Hip-Hinge Setup & Cues: A Young Athletes Complete Guide

In the first instalment of this series, we delved into the cues & setups we use for a squat here at The Academy. In today's article, our intention is to do the exact same, but for our hip-hinge movement pattern.

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and Iearn"
- Benjamin Franklin

Deadlift - The Youth Academy

The hip-hinge movement pattern, most commonly known as the deadlift & all its variations, is quite possibly the most difficult of the movement patterns for young athletes to learn and master. We find the main reason for this being their lack of proprioception (knowing where their bodies are in space), and the repeated efforts of picking things up off the floor with a rounded back

Having said that though, there's a simple way to break the hip-hinge movement down so that young athletes can quickly grasp the core components, and begin ingraining the movement pattern so that it becomes second nature

The main confusion we come across is that many young athletes want to treat the deadlift almost the same as they would a squat (however in the deadlift, there is far less knee flexion that that of a squat), and that they tend to not be able to feel the "push" of the hips back whilst keeping a straight back - and they tend to look like the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Luckily though, we know how to rectify these common and easy mistakes when it comes to the deadlift... and here's the exact cues & setup we use with all of our young athletes (please note: these cues may change depending on the level of the individual, they're body type, and the type of learner they are - visual, kinesthetic, auditory)

One of the main concepts to remember here is that like the squat, the movement pattern never changes regardless of the implement we're using to perform the hip-hinge... be it dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or a trap bar

Deadlift - The Youth Academy

The Setup

  1. Begin with feet together, then twist toes apart, heels apart (see here for video demonstration)... this helps finds our most athletic stance & will be roughly where your feet would be placed if you were to try and jump or land from a jump
  2. Toes forward
  3. Squeeze those glutes/butt
  4. Keeping toes forward, turn the knees out
  5. Shoulders back & down/scaps in the back pockets
  6. "Soft"/slight bend in the knees
  7. Proud chest
  8. Keeping proud chest, push the butt back & let the upper body begin to become almost horizontal
  9. Pause, and standing by utilising the hamstring & squeezing the glutes

Note: we always begin with either an RDL variation & never a full deadift, or we may begin with a trap bar deadlift as the starting position is higher off the floor than a traditional barbell deadlift... the important thing to note here is that our intention is not to become better at the deadlift like a powerlifter, but to utilise the movement pattern to become stronger, faster, more exposive, powerful, etc...


  1. Keep the bar/hands close & run it along the legs: the bar needs to stay as close to the body as possible as this is it's most efficient path. If it travels out in front of the body, then it is going to place extra stress on the lower back, which is something we must always try to minimise with this type of movement. Yes, the lower back will do some of the work - but it should not be the primary mover. The hip-hinge will develop the entire posterior chain...
  2. Keep Knees Out: on both the descent and the ascent, the knees need to stay pushed out so that the posterior chain can remain activated. This video has a great demonstration of how to see how it feels when your knees collapse inwards vs when they're pushed out - see which one feels more powerful
  3. Shoulders Back & Down/Scaps In Back Pockets/Chest Up: this cue helps us ensure that the young athletes stay aware of their back angle, helping to keep it straight & not round
  4. Butt Back/Hinge: our favourite analogy here is "what do the girls do in rap videos/the club... they push the booty back" - our intention here is to teach the difference between the hinge (less knee flexion/more hip flexion) and the squat (more knee flexion/less hip flexion)
  5. Push The Floor Away: the deadlift isn't a straight "pull"... as the movement is initiated by trying to push the floor away from you...
Deadlift - The Youth Academy

And once the young athlete begins to progress and become more accustomed to the cues and movement, you can break the cues down into even simpler single-words, such a feet, knees, chest, hips, etc...

One key is to not overwhelm the young athletes and have them focus solely on one or two major cues they seem to have to think most about... and then have them perform the movement pattern properly so that it becomes ingrained automatically into their nervous system and the movement soon becomes second nature

Next week's article will cover our unique Academy Graduation Progression to the hip-hinge, and break those movements down into their core components so that young athletes & adolescents can learn to perform the hip-hinge both safely & effectively - and gain all the benefits from this phenomenal movement


Nick Maier