07 Nov Fixing The Squat Butt Wink
The squat butt wink is one of the most well known and dreaded of all squat movement faults. If you haven’t heard of butt wink before, it is the term used to describe the excessive flexing of the lower back during squats. This puts the body in a sub-optimal position for developing and transferring force.
While some research supports the idea that this unnecessarily loads the spine, that is a much deeper discussion than we will get into here. But in my opinion, if given the choose between a spine staying “neutral” or flexing, I choose neutral.
Note: if you need signifiant squat mobility help, please check out my SQUAT MOBILITY OVERHAUL PROGRAM.
Before we dive deeper into the causes and fixes of the squat butt wink, it is important to note that a small amount of lumbar flexion is unavoidable, especially when squatting deep. When I discuss butt wink, I am specific to the excessive lumbar flexion.
Butt wink is often labeled a mobility problem but so often motor control issues play just as big of a role. To correct the butt wink, we must first accurately identify the cause of it rather than taking the “shotgun approach” so many coaches and athletes use by throwing random exercises at the problem and hope that something sticks!
Step One: Watch the Squat!
We’ve got to start by simply looking at the squat pattern as a whole. So often, motor control problems can be seen in a simple air squat that will immediately cue you into the root cause.
When looking at the squat we need to first determine if they start neutral and move into a flexed position OR do they start over-extended and move to a neutral position (thus looking like they are going into a butt wink but really they are just going to a neutral position). Both are wrong but will lead us to much different treatments.
For those that start overextended and then flex to a neutral position we simply have to work their motor control and proprioception to have them start and maintain neutral positioning. To teach that I usually use a progression of exercises including 90/90 breathing, quadruped rocking, and RNT Overhead squats as I demonstrate in the following video “Fix Your Overhead Squat”. Then as we reintroduce heavy loads to the squat, we’ll work on the bracing sequence we previously discussed at http://www.thebarbellphysio.com/brace-bigger-squat-coming/.
For those that start in a more neutral position but then lose positioning as they descend we much dig dipper into the cause of their butt wink. For that we will start by looking into their mobility. If mobility is limited, we’ll address that. If mobility is good but the athlete still demonstrates a butt wink then we are back to looking at other motor control drills.
Step Two: Analyze Mobility
I look at squat mobility needs as a continuum between hip and ankle mobility. To have a good squat (parallel thighs with proper technique) you better have good hip and ankle mobility (or exceptional in one of those and fair mobility in the other. To have a great full depth, ass to the grass squat you need great mobility in both.
Thus some people without great hip mobility can have a good squat if their ankles are incredibly mobile, and vice versa.
When testing squat specific mobility the first place to start is always the ankles. With the athlete in half kneeling, I position their big toe one hand width away from a wall or box. I then see if they can touch their knee to the wall while keeping their toes pointed forward and heel flat on the ground. If they can’t do that I ask where they feel limited, in the front of the ankle (more likely a joint issue) or in the back (Achilles / soleus limitations) which will give me a better idea of what treatment they need.
There are a huge variety of ankle mobility movements you can find online but I suggest starting with these two https://www.instagram.com/p/BIEJRzThPm6/ and http://www.thebarbellphysio.com/ankle-mobility-hacks/.
Next, I move on to the hips. With the athlete on his or her back, I see if they can bring their quads in contact with the abdomen. If so, they have sufficient hip flexion to squat to depth without having to compensate.
Then I’ll assess hip internal (foot moving out as shown below) and external rotation (foot moving inward) with the hip flexed to ninety degrees and the knee directly above the hip joint. I like to see 30 degrees of hip internal rotation and 45 degrees of external.
Again, much has been written about hip mobility but I highly suggest reading this article I wrote a while back http://www.thebarbellphysio.com/the-truth-about-squat-depth-injury-rates-the-knees-out-cue/.
The final test I often run with athletes is the hip scour test where I cautiously move their hip around to assess the optimal position for their hips during squatting. While most people naturally squat here, many have adopted stances outside of what their anatomy dictates is best due to poor coaching and lack of knowledge.
Step Three: More Motor Control Work
If mobility has been cleared then we need to move on to motor control drills where the athlete re-learns how to move without going into the butt wink fault.
The easiest starting point is quadruped rocking where the athlete can learn to maintain a neutral spine in a gravity-reduced position.
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Quadruped rocking is a great exercise for training the neuromuscular control of maintaining a neutral spine for squatting. One of MANY corrective exercises in #MasterTheSquat which covers squat assessments, mobility tests, and corrective exercises and will be released on TheBarbellPhysio.com next Monday, May 2. —————————————————– TheBarbellPhysio.com Improving the worlds of athletic performance, injury prevention, and rehabiliitation. #CrossFit #wod #mobility #fitness #weightlifting #functionalmovement #charlottefitness @ClinicalAthlete #ClinicalAthlete #BulletProofMobility @CrossFit_weightlifting #thebarbellphysio
From there, I like to move to goblet squats as holding a weight in front of the body shifts the center of gravity forward and allows for more instinctive neutral spine positioning. I often combine this with eccentric isometrics, which really help the athlete feel and own their positioning during the squat. To perform eccentric isometrics, I typically start with a 7 count negative and a 5 count pause before quickly standing up.
The “Sit to Squat Drill” is fantastic for athletes losing control of positioning in the bottom of their squat.
Place a stool, box, ball, etc. at the approximate level that the athlete looses positioning. Have the athlete sit on the object. The athlete then moves into proper positioning (neutral spine, knees over toes, core engaged, etc). While maintaining tension throughout the body to maintain alignment, the athlete slightly lifts their buttocks off the object and holds this position for a few seconds before sitting and repeating.
Step Four: Let the Tissues Rest!
The above exercise will go a long ways towards fixing the butt wink during squats. But what if the athlete also has accompanying hip PAIN? First, I suggest reading “Fixing Hip Pain During Squats” that I wrote with Michael Mash of BarbellRehab.com. That will outline a great progression to address the biomechanical factors of hip pain.
Next, the athlete needs to strongly consider taking a break from aggravating exercises and using alternatives to continue building strength as the irritated tissues calm down.
Some potential alternative strength exercises include Split squats, Sled Push and pull, and heavy step-ups.
This rest will be only as long as needed to heal the aggravated tissues and rarely does actual strength decline if good programming is in place utilizing alternative exercises.
For more mobility and motor control drills to address butt wink and other squat movement faults, check out “Master The Squat” for all the tests and corrective exercises I use to analyze and correct the squats in the athletes I coach and treat.