What is butt wink?
Butt wink is a term used to describe the “tucking” of a pelvis during the downward movement in a squat.
For some people it only happens at the very bottom of the movement, and for others it can happen as early as halfway down.
It happens because out pelvis runs out of room to continue downward, so it tucks underneath us to allow a deeper squat.
Why is this bad?
If you’re performing an un-weighted squat, it’s probably not. Under load however, there can be problems.
The natural shape of the lumbar spine includes a slight arch (called a lordotic curve). In this position, the discs that sit between the vertebrae are pretty safe, even under load.
However, if the vertebrae are then forced into a rounded (flexed) position, the vertebrae- quite literally- squash one side of the disc. With a significant amount of weight added to this squash, there is a risk of pushing the other side of the disc out of place, causing the disc to bulge outward.
Picture biting into a really big burger, and having all the contents fall out the other end. Because you didn’t even out the force on the burger as you bit down, it all went wrong.
This (in a spine, not a burger) is called a disc bulge or protruding disc, and is a very common lower back injury amongst lifters.
How can I check for a butt wink?
The simplest way is to film yourself in a side-on view with tight clothing. If you can see your lower back get rounded or “tuck” at any point, you have a butt wink!
What causes butt wink?
In a small amount of cases, it can be because a persons femur has reached the end of its physical range. This is a person’s physiology and cannot be changed.
But more often than not, it’s because of some simple mobility or technique breakdowns, that can be remedied with some simple steps!
- Ankle mobility
- Not using glutes effectively
- Tight hamstrings
Use this great How To Screen Your Ankle Mobility video from Squat University to check your ankles range of motion! If it shows some tightness or mobility issues, you can perform the releasing techniques in the video to help release the area and improve mobility.
On top of releasing and mobilising your ankles, a great option in the meantime is to elevate your heels. You can use some small weight plates, or specialised lifting shoes to do this.
I don’t believe (as some PT’s do) using these kind of tools is “cheating”. Even the best olympic lifters (who have FANTASTIC ankle mobility) use shoes with a raised heel to get the most out of their lifts. I agree we should work on correcting these mobility issues over time, but while you’re working on it, elevating your heels to protect your lower back is really a no-brainer.
With the extra room to move your knees forward and keep your chest more upright, you might find that your butt wink problem vanishes!
PSA: If you’re squatting in running shoes, DON’T. They’re designed to absorb impact, not allow force production. It’s like trying to squat on marshmallows; not ideal for stability. At the very least, go barefoot!
Using the glutes
Our glutes have 3 functions:
- Hip extension (straightening your legs)
- Hip abduction (knees out)
- Hip external rotation (rotating the femur)
Everyone hears “push your knees out” for a squat, which is hip abduction. Standing up is your hip extension.
But no-one talks about the external rotation, which is a really helpful tool in getting the most out of ALL your glutes in a squat!
What does it look like?
Think of how a ballerina stands; her knees and feet are turned out. That’s an example of external rotation; albeit a very exaggerated one, and in a squat we want to keep the toes forward while the knees turn out.
How to externally rotate your hips before you squat:
- Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart, toes turned out slightly (like you’re about to squat)
- Squeeze your thighs and bum as hard as you can to “point” the knee caps toward your pinkie toes, but make sure your feet don’t also turn out and don’t bend your knees or hips
Once you’ve set up this position, your glutes are ready to go; the trick is to hold this on the way down.
If you find that that this reduces your range of movement, but gets rid of the butt wink, you probably have tight hips! Exercises like lateral lunges and world’s greatest stretch can help to loosen tight hips before squats.
Your hamstrings consist of 4 large muscles (like the quads on the other side of your thigh) and 2 of these run from the back of your knee all the way to your pelvis “sit bones” (under your largest glute muscle).
As you lower yourself down in a squat, the space between your “sit bones” and knees increases (i.e. your hamstrings have to get longer).
So if they’re tight, they will pull your sit bones (pelvis) underneath and cause that butt wink!
Quite often hamstrings are tight because they are weak. This is especially true for people who spend alot of time sitting down and not using them.
The brain responds to weakness by reducing the range of a muscle, to lower the risk of injury (if you can’t move far, you’re less likely to go into a position that will strain your muscle).
So my favourite remedy to tight hamstrings is to work them out more often!
Some of my favourites which I include in my clients with tight hamstrings:
- Prone hamstring curls
- Nordic curls
- Hamstring walkouts
- Romanian deadlift
- Stiff legged deadlift
- Single leg deadlift
Smart programming is key
Working around your limitations is important, but so is programming in accessory work to ensure you’re working on correcting them.
Let me take the work out of this for you, by writing you a customised training programme! I will assess your movement patterns online, and then customise a periodised training programme to help overcome your limitations and build your strongest body yet.