Many beginners learn how to squat from the teachings of Mark Rippetoe from Texas who dominates the squat search results on the Internet. Rippetoe is particularly known for his book Starting Strength, which popularized the low bar squat as well as the GOMAD diet.
One of the main principles behind Rippetoe’s squat tactics is to use your hips as much as possible. He uses the term “hip drive” to describe the hip movement during the lift.
However, despite the large amount of information online, many people still don’t understand what the term “hip drive” actually stands for. Today, I will try to make it as clear as possible.
1.The Hip Drive is Initiated By the Posterior Chain
The posterior chain includes the hamstrings, the glutes, the back and the calves. During a squat, the hamstrings and the glutes along with the quads lift the weight while the back acts as a stabilizer.
To understand what the hip drive actually is, one must focus on the hamstrings more than anything else.
The hamstrings have two main functions – leg flexion and hip extension.
Leg flexion represents the act of curling your lower leg towards your glutes. During squats, however, the hamstrings serve as hip extensors.
An easy way to understand hip extension is to think about how the smaller joints extend. For example, when you bench press there’s elbow extension. First, you grab the bar and move it down towards your chest. At that point, your elbows are in a flexed position. When you are pushing the weight up, you are essentially extending your elbows. Hip extension is the same except that it’s done at the hips.
The image above illustrates what happens during deadlifts. You move your hips forward until you are in an upright position. Most people don’t have a problem understanding that motion, but the hip drive during squats is a little more complicated. To explain it fully, we have to return to the hamstrings.
The hamstrings have two attachments – one at the knee and one at the hips (right under the glutes). To understand what’s happening during squats, we need to look at both points.
The squat begins with the bending of the knees, which means that they move forward. At the same time, the hips move back until you are “in the hole”. It is absolutely crucial to understand that the knees shouldn’t move forward after the first 1/3 of the movement. You want the knees to keep their initial bend. Then, you have to reach the needed depth with the hips while stretching the hamstrings.
The knees should not move forward after the first 1/3 of the movement for two main reasons:
- to prevent knees stress
- to load the hamstrings.
Like I already told you, the hamstrings have two ends – one at the knees and one at the hips. By keeping the knees at the same position after the initial part of the squat, you are creating a stable point. Thereupon the hamstrings are stretched like rubber bands by the hips. This creates tension and keeps your hamstrings engaged throughout the movement. As a result, you are stronger, and your knees are protected.
Imagine that your hamstrings are an elastic band used for a slingshot. The hand holding the slingshot is the hamstrings’ end at the knees whereas the hand stretching the hamstrings is the hamstrings’ end at the hips.
What do you think would happen if you move one of the hands closer to the other? The tension will die. That’s what happens when you move your knees forward after the first 1/3 of the movement.
Getting down this part of the technique is essential to squatting heavy weights safely. One of the worst things that you can do during squats is moving your knees forward at the bottom. When that happens, all the tension in the hamstrings is lost, and you end up with a very weak “slingshot” strike.
However, there’s more to understanding the hip drive.
Another way to kill the tension in your hamstrings is to move your hips forward. You don’t want to do that either. Moving the hips back and up is the way to go. Riding the hamstring tension upwards is the key.
This is also the hardest part of the hip drive. To the untrained eye, moving the hips forward looks just like moving the hips upward. The feeling, however, is completely different. If you do it correctly, you will feel your posterior chain under serious tension, and the weight will feel lighter.
Don’t confuse the deadlift with the squat. While both are essentially hip extensions, the execution is different. During deadlifts, you should be thinking about moving your hips forward, but that’s not the case with squats.
Note: You want the hips to move upward, but you don’t want them to rise too fast to the point where you are essentially performing the exercise good morning. You shouldn’t bend over too much at the waist.
In the video below, you see the popular powerlifter Kirk Karwoski squat a super heavy weight with a hip drive. Notice how he bounces out of the hole, and his rear end moves back and up.
At the end of the day, getting down the hip drive during squats is not super complicated, but it definitely requires practice. Once you get it down, it will be second nature to you.
Key points to remember:
1.After the first 1/3 of the movement, the knees don’t move forward.
2.Drive your hips upwards, not forward.
3.Maintain a constant back angle to avoid turning the squat into a good morning.
Do the same principles apply to the high bar squat?
Yes. The same principles apply to the high bar squat, although the low bar uses the posterior chain more intensely. When you perform high bar squats, the hip drive is somewhat smaller, and the stroke is less noticeable. Yet you still have to use hip drive and keep the hamstring tension to avoid injuries.
What about the front squat?
No. The front squat is a completely different beast. The hamstring involvement in front squats is minimal. When you are at the bottom of a front squat, the hamstrings are essentially shortened, and there isn’t much of a stretch reflex.
When you are doing front squats, you need to lead with the chest and think about driving yourself upwards by using brute quadriceps and glute strength. The involvement of the hamstrings is much smaller.
Isn’t bouncing off the hamstring bad?
It could be bad if you do it wrong, but in general, it isn’t. This is the safest way to squat when it comes to knee health. Without tension in the hamstrings, the knee is vulnerable.
What about pause squats?
The whole point of pause squats is to remove the stretch reflex and use brute force to get up. However, even pause squats require you to keep some hamstring tension.