October 12, 2023 7 min read
BUTT WINK by Shane Robert 😉
I first heard the term “butt wink” in the form of a question.
“Do you know about butt wink?” It sounded like I was about to be told something very x-rated. When I first started lifting and, eventually, training people, no one was talking about butt wink. Literally. No one. In all of the books, blogs, or articles I had read, in some cases going back 100 years, not one single mention of butt wink. That all changed sometime in the last decade when everyone, it seems, has this problem and can’t possibly squat without their spines shooting out of their backsides.
“Butt wink” is a term used to describe the pelvis tucking under the body on the descent of a squat (and in some cases deadlifts), causing lumbar rounding (lower back) which resembles a slight "winking" motion of the buttocks. The official name for this action is posterior pelvic tilt and it can potentially compromise spinal alignment and increase the risk of injury to the lower back. If the risk of injury isn’t concern enough, butt wink reduces the efficiency of a lift, which means you can’t use as heavy of a load.
Butt wink has several potential causes that may be one, or a combination, of the following:
Let’s take a look at each of these and discuss some fixes.
CAUSE - Limited Hip Mobility
We see butt wink when the hips reach their end range of motion, wherever that may be for the individual. For some people this breakdown doesn’t occur before they bottom out their squat, they have no issues and can stop reading. For others it can start to occur well before they break parallel and should definitely work on fixing it by incorporating mobility exercises and stretches for the hip flexors, adductors, or external rotators. Great beginner options include (links included for each stretch):
Hip Flexor Stretch: Kneel on one knee with the other foot in front and lunge forward while keeping your torso upright. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexor (from lower abdomen to upper/mid thigh) on the front of the back leg. Holding a stick for balance can allow you to really push your weight even farther forward for a deeper stretch.
Pigeon Pose: This stretch targets the hip rotators and can help improve hip mobility. Begin in a plank position, bring one knee toward your chest, and then rotate your leg under your body so that your shin is parallel with your collar bones. Extend the other leg behind you. If this is too intense to start, bring your knee to your chest with your leg bent, rather than parallel. Try to bend forward and touch your chest to your knee.
Couch Stretch: This is another hip flexor stretch. Place one knee on a cushioned surface (like a couch or bench) with your shin against the surface and the other leg bent at 90 degrees. Lean forward slightly to feel a stretch in the hip flexor of the back leg. The stretch will increase the farther behind you that your leg is.
Squat Stretch: Drop into a low squat and hold the position for time. Use your elbows to push out against your knees and try to push your knees forward over your toes without letting your heels come off the floor. Rest your back against a couch, the wall, or a friend if you can’t get into this position with flat feet.
CAUSE - Limited Ankle MobilityPoor ankle mobility can affect squat form and lead to butt wink. Limited dorsiflexion (the ability of the ankle to flex upward) can cause the knees to push forward excessively or force a forward lean, which can disrupt the squat's balance and mechanics, leading to compensatory movements like butt wink.
Squat Stretch: This is the same as above. In this case, we want to work toward having no back support and pushing the knees far forward over the toes.
Ankle Circles: Sit or stand with your feet flat on the ground. Lift one foot off the ground and start making circular motions with your toes in one direction and then switch to the other direction. Repeat on both sides.
Standing Calf Raises: Start with your feet hip-width apart near a wall or sturdy support. Put your toes on a 2-4” surface. Rise up onto your tiptoes as high as you can, then lower your heels back down. After the last set, hold the stretch at the bottom for 30-60 seconds.
Wall Ankle Mobilization: Stand facing a wall with your toes about 4-6 inches away from it. Place your hands on the wall for support and heels on the ground. Gently lean your knee toward the wall to stretch your calf and Achilles tendon. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on both sides.
Depending on the individual, no amount of ankle mobility can make up for their anatomy (limb lengths, for example) and having a slight lift to the heel can assist dorsiflexion by creating artificial mobility. For this reason, you might find it useful to add a small heel or buy weightlifting shoes that have a built in heel. Keep the lift to an inch or less so that it is a tool and not a crutch.
CAUSE - Lack of Core StrengthThe core plays a crucial role in stabilizing the spine during squat and deadlift movements. If the core is weak, the lower back may round as the body tries to compensate for the lack of stability. Learning to properly brace is essential to safe squatting, and core exercises that teach the brace are far superior to flexion based movements such as crunches or situps. These include:
Planks: The plank is an excellent exercise for strengthening the entire core, including the lower back. Maintain a straight line from head to heels while holding the plank position.
Dead Bugs: Lie on your back with arms extended toward the ceiling and knees bent at 90 degrees. Lower one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor. Alternate sides.
Hollow Body Hold: Lie on your back with arms and legs extended off the ground. Keep your lower back pressed into the floor while holding this position. This exercise targets the anterior core muscles
Suitcase Marches: Pick up a dumbbell or kettlebell and stand straight upright withoutany leaning. Lift one leg slowly up as high as you can, pause at the top and return to the ground before switching sides.
CAUSE - Excessive Depth & Incorrect Foot PlacementSquatting deeply can be beneficial for mobility and flexibility, as in the squat stretch, but going too deep under load without the necessary flexibility and control can lead to injury. It's crucial to squat to a depth that allows you to maintain proper form. Foot placement is also essential to proper squat form and placing the feet too close together or too far apart can affect the body's balance and stability, leading to compensatory movements like butt wink.
Quadruped Rock Backs: Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Arch your back and tuck your tailbone to find a neutral position. While maintaining this neutral position, rock back towards your lower body as far as you can until you feel like your low back is rounding or your tailbone is tucking. Note the depth. Try different distances between your legs to see which one will give you the longest range of motion. Using a mirror to check yourself can be useful if you don’t have someone to watch you. This assessment is fantastic to show you the proper foot placement as well as depth.
Box Squats: Use a box with a height set right at, or very slightly above the maximum safe range of motion you can hit. Squat to that box each rep. As time progresses, lower the box slightly. Strength carries over about 10 degrees in ROM and the hip/core strength you build will allow you to increase how low you squat without butt wink.
CAUSE - Poor TechniqueSquatting with the incorrect technique can cause butt wink. Putting a bar on your back allows for a high degree of support which can allow technical breakdown to occur. Finding exercises that don’t allow for as much breakdown can help fix this. These include:
Goblet Squat: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell high and close to your chest, sink down with your elbows tucked so they are inside your knees at the bottom. Your elbows should be dropping past the top of your knees each rep. The front loaded nature of the weight can help improve your squat mechanics by forcing you to externally rotate your knees and prevent excessive forward lean.
Box Squat: As stated above, these help reinforce proper squat depth and control.
Front Squat: In a front squat, the bar rests across the shoulder near the collarbone. Holding the bar in the front rack position can help improve squat form and reduce butt wink by preventing excessive forward lean
To further mitigate butt wink, make sure you are warming up properly as stiff joints won’t allow you to move through a full range of motion. Part of the warm up should include some of these, or other, mobility exercises and movements to ingrain the correct technique. This might be as simple as a squat stretch, quadruped rock backs, dead bugs and goblet squats before starting your main squatting movements.Finally, as in all things training, take individual differences into consideration and recognize that some people have anatomy that doesn’t allow for deep squatting under load. That doesn’t mean they can’t squat, it simply means they can’t safely squat “ass-to-grass” or with heavy loads. If you have spent reasonable time and effort to address the issues discussed above, and still don’t see improvement, then it may be time bias most of your leg training toward other things like single leg variations, leg presses, extensions, and sleds.
In summary, butt wink is a term used to describe the rounding or tilting of the pelvis and lower back that can occur during deep squats, which can cause injury. Working on mobility, core strength, and proper form can help mitigate butt wink and improve overall lifting performance.
Image Source: https://www.veracitysts.com/journal/the-butt-wink-and-your-hip-pain
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