Tutorial Thursday 56 – The Hip Drive

The hip drive. Have you ever come across this word? Or did somebody in the gym tell you how he/she was able to improve their squat performance? Must be some kind of super food or the latest Reebok shoe, you might think.

Wrong! What the hip drive is really about and how you can use it to move more weight, is the topic of this week’s Tutorial Thursday.

Tutorial Thursday 56 - Hip Drive

A question of will power

The hip drive has gotten a lot of fame since the American strength coach Mark Rippetoe mentioned it in his book ‘Starting Strength – Basic Barbell Training’ in 2005. In it, he explains the squat with additional weight in detail and calls it one of the basic exercises of modern strength training.

To be able to move as much weight as possible, to correct neuronal activation of the working musculature is tremendously important. This happens mostly subconsciously but can be greatly influenced by the right thoughts and imagination. Then, our imagination becomes the sculptor, the nervous system becomes the hammer and chisel, and the musculature is the gypsum stone.

Explicit activation of the rear muscle chain is in the focus here. Thus, Rippetoe sees the hip drive as an important factor to get the maximum potential from the gluteal muscles (hip extensor, your buttocks) and the ischiocrural muscles (ham string, the back of your leg).

When squatting, the knees shouldn’t move further forward after the first third of the downward motion. This will make sure that, with simultaneous flexion of the hip joint, the ischios stay a bit stretched and can work better. If you push your knees too far forward it will minimize the angle of the joint, remove the tension, and you will have to contract an already shortened muscle.

Tutorial Thursday 56 - Hip Drive - Knees forward

We are all individual

It is important to note that individual anatomy plays a major role here as well. We all differ naturally in things like body proportions. People that have a shorter shank in relation to the thigh will generally find it harder not to push their knees further forward. This can be corrected by changing the standing position a bit.

An interesting video about this comes from Tom Purvis:

So what is the hip drive?

The hip drive palys an important role when it gets to the part where you start to get up again from the lowest position. Focus on moving the pelvis and the shoulders upwards simultaneously and don’t try to raise your upper body first.

Tutorial Thursday 56 - Hip Drive - Up

As I have mentioned before, we can influence the muscular activation with our thoughts and our imagination. This will let you exhaust your full strength potential because you can make all the involved muscles work together perfectly by focussing on the right form.

A part of this is the commonly known, and highly debated, outward pushing of the knees. This method has been made famous by the american physio-therapist and CrossFit box owner Kelly Starret in his book ‘Becoming a Supple Leopard’.

He favours screwing your feet actively into the ground: think about rotating your feet outwards without actually moving them. The result is an increased activation of the gluteal muscles because of the outward rotation of the leg. Because these muscles are mainly involved in the hip extension. The outward rotation will result in the fact that, when your knees are bend, the will be visibly outside of your feet position:

Tutorial Thursday 56 - Hip Drive - Knees Out!

This technique is a bit debated because it will make it impossible to maintain the optimal force axis of the leg and the knee might become exposed to schearforces that act upon the knees from the side. Since the knee is a hinge joint it is as flexible as a 60 year old tax officer in this aspect and doesn’t even think about reacting to these forces with something like flexibility. Thus, a strong outward pushing of the knees can lead to serious problems with the articular cartilage when doing it often and with heavy loads.

What the knees dislike even more than rotating outwards is collapsing inwards. The cue ‘knees out!’ is supposed to help with this and in the meantime Kelly Starret has qualified his statement to just a slight outward rotation. The fact remains that most people suffer from weak or underdeveloped glutes and have trouble activating them correctly. Pushing the knees outwards is supposed to fix this problem because it actively addresses the glutes. Thus, barbell training should not only be used as a means to hunt for PR’s (personal records) but also in general health sports and squatting should be done hip-dominantly. This means: with weight on the back, hip drive, and deliberate activation of the glutes.

In the end, it is up to everybody to decide what technique he/she uses when squatting, how far apart they place their feet, rotate, and what muscles they focalize to get up from the deep squat to an upright position. Ultimately, we are all individuals.

In reality, though, it is a fact that most people can increase their performance with an active hip drive!

How about you? Have you tried it? How do you do your squats? Do you even squat?
And remember: get functional!
Your Fabien

Author: Fabien Mpouma

Fabien is bachelor of arts sportscience (DSHS) and since his studies he is working in the sector of health- and rehabilitation sports. He was course instructor for several institutions in the field of rehabilitation and mental and physical disease. He has a lot of experience in prevention with adults, youths, and children. He worked as regional manager for Outdoor Gym and now as a Personal Trainer and Foodcoach. Since 2014 he is Manager for Training & Education and Head Coach for aerobis. In 2016 he opened his own facility for Personal- and Grouptraining in his hometown Siegburg. Stay in contact with Fabien by sending him an email

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