Keep the Arch in your back! Stay Tight! Push your hips back! Knees out! You have all probably heard these coaching cues. These are all commonly things heard when squatting. Whether this be back squat, front squat, overhead squat or any form of squat for that matter. One common issue when looking at a squat is the butt wink that happens at hopefully only the very end of the squat( I’ll explain while its not that large of a deal later on). These cues are commonly called out during a lift from a coach or a training partner if they are at least somewhat familiar with proper squatting form. What they don’t see is this commonly called butt wink.
Butt Wink sounds real official doesn’t it? Well what is it actually called? A butt wink is a posterior (toward the rear of your body) tilt of your pelvis. Imagine it like your hip bones turning toward the rear of your body like a steering wheel turning left or right depending on which way you are looking at the body from the side.
If you have ever looked like the above photo during any type of squat, I’ve got some news for you! You can relax, it’s not that big of a deal. Today we are going to explain why it happens potential complications and what it is that you can do about it. The “butt wing” when it occurs causes a shift of the pelvis to the rear ( as stated previously). This also flexes your lumbar spine( lower back) causing compression around the area and potentially leading to significant lower back pain and possibly even injury.
What causes the Butt Wink?
I’ll give you a hint! It’s not tight hamstrings. When you go down into the bottom of a squat do you feel a significant stretcher in your hamstrings? If you do, then your probably doing a pretty heavy good morning instead of a proper squat. Your hamstrings attach at the knee and the hip joint. So when you squat you there is a lengthening and shortening on each end of the muscle which doesn’t cause a significant amount of stretch in the hamstring to “pull” your pelvis forward. The biggest reason you may find that you have a butt wink is because of the way you are made. Simple enough? We are all different shapes and sizes and even high level Olympic Weight Lifters don’t have the seemingly “perfect squat” They do what works for them.
Okay, So this is actually a picture of a hip replacement. It will still help to drive home my point. To the left of the picture above the angle at which the femur attaches to the hip bone is much higher and the articulation of the femur at the acetabulum is shorter. This person would have a different squat, I would suspect a lot deeper than someone with a different anatomical setup at the hips. Point being we all are going to squat a little differently and this may or may not cause a butt wink to occur. Dr. Ryan Debell wrote a very good article that demonstrated this in greater detail that I have linked HERE if you want to know more about why it is that we all squat differently.
The main cause of the butt wink is lack of mobility and motor control (can also be called, stability or coordination) along with a small lack in strength. I believe that if you want to get better at something then you should just do it a lot. Plain and simple, however you should also do things that are going to help you get better and decrease injury. Stretching is cool, I am not of the school of though that static stretching is going to do something horrible to you. Neither is foam rolling. Do it when it is necessary and in the right amount. With that being said there are a few things I think you should do to help improve the butt wink:
- Increase ankle dorsiflexion: Flexion in the ankle will result in the knees driving forward creating more space for the hips to drop into a “neutral” position. So the common cue “knees out” is fine but what tends to happen with that cue is that there is no flexion at the ankle and no forward knee drive and the shin is more vertical in the squat almost as if the shin were in a dead lift position.
- Increase Strength in upper back: What?! You ever seen anyone with a big ass back not be able to squat, bench or dead lift a ton of weight? Exactly! Look at the first picture of the butt wink in the beginning of the post. Not only does this gentleman have a pretty significant butt wink his upper back is also rounded pretty significantly. With a strong upper back and posture you are able to maintain more spinal alignment throughout the movement.
- Work on movement quality before squatting with stability and motor control exercises and stretching afterward. This is for the most part. I like developing a mind body connection before the squat so my brain understands what it is I am asking my body to do. Then those signals can be sent to the muscles quickly and efficiently. If the brain doesn’t like the idea and is sending out some pain signals ( as a means of protection) then I back off for the day. If everything is going well then I keep moving. These drills aren’t anything difficult and usually start in the warm up. Sometimes they are things as simple as stand on one foot for 1 min each side, then reverse hypers or glute ham raises and goblet squats, along with some ring rows or barbell rows.
So is the Butt Wink a Problem
The simple answer to that is, it depends but it can be. If you are experiencing a butt wink at the very end range of the squat where you are well past parallel, then you are fine. The spine is not a 4×4 it does a quite a bit of give in it to allow for some flexion. Think about when you are sitting or lounging around all day. You ever notice how much lower back rounding you have? Now, if you go to squat and you barely make it past the initial hinge back and you start to round. You have some things to work on. Trying to push past this with any significant type of load can be dangerous sooner or later. There is no way for me to tell you exactly how, when and if you will actually hurt yourself but it is a possibility with a significant lower back flexion under significant load. Your routine should consist of focusing on increasing mobility in the ankle, knee, hip and thoracic spine, bracing and breathing as well as improving motor control.
So how do I know if I have a butt wink?
Well you have two options:
- Get a coach. They can tell you when and if it is there and give you a plan to correct it.
- Or get your camera or a friend to record you doing a squat and review it. There are plenty of videos on correct squat form. Some are better than others so keep and open mind and I always say “you can do anything for 30 days.”
The butt wink is a very real thing and if you have a plan to manage it and you have no injuries then you should never really have a problem. I probably see more lumbar curvature in dead lifts and is more pronounced in dead lifts than squats. I have a attached a video below that explains the bio-mechanics of the squat and the butt wink beautifully. Check it out, it will only take about 15 minutes or so. That link is HERE.
So big takeaways:
- Find out if you have a butt wink and is it a problem for you.
- Increase areas of limited mobility and motor control, stretch where necessary.
- If you want to improve your squat form, do it more often.
- Don’t stress it too much, develop a plan to improve and stick with it. Create good habits in the squat.
That’s all for this week, thanks for reading.