Do your gym friends say you have a “butt wink?”
If so, rather than hiding your squat from the public, follow this comprehensive guide to the butt wink. We will cover the what, why, and how of this common squat problem, and give you a simple plan to fix it.
What’s my Butt Doing?
The butt wink occurs when the tail bone tucks under the pelvis in the bottom of the squat. Not only does it resemble a dog doing their dirty business, the rounded lumbar spine may be a source of low back injury.
But does squatting with a butt wink actually increase the risk of injury?
Currently there is no high level research showing that the butt wink increases the risk of low back injury…
But there is definitely evidence to support a reason for concern.
Research shows that a lack of stability with lumbar flexion is the leading cause of disk issues in the low back. Combined with the forces that occur when squatting with weights, the butt wink has all the ingredients for a herniated disk.
Since nobody wants to prove that their butt wink does indeed wreck low backs…let’s build a plan to fix it.
Mobility or Motor Control?
The butt wink has two primary causes: either mobility or motor control.
First, use the following assessment to rule out mobility issues as the cause of your butt wink. If your lower back rounds (or butt winks) with either of these positions, it’s likely mobility that’s causing your issue:
1. Quadruped Rocking- Start on hands and knees with your feet flat up against a wall about shoulder width apart. Rock the hips back toward heels, and see if a butt wink happens.
2. Banded Overhead Squat – If your butt wink is corrected with a little cueing, it’s not a mobility issue. You can do this with a set of light Crossover Symmetry Cords. Face the attachment and pull the arms into an overhead position. Maintain this position as you perform an overhead squat. (If you don’t have Crossover Cords, you can do a goblet squat with either a kettlebell or dumbbell).
If there was a butt wink with these two tests, there is most likely a mobility problem with your squat. From here we will break the problem down further, and provide some solutions to help improve range of motion.
If you were able to correct your butt wink with the above tests, bypass the mobility work, and head to the section titled Train Away Your Butt Wink to work on the motor control of your squat.
Mobilize Your Butt Wink
If you determined that limited mobility is an underlying issue for your squat, next narrow it down to the most common impairments, and work on fixing those issues.
This is the most common range of motion impairment for the squat. If the shin can’t advance forward over the foot, the body will compensate by leaning the trunk forward, often resulting in a butt wink.
There are two easy screening techniques to see if the ankle is contributing to the butt wink.
1. Raise your heels onto two small weight plates, or use weight lifting shoes, and perform a squat. If this corrects the butt wink, then the ankle is most likely limiting the squat.
2. From here, use this ankle assessment to get more specific with the degree of restriction and to track your progress. Also, use this to determine if you feel your limiting factor is a pinch in the front of your ankle, or a stretch in the calf.
If you revealed that you need to work on those tight ankles? Here are two daily correctives to use based on where you were feeling that restriction…
1. Ankle MOB (If you found your ankle restriction was due to a pinching within the ankle, use this mobility drill daily.)
2. Calf Stretch (If you found your ankle restriction was due to a stretch in the back of the lower leg, then do this mobility drill 3-5 times daily.)
During a squat there are two types of motion that need to occur at the hip joint. The first most obvious motion is hip flexion (thigh and trunk get closer together).
But inside the joint, there is also the roll and glide of the ball in the socket. A full depth squat needs some backwards glide of the ball within the socket. This clears space in the front of the hip for the leg bone that’s moving through that space. Altering these mechanics forces the pelvis to dump into a posterior pelvic tilt (or butt wink).
Additionally, if the hip muscles are tight, it will pull the pelvis into a butt wink to achieve a “full depth” squat.
Assume that hip mobility is a must if your butt wink is mobility related (especially if the ankle assessment checks out). Here are 2 correctives for hip mobility that should be added to your daily training…
2. Piriformis Stretch
The hamstrings often get implicated for the butt wink, but it’s unfortunately not that straight forward.
If studying a cadaver, the mechanics of the hamstring wouldn’t cause a butt wink if a squat was simulated. This is because as the hamstring lengthens at the hip during a squat, it is shortening at nearly the same rate at the knee. Thus there is really no change in hamstring length during a squat. However, this is where BIOmechanics must look past basic mechanics. In living individuals, there’s not always uniform pliability throughout the hamstring. The end that’s closer to the hip can be less pliable due to injury, prolonged sitting, or a number of other reasons, which could pull the pelvis under during a squat.
This topic alone could fill an entire article post! So for now suffice to say, if you are struggling with a butt wink and feel that you have “tight” hamstrings, it’s worth taking some time to mobilize them.
Do this mobility drill for a few weeks and see if anything changes…
Along with modifiable mobility issues, there are things that cannot change. Some have a hip socket or femur that limits hip range of motion. Because of these things, some won’t be able to hit a full depth squat, without the pelvis repositioning. It’s a case where lumbar stability must be sacrificed in order to achieve more hip mobility.
I’m sorry to say, there are no exercises that will transform your bones to squat better. At this point work on the things that you can change, and accept that maybe your body isn’t designed to squat “ass to grass”, and adjust depth as needed.
Train Away Your Butt Wink
If you found your butt wink is a motor control issue, it’s necessary to train the body for a better squat position. But even if mobility seems to be the problem, still use the following training to help dial in that new range of motion.
Progress through these three drills to build a better squat pattern:
1. Pelvic Tilts at the Wall- Perform two sets of 10-15 reps, then stand up and do a squat to see if a butt wink occurs.
2. Goblet squat- This is good to do with a partner watching to help cue. Perform a goblet squat to the depth that the butt wink occurs. But remember from testing, if your issue is motor control related you may be able to perform a goblet squat without a butt wink, so from here slowly lower the KB to the floor, while working on maintaining a neutral spine. Then stand up, grab the weight again, and repeat 10 times.
3. Squat Pelvic Tilts- If you have successfully worked through the previous drills and eliminated the butt wink, now it’s time to try basic air squat. If a butt wink occurs during the air squat, stop in at the depth that it occurs, and complete five pelvic tilts. If you are unable to do the pelvic tilts, or find that they are not helping the butt wink, go back to the pelvic tilts at the wall and continue training.
The Butt Wink Plan
If you currently have a butt wink, it is not likely to resolve immediately. While working on fixing the components (mobility and range of motion), it is worth following some temporary adaptations. This can be modifying load (both weight and position), modifying depth, or adding lifters or small heel lifts, etc.
And because you spent a month correcting your impairments and now have a perfect squat, doesn’t mean it will always be perfect. Take the time to continue your squat drills to help you prevent future impairments and injuries.