade football stance. Note the lack of trunk neutral.)

Getting into Your Hips: Two Simple Visuals for Finding Your Running Hip Hinge

The Starting-Line Position

After finding posture neutral, the next step toward efficient running posture is, quite simply, getting on the starting line of a race. Take one foot and place it behind the other. While doing so, maintain the upright alignment so that your body is in a straight line from rear ankle to ear:

The starting-line position.

In doing so, the forward leg should have a slight flexion at both the knee and hip. This aspect is crucial and creates the hip-hinge effect in the stance leg.

Once you adopt this position, play with two different and inefficient positions. First, maintain the staggered stance, but allow your pelvis to drift forward:

Trying to hinge at the hips but with the pelvis forward.

This is a loss of hip hinge. As you can see, the pelvis has drifted forward and the trunk is vertical over the hip. The glutes cannot extend, so flexion can only occur at the knee. A bouncing compensation often results.

Second, maintain stagger and the forward lean, but ‘squeeze’ the hip:

Leaning at the ankle rather than at the hips.

Since hip and flexion is lost, the glutes, once again, have no way to generate push-off. Compensations result, usually recruiting too much lumbar extension. This ultimately pulls our body upright, which is why it is so difficult to sustainably lean forward at the ankle alone.

Running Through a Tunnel

Even if it is the most efficient position, a hip hinge requires strong hip and core muscles, and it can be a challenge to maintain! Moreover, it is easy to lose the hip-loaded position by running too tall or simply leaning excessively. The cue that is most helpful for me is what I call ‘running through a tunnel.’ When you’re in a hip-hinged position, the flexion at the stance knee and hip lowers the body closer to the ground by an inch or so.

With a hinged hip, one’s overall height lowers an inch or two.

For example, I am six feet tall, so I imagine that I’m running through a tunnel that is five feet, eleven inches high. If I maintain my hip hinge, I can run through it. But if I lose my hip hinge and stand up in my stride, my head will hit its roof.

Final Thoughts

The hip-hinge position is, indeed, the universal athletic position that allows a runner to use his/her hip for maximal stability and propulsion. It also orients the body forward in such a way that results in the least amount of landing stress absorbed and the most energy used for forward motion.

Once you find your hip hinge, I recommend not only running in this position, but also adopting this athletic posture for running-specific strength and core-stability work! And if you have any doubts about doing the right thing and how it feels, self-assessment with a mirror or a camera phone is a great way to reinforce this small adjustment that will not only look better, but could result in huge improvements in your endurance, top speed, and overall running enjoyment!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you think you hinge at the hips when you run generally?
  • If so, what’s the hardest part about maintaining this posture while running for you?
Joe Uhan: is a physical therapist, coach, and ultrarunner in Eugene, Oregon. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years. He has a Master's Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50 Mile in October 2010, was 4th place at the 2015 USATF 100K Trail Championships (and 3rd in 2012), second at the 2014 Waldo 100K, and finished M9 at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe owns and operates Uhan Performance Physiotherapy in Eugene, Oregon, and offers online coaching and running analysis at uhanperformance.com.

View Comments (22)

  • This is amazing stuff, Joe. Relearning to properly hip hinge in daily living essentially cured me of lumbar pain. Daily single leg deadlifting and classic kettlebell swings are great exercises of all humans.

    Your article gets me wondering if the goal is to remain or maintain a hip hinge in running or to go into and out of the hip hinge as we transfer our weight/“fall” forward. What I notice is that if I over-focus on maintaining a hip hinge and anteverted pelvis, I decrease the activation of my gluteus medius muscles and put too much strain on my hamstrings. That’s just a little nuance, but it is a limiter in my running.

    I’d be interested to hear what are the active motions in running per your perspective versus the passive motions. What are 1 or 2 things we can consciously focus on doing to propel ourselves? Do those things have an effect of putting us properly into a hip-hinged position?

    You’re an amazing voice in the sport . Thank you!

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    • Hi, Greg-

      Thanks for the insightful (and kind) comment.

      I do not think we should go "in and out" of hip hinge. Nor do I think we should be in an "anteverted" pelvis position (my interpretation: this means anterior tilted / creating a lumbar extension). A slight hip hinge + neutral pelvis (/trunk) should = normal hip stability/function.

      Propulsion: great question -- this will be covered in our next column, which will talk about the coupling of hip hinge AND a hip-action called "pawback" (outlined a few years ago, here: https://www.irunfar.com/2014/07/the-pawback-drill-for-trail-runners.html)

      Stay tuned for that.

      Good luck, -Joe

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  • You would think that with all our modern tech that there would be a pure and factual explaination of how running mechanics work, but the more I read the less I understand.
    Somewhere I did read that we were born to run and that if you look at young humans you will see the natural running form that was ment to be. If that where true then where do we adults go wrong? Has my running sytle changed since my youth? I know that when I took up running at age 45 that I quickly aquired knee pain that has been resolved by changing the way I run.
    So changes to your running form can be a benifit. I usually get injuries from making big changes too quickly. Running is as much about patience as it is about practice.
    I say just enjoy the run!

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    • Fillipp-

      If you want to learn the best way to run, go to an elementary school during recess.

      Little kids - particularly between the ages of 4 and say, 7 or 8 -- have amazing, often-near-perfect running strides.

      Why?
      * infinite energy
      * no mobility deficits
      * a motor control system not yet corrupted (see below)

      But by the time kids hit high school, it's a different story: widely disparate strides (and compensations) and a lot of inefficiency and dysfunction.

      I theorize this (sad) degradation occurs from forcing kids to sit for hours (and hours) a day, thus sapping them of both energy/strength and mobility. This progresses through adolescence and only worsens in adulthood.

      Lastly both weakness and range of motion deficits - AND pain - create motor control compensation: "alternative' movement strategies that - while effective in "survival" (getting from Point A to Point B) - effectively rewrite (or corrupt) the motor plan for how we run.

      (I write about this motor plan corruption here and here:
      https://www.irunfar.com/2013/04/uhans-laws-of-running-injury.html
      https://www.irunfar.com/2019/11/human-in-the-mirror-running-stride-self-assessment.html)

      Thus, very often, we must do considerable re-working to restore a once-natural (and awesome) movement pattern.

      For a lot of us, this is what is required in order to truly enjoy the run.

      Thanks for the comment,

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  • HI Joe! It seems to me that running with a hip hinge really just encourages a forward anterior pelvic tilt, atleast in most people. If your glutes are tied up trying to maintain a slight squat, you're going to have a hard time being able to utilize said glutes to drive yourself forward. Also, this excessive glute tension will limit thigh flexion, so it's going to be really hard to lift the knee high enough for the next step. Hamstrings are going to be be over worked as well. Finally, this position is going to encourage the over-use of the lower back muscles (aka lordosis of the lumbar spine) to support the pelvis, rather than the preferred abdominal muscles, which help to maintain a neutral pelvis. This gait will not support a fast turnover and will increase extremity over-loading. I do see the benefit of the slightly squat position in long, fatigue inducing runs, where one may be looking for a sustainable way to shuffle. But referring to my 1st sentence, I do think that only a minority of people will have the skilled neuromuscular means to execute this position properly at all speeds and gait cadences, without slipping into a forward pelvic tilt. For most runners, even experienced ultrarunners, should 1st focus and correct hip flexor tightness, ability to maintain a neutral pelvis, and glute/abd activation and strength. Thanks for your insight!

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    • Ryan-

      GREAT points, thank you.

      This is the cold reality (/dirty secret): that mechanical dysfunction -- being "tight" in some areas -- can make any positional or movement adjustements either difficult or not possible.

      This can be the case for hip hinging, too -- and it can go both ways:

      * hips too tight (can't flex) = posterior pelvis ("rounded back")
      * lumbar too tight (can't flex) = anterior pelvis (arched back)

      I do think that you can "work" your way into new positions without having to do a ton of mobility work: the idea that "the best exercise is Living Well" -- get /stay in the right position/movement pattern and that will generate/maintain mobility.

      Or....you can say I simply write for a(n infinitesimily) small cohort that had read every one of my works and executes them all, including these works:

      https://www.irunfar.com/2017/01/performance-mobility-part-1-introduction-and-hip-mobility.html

      But you're right, you have to be able to freely adopt a position to maintain it while running.

      Great comment, thanks for sharing.

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  • Your idea of universal connections hit home with me and I thought your imagination might get some fodder from another sport. As a former wrestler, one of the techniques I was taught was about triangles. In this theory there are 3 triangles: 1) each knee and your hips; 2) your hips and each shoulder; & lastly 3) each shoulder and your head. Each triangle forms a plane. The more aligned the planes are, the more stable your position and the stronger you are. Inversely, as the planes move farther out of alignment, the less stable your position and the weaker you are.

    I've spent hours of my life thinking about this as it applies to wrestling, but your article has now inspired me to start thinking about it in terms of running. Thanks!

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    • Great comment and cool insight, Bart, thanks for sharing!

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  • Hi Joe,

    This is very helpful, I worked a lot on hip hinge this year and it seemed to solve my knee issues even though my mileage and elevation were higher than I've ever been. I'm currently struggling mightily with foot and ankle issues though, they all tend to start at the inside of my ankles under the ankle ball. I had decided I was going to try and over the counter insole but your comment has me second guessing that approach now. I went down the rabbit hole with all of your running drill videos and some of your articles, including the one on Elite Feet, which seems like a place for me to focus. I suddenly am questioning whether I even know how to run.

    Do you see a role for supportive insoles as a temporary measure while working on things like elite feet and hip hinge, or are they just getting in the way?

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    • Hey Brian-

      Thanks for the comment -- this is important, too:

      the hardest part is to balance the hip hinge **without** over-flexing at the knee and ankle (thus being "too hinged" or "too low"). In doing so, this over-stretches the foot/ankle complex and could be a factor in your pain.

      the balance point here is:

      * to be hip hinged (pelvis/hip behind the knees and trunk/head)
      * to be "tall" at the knee -- only a slight knee (and ankle flex)

      I intend to post a Part II on hip hinge, including talking about this concept -- as well as demo'ing some strength exercises and drills to practice it.

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  • Good article. Any exercises you can recommend to reinforce the proper body position?

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  • Another great article from Joe. What do you do when running downhill, especially when it is not an even grade but steps down unevenly? This is where I struggle.

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    • Good question, Paul.

      This might help: https://youtu.be/LmWotZ-kJ-A

      Note in the video, the "skiing downhill" = hip hinge!

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  • Great article, thanks. FM Alexander (who developed the Alexander Technique) referred to hip hinging as the position of mechanical advantage which I think describes it well. I don't think there is much difference between leaning from the ankles and hip hinging. Once you move the lead leg when leaning from the ankles it must flex at the hip and knee and the trailing leg will be straight.

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    • Shane-

      Good points, thanks for sharing.

      As with Comment #1 above:

      there's a delicate balance in the relative flexion of joints/elements in our system that result in efficiency (vs inefficiency):

      Trunk: some extension...but not too much
      Hip: some flexion, but not too much
      Knee/ankle: same -- in fact, **too much flexion** here is more commonly problematic than not enough

      What I see clinically with "ankle lean" is what I tried to demo in the picture above:

      * ankle flex
      * very little knee flex
      * very little/NO hip flex
      * too much lumbar extension

      It puts ALL the load in the lower leg, and it really tough to sustain without fully "standing up" in the stride, and lacking any forward engagement.

      #happymedium

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  • Joe,
    Great column. Great article. I have a general question, what are your thoughts on custom orthotics? Opinions are all over the place regarding this topic amongst my running group. I know great runners who won’t run without the
    And other runners who would never touch them. Do you ever recommend them to patients?
    Thanks
    Lou

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    • Hi, Lou-

      Orthotics can be a very useful/vital thing for some people. However, like a lot of medical interventions, orthotics tend to be over-applied and used too frequently.

      My rule as a PT: "Less is more, until it isn't". Generally I only prescribe orthotics in cases of very flat/hypermobile feet, and in general, take them away more frequently (probably 10x) than prescribe.

      Regarding hip hinge: hip hinge is huge for the prevention of foot stress and for improving foot strike efficiency. Insufficient hinge causes overstriding, and changes the orientation of the foot. Thus...fixing posture should be step #1 in most pain/dysfucntion approaches, even at the feet.

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  • Good article Joe.
    Finding the Hip Hinge is assuming what Dan John called the "Silverback Stance". Everything you are referencing is in harmony with what I have been taught regarding "power posture".
    Thanks for a great write up.

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  • Doesn't this contradict most literature about "running tall" and pretending you are 6'2 instead of your 6-feet? Not saying one is right or wrong, but I've been through USATF Certifications and several iconic books from Lydiard to Dellinger to Daniels and Pfitzinger and only read about "running tall."

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    • Great question, Mr REAL.

      "Tall" is one of those words that can be either mis-applied (to various body areas), and/or over-done.

      What needs to be "tall" is the angulation of the trunk -- namely the avoidance of "slouchy" trunk posture. However, this "tall" needs to be in the hip hinge (aligned with the rear leg, above).

      If you're too tall, then you're essentially "standing up in the stride". In that position, all hip power is lost.

      Another area that needs to be tall: the lower leg. It's crucial that the knee and ankle not flex too much.

      It's tough to balance it all in a happy medium, which is the key to efficient running.

      Thanks for the comment, -J

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      • Joe, thanks for the insight and context. Already implementing and visualizing. Thank you.

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