Very few experiences equate to squatting a whole lot of weight. Breaking the back of an old squat personal record (PR) is a journey full of rage, fear, adrenaline, and good old fashioned guts. From the high bar to the front squat, squats do a body good…most of the time. What I am about to tell you has been said many times over in the strength and conditioning community: you should squat below parallel only if you can maintain a neutral lumbar spine. This becomes imperative especially when you squat with a loaded barbell. Squatting with a flexed lumbar spine also known as “butt wink” is a scourge to your performance and, even more important, to your long term health and wellness.
After today’s post, you will be able to:
*Explain what lumbar flexion is and why excessive amounts of it are bad to your overall health and performance as an athlete.
*Self diagnose whether you have an issue of stability or mobility.
*Implement mobility and movement strategies to lessen and/or eliminate this dysfunction.
“That’s a Great (wink, wink) Squat, Bro!”
Looking at the pictures above we get an idea of what good squatting posture should and shouldn’t be. While the squat on the left is deeper, notice that the lower back is more rounded than on the picture to the right. The same good positioning applies even more so when placed under a loaded barbell. Again, the lumbar spine should remain neutral.
Now that you know what to look for, how do you go about diagnosing the issue?
Squatting like a Champ
When trying to resolve your issues with butt wink, the first thing that must be addressed is your mechanics. Are you squatting correctly? Let’s start with setup. Are your feet underneath your shoulders? Are your feet pointed out slightly? Is your chest nice and tall? Are your eyes fixed straight ahead? Good. Now to initiate the movement, push your hips back slightly and then start to descend by bending at the knees. The knees and hips should flex at about the same rate until the hips have passed below the knees. As you descend and ascend try and do two things: keep a vertical torso and then spread the floor with your feet. Learning to keep a vertical torso translates to better mechanics when you start learning how to catch a clean or a snatch. Spreading the floor with your feet pushes your femurs out to the side allowing your pelvis room to drop to the ground. Butt wink can occur because the pelvis runs into the femurs. When this occurs the pelvis tilts back and tucks between your legs i.e. butt wink.
If you having trouble with maintaining good positioning in your air squat, try the following progression.
Start by getting some plates, mats, or anything that you can stack and eventually decrease in height. Try and stay close to a wall as this will encourage a vertical torso when squatting. The goal of the drill is to maintain good body positions as you squat to the mats. If you can maintain good positions while squatting to the initial height of the mats, decrease the height and repeat the process. Go as low as you can, all the while making sure you are keeping that low back tight and engaged.
Stability v. Mobility
Now, you have gone through the setup, demonstrated proper mechanics, but you still cannot seem to get yourself into good positions i.e. you torso inclines too far forward, you cannot get deep enough, and/or you demonstrate butt wink. What’s the next step? Do you start doing an hour of mobility work every day? Maybe. It might not be mobility that is your issue, however. Instead, the issue might be stability. For many people new to and weightlifting, a lack of body awareness and control is a large reason for why people struggle with their form. One simple test to determine whether or not it is an issue of mobility versus stability is performing a goblet squat.
Find a heavy kettlebell and grasp the grip on each side, holding it close to the body. Perform five to ten squats. Did you find that it was easier to maintain better positioning? If you answered yes, then your squat problems may be a result of inadequate core stability. How is it possible that the kettlebell helps you squat better? The kettlebell presents a challenge to the core musculature. In order to stay upright, the core activates. As more and more muscles turn on as you grip the kettlebell, the more support they provide to your torso/spine.
If you have performed these two drills and still are struggling with maintaing good positions, the next step is to address your mobility. I will not spend too much time on self myofascial release techniques in this post. I do, however, recommend that the first step to resolving your mobility is a firm foam roller and an unforgiving lacrosse ball. I also highly recommend you check out Kelly Starrett’s Mobility Wod website. It is chock full of great exercises you can perform to fix your movement dysfunction.
I have compiled a collection of stretches/drills that I have learned from others over time. These have proven most beneficial for me in improving mobility in my ankles and hips. Hopefully, they do the same for you.
Ankle and Hip Mobility Drills.
For any athlete serious about their performance and long term health and wellness, proper squatting technique is essential. Excessive flexion of the lumbar spine while under load is a recipe for disaster i.e herniated disks. Keep yourself safe while you train. Resolve your butt wink before it is too late!
Have any other mobility or training related questions? Please send them to Brian at [email protected]