Have you ever noticed near the bottom of a squat either your pelvis inadvertently tucking under or your lower back rounding up just as you hit depth?
This is what is charmingly known in the gym as ‘butt wink’. There is (I think surprisingly) some debate as to whether this is O.K or comes with a big frowny face, but no one seems to think it is beneficial.
The usual ways I see people trying to correct their butt wink is from stretching their hamstrings or their hip flexors, mobilising their ankles or strengthening up the core. With the odd exception aside, they just don’t always seem to work that well.
Do I have a better fix? What if I told you that you probably don’t need to correct it-you can just avoid it. Yes. I think this it is often a self-inflicted issue and ironically caused by people trying too hard to lift correctly. How can this be?
Well, when we see someone lifting with a back so rounded they resemble a dying cat painfully relieving itself for the last time, we naturally wince. Our instincts are not wrong-too much of the loading has shifted from the muscles and onto the ligaments.
As this is pretty common knowledge I see a lot of savvy lifters avoid this error. But, some of these people can have a habit of overcorrecting, where their chest is lifted high and the lower back is excessively arched during the lift.
This is actually not much better as it can place undue stress onto the vertebral joints and can lead to wear, tear and permanent degenerative changes to the spine. A big arch in the lower back is usually accompanied by a bootylicious, anterior pelvic tilt.
It doesn’t matter if this is the natural posture or a deliberate and artificial pose; it results in the same problem. Your pelvis will run into your thigh and out of room before you hit the bottom of the squat. This results in the pelvis swinging around the hip and taking the lower back with it, AKA Butt wink.
To avoid all this we must adopt a more upright start position. Typically, if you aren’t already, you will probably have to squat ‘high bar’ as this will reduce some of the forward lean common to those not so built for low bar squats (often, those with proportionately short torsos and/or long thighs). This taller position, and change in torso angle, will mean your pelvis and thigh start the lift a little further apart.
Next, we want a slight curve in the lower back, but not an exaggerated arch. This means to brace and hold your shape, if you are predisposed to an anterior pelvic tilt, you’ll need to rein it in a little whilst you’re squatting. Again, this will take your pelvis and thigh further away from one another.
Finally, we will want to maintain this shape during the exercise. When you squat you must use a simultaneous hip and knee bend during your descent. You then take the squat only as low as this spine and pelvic position can be maintained. Voila! You are now doing all that is within your power to prevent, not cure, the dreaded winking butt.
Of course, if this alone doesn’t work, then it is back to the drawing board. I’m not too convinced with the tight hamstring or hip flexor argument. But a lack of hip mobility, or not enough lumbo-pelvic control (core stability) could still be the reason for the butt wink. Not a problem-there is a great exercise that addresses both of these things. The leg circles.
Lay supine (facing up), keep a natural S shape in the spine (neutral position), legs bent, feet hip distance apart and flat on the floor.
Arms rest by your sides, palms can be facing up, down or to the body. Gently draw the stomach in (without flattening the lower back into the floor).
Lift one leg and straighten towards the ceiling.
(If flexibility does not allow this or you want to regress the exercise then keep the raised leg bent.)
If the exercise is too easy and you truly are keeping the rest of your body still, then you can straighten out the supporting leg.
Circle the gesture leg as wide as can be controlled, which is not necessarily as wide as flexibility allows.
The movement should initiate from the hip, not the knee or the foot.
Repeat 3-8 circles clockwise and anticlockwise, then swap legs.
The natural curve in the lower back should be maintained throughout. This will pose different challenges at different stages of the leg circle. The abdominals will need to resist the spine and pelvis wanting to follow the thigh-do not underestimate the challenge of this exercise!
Normal business is resumed (hopefully)
If the leg circles are going to work then you will expect to see a noticeable improvement each time they have been performed and the effects should stick. If and when they have done their job you can omit them and continue to squat happily ever after.
If the leg circles are not showing any evidence of fixing your squat then they are either being performed incorrectly or sadly are not going to fix the problem. This could be the exercise or it could be the body. By all means try a few of the other theories to see if anything else works but once you have exhausted these ideas then the evidence is stacking up against the body being at fault.
Normal can mean different things to different people. You may find that no amount of mobility work or special exercises allows you to squat as low as you want. Remember, as low as possible or ‘ass to grass’ is not always necessary or indeed possible for everyone.
If you have tried everything and are still not able to squat to depth without the spine or pelvis position changing, then you are better off just not squatting so deep. The risks do not outweigh the rewards. If you do not wish to squat higher then you could also experiment with single leg squats and front squats as very effective squat alternatives.