Written by Dr. Quinn Henoch
Okay the title is ridiculous. Though, whether on the competition platform or when training for your respective sport, ones bottom position in the squat can tell you a lot about an athlete. I want to focus on a common movement pattern that some utilize to attain “proper depth”. I’m talking about lumbar flexion/posterior pelvic tilt at or near the bottom of the squat. That’s right – the dreaded BUTT WINK.
Recently, I discovered that there is a “Pro-Butt Wink” camp. The rationale being that a posterior pelvic tilt in the bottom of the squat puts the gluteus maximus in a more advantageous position for elastic rebound. If I don’t think about it very hard, this almost makes sense. To me, however, the reward is not worth the long-term risk. There seems to be plenty of literature pointing to the fact that loaded flexion is not such a good thing1-4 So wink away if that’s your thing; but I’d rather just cue a good ‘ole braced neutral spine. Now, are positions always going to be perfect on the competition platform or the field on game day? Of course not. You do what you have to do to win; and there is always a buffer zone or range of movement that certain athletes can get away with relatively unscathed. 5 This is especially the case in Olympic weightlifting where the dynamic mobility demands are so extreme. Does that mean we should not strive for optimal positions in training? Absolutely not.
I am not going to say much about this. Personally, it bores me to talk about things that cannot be changed. There have been a couple recent articles floating around explaining the fact that everyone’s bony structure is different, and everyone’s squat position will and should not look the same. Of course, I acknowledge that this is true. However, I’m getting the sense that some are using this as an excuse to have a shitty squat. So for the rest of this particular article, we are going to focus on things that we can change.
3 Common Causes of The Butt Wink
So why do people use this pattern? Poor joint mobility? Poor muscle flexibility? Poor motor control/stability? The answer is YES. It can be any combination of these. We will discuss a few common causes, and the interventions will focus mostly on joint mobility and muscle flexibility. This is because trying to stabilize a system that can’t move in the first place is equal to the proverbial piss in the wind. Just know that sufficient motor control and stability is the end goal, and the subject for a future installment.
Cause #1: An initial set up position highlighted by excessive anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar lordosis
If you start the lift in a poor position, it’s damn near impossible to correct in the middle. Usually it will just get worse. Especially with 550 on your back, like you had last week when you were training out of town. Your phone died though, so you couldn’t get video. Anyway, what we see often is that people set their backs and hips with too much low back arch. This arch only increases as they descend. Then as the person approaches parallel, his or her femur and pelvis meet. The result is a posterior tilt and round back to achieve more depth – AKA a butt wink. A common complaint from the athlete may be a pinching feeling in the front of the hip. This is not a surprise considering they are smashing tissue between two bones. Again, while ultimately this may be a motor control fix, let’s first address mobilizing a lumbar spine stuck in extension, and short anterior hip musculature that can tug on the low back and tip the pelvis forward. Hyperextension in the back squat descent has been shown in the literature as well.6 See the video below for a test/retest and two corrective drills.
Cause #2: Poor Hip Joint Centration
Centration is a fancy word that describes how a joint is functioning. If a joint has optimal centration, it is thought to demonstrate the proper amount of accessory motion with the appropriate balance of musculature acting on it. Basically, it is centered, and in a position to absorb and produce the most force. For the hip, we want the head of the femur to glide down and back into the hip socket for a proper amount of flexion. A butt wink and/or a pinching sensation in the front of the hip can be a result of poor hip centration. Rather than guess as to what exactly is causing this, the drill in the video below will address several things, and hopefully get that hip to function a little better.
3. Poor Ankle Dorsiflexion
Ankles are the bane of many athletes existence, including mine. Increasing ankle dorsiflexion can be one of the most difficult and frustrating things to do, especially with a history of sprains or years of restricting footwear. However, with EXTREMELY CONSISTENT focus, it can be done. Restricted ankle dorsiflexion has been linked to altered squat mechanics.7 This makes sense biomechanically, as a tight ankle during a squat will push the body into a backwards weight shift. So, the person has two options – either fall on his or her butt, or drop the chest and round the back as a counterbalance. The video below demonstrates an ankle mobility drill that is an extension of the hip drill above, which makes things nice and easy.
Notice I did not mention the hamstrings as a cause of the butt wink, even though these muscles are commonly deemed as the culprit. I generally do not consider them a major player because:
1) When taking anterior pelvic tilt from excessive to optimal, we also restore the hamstrings to a more optimal length
2) The hamstrings are a two joint muscle. When you descend into a squat, the hamstrings are being lengthened at the pelvis, but shortened at the knee. So it would seem to me that the net length change is negligible.
Hopefully you’ve taken one or two things from this piece that you can incorporate into your own training or that of the people you coach. Save your winking for before and after a big squat, when you’re trying to impress your gym crush.
- The Best Damn Squat Mobility Article, Period by Dr. Quinn Henoch
- Building Strength Out of the Hole by Chad Wesley Smith
1. Olson et al. Flexion-relaxation response to cyclic lumbar flexion. Clinical Biomechanics. 2004. Vol 19, (8). PP 769-776
2. McGill et al. Changes in lumbar lordosis modify the role of the extensor muscles. Clinical Biomechanics. 2000. Vol 15 (10). pp 777-780.
3. Potvin et al. Trunk muscle and lumbar ligament contributions to dynamic lifts with varying degrees of trunk flexion. Spine. 1991. Vol 16 (9).
4. Holmes et al. Erector spinae activation and movement dynamics about the lumbar spine in lordotic and kyphotic squat-lifting. Spine. 1992 Vol 17 (3).
5. McKean et al. The lumbar and sacrum movement pattern during the back squat exercise. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. Vol 24 (10)
6. Walsh et al. Three-dimensional motion analysis of the lumbar spine during “free squat” weight lift training. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007.
7. Macrum et al. Effect of limiting ankle-dorsiflexion range of motion on lower extremity kinematics and muscle-activation patterns during a squat. J Sport Rehabil. 2012 21 (2):144-50