Many moons ago I had no idea that the same hyper-flexibility that would inhibit contact sports playing would come in handy once I decided to pick up a barbell. My ability to have a back squat that looks like a front squat would be more a gift from my parents as opposed to the popular belief that it came from hours of stretching and mobility. (Note: This is not to say I don’t work diligently to maintain good thoracic, hip and ankle mobility!) Learning the right position to squat for your body is the key to making progress and the ability to maintain a healthy body for years to come.
When people have deeper hip sockets it allows for greater allowable hip flexion range of motion. The farther one goes into hip flexion during a squat, the more the pelvis will posteriorly tilt, and with it, cause the lumbar spine to rotate into flexion. In other words as you drop down into a squat, your femurs ride up and as you run out of hip range of motion, going deeper will result in compensation patterns such as the butt wink.
The usual verdict is your hamstrings are tight so when you descend into the hole of the squat, you’re resisting the pelvis gliding back and thus you wind up moving forward into the movement. The problem is that as you squat, your knees bend and that reduces the tension on the hamstring A LOT. So your supposed hamstring tightness thus becomes very minimal to the hips in terms of resisting their natural movement.
This concept of the knee shortening the hamstrings and the hip lengthening during a squat is known as Lombards paradox. This states that during a balanced flexion of the knee and hip, no real length change occurs in the hamstrings as well as the rectus femoris. Lets keep things simple and just assume hamstrings are the problem.
An easy way to test this is to do a simple rock back test while on all fours against the wall.
When I line my feet flat against a wall, the movement resembles a squat, including the ankle, knee and hip flexion.
· The knees would be lined up with the toes
· The hips would be behind the heels.
If I were to go through this movement and exhibit no butt wink, then it’s not the hamstrings fault. However, what if this movement still produced a butt wink. Would the hamstrings be indicted then? Not likely, as the muscle isn’t under tension as mentioned before, and still there’s some anatomical differences we have to consider as to why the person isn’t able to get into the squat position, regardless of hamstring tension.
“Someone with limited hip flexion that attempts to squat deeper than their anatomy allows inevitably tucks their hips under at the bottom. Invariably this leads to lumbar flexion under a significant load.”- Kevin Neeld A big no-no.
So…how do you fix a butt wink?
If the person has no more available range of motion from the hip at the bottom of their squat and their low back starts rounding early, you could try to stretch the hamstrings and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t make an immediate improvement, that’s not the solution. If their structural make-up limits further movement, stretching won’t make a lick of difference. Maybe foam roll the area, if re-testing shows no change, it’s not foam rolling.
If one were to stretch the hamstrings, I would take a multi-angled approach. The two things to keep in mind:
- Moving from the hips, no lumbar movement.
- Keep the foot pointing straight up.
Maybe they don’t have the stability at that position of their squat?
If they only have 2 feet on the ground that’s a much less stable position than holding onto a TRX or handle, and much less stable front to back than if they were to hold a dumbbell in a goblet position and squat to a box.
Front squats tend to produce more depth than back squats, possibly because the body has an easier time finding balance with an anterior load versus a posterior load. Our anterior core HAS to engage/fire to prevent you from tipping forward.
You’re MORE STABLE, and better able to control the pelvis.
So, if someone performs a squat and I see the tuck under, and it corrects itself when I force them to engage their core, I can generally surmise that it’s probably a core stability issue. And that’s a pretty good place to begin.
My focus would be to get better at squatting lighter loads. You need to be under complete control during your squat. Most individuals exhibit a butt wink simply because they lack the motor control and are unstable through the full range of motion. This is one of the many reasons why goblet squats are so valuable.
Simultaneously, goblet squats make it easier to slow people down. I would begin by implementing a lot of controlled slow-eccentric squats to force yourself to stabilize and to still keep time under tension high. When you force the slow descent you have no choice but stabilize or end up on your butt.
Here I can groove a rock-solid squat pattern:
1. Sit back
o One of my favorite cues is to "pull" yourself down into the hole, making sure to maintain proper spinal alignment throughout each rep.
2. Push the knees out
o You need to "own" your rib position. Think about there being an imaginary line between your belly-button and nipple line. When we over-arch, that line gets longer, and we want to try to avoid this as it reduces compressive forces on the spine.
3. Keep the chest tall
4. Brace the abs harder.
Likewise, it helps to "spread the floor" with your feet. This will elicit more of an external rotation torque in the hips, which in turn helps to provide more hip stability. Also, as a reminder, use the kneeling rock-back screen from above to help dictate what your appropriate depth and foot distance.