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Starting Strength in the Real World

Teaching Hip Drive in the Squat

by Mark Rippetoe | July 14, 2020

Initiating the upward drive from the bottom of the squat is not merely a good idea, it's the law – even people who have been taught to squat using other methods will always show some hip drive out of the hole if the weight is heavy enough. Even heavy front squats lead with the hips if the weight is actually heavy. This is because a knee extension alone is not strong enough to accomplish the movement upward without the hip extension that always accompanies it, and the moment force that operates the bar loading the torso is more efficiently generated by the big muscle mass of the hips. The hips always squat the weight. Look at the videos closely and slowly, and you will see that this is true. 

It's very handy to understand this: when the weight gets heavy, you can think about driving your hips up instead of how heavy the bar feels. If you have a mental process to focus on – a technical task to perform during the rep that requires you to think about a component of the movement pattern instead of getting mashed under a heavy weight – the process of completing the rep becomes far less distracted by the load. 

And since hip drive is what's going to happen anyway, you might as well learn it and teach it from the beginning. It saves time if you build it into the teaching method. This is how we do it: 

We teach the squat by taking the correct stance, squatting down, stretching in the below-parallel position for a few seconds, and them coming up using the hips first. Hip drive is best understood as squatting with the bar on your ass, not your shoulders, so that you concentrate on making the hip extension before the knee extension. They obviously happen simultaneously, but your focus must be on the hips, because 1.) the hips comprise the majority of the muscle mass that moves the bar, and 2.) you are already squatting with a quads-dominant model that has to be unlearned if you're going to squat heavy weights. 

cueing hip drive

The picture illustrates the next step, which requires two people. The lifter in the bottom position is about to come up, and the coach standing behind is applying downward pressure to the hips, so that in order to stand up the hips have to drive straight up against the resistance of the coach's hands – who is careful to mimic only the straight-down gravity vector with no forward component to the push. The lifter shoves up against the resistance, learning both the concept of hip drive and balancing during the movement at the same time. 

This movement can be repeated several times until the lifter is driving up first with hips consistently. During this motion, the knees will extend and move back a little, since they have to if the hips move up – knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone's connected to the hip bone. And the back angle will go horizontal as well; this has to happen a little even in a heavy front squat, because a strong hip extension when standing on the ground always moves the knees and hips, and shows a couple of degrees more movement up at the hip joint than at the low back, making the back angle a couple of degrees more horizontal at the start of the drive. 

When you first learn it, we don't care if it looks like a goodmorning. We can fix that later, with the bar on your back. But if you don't learn to lead with a strong hip drive, you lose this opportunity to structure the movement pattern correctly in your mind from the beginning, and you create problems that don't need to be there.

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