People who’ve never worked out before often assume that the sole reason for stepping foot into a gym is to “lose weight” or change body composition. While those might be benefits for some (assuming they’re also getting enough sleep and eating well) I would argue that the first priority for most people who are new to fitness is to learn how to move.
Good movement is the foundation for increasing workload because you’ll be able to work harder and longer over time by avoiding injury. Sure, you can walk into the gym today and make yourself sweat, but if you’re not also learning how to move you’re not only building in a natural ceiling for your strength and fitness, you’re also increasing the likelihood of injury over time. Lifting weights is actually an extraordinarily safe activity in terms of acute injury (like rolling an ankle) but it can lead to chronic injuries (like that shoulder or hip pain that never seems to go away).
My guess is the most important movement pattern you’re not doing right now is the hinge. Remember when your parents first started letting you help them move heavyish things around the house and they admonished you to “lift with your legs, not your back”? Without quite knowing it, they were telling you to hinge instead of just bending over. But what is a hinge?
A hinge is a movement whereby you flex and extend at the hips. A classic hinge movement pattern is exhibited by a barbell deadlift. If you watch the animation below, you can see which muscles are responsible for hip extension (gluteus maximus and hamstrings). In everyday terms, that’s your butt and the muscles on the back of your legs.
A review of the anatomy suggests that your back does play a role in something like a deadlift even if the primary movers are your butt and legs, but I think it’s especially interesting to note just how important butt strength is on a movement like a deadlift. If you’re trying to get stronger and you still fit into skinny jeans–male or female–then you’re doing something wrong. (I’m only sort of kidding here. Big, strong butts are also functional butts. Go make yourself one.)
Until recently, I used to advise people that if they’re new to lifting then they ought to focus on squatting, horizontal pushing (like a bench press), horizontal pulling (like a dumbbell row), vertical pushing (like an overhead press), and vertical pulling (like a lat pulldown or pullup). But I’ve been thinking that this advice isn’t complete and that perhaps beginners ought to start their journey with hip hinging. Along with the squat, the hip hinge is the movement pattern you’re most likely to use in your everyday life. Therefore it’s important that you both get it right and learn to make it strong.
One of the best collections of video tutorials on learning the hip hinge movement pattern comes to us by way of Tony Gentilcore in a blog post appropriately titled “How to Hip Hinge Like a Boss.” You can view that here. Below I’ve embedded just one example of the many drills he’s put together to help you learn how to hinge correctly.
I’ve been stealing the above drill for a while now. Basically you’re using the wall to learn how to throw your butt back and engage the powerful muscles in your posterior chain. Notice how little knee flexion and extension is actually involved here. This makes the hip hinge much different than a squat. Check out the difference in this brief video below.
So why not just go into the gym and try to burn calories? Why “waste” the time learning the difference between a squat and a hinge? If two people walk into my gym, I know ultimately the more patient person who’s willing to learn the movement patterns will be happier with their body a year from now than the impatient person who just wants to sweat a lot. Why? Because once the patient person learns how to hinge well I can progress them through advanced movements like barbell deadlifts and kettlebell swings. These advanced movements, loaded progressively, will build more muscle and ultimately lead to more of a caloric expenditure than basic movements. Powerful movements like the hip hinge involve more muscle mass and thus provide the stimulus your body needs to change.
Before hiring a personal trainer or joining a gym, reorient your mindset toward movement and away from burning calories. You have to inhabit this body the rest of your life, so you might as well learn how to move it well. Once you do that you’ll also be able to push it harder and make big leaps toward the aesthetic ideal for which you might be looking.